My Lords, the origins of this amendment are fairly straightforward. As we go through this Bill, we talk about great changes to agriculture. We start off with a list of changes and where things are going to change in relation to government support for agriculture. We do not actually define those whom we are going to support, and I feel that they should be on the face of the Bill. If they are not on the face of the Bill, we should know exactly where that list is.
All the positive changes that might affect the environment and people’s access to it, which I will discuss at considerable length in the next group, are going to be dependent upon farmers taking much of the action and getting through financially in what they need to do. Unless the Government pay them, it is not going to happen. Unless we are getting some sort of new force that is going to go marching into the countryside equipped with whatever it is and on whatever legal authority it is—which I have seen no hint of anywhere —we are dependent on those involved in farming and related industries actually to fulfil this for us. The only way we can reasonably expect them to do it is if they are properly paid, so there is a symbiotic relationship there: they get money for changing their behaviour.
The change of behaviour for farmers is going to be difficult: culturally, financially and in every other way, it is going to be a change in a way of life in many cases. To what extent and where depends on who they are and in what situation, but that is what I am trying to get on the face of the Bill. I do not pretend that this amendment is perfect because I literally went through and thought, “Good, this is in the Bill or that’s in the Bill” and at the end of it, I said, “What about land managers? Let us try to get some idea about this.” They are the delivery system for the other changes set out in the Bill, so let us make sure that they get some support. It does not really go much further than that, other than to say that we have to make sure that they are there and identified. If the identification comes somewhere else, that is great, but if it means running down a list saying, “By the way, if you look across and go legally through and jump across sideways, that’s where the definition is,” that is the classic way to make mistakes. The lay person will not be able to find out what is going on. We have all, in this Chamber, been involved in situations where somebody said, “Legally, it was there,” but we could not find it. It might be slightly more straightforward here than in some of the cases we are talking about, but that is what I am trying to get at.
There is another amendment in my name, Amendment 115, on the accountability system for taking on any action. That probably would have read better in the next group, but if the Government have any undertakings on this, let us find out what is going on. That is really what my initial thinking was about, and I look forward to hearing from those who are going to speak on the rest of the group, but that is my primary motive for moving this amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will speak to three amendments in my name in this group and thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, and my noble friend Lord Caithness for supporting Amendment 65. The purpose of this amendment is again to probe the Government. As was said in conclusion by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, we have a limited pot of money being spread very thinly. I hope that we can focus where the money goes on farming, obviously within the remit of agriculture, horticulture and forestry.
In keeping the focus on farming, I will turn to Amendment 103. Just before I do, I will take the opportunity to ask my noble friend the Minister about the types of activities that he feels may be covered. For example, there have been sectors in the past that have received no support but have spent huge amounts of money—I am thinking in particular about antibiotic use, which we have reduced at some considerable expense, although I think this has put Britain in the driving seat with regard to the reduction of antibiotics.
There may be possibilities of supporting, for example, pigs through outbuildings and storage facilities, which will help to tackle climate change and bring a number of benefits while improving the way that we manage—or rather pig producers manage; I do not, obviously—manure and slurry reduction. While it has not been beneficial in the past, I hope that it will help to tackle climate change and increase production. Is that something that my noble friend thinks might be supported?
I want to flag up something that I am sure we will return to in later groups: the potential funding gap between when basic farm payments phase out and when ELMS—which I know we are going to explore in more detail in further amendments—will come in. How is that going to be addressed? I am also looking at the socioeconomic aspects of this, where natural capital seems to have been the focus of great emphasis, although it benefits only those who own the land, for the most part, and it cannot necessarily be shared with tenant farmers, who actually do much of the farming on that land in many circumstances.
I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, for supporting Amendment 103. I am sure that my noble friend will recognise this text because it has come, in great part, from the Government’s own paper Health and Harmony. The public good is very ephemeral and opaque, and I give him the opportunity to put more meat on the bones and reward activities that are related directly to the production of food or farming in its broader aspects and, furthermore, activities from which tenants may benefit. We might focus too much on trees and the planting of crops like special grasses that soak up the water and have many qualities, and I want to make sure that landowners and tenants will benefit.
As such, I was very taken by what the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said earlier about catchment management, and I should state that I am one of the honorary vice-presidents of the Association of Drainage Authorities, and I know that drainage boards do a lot of work at low levels.
In Amendment 103, I set out the type of schemes that can benefit—such as Slowing the Flow at Pickering —namely, those that
“mitigate flood risks, particularly in managing uplands,” those that “restore peatbogs”, and so the list goes on. Given the time available, I highlight the reduction and risk of animal and plant disease, and especially something in this amendment that the Government were invited to focus on more than once:
“(h) to promote resilience of rural communities, rural proofing and productivity”.
I hope that the Government might see fit to return to trying to rural proof all the policies that we as the Government come forward with, to make sure that they are fit for purpose, will not damage rural communities, and will make sure—for example, with regard to healthcare—that rural communities can benefit as much from them as urban areas, which are attended to more often.
I turn now to Amendment 106, which looks at setting out the activities of farmers. We used to talk about the active farmer and I am now trying to focus more broadly on agricultural activity. The point I will make here is that something that has developed is very regrettable: dual use, whereby landlords, as the owners of the land, often take up the scheme and directly benefit from it, while the tenants are left to do the work for it. That is a regrettable development and I hope that my noble friend will put my mind at rest by saying that that is not going to be the case and that he and the good offices of the Government, in so far as they can, will ensure that tenant farmers benefit.
If we are moving away from active farmers, it is important that we come up with a definition of what will be covered under this. Obviously, we are looking at operating to high environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards, but we need to be absolutely clear and give our farmers and producers, at the outset, the widest possible understanding of what will be covered under the Bill.
My Lords, I will speak to two amendments I have tabled in this group, namely Amendments 118 and 121. These aim to ensure that we get a strong regulatory framework to enforce this new system of paying public money for public goods because, as it stands, the Bill says that the Government only “may” introduce regulations to do this. It should be not just a power but a duty to do so, given that what we are talking about is ensuring public confidence in the money spent to deliver societal goods.
We know that the current regulatory framework for farming is not fit for purpose. It is estimated that only every one in 200 farmers will get inspected, and the Government have known this for some time. They commissioned a review in 2018 but have not done anything since then to overhaul the existing regulatory framework, so it is really important that the Bill states that the Government have a duty to put together new regulations and work quickly with relevant stakeholders to draw up a new framework to give the public confidence. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for supporting me in that amendment.
I appreciate that this is almost two sides of a coin. I am talking about the regulatory side that we need to ensure is in place to manage the giving of public money in the future. I am very much in support of other noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Teverson and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, who have talked about the vast majority of farmers; we know that they are doing and want to do the right thing, and there is a real need to ensure that, alongside a strong regulatory framework, there is good provision of advice. I want to ensure that Members do not think that I think all farmers are bad apples; they are not. However, we need to ensure that good farmers have their reputations preserved by a strong regulatory framework.
I would find it very helpful if in winding up the Minister would say something about the Government’s current thinking on the timeframe and the consultees—almost the how and the when—when they are producing this new regulatory farm framework, so that the public can have confidence that taxpayers’ money is being properly spent to deliver the environmental and animal welfare benefits that we all want.
My Lords, I shall speak to my Amendments 108 and 109. I am looking for two reassurances from the Minister. The first is that we are going to look at a system of risk-based regulation. We have a lot of changes and improvements to make. We need a system of regulation which, supported by science, supports change without destroying older technology, in both of which aspects the EU system has proved deficient. Secondly, I want reassurance that we will permit local variation—indeed, individual variation. This ought to be a bottom-up system of support. No farm is the same as any other farm. No set of geology or human geography is the same. Everything will need to be local if it is going to work well. I very much hope that this is the way in which the Government are looking at regulation.
Amendment 110 has been stranded in this group. I will speak to this subject under the group beginning with Amendment 29. Suffice it to say that, as far as I am concerned, the answer lies in the soil.
My Lords, I apologise for not taking part in the Second Reading of the Bill due to logistical issues on my part.
