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Queen’s Speech - Debate (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:43 pm on 17th October 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Redfern Baroness Redfern Conservative 4:43 pm, 17th October 2019

My Lords, I welcome Her Majesty’s gracious Speech and, on day 3, I am pleased to have the opportunity of addressing the Chamber, but first I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, for their excellent maiden speeches.

In the time allotted, I wish to focus on responding to the measures to improve agriculture, business and the environment, which I welcome. Supporting a successful rural economy is vital to maintain a vibrant living and working countryside, not only for farmers and land managers but for taxpayers and businesses large and small, who are all, in their own way, pioneering an environment in which all can prosper. I too welcome people visiting the countryside. It will be a better place than we inherited if we can make that countryside the best we can.

As Brexit comes even closer, minute by minute, my next comments regard the CAP. I am no defender of the CAP, which has created perverse incentives and reduced opportunities, and cutting out the layers upon layers of bureaucracy has to be the way forward. It will create a more dynamic and responsive culture, given the ever-changing demands from customers for more healthy foods. By releasing farmers from the rigidity and bureaucracy of the CAP, based now on public money for public goods, the new support system will reward farmers for environmental stewardship and help them become more productive, more sustainable and, of course, more successful.

Increasing investment in nature-based solutions to climate change is an immediate way of putting nature on the path to recovery. We must roll out large-scale native tree planting in appropriate locations that can deliver multiple benefits for carbon, wildlife, the environment and people, while the protection and enhancement of areas of ancient and semi-natural woodland must be prioritised. The burning of blanket bog must be banned, as well as the use of peat in horticulture. Funding for wetland and rewetting restoration must also be drastically increased. Landscapes such as wetlands, coastal habitats, salt-marshes and permanent grasslands must all be protected and restored. They sequester huge amounts of carbon while providing a home for numerous vulnerable species. I hope that the Environment Bill will encapsulate much of what I have said, and go a long way to ensure that we protect and preserve this planet for generations to come.

The Environment Bill also gives the Secretary of State the power to amend two pieces of legislation regarding the use of chemicals in the UK, under REACH 2008. This will allow us to take further steps, where necessary, to ensure a smooth transition to a UK chemicals regime following the UK’s exit from the EU. It will also make it possible to keep the legislation up to date and respond to emerging needs or ambitions for the effective management of chemicals—again, a positive step for the environment.

Secondly, here and now I speak for many who have waited so long for the introduction of measures to promote and protect animal welfare, and for the opportunity to increase maximum penalties from six months to five years. The reintroduction of the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill, to increase those maximum sentences for animal cruelty, improve the welfare of animals transported for slaughter and ban the import and export of trophies made from endangered animals, is to be welcomed. We are proud to already have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world, and aim to raise those standards even further. Again, post Brexit we must have in place strict import and export measures to maintain those high standards. We have to drive them up even further as the hallmark of a civilised society.

Thirdly, I will speak about businesses and business opportunities, particularly for the rural SMEs which, with support, can create those much-needed local jobs. With apprenticeships figuring highly as more businesses invest in their workforce, the number of people starting apprenticeships in agriculture has risen by 30% over the past five years. That is good news, as is more people being employed than ever before. Amid rural communities, there are many thriving businesses. For them, resilient digital connectivity is vital and they must not be forgotten as we continue to improve our digital infrastructure. It is also important to point out that, in supporting businesses, the Government have previously announced that the main rate of corporation tax will reduce from 19% to 17% on 1 April next year. I am sure that will be warmly received by all businesses.

I welcome the unveiling in the gracious Speech of the national infrastructure strategy, which promises to help us deliver world-class digital connectivity. High-speed broadband and mobile connectivity are essential services but they are nowhere near as available in rural areas as in urban areas, so I welcome the fund of £5 billion to roll them out to the hardest-to-reach 20% of the country so that no community is left behind. Full-fibre broadband will play a unique role in post-Brexit Britain, underpinning incredible advances in technology to unlock huge economic growth and transform our way of life, but we should not forget another important aspect of the internet: continuing to develop proposals to improve internet safety, making the UK the safest place to be online.

Finally, all the areas addressed in the debate are intertwined; they are the glue that binds together. Together, they give the impetus of the two Os: optimism and opportunity. This is about putting the needs of all our rural communities at the heart of government and in the 25-year environment plan. Those giant steps will help to deliver our goal to be the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than how we found it—and a more prosperous one.