Agriculture Bill - Committee (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 14th July 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 5:00 pm, 14th July 2020

My Lords, the Committee is resuming last Thursday’s debate after a lapse of four days, so it is difficult to remember exactly what noble Lords said without referring to Hansard. We are still on Clause 1 of the Bill, but are debating the main and important theme of environmental sustainability. If we do not get this right, the country will be paying the price, in a variety of ways, for decades to come. There are amendments about agroecology, agroforestry systems, organic and ecologically sustainable systems, pesticides, fertilisers and nature-friendly farming. This is a wide range of topics, but they are ones which Peers in this virtual and physical Chamber quite rightly feel strongly about.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, for adding their names to my Amendments 38 and 120. The noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay of Llandaff and Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, have also put down amendments about pest control. The new approach of public money for public goods is a huge opportunity to support farmers who adopt and maintain non-chemical alternatives to pesticides. It is crucial that this approach is not undermined by a catch-all clause providing payments for productivity. Defra’s Secretary of State believes that the development and uptake of integrated pest management—IPM—is a crucial mechanism for ensuring that the objectives outlined in the Agriculture Bill and the 25-year environment plan are delivered.

Amendments 38, 120 and 259 ensure that farmers are rewarded for adopting proper IPM techniques, based on the agroecology approach to farming, coupled with a review of the national food strategy.

At Second Reading, I referred to the importance of properly regulated pesticides. Over the years, we have seen the removal from the market of various herbicides and pesticides because of their side-effects on humans. However, it often takes a very long campaign before action is taken. The banning of organophosphate sheep dips springs to mind. Many years ago, a colleague said to me that we should pay more attention to the effects of pesticides on humans than herbicides, as human physiology is much closer to that of insects than of plants. My noble friend Lord Burnett has spoken of the dangers of pesticides, and of using common rules and standards. Agroecology must be the standard. He also warned about the import from America of foods sprayed with pesticides.

The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Patel, listed an enormous number of side-effects that exposure to pesticides can cause. It is safer for all if we approach pesticides with caution, rather than rushing headlong into their use in order to increase the productivity of a crop. I am grateful for the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. I support the precautionary principle and acknowledge the impact of pesticides on disabilities.

Productivity is, of course, important. Farmers need to make a decent living from the land, but not at the expense of those who suffer health problems as a result of pesticide spraying. However, the might of the chemical producers often overrides the concerns of the ordinary man and woman displaying health problems. When will the Government produce a target for the uptake of the IPM, which is supported by the Secretary of State?

I fully support all the amendments in this group. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, my noble friend Lord Teverson and the noble Baronesses, Lady Young of Old Scone and Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, have stressed the importance of agroecology. So often, the way the land is farmed leads to degeneration of the quality of the soil, and thus the quality of the crops grown. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, spoke knowledgeably of the importance of the upkeep of grassland and the species that inhabit it, and the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, also supported agroecology and running with nature’s grain. The noble Earls, Lord Caithness and Lord Dundee, the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and others have pressed the case for the inclusion of afforestation and organic farming. The noble Duke gave stark statistics on how far behind the UK is lagging on its organic farming programme. I know the Minister, as a farmer, has a close interest in these matters and I look forward to hearing a positive response.