I shall speak to Amendment 115 in this group, to which my name is attached. I support the words of the noble Lord, Lord Addington. There are many opportunities through amendments to the Bill to establish a different and positive way for more people to access the countryside. Existing public rights of way are the primary means by which people can get outdoors. The return on investment will be enhanced where existing access is well maintained so that the public can benefit from enhancement in, for example, biodiversity, cultural heritage and air quality.
It is also important that the regulatory framework that encourages farmers to keep paths clear as a condition of receiving payment from the public purse is right. I would like to see increased creativity in how we move forward with this Bill in creating paths, circular routes and links to connect communities with transport hubs and amenities and, close to my heart, in improving surfaces and infrastructure, such as gates and stiles, with less restrictive alternatives. They are often put in place to stop misuse but are a huge barrier for to wheelchair and handbike users. It would open up much-needed space.
A set of conditions, including those relating to public access, provides clarity for farmers over the baseline standards expected. It also helps to create a level playing field within the sector. Many farmers fulfil their legal obligations, so it would be unfair for those who do not to be treated equally, without any sanction for their failure to keep access open.
To sum up briefly my support for this amendment, I believe that, in the interests of transparency, information published should include details of the conditions of receipt of financial assistance and evidence of compliance with these conditions. As the money is from the public purse, it should be clear that recipients of funding under the scheme are meeting any conditions set by the Secretary of State.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson. I was also excluded from the Second Reading by virtue of being a surplus Peer when we were not able to get all of us into our virtual Chamber. I am sure that that was in the early days of remote working and could not possibly happen again on any future big Bills.
I have signed three amendments in this group—Amendments 65, 103 and 106—which are all in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. Clause 2 could be greatly improved so that the legislation and the resulting funding schemes reflect the scale of ambition that the Government are laying out. Amendment 103 would better target financial support to specific environmental and social outcomes. The conditions would help focus schemes around specific purposes, rather than leaving so much room for ministerial discretion. I know the Minister will soothingly reassure us about why this is all better left to ministerial discretion, but your Lordships’ House may favour the greater wisdom contained in our greater numbers. That is what I am hoping, anyway.
The other probing amendments in this group are about ensuring funding is directed to the most effective places to achieve the aims of the Bill. Funding must be available for a wide range of land managers, so that whatever are the most environmentally and socially beneficial activities can be encouraged. That said, it is worth probing the Minister on how the Government will ensure that that will be the case so that money is not put into the wrong hands. We must remember that these are large sums of money, so we must target them well and be able to explain who is eligible for public funds and why.
Some noble Lords have taken the opportunity to lobby for a return to the new normal of us all returning to the Chamber. I would just like to point out that many of us like remote working. We do not want to risk disease and death. We have to remember that coronavirus is likely to be part of the normal for the next few months and possibly years, so let us take advantage of the fact that we can be a hybrid House, unlike the House at the other end of the building.
The amendments I have tabled in this group largely go to the same issue which the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh and Lady Jones, have touched on, which is who is to receive payments under the ELMS and for what specific land they are to receive them. Noble Lords will see that I have suggested that it should be agricultural land. As I said previously, this is the Agriculture Bill. I would hate these payments to go to highways, Heathrow or Hyde Park. As the Bill is currently drafted, it strikes me that environmental land management in all those non-agricultural spaces would qualify. For that reason, Amendments 3, 15, 20, 23 and 30 focus the Bill and Clause 1 specifically on agricultural land.
In Amendment 85, I have lifted the definition of agricultural land from the current rules for the BPS. However, I added to that definition “common land” because, under the current rules, there is some uncertainty around whether common land, which is often found in uplands which we have discussed a great deal today, qualifies, as the right to claim BPS for common land is quite opaque. I would appreciate it if, in summing up, the Minister could address how common land will be treated under ELMS, because a major concern for common rights holders on Dartmoor and elsewhere is whether they will qualify and how.
Amendment 64 suggests that ELMS payments should be directed to farmers and those who are active in the management of agricultural land. This amendment and its wording find favour with the NFU and is therefore strongly supported by the agricultural and farming community. It allows us to determine exactly who should be the recipients. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said, we do not want the money to be given to people who are not engaged in agricultural practices.
The final amendment to which I would like to speak is Amendment 10, in which I specifically address the use of the word “enjoyment” in Clause 1(1)(b). It currently identifies
“supporting public access to and enjoyment of the countryside”.
However, one man’s enjoyment is another man’s nightmare. Certainly, many people enjoy the countryside by driving 4x4s noisily all over it. Others enjoy shooting in the countryside; there are all sorts of ways of enjoying it. But that is not a public good and does not create a public benefit. It is incredibly subjective and such terms should not be used in the Bill. I have suggested as an alternative
“health and wellbeing benefits from” the countryside because that is a public good.
It may be difficult to define, but one topic that has not been raised thus far in our far-ranging debates is social prescribing, and the incredible value of the countryside and nature to people for mental health and physical health. We have seen that emphasised over the recent months of the coronavirus lockdown. Certainly, in Devon we have seen those who are able to do so stream into the countryside to escape the confines of home, the lockdown and the social restrictions it has imposed. More than ever before, we see now that the health and well-being benefits of the countryside are to be encouraged. The Bill should explicitly do that, rather than just encouraging our enjoyment of the same.
I have just been told that because I was not here at the beginning of this group, I cannot speak. I thought that it was a Committee where you could wander in and out all the time. It is not a desperately important point that I want to make, so I will discuss it afterwards with people.
My Lords, I support Amendment 106 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. There are two principal points here. The Government want this Agriculture Bill, which is a major Bill and the first in many years, to be about public money for public goods. The second point was raised by the previous speaker, the noble Earl, Lord Devon: who is to receive those funds?
I believe that money should support those actively involved in farming activity. They used to be known as active farmers but, as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said, that definition has probably broadened now to the wider issue of agricultural activity. If that is the case, and the Government support it, then we can ensure high standards in environmental works on the farm and in food production. We can ensure high standards of food security and perhaps in so doing, we will be able to ensure, along with good food security, good accessibility to food for all in terms of the food chain.
On reallocated entitlements, applicant farmers must be able to demonstrate that they enjoy the decision-making power, benefits and financial risks attached to the agricultural activity on each parcel of land for which an allocation of entitlements is requested. That is right and proper; it is also ethical and moral.
Furthermore, the Minister referred during the previous group to the ongoing work and discussions between Defra and the devolved Administrations. What actual work has been done on broadening agricultural activity? Who will be eligible for such payments and what grades of activity will be eligible? Land ownership probably varies throughout the devolved Administrations compared with what pertains in England. Coming from the Northern Ireland context—there will possibly be some separate legislation for Northern Ireland—I know that we have a conacre system, which is an ancient Irish system whereby people keep land under conacre for one year. It differs from the tenant farmer situation that exists in Britain. What discussions have taken place on agricultural activity between the Minister, his ministerial colleagues in Defra and ministerial colleagues in the devolved regions?
In introducing the amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said that farmers would have to get paid to do all these good works in the future. We should pause and thank all the many farmers doing exactly these now without any money at all from the Government. They are doing it of their own free will because they love the land that they farm—they might have been farming it for generations—and the biodiversity and nature that goes with it. We must pay them a big thank you for continuing the work.
The noble Lord, Lord Addington, jogged my mind. It slightly irks me that we paid farmers to take hedges out and destroy landscape and biodiversity. We are now going to pay the same farmers to put those things back. It is worth remembering that a lot of farmers did not take out any hedges and kept the biodiversity but got no money at all for that.
I put my name to Amendments 65 and 106 and I was pleased to do so. Amendment 65, tabled by my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, would add the words,
“agriculture, horticulture and forestry in England” to the end of Clause 1(3). At the moment, the wording just stops at “England”. It seems logical to put the words in the amendment into the Bill.
While I am on forestry, my noble friend Lord Gardiner did not say on the first amendment—I am not surprised —what he actually means by “woodland” and “forestry”. Are they the same or two different things? If there will be grants for help for forestry and biodiversity, presumably there will be no grants for people planting vast acres of Sitka spruce, which are biodiversity unfriendly.
Forestry also raises another issue covered by Amendment 106: who gets the benefit of these payments of public money? I will focus on tenant farmers, as my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering did. When I was a land agent, my experience was that pretty well every tree was not in the tenancy agreement; it belonged to the landlord. Tenants were not allowed to plant woodland. That was excluded and outside the tenancy agreement.
We have an imbalance here and two different classes of farmer. We have the owner-occupier, who can do everything on their own land, and the tenant, who will be severely restricted. Who will get the benefit from these payments? If the tenant signs up to a scheme, I know many landlords who will say to them, “Thank you; I’m glad you signed up to that scheme. I’m glad you’re getting the money. Your rent is now going to increase and I’m going to take most of that money from you because you can afford to pay it.” Who will get this money? Is there a way one can incentivise tenants to do these schemes and reap the benefit that they deserve for putting the risk, capital and expertise at stake in doing so?
My Amendment 94, which I will speak to solely, addresses a central weakness in the Bill, identified in this debate and the preceding one: the open-ended nature of the powers given to the Secretary of State under Clause 1, which states that money can be used for
“managing land … in a way that … improves the environment”,
or cultural heritage, or mitigating climate change, or improving the health of livestock, presumably including racehorses et cetera. That strikes me as far too open-ended an approach in a Bill that is, after all, an agriculture Bill.
Therefore, later in Clause 1, at page 3, line 12, I propose that these words be added:
“‘land’ means land that is used for agricultural, horticultural or forestry purposes or which is intended to be so used, or used for purposes ancillary to those functions.”
That gives a clear definition, to my mind, of the purposes of Clause 1(1). Without something along those or similar lines—no doubt the wording could be improved—it is far too open-ended. Although the present Minister and Secretary of State would want to work within the confines of the Bill, once it is on the statue book it will be open to all sorts of abuse. I do not think that is the intention of an agricultural Bill and that is why I propose this amendment.
My Lords, I declare my farming and land-owning interests, as set out in the register, in particular my receipt of basic payments over the years. I support Amendments 2, 3, 15, 20, 23, 36, 64, 85 and 106, which aim to concentrate this agricultural Bill on farming, horticulture and forestry, with the associated aims of encouraging sustainable farming, strengthening food security, and improving animal welfare, access and the environment. However, we need to consider the starting point and existing situation, if the Bill is to succeed.
Currently, farmers are governed by the CAP and receive area-based payments. Figures show that 25% of farmers are profitable without the BPS. Direct payments account for around 58% of average farm businesses’ income. Figures rise for both beef and sheep. Although it is accepted that area-based payments are going and that payments will be made in exchange for public goods, there is little understanding among farmers of what this means. This is not helped by the almost complete lack of detail. Only 10 days ago, I received the policy discussion document on environmental land management schemes. It says all the right things, but clearly demonstrates how much more is to be done. The low take-up of current environmental schemes is due to them being both complicated and bureaucratic.
Farmers are not a homogenous group of wealthy landowners; nor is land homogenous. Farmers have very different levels of education and expectations of life. The Bill will shock most of them, because so much detail is missing and may not be available until 2024. This brings into question the Minister’s statement that there is a seven-year transition period. We will be clearer about what we are transitioning into only after 2024, which makes it a four-year transition by some definitions. Many farmers will just close their eyes and continue to farm as they know best.
For the Bill to be a success, there needs to be a high take-up of the new ELM scheme, otherwise farming profitability will sink, farmers will go to the wall and important farming skills will be lost. To avoid this awful scenario, ELM details are essential as soon as possible. In particular, we need to know how much farmers will be paid. Area payments have worked well, in the absence of any other reliable measurement, so do not discount them, although they sound like winding back the clock.
The other key point in strengthening the Bill with a view to getting early take-up by farmers is to be careful about the level of bureaucracy and generous in understanding that some factors, such as weather and disease, are outside farmers’ control. Unnecessary sanctions will put off farmers. Let us concentrate on supported improvements to farming, with access to advice for farmers on how they can implement the ELM schemes that are suitable for their farms and part of the country, together with improving technology, and therefore investment. Let us not add to the bureaucracy and think that the Bill can cover everyone’s wishes.
The majority of amendments in the second group aim to strengthen the farming provisions in this Bill and I support them. I now come to my own amendments, which are very much supported by the NFU and the farming lobby. Amendment 114 is driven by the fact that this is an enabling Bill and full details of the future agricultural support regime will appear only later, through delegated legislation. The Bill as drafted allows for the Secretary of State to delegate functions relating to the giving of financial assistance to “any other person”. This amendment seeks to limit aspects that can be delegated to administrative matters.
Farmers do not want to face a lottery of whether or not they may be able to access to financial support. There is a role for delegating delivery schemes to other people, particularly administrative functions, and to allow local decision-making to influence the shape of future financial assistance schemes. But the Government should not devolve their responsibilities to ill-suited non-government bodies or organisations. Allowing the Government to delegate the design and purposes of schemes risks a rise in inconsistencies and unfairness across the country.
Amendment 116 covers the transparency of information. Transparency is in the public interest. However, we must be mindful that, in many cases, farmers running farm businesses from their farms also live at those farms, with their families and children. Family farms are the backbone of British farming. There are times when it would be appropriate to limit the publishing of private information. For example, in the past, campaigns have been run targeting dairy farms and poultry farms. Public disclosure of information should be handled sensitively and be limited in nature to ensure that the private interests of farmers and their families are not jeopardised.
My Lords, this is my first opportunity to speak on this Bill, as unfortunately I did not make the cut at Second Reading. I would like to say briefly that, having been involved in the backroom in a previous iteration of this Bill, as adviser on the environment to Theresa May, I know the immense hard work that has gone into it by many civil servants, the Bill team and Ministers. This is a pretty difficult circle to square, because there are so many interests—as we have heard today. I would also like to pay tribute to Michael Gove, who had the inspiration to bring forward the innovative and ground-breaking idea of money for public goods.
In that capacity, I was fortunate enough to make a series of visits to farms. I have no direct farming interests, although if you were to go back three or four generations, I think you would find that my family worked on the land. I echo the words of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness: farmers are custodians of the land. They want to look after the land, and they want to know what they have to do. By and large, they care for their land in a way that perhaps those of us who only visit it cannot really understand. I also echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. Having been in a family business myself, as the fourth generation, I understand exactly the problems and concerns of family businesses. As the noble Lord said, these are not just businesses; the family lives on the land. Those are important issues.
I understand the general drift of the amendments in this group, particularly those tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Addington. There is a great danger of narrowing the recipients. Farmers and farming businesses are, of course, going to be the primary beneficiaries of the management of public goods. However, the aim of the Bill is to make it a little wider, mainly because the environmental land management scheme will also be the principal mechanism for delivering many of the ambitions of the 25-year environment plan. We should not, therefore, limit the scope to agricultural land only. I have a great deal of sympathy with Amendment 103, which talks about other things that should be included. For example, I do not think that blanket bogs would be classed as agricultural land, yet they will play a vital role in future climate change mitigation.
I also associate myself with the words of the noble Earl, Lord Devon, about social prescribing and the merits of getting out into the environment and nature. It does not always have to be in the countryside. Agriculture and farming are not exclusive to rural areas. In my former constituency of Uxbridge—from where I am speaking now—there are several farms, and most people would not realise that. They are not something that you get only in the rolling landscapes of England.
My Lords, I was delighted by what the Minister had to say about native breeds. None the less, there are a number of amendments in this group which I would like to identify as potentially limiting the financial assistance for native breeds such as Dartmoor, Exmoor or New Forest ponies. They are Amendments 10, 15, 30, 64, 85 and 103. There is a particular concern about Amendment 64, which appears to suggest financial assistance only for agriculture, leaving out the native breeds. Amendment 103, after Clause 1, would limit the benefit of financial assistance in such a way as is likely to be a disincentive for landowners to use native ponies for conservation in other regions. Dartmoor ponies are currently used as conservation grazers right across the country.
My Lords, I apologise that I was not able to speak at Second Reading; I was not sworn in to your Lordships’ House due to illness. I am having trouble with my broadband, so I will make this incredibly brief. I will comment on Amendments 106 and 103, which I see as key.
On Amendment 106 in particular, I am very much opposed to the money going to the person who is not taking the risk in managing the land on a day-to-day basis or in occupation of the land. During my two spells as a Farming Minister, in MAFF and in Defra, I did many farm visits. I remember on more than one occasion being taken to one side privately by a farmer to spell out the fact that they were doing certain things that were improving income and diversifying but the landlord had started to interrupt and take a slice. I would be very much opposed to the National Trust, for example, being a big recipient of this money on behalf of tenant farmers. We should be quite ruthless about where the money goes. It is essentially farm income; it is not for other bodies. I am not singling out the National Trust, but I can think of two or three examples where it was the main culprit.
I very much agree with Amendment 103. I would like to make a couple of points that impinge on the next group, on which I will not speak because there is an overlap. First, on the monitoring of animal health and welfare, farmers have to be proactive. There is of course a fear that leaving the CAP might mean less form-filling and more of a free-for-all. We cannot afford that; there has to be really proactive monitoring of animal health and welfare, and farmers have to be encouraged to do that. Secondly, in respect of public access, better paths around field margins to replace unsafe lanes, deliberately creating circular routes rather than single routes, have to be of great benefit to the public.
I will give the Committee a good example to go and look at. In the Langdale valley in Cumbria there have been massive changes in recent years to allow access on the floor of the valley to wheelchair users. What has happened there has been quite dramatic. I would say that that example, above all the others that I came across, is absolutely fantastic. I will conclude there.
I declare my interests as set out in the register. I will speak to Amendment 2 in the names of my noble friends Lady Scott and Lord Addington. The effect of the amendment would be to limit financial assistance to those involved in agriculture, horticulture, forestry and land management. One of the main purposes of the Bill is to continue to maintain financial support for agriculture and other activities specified in the amendment. Farmers, growers and others are, like so many other businesses, extremely apprehensive about the future, especially when the transition period ends on
Over the years, farmers and others have wholeheartedly embraced policies to protect and enhance the environment and the countryside, to farm extensively and to achieve high standards of animal welfare. They have diversified as much as they can. Our farmers are aware and proud that they are the custodians of our landscape, including the uplands and the vast bulk of the landmass of the country that is turned over to agriculture and forestry. Farmers strongly resist the cheap and dangerous solutions practised elsewhere, such as the use of growth hormones and toxic pesticides. They value our landscape and our countryside. Farmers and growers embrace their role in producing the bulk of the food to feed our country. However, all this comes at a high cost, not only a high capital cost but often a cost in the diminution of future income.
Many farmers, including many in the south-west and on the uplands of Dartmoor and Exmoor, are barely making a living. They depend for their livelihoods on financial support. The financial support earmarked in this Bill should go to those involved in agriculture, horticulture, forestry or land management. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, is quite right: those who take the risk should get the benefit. If support is required for other businesses or other purposes, or for businesses only remotely tangential to agriculture or horticulture, that support should come from a separate pool of money and should be provided for in separate legislation.
Potential problems with the drafting of this clause have already been identified in this debate; for example, does the support go to the landlord or the tenant? The drafting of this amendment should be tightened up before Report stage, when I hope it will come back to the House.
My Lords, I am no expert on agricultural questions but, as a Cumbria county councillor, I am deeply interested in them because they are so important to our local area. I hope that the Government will listen to what the noble Lord, Lord Burnett, has just said. The prospect of failing to avoid tariffs in agriculture in our current discussions with the EU represents a serious threat to the agricultural sector and, frankly, makes our present considerations under this Bill look relatively insignificant.
We have an opportunity to create a better system of support for farming and for the countryside. The debate on this group of amendments brings out my view that there is a lack of clarity about the objectives. Is this about farmers or about the wider rural economy? I strongly support Amendment 103, which outlines a broad set of objectives for financial assistance. I would be interested to know the Minister’s reaction to that amendment. Are the Government supportive of it, or do they think that it stretches the definition of eligibility for the ELM payments too far?
I have another concern. The common agricultural policy, which had many faults, was introduced as a measure almost of social assistance to facilitate economic transition on the continent from a rural to an urban society. In the 1950s, 30% of people in France worked on the land, while 25% did so in Germany and 40% in Italy, yet we saw in the decades after that a tremendous move to the cities. This was achieved with little social friction, and the support for farming was an important part of that transition. Of course, the way it was done had serious snags to it. Initially, it was done by giving subsidies to production. Why was it done that way? Because there was no other way of regulating it—no other simple way of handing money to the agricultural sector when it was in this process of transition.
I have two doubts about the Bill, both of which I think are relevant to this group of amendments. The first is: what are we setting these objectives for, farming or the countryside, and who will be eligible to receive the payments? How will these objectives be regulated? The Government give us little detail on that point. How are we going to tell whether farmers have met these very worthy objectives that are being debated in this set of amendments?
My second point is that, while I dare say economic assessments have been done—this is an economic question—when it comes to the problems of low-income farmers, who fulfil a vital social function in areas such as the hill farms of the Lake District, can we be sure that this new system of setting them environmental objectives will give them a sustainable living? That is what matters: are they going to get enough money to continue to do their job? The answer is that I do not know. What the Government are saying about environmental land management sounds very good and of course I support it—who would not?—but how is it going to be done and what will its economic consequences be for different farming communities? The Government have to give better answers to those questions before we can give proper consideration to the Bill.
I want to follow on closely from what the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, was saying. I believe that the Bill has to be changed somewhat. First, the emphasis should be more on the rural economy, of which farming is of course a key element. I believe that the way forward is to consolidate and formalise the diversification approach that many farmers have already moved on to. We should do so through the concept of the rural business unit, or RBU, as originally set out in 1992 in the Bunbury report of the CLA. At that time it was not adopted by the Government, but the CLA, of which I am a member, has developed the idea and recently presented it to the Treasury.
Historically, farmers have been among the earliest entrepreneurs, always open to new ideas of how to make the best use of areas of land, large or small. Equally, they have always seen themselves as being custodians of the land. That custodianship must continue to be buttressed by a strong and sensible planning system. The planning system that we have in this country is, together with the NHS, one of the two great inheritances from the post-war Attlee Government, and I have been rather concerned at stories that the Government are in some ways aiming to try to dismantle part of it. I say right away that they will have no support from me if they weaken the planning system.
The sort of activities that should be encouraged through the rural business unit include, obviously, tourism in its many forms; the protection and enhancement of the landscape; conservation and encouragement of our diversity of flora and fauna; forestry, as has been referred to, especially hardwoods; the provision of additional housing, especially through the sensitive conversion of redundant farm buildings into dwellings; the development of premises for small businesses to use, whether for homeworking, offices or manufacturing; the provision of additional access, with facilities for walkers and riders; sporting facilities, including shooting and fishing; and, certainly not least, the adding of value by processing the products of agriculture or forestry, whether arable, vegetable or animal. All this may involve changes to the tax rules to offer the same advantages of accounting integration that have long been encouraged for other industry and commerce. I hope that the Minister might look favourably on this approach.
My Lords, I am a bit puzzled as to the intentions of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, with Amendment 2. I should have thought that, by engaging in activities to support any of the purposes listed in Clauses 1(1) or 1(2), someone must by definition be involved in one of the four activities mentioned in the amendment. Therefore, I feel the amendment is unnecessary.
We have already discussed Amendment 4, proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and perhaps his Amendment 3 would have been better grouped with that. However, I cannot support his intention to exclude managers of land other than managers of agricultural land, which would exclude forestry, horticulture and other landholdings.
The noble Earl rightly challenges the drafting of Clause 1(1)(b), on “supporting public access”. It has always struck me as interesting that public access in Scotland is much more freely available under the right to roam legislation. However, most of Scotland has very much lower population density than England, and I believe the Government should tread carefully here. Many birds and animals may benefit from less intensive agriculture but will surely suffer as a result of greater disturbance caused by increased numbers of walkers and perhaps a more intrusive network of public footpaths.
As for Amendment 10 in the name of the noble Earl, I agree that the word “enjoyment” in relation to the countryside, farmland or woodland seems a little strange. I would support the inclusion of “health and wellbeing benefits”. Perhaps the term “natural capital” is a better and wider term than “environment”, and I think “awareness” is better than “understanding”, which may be too subjective.
In Amendment 64, the noble Earl seeks to restrict those who may be entitled to financial assistance, but I am not sure that his amendment is necessary. There are many farmers whose businesses have diversified into other activities, but it is clear that their ability to receive financial assistance relates only to the purposes set out.
As I thought about the noble Earl’s amendments, it occurred to me that “financial assistance” is not quite right as a term to describe the Government’s intentions. It sounds as though farmers are being helped because they are in need. Some may be in need, but others are not. Surely, what is proposed is that farmers should be appropriately rewarded for the value they add to the land they own or occupy. I do not think that a company provides “financial assistance” to its employees for doing their work in a diligent manner. Perhaps “support” or “compensation” would be better.
In Amendment 106, my noble friend Lady McIntosh seeks to ensure that financial assistance is targeted at active farmers and land managers. However, what about an estate owned by a person or persons not in day-to-day management control of their land because they are busy in other businesses and have appointed agents or managers to run the businesses? They retain ultimate control through their ownership of the land or farming business. It is not clear whether the amendment might disqualify some estates from the scheme.
I caution against adopting Amendment 108, proposed by my noble friend Lord Lucas. We have heard a great deal about following the science, but we know that science is based on different scientists’ different interpretations of the facts: it is not absolute and is very subjective. I agree with his intention on soil management contained in Amendment 110, but I am not sure why he thinks it necessary to spell that out here, when it is arguably covered in Clause 1.
I briefly mention Amendments 114 and 116, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. I think he is right both to seek assurance that the design and purpose of schemes is not delegated to non-governmental, non-accountable bodies and organisations and to strictly limit the publication of information relating to the recipients of financial assistance.
My Lords, I am afraid that I want to take a different position from several noble Lords who have already spoken about the amendments in this group. I speak specifically to reject Amendments 64 and 106 and other amendments in the group that would restrict payments to agricultural, horticultural and forestry land only. This Bill is about delivering public good through land management, and the environmental land management scheme will be one of the major ways in which the Government’s 25-year environment plan will be delivered. Therefore, although many of these public goods will be delivered by farmers and farm businesses, not all of them will: for example, restoration of non-agricultural habitats, such as blanket bogs, and the creation of non-commercial woodlands, such as community woodlands, both of which are important for combating climate change. I therefore do not support these amendments, which would limit the scope to agricultural, horticultural and forestry management rather than wider land management. These would reduce the Bill’s effectiveness in delivering its key purposes.
A number of noble Lords have said that this is an Agriculture Bill and so it should be about farmers and food production. I do not agree: I believe that this Bill is not about modest changes in the way we support and incentivise farmers but about how in the future we support anyone who manages land to deliver the things that the nation needs from the land. This will include food production, but it will also include a wide range of other things. This Bill is not simply about filling the gap left by leaving the common agricultural policy; it is about setting a vision for the future of the way the scarce resource of land is managed. Farmers will form a vital part of this transition and need to be helped and supported to make this transition, but it cannot be about farmers alone. Can the Minister assure me that the restrictions in these amendments will not be accepted?
I turn to Amendments 118 and 121 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. I share her view that the checking, enforcement and monitoring of the new financial support schemes cannot be optional: they have to be required on the face of the Bill.
My Lords, one theme that has come up today has been the theme of definition. In the last group, the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, led to a discussion of the differences between “conserve” and “enhance”. In this group, the noble Earl, Lord Devon, has drawn our attention to the difference between “enjoyment” and “health and wellbeing”. I am inclined to agree with him on that, and the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, did so as well. When we look at access to the countryside, clearly a balance has to be struck: where large amounts of taxpayers’ money are being invested in the countryside, then quite clearly many people wish to seek access to it. I understand that, in certain cases, people who seek access to the countryside under certain circumstances can cause harm in so far as they can spread diseases and so on. Lots of people feel that, as part of the country, they need to have access and have a right to have access, so it is a question of getting the balance right. The point that the noble Earl, Lord Devon, was making was that by making health and well-being a public good, it categorises something. Enjoyment is such a broadly based point that it lacks any kind of clarity. Those terms should be revisited.
On the general point about access to the countryside, we encourage people for health and well-being purposes to go there if they are resident in cities. However, we have to remember that many people live in the countryside who are not farmers, and there are many parts of the agricultural sector that are not farms. Some people have this idea that it is the job of people who work in the countryside to make sure that the hedges are well trimmed so that when the city dwellers come out at the weekend, it all looks very pretty. That is not what it is—it is not a museum. It cannot be maintained in aspic. The rural areas are living, working workplaces in many cases, and we want to ensure that that continues. However, I say to the Minister that the question of balance requires some consistency in how we define these matters, particularly when we are establishing public good. The general thrust of the Bill is good, but we must put more effort into consistency of definition.
I call the noble Lord, Lord Naseby. We cannot hear him so we will move on to the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, and will try to get the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, back later.
My Lords, I will speak briefly to Amendment 103, the impact of which would be to limit the range of activities benefiting from the Secretary of State’s financial support outlined in the Bill. In line with my comments on the last group of amendments, I consider that to do so would risk closing off the incentives for farmers and landowners to use native equines for conservation grazing in regions away from where they are traditionally bred. For Dartmoor, for example, this would dramatically shrink the size of the sink where the rare genetics of the Dartmoor hill pony, whose benefits I spoke of in my comments on the last group, would be safely held.
Such ex situ sinks are essential if the populations on Dartmoor ever need to be replenished: for example, if the semi-wild herds on the moor were devastated by disease. That would risk the loss of the rare genetics such ponies hold, which are so important to surviving and grazing on the uplands, creating habitats for wildlife. It would shrink a market selling native ponies as conservation grazers and would exacerbate animal welfare problems. If not sold, semi-wild native ponies, which must leave the upland herds in order to comply with number limits imposed by Defra agri-environment schemes, will be culled. So I am therefore very concerned by this amendment.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 106, which I support in spirit. It is good to see my noble friend Lord Rooker back, and I look forward to sitting next to him when the House resumes in its proper role.
I will be very brief and will ask the Minister a question. We know that under the CAP system, as I understand it, there is no restriction as regards the receivers of EU money. I believe that this is untenable in the future. The amendment sets out new limitations to confine financing assistance to those actively engaged in farming or land management. I support the spirit, as I said, but the amendment may need redrafting. There is no other justification for spending taxpayers’ money. I ask the Minister specifically: will there be any restrictions or limitations on who payments will be made to in future under the Bill?
My Lords, forgive me if I turn off the video, because my signal is very poor. I declare my interests as in the register; my background is in livestock production in a hill area. As a Scottish farmer, I am particularly interested in the outcome of the devolution framework negotiation.
I was interested to hear my noble friend Lord Marlesford saying that we must emphasise the context in which we are. Behind it all, we have to bear in mind that as a country at present we should go out and buy exotic food or cheap food as and where we can find it, but we need to remember the warnings in the Beddington report that before too long these other parts of the world will need most of what they produce to feed themselves.
The Bill as it stands already opens up 10 headings of activities or causes for which the Government propose to offer financial assistance. Many noble Lords have tried to define a more focused approach to the payments. The noble Earl, Lord Devon, told us of his rationale for focusing only on agriculture and how he envisages rural support to be directed. I was interested to hear that he had drawn his definition of land from an EU definition.
In Amendment 64 the noble Earl envisages limiting the land eligible for assistance by the type of activity it supports, but those of your Lordships who have been involved in existing support schemes will be familiar with the difficulties that were dreamed up when the rules were made in Brussels to start to try to make clear what was agricultural land, starting off with a mapping exercise. Very many in my part of the world had to spend a great deal of time identifying what were rocky outcrops, patches of impenetrable scrub, bracken or bog on a field-by-field basis. I seem to remember that Northern Ireland faced a huge fine for claiming on areas with these conditions. I am glad to see that in Amendment 91 in the previous group, the noble Earl added a role for managing wetlands as part of cultural or natural heritage.
Following on from my noble friend Lord Randall’s concern, many noble Lords have drawn attention to what the EU now describes as “areas of natural constraint”. There would be a problem if we went solely down the line of production. There is a difficulty in dealing with the more awkward parts of what, in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, was described as
“mountain, moor, heath or down”.
Some of these areas support agricultural production but, since the advent of the current basic payment scheme, some areas have no livestock on them at all. They are perhaps given over to conservation or peatland restoration. Are these to be excluded from any development assistance as we go forward?
As I said, many amendments are trying to direct more defined targets for funding. As we go forward, it will be interesting to see whether any wording will be found that will be acceptable to my noble friend the Minister.
My Lords, I will first say that I strongly support Amendment 118 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. If we are talking about public funds for public goods, it makes absolute sense that there must be regulations to oversee the system. I cannot understand why we would want to leave that as optional. Her amendment does not specify the regulations or get into detail on what might be in place in future, but she quite correctly highlights the need for this to be a priority. A substantial amount of public funds will be distributed following the passing of this Bill, and clearly there should be regulations to check on the way in which these funds are being spent.
I also want to comment on Amendment 10, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Devon, which highlights an interesting point on the definition used. I, too, thought that “enjoyment of” was slightly strange and loose wording, and liked the suggestion that “health and well-being” could replace it. It would be a much more proactive and much stronger phraseology. The limitations on the lives of so many of our fellow citizens have been highlighted by a lockdown which has seen them living in sometimes very small flats and apartments with no access to open spaces or countryside. Yet again, this has highlighted the impact on health and well-being of fresh air, access to the countryside, exercise and so on.
However, my reservation about Amendment 10 concerns replacing “countryside, farmland or woodland” with the more specific “agricultural land”. I am not sure why both changes have been made in that amendment rather than just one. If the Minister is minded, perhaps at a later stage, to change “enjoyment of” to “health and wellbeing”, he could come back to your Lordships’ House with an amendment on that basis that did not change the definition of “countryside, farmland or woodland” alongside it.
My Lords, after the noble Lord, Lord Judd, speaks, I will call the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, again.
My Lords, with the first group of amendments, we did the easy bit: we discussed the generalities. Now, as we move towards specifics, it becomes harder. I will not speak to a specific amendment, for the simple reason that I agree with them and I disagree with them. It is all a muddle. My starting point is very much the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, and my noble friend Lord Marlesford. After all, at the end of the war, it was clear that agriculture was coterminous with the rural economy. That is no longer the case. The remarks of my noble friend Lord Marlesford about the Rural Business Unit, merit very serious consideration and have an important part to play in the evolution of policy in this area.
As far as the immediate matters we are discussing are concerned, the crucial thing is to think about the provision of public goods. This is not a form of outdoor relief, but an arrangement for the acquisition, in the public interest, of things it is desirable for the public to have. Their acquisition divides into two separate things. First, it is an ongoing product which is essentially a function of maintaining land, but to do that, in certain circumstances it is necessary to invest capital. If you start looking at the economics of it in that way, it becomes more understandable.
The other thing that I have learned from farming is that just about all you can be certain of is that things go wrong. In this country, as we know, an awful lot of agriculture is conducted under the landlord and tenant system, but this disguises a whole range of arrangements between landlords and tenants. In those arrangements, the various parties contribute very differently and the risk is carried differently. In any event, if you are thinking about these subjects, how do you deal with the landlord and tenant system separately from that of owner-occupiers? How, in financial terms, is an owner-occupier with large borrowings different from a tenant who is borrowing “money” from a landlord? That makes it very difficult.
In addition, there is not only one form of land tenure. In the north, where I come from, there is a great deal of common land, as we have heard this afternoon. The problems with common land have caused considerable injustice in the way in which they have locked, or failed to lock properly, into environmental payments. The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, spoke about conacre in Ireland, which I have heard about but never come across personally.
Furthermore, in looking at public money for public goods, we have to be clear that what is suitable in place A is not suitable in place B. Different bits of Britain are completely different from one another. I live in Cumbria, on the edge of the Lake District, but I spent a number of years in East Anglia on the edge of the Fens. They are as different as the automotive industry and the aerospace industry. We have to be very specific and careful and start by thinking about what advantage the public can gain from any particular place.
In terms of money, it seems axiomatic that there should be proper audit. This must be accounted for properly because, in any commercial transaction and wherever public money is involved, you have to be able to see what is going on and trace it properly. However, confidentiality is also important, a point which I think has been made. I am a dairy farmer; we have had our supplier on to us about security in the face of animal welfare activists.
At the end of the day, it is for the Government to work out what they want to buy under the principle of public money for public goods. As I and others have said, they are pretty vague in their own mind about what they want to do. In dealing with the consequences for the people on the ground, as much as possible—this has been touched on by a number of speakers—if it is appropriate to find an agreement between the various interests involved in the use of land, that must be a very good starting point to take it further forward.
My Lords, I return to the basic amendment for this group from the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market. It makes sense. It spells out more fully the range of activity which I am sure the Government intend to cover and specifies some of these areas more clearly. At this point in our economic history, which is not very cheerful, horticulture may become very much more important than it is even today. It may become an important part of our way of life and an important way of generating income for a cross-section of people. This will not be altogether a bad thing. It will lead to a better quality of life for them, frankly, than what they may have been involved in before. For all these reasons, we should be grateful for this amendment. I certainly support it.
I regret that we have been unable to reconnect with the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville.
My Lords, this group of amendments moves us to the question of what type of land will qualify for financial assistance. My noble friends Lord Addington and Lord Burnett are arguing for a widening of this to include agriculture, horticulture, forestry and land management. Along with the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, I have added my name to Amendment 65, which would ensure that the Secretary of State focuses his financial assistance on the issues we believe should be covered in the Bill: agriculture, horticulture and forestry.
I look forward to clarification from the Minister on this matter, especially around the rights of tenant farmers, so well set out by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and my noble friend Lord Burnett. As I am nearly the last speaker on this group of amendments, all the relevant arguments have been successfully made by others, but I wish the Minister to be aware of the depth of feeling over this issue and of just how important it is to be absolutely clear what functions and services are to be eligible for financial assistance.
I support Amendments 118 and 121, in the name of my noble friend Lady Parminter. I believe that consultation and what is to be consulted on are vital.
I turn to Amendment 103, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, to which I have added my name. Others have already spoken on this amendment, so the Committee will be pleased to hear that I will not speak to all its proposed paragraphs. I would like to draw attention to paragraphs (a), (b), (e), (f), (h) and (j) in subsection (2)—but do not worry, I will not be that long. This is not to say that the other paragraphs are not important; I just do not want us to be here at 10 pm this evening.
Mitigating the risk of flooding is very important, not only on the uplands. Rural communities are rarely flat and the way in which a farmer ploughs his sloping land has an impact on how the water drains away during heavy storms. Although I have seen leaflets encouraging farmers to consider run-off from their land, some seem unable to grasp this. Beautifully neat rows of soil look good, especially when planted with maize, except during heavy rainfall. Then, the water streams down the furrows, through the gate and out into the roads—where, carrying topsoil and silt as it goes, it cascades down them and into the drains, blocking them completely within a short space of time. This ensures that the water continues on its way down into the village, causing distress and mess to those living there. Financial incentives seem to be the only way to alter the behaviour of some farmers.
The Minister will be expecting me to mention peat bogs. In Somerset, the extraction of peat on the Levels has been a local industry for a very long time. However, we now see a move away from peat extraction and towards improving and enhancing what is left behind. In many Somerset villages, the peat workings have been enhanced so that there are now wildlife and wild-flower sanctuaries, with public access along and between the lakes which have been created. The county council, along with the peat producer organisations, has been key in assisting this to happen. Financial assistance should not be given where peatbogs are exploited and not restored. Peat moors and bogs are essential in carbon sequestration, and this should form part of the financial equation.
Paragraphs (e), (f), (h) and (j) are interlinked. Environmental enhancement and protecting the environment improve air quality and contribute to addressing climate change. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, has long been a champion of rural proofing and productivity; I have heard him speak eloquently on the subject on many occasions. But still we find that the government policies handed down have a detrimental effect on those of us living in rural towns and villages. Under the Bill, we have the opportunity to ensure that the financial assistance to be linked to the various measures in it is fully rural proofed, ensuring the protection and sustainability of the environment and contributing to addressing climate change.
Finally, I will state what we all know: during April and May and the early part of June, the roads were quiet. The skies were not full of aircraft and even the railway lines were much quieter. Those of us lucky enough to have gardens heard the birds singing and watched them collecting materials for their nests. The air we were breathing was clean. Those of us with asthma found that we did not need our medication as often as previously. We all want this to continue. For one thing, our physical and mental well-being is dependent on it. We do not want to return to wholesale pollution. Air quality and climate change must move to the top of the agenda. I look forward to the Minister’s response to this important group of amendments.
I thank all Peers who have tabled their amendments in this group. At the start of each day in Committee when I am speaking, I shall declare my interests as at present receiving payments in relation to my interests, as declared in the register.
I will speak to one amendment in this group, Amendment 121, to which my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch has added her name. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, for proposing this amendment, which would require the Secretary of State to conduct a consultation on the strong regulatory framework for those in receipt of financial assistance under her Amendment 118. This must be a wide-ranging consultation with participants on the impact of the overarching approach of reward for public goods in relation to environmental impacts. It is important that the Government commit at this stage to consult on the overall framework and impact, not merely on the various regulations that will come as secondary legislation.
This has been another well-populated group, with 22 amendments. It is important to bring out the main issues early in our Committee deliberations, and this group is important in defining the target recipients of financial assistance schemes and how wide these should be. How far will the payments for sustainable food production and environmental enhancements go? As was discussed in the first group, the limited funding must be targeted to provide good value for environmental enhancements to risk-takers in the production cycle. These payments may prove harder to forecast for budgetary purposes than allocation across defined land areas in a direct payment system.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh and Lady Scott of Needham Market, for their amendments to determine that financial assistance under Part 1 can be given to agricultural land and farmers actively involved in agricultural production only. The noble Lord, Lord Randall, and my noble friend Lady Young spoke against this. My noble friend Lord Rooker, whom I welcome back, said that risk-takers must be a feature in receiving payments.
Clause 1(4), on page 2, states that:
“the Secretary of State must have regard to the need to encourage the production of food by producers … in an environmentally sustainable way.”
This does not suggest exclusivity. The Government have suggested that the present requirement to be a registered producer to receive the BPS may not continue and that payments for public goods may not be made to farmers exclusively. At this stage, it behoves the Government to be clear and emphatic in their intentions before bringing forward regulations on this. To what extent would the recipient of payments need to be involved in an agricultural, horticultural or forestry business and for what percentage of total payments? Is it sufficient to be a land manager outside of production? It would be a fair assumption that, as at present, the rationale for receiving payments in an agricultural Bill is that you help those engaged in food production to produce food sustainably. The Government are also bringing forward an Environment Bill, and I am sure the Minister wants to be clear about the relationship between the two Bills.
As I said at Second Reading, the Bill must encourage wholesome food production alongside environmental enhancements. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, for her remarks on public access for wheelchairs, under Amendment 111, on public rights of way under the Highways Act, also endorsed by my noble friend Lord Rooker. The Minister may respond that this and other amendments are unnecessary and already included in other legislation or the various clauses and requirements of the Bill on payment schemes, administration and good agricultural practice. It is important that a good picture of the framework of the Bill is made explicit. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for what again has been an interesting debate which has taken us into a range of issues. I shall begin with Amendment 2 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, Amendments 3, 10, 15, 20, 23, 30, 64 and 85 from the noble Earl, Lord Devon, Amendment 65 from my noble friend Lady McIntosh and Amendment 94 from the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, all of which deal with eligibility for financial assistance.
This is of course the Agriculture Bill, and the powers it contains have been designed with agriculture in mind. Schemes are overwhelmingly designed to work for farmers and land managers, and we intend that they will reap the benefits of providing public goods across agriculture, forestry and horticulture. Farmers will, and indeed must, be at the very heart of future schemes, as I have said before.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that, yes, we want to avoid bureaucracy, but one of the reasons to have these tests and trials across the nation is so that almost all the ranges of what is in Clause 1 are tested, so that we can come forward with a national rollout which we think will be dynamic and work for farmers.
The ELM scheme will pay farmers, foresters and other land managers to deliver environmental public goods identified in the Government’s 25-year environment plan. About 70% of land in England is farmed so, as stewards of our land, farmers will play an essential role in this. That is why tier 1 of the ELM scheme will focus on supporting farmers to farm their land in an environmentally sustainable way. Other schemes, such as those aiming to improve animal health and welfare, will focus on supporting livestock farmers. The noble Lord, Lord Empey, used a word which is important in all of what we have to do: “balance”.
One of the areas where a number of noble Lords have taken contrary views is on assigning this just for, say, agricultural land. My noble friend the Duke of Montrose was right to highlight some of the issues and complexities, as did my noble friends Lord Randall of Uxbridge and Lord Trenchard and the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. Woodland, rivers and wetlands, among many others, may well be able to deliver important public goods. This is an issue that we need to think through. When we try to be so precise, we might end up missing out if we were to accept some of these amendments. I am very glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, mentioned the restoration of peatland. Many of these features will be managed by farmers on their land, but if we define it as just agricultural land, are we in difficulties about woodland, rivers and wetlands, all of which make a major contribution on one’s farm to how one can enhance the environment? Restricting eligibility to those managing land for agriculture, horticulture or forestry would mean that we risk missing out the important benefits that can be gained when land managers work together. For example, we would not wish for all those managing land in a particular river catchment to lose out on the possibility of joining a scheme just because one parcel of land in the catchment was not agricultural.
I am very mindful of what the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and my noble friend Lord De Mauley said about native breeds. The Government are currently developing the details of the ELM scheme with stakeholders, including eligibility criteria. The ELM discussion document was reopened on
There was a very interesting discussion about well-being. We had important contributions. Clause 1 could be used to contribute to the delivery of societal benefits, including engagement with the environment. The ELM could fund the creation of new paths, such as footpaths and bridleways, and could support access to water and waterways, such as lakes and rivers, which allow for—yes—enjoyment of the countryside. I have a bit to do with this very important area, particularly in relation to loneliness: I represent Defra on the ministerial task force on that. The noble Lord, Lord Empey, also mentioned social prescribing, health and well-being. Defra and the DHSC, working jointly, are bidding, through the shared outcomes fund, to develop a mental health project to support scaling up nature-based preventive and therapeutic interventions, working with PHE, NHS England, the MHCLG and Natural England. I am genuinely interested in how we craft the Bill. We think that “enjoyment” covers all that would be required. If a farmer was going to engage with something like social prescribing or health and well-being, then that is part of environmental enhancement. I am not promising anything, but I am interested in a conversation on how we encompass all this. With what the nation is going through with this crisis, the Government place great importance on this area for health, well-being, mental health and social prescribing.
I turn to Amendment 106, in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh. It was great to see the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, even if it was only on the screen. The Government recognise that schemes should, of course, be available to tenant farmers. It is the Government’s intention that the ELM scheme will provide funding to those carrying out the management of the land or water to deliver the environmental public goods. My noble friend Lord Inglewood, an experienced land manager, spoke wise words when he referred to the range of issues. The Government are engaging with a wide range of different types of farmer and land manager, including tenant farmers, to inform the development of ELM and to understand and address any particular issues, including in relation to tenant farmers, to which my noble friend Lady McIntosh’s amendment refers.
In response to the noble Earl, Lord Devon, I say that the Government are designing future financial schemes to be accessible to as many farmers and land managers as possible, including those who work on common land.
I turn to amendments which deal with conditions placed on recipients of financial assistance. I reassure my noble friend Lady McIntosh that the Government recognise the importance of the issues listed in her Amendment 103 and are committed to supporting their delivery, both through schemes that will be delivered under Clause 1—I will not go through the list of what they are—and wider government initiatives. On the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, I say that we already have robust domestic regulatory protections in place that require all farmers and land managers, irrespective of whether they receive financial assistance or not, to meet stringent standards. I was interested in what the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, said. These rules include the farming rules for water, which protect against water pollution, and the welfare of farmed animals regulations, which protect farm livestock, a point that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, referred to. These protections will continue.
The Government are reviewing, in partnership with industry, where we can make improvements to our regulatory regime. There will be some areas where the Government will raise standards. As announced in the clean air strategy, the Government will require and support farmers to take more action to reduce ammonia emissions, for example. Where appropriate, we will look to provide greater scope to remedy underperformance before sanctions are applied. The Government agree with Dame Glenys Stacey that advice has an important role in an effective regulatory system.
As Minister for Rural Affairs, rural-proofing is an issue I place the utmost importance on. My noble friends Lord Marlesford and Lady McIntosh, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, raised it. The Government are committed to rural-proofing all policies, which involves looking at how best to achieve policy outcomes while taking account of the particular needs and challenges of rural communities. There is a network of rural-proofing leads from all main departments.
I am particularly mindful of the experiences of my noble friend Lord Inglewood and the point my noble friend Lord Marlesford raised. The Government are taking steps to ensure that rural communities can continue to thrive. For example, through the “outside in” approach as part of the future telecoms infrastructure review, we are supporting the deployment of gigabit-capable broadband to the least commercially viable UK premises. That means that those in the hardest-to-reach rural areas will not be left behind. Through the Rural Connected Communities competition the Government are funding up to 10 5G research and development projects to run over two years. At a different scale, the funds that have been made available to village halls are also a tremendously important part of the direction of travel we wish to take.
I emphasise once again that the Government have a clear ambition to leave the environment in a better state than we found it. We will work closely in partnership with land managers to achieve these outcomes by encouraging them to adopt holistic approaches to the delivery of multiple public goods across their land.
On Amendments 108 to 110 in the name of my noble friend Lord Lucas, I will first discuss the role of evidence and risk in the development of our financial assistance schemes and conditions. The Government are taking a science-led approach to many of the ELM scheme conditions. The scientific evidence on the extent to which different land management activities deliver environmental benefits will inform what the scheme will pay for. For the purpose of improving productivity, conditions may be attached to the provision of financial assistance for a number of different reasons. Conditions might, for example, be used to derive additional public or private benefits from the funding.
On the amendment on local and individual variation, this is also being considered in the ELM scheme conditions. For example, tier 1 of ELMS aims to support environmentally sustainable farming across the country. This tier aims to support actions that the majority of farmers will be able to take, but the Government are also considering how these actions may differ across different regions and different farm types. Tiers 2 and 3 are intended to deliver environmental outcomes that are targeted to their location so the land management activities paid for under these tiers will take into account local variations, which could include the environmental improvements a local area may need, the actions that can have the most success in a particular area, and the natural capital assets that already exist in that area.
On the amendment on soil management practices, Clause 1 allows financial assistance to be given for protecting and improving the quality of soil, which we will discuss in more detail in a later group.
The Government recognise the importance of the issues raised in these amendments and have sought to address them in their schemes and in the Bill itself. However, if additional conditions are placed on the receipt of financial assistance, we run the risk of those wishing to apply being put off by the added bureaucracy. Clear guidance to farmers and land managers is of the highest importance and the Government would not want take-up to be reduced due to schemes being overly complex.
I will reply to Amendment 113 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and Amendment 114 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, because it would be a decent thing to do. Clause 2 enables the Secretary of State to delegate discretionary aspects of a scheme; for example, the assessment of how well applicants meet funding criteria, where specialist knowledge is a required condition. The Government wish to ensure that there is flexibility in the system to encourage innovative and collaborative approaches to delivering public goods in a way that works for participants and to achieve the Government’s objectives. As drafted, Clause 2 allows the Government to look beyond the current scope of bodies such as Natural England and the Rural Payments Agency and to draw on the expertise that exists in other organisations. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and my noble friend Lord Trenchard that any organisation would of course be accountable for public funding they received using well-established practices for the spending of public money.
Amendment 116, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and Amendment 115, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, have somewhat conflicting intentions. The Government are determining what information about recipients of funding should be published under regulations made under Clause 2; for example, whether to include the amount of funding received and the purpose for which funding has been given. There may be some areas where the publication of conditions applicable to individual recipients would not be appropriate.
I reassure noble Lords that the Government intend to provide ample protection to individuals who would receive public funds under this chapter. Clause 46 ensures that Clause 2 powers to publish information cannot be exercised in a way that contravenes data protection legislation, including the general data protection regulation—GDPR—as defined by the Data Protection Act 2018. The GDPR requires that information published under this chapter must be adequate, relevant and limited to what is necessary in relation to the purposes for which it is processed.
I can tell the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, that Defra intends to undertake a consultation exercise with stakeholders later this month, giving them an opportunity to share their views on what information should be published. Defra will then take these views into account when drafting the regulations under Clause 2, which will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.
On Amendments 118 and 121, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, I start by saying that, in all that we are doing, it is absolutely essential that we ensure that taxpayers’ money is properly spent. In relation to the noble Baroness’s first amendment, I have already noted in reference to Clause 1 that the use of “may” is consistent with other legislation. To use “must” here could lead to unintended consequences, such as the drafting of unnecessary regulations.
In relation to the noble Baroness’s second amendment, and on a point that she and the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, raised, the Government are engaging with stakeholders on these regulations. Defra is undertaking a consultation exercise with key external stakeholders to ensure that their thoughts and concerns are taken into account when deciding the policy to be adopted.
To the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, I say that the Government already have a robust regulatory regime and are committed to maintaining and improving environmental standards.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, asked about eligibility for financial assistance. I can give him a policy answer and a legal answer. Anyone who provides any of the Clause 1 purposes will be eligible. Beneficiaries include, but are not limited to, farmers, foresters, horticulturalists and those managing the land. From a policy point of view, I emphasise that the schemes are overwhelmingly designed to support farmers and land managers. As I have said, farmers must be, and will be, at the heart of the schemes.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, again made the important point about work with the devolved Administrations and considerations on eligibility. Defra Ministers and Ministers in the devolved Administrations have regular discussions; for example, at an almost monthly inter-ministerial group meeting. Ministers discuss a range of agricultural issues, but it is worth remembering that agriculture is a devolved matter and, outside of the EU, each UK Administration will have flexibility to develop agricultural policies suited to their unique circumstances. I am very pleased to be able to tell the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, that Defra and Welsh Government officials are having early discussions on, for instance, scheme design. It is about a balance between propriety—this is a devolved matter—and the importance of working collaboratively.
I also wanted to speak about the overarching principles for inspecting and enforcing financial scheme conditions. The key principles of design for compliance monitoring and enforcement will be proportionality, simplicity and transparency, ensuring correct use of public money while improving the delivery of outcomes. I absolutely accept—and this is why transparency is so important—that, for activities funded by the public purse, it clearly protects public money and ensures that recipients of public money are subject to a degree of accountability.
There has been a range of very interesting issues, and I will again look at Hansard and want to continue to have discussions about any residual points, which I very much welcome hearing. I hope I have addressed the larger issues, particularly the point that, yes, this overwhelmingly concerns farmers, land managers and those involved in that area, but—bearing in mind the points that other noble Lords have made, whether about water or woodland—it goes beyond that. This is particularly the case when you get to tiers 2 and 3, but also tier 1, where you have an individual farm that may have wetlands, watercourses and ditches. The whole farm, I think, should be looked at in that way.
However, when you get to tiers 2 and 3 and you are looking at a much broader landscape area, it is important to say that these points about balance and flexibility are to make sure that we actually ensure, in the end, that the farmer and the land manager play their part in what we are all seeking to do, which is to achieve the 25-year environment plan.
With all of that, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I have received one request to speak after the Minister. I call the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester.
I rise merely to press the Minister on his statements around the different levels of tiers and how payments may differ as the higher tiers are approached. I wondered whether this was going to become clear in the regulations or whether there is a bit of experience of how many people will be applying under the different tiers. Will it be defined in regulations?
Clearly, we know that there are 80,000-plus claimants under the BPS at the moment. Obviously, the range of opportunities, with regard to numbers, will depend on clusters and how many farmers will want to group together—as we have had with farm clusters in other schemes—and those that wish to have individual, predominantly tier 1 consideration. Again, clearly this is why the trials are going on; they will show how that is going to work with the varying tiers and indeed how they all interrelate.
I do not think I would feel comfortable taking it any further than that at this stage, only because this is work in progress. I should think it will go on beyond enactment, but what I will do is make sure that—obviously, there will be continuing work on this and regulations will be coming forward—when we get to further stages of how ELM is coming forward, noble Lords are kept informed.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his usual courteous and informed reply. However, the point that I was trying to raise seems to have got slightly lost: namely, where do we find out who is going to be eligible? If the answer is “We do not know”, I think we might have to come back and dig again to find out exactly where that is placed, but at the moment I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 2 withdrawn.
Amendments 3 to 5 not moved.