Moved by Lord Grantchester
105: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—“Minimum level of financial assistanceBefore exercising the powers under section 1 for the first time, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a statement confirming—(a) the total amount of financial assistance available in the first year in which the Secretary of State intends to exercise the power under section 1,(b) that this is no less than the total amount provided in the preceding financial year, adjusted for inflation,(c) provisional total amounts for the subsequent three financial years, and(d) the reasons for the amounts specified under paragraph (c).”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment seeks to ensure that the transition to a new funding system does not result in a reduction in the overall financial assistance provided for agriculture and associated purposes.
Amendment 105 is in my name and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for adding his name to it. I will also speak to Amendments 107, 112 and 123 in my name, as well as Amendment 129 in the name of my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Amendment 139 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, to which my noble friend Lady Jones has added her name.
Amendment 105 is very important as it lays out the “Minimum level of financial assistance” that must be provided by the Bill to the new system of support. Under this proposed new clause, the level of support must be maintained from year to year at the level made available in the first year, adjusted for inflation, at least for the subsequent financial years. There has always been anxiety that the Conservative Government, in keeping with their austere inclinations, would not maintain support systems at the level of payments previously made under the CAP as a member state. Under the May Administration, the Government stated that they would maintain the level of support in any future scheme for one Parliament—at that time, at least until 2024. This suggested that reductions would be made thereafter.
This new Administration, resulting from the December election, have not made emphatic statements beyond the provision of the direct payments to farmers Act 2020, which operates for one year only as an interim continuity provision while the Bill, when it becomes the Agriculture Act, is implemented. Indeed, it has been decided to make cutbacks in financial support as soon as the next year—that is, in this first transition phase—even before any new measures could be set up, as trials, to make up that shortfall. The first experience that farmers and land managers will have under this new scheme will be a cut to funding—hardly a measure to build confidence and trust.
This proposed new clause gives the Minister the opportunity to be clear and put the Government’s intention forward, giving a measure of certainty to all agricultural businesses regarding the funding levels envisaged not only for the next three years but into the future, when the ELM schemes and their benefits can be brought forward. As was said at Second Reading, this is a framework Bill where many of the mechanisms and provisions are not transparent, or even finalised, from the discussions published to date by the department. If the Government want ELMS to be a success, as we all do, the maintenance of at least total farm support transposed into ELMS must be looked at to provide rewards well beyond those at present experienced under stewardship schemes.
I will quickly speak to my other amendments in this group. Under Amendment 112, I propose that any funding not taken up in one year is
“carried over to a future year”.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, for adding her name to this amendment. It is important in the early years that farmers and land managers, as they assess and make plans for their businesses, have time to come forward with applications. It would be unfortunate if any delay in applications resulted in the budget being cut in a future year in response by this Government.
Under Amendments 107 and 123, I propose that the Government are mindful of the purposes of the Bill and that the costs of administration and advice do not become seen as overly bureaucratic and consume an expanding proportion of the overall budget. They would also ensure that the important advice to the industry from consultants, which we would also wish to see taken up, does not consume a large slice of any application, especially in relation to the larger catchment area schemes that will come forward under the higher proposed tiers 2 and 3. We would want to see farmers and land managers given the tools to perform their activities, putting a scheme’s cash for projects on to the ground.
I turn now to Amendment 129 and I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. I know that he was keen to speak to this amendment and to Amendment 139 in his name. However, he has had some technical problems, so perhaps I may speak also to his amendment, given that we are largely agreed on them both. Amendment 129 would set up a specific link from this Bill to the one of the key provisions of the Environment Bill through its delivery mechanisms in support of ELM schemes. The environmental improvement plan will set up a long-term strategy to improve the natural environment in accordance with the Government’s 25-year environment plan. In setting the strategic priorities for the multiannual financial plans under Clause 4, the Secretary of State would be required to have regard to the current EIP. In discussions on their ELM paper, the Government have said already that the outcomes of the 25-year environment plan will inform the key strategic priorities for financial assistance.
My noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch has her name to Amendment 129, and I agree with and endorse the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, which he has shared with me. It is an important amendment and we seek the Minister’s reassurances here. The provisions of Clause 6 include requirements to monitor the impact of financial assistance. This amendment would require the Government to assess the impact of the provisions of the Bill in its entirety on the public goods stipulation in Clause 1. Monitoring should determine whether, and to what extent, financial assistance has had a positive impact on public goods. Other relevant provisions beyond financial assistance are also included in this monitoring. These other relevant provisions would include adherence to environmental standards regulations as a strong regulatory baseline for underpinning public support of key strategic imperatives such as water, clean air and climate change mitigation. This would also take on board the requirements referred to in our Amendment 57, where we agreed with the Minister who responded to that grouping that productivity improvements must complement environmental benefits.
With those comments, I return to the opening amendment of this group, Amendment 105. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for introducing so clearly his amendment and for speaking to other amendments in the group. The issues raised in my amendments refer back to Clause 1. I feel rather mean about doing that, having seen the fairly rapturous smiles on the faces of those on the Government Front Bench when it was agreed that the clause should stand part of the Bill, but I am afraid that that is where the radical stuff is; it is that simple. Clause 1 is where we have the statement that there will be quite a fundamental change to the way that some aspects of the countryside and agriculture are financed. The two amendments in my name refer to Clauses 4 and 5, covering planning and monitoring.
Let us talk about access again because that is what I have talking about, although the environment and agriculture are equally important—for others they are probably more so. If we are to have a plan that seeks to improve access, we need to monitor that and go back to review it. If the Minister can tell us how that is to be done, we will know about it and it will become more real—firmer, if you like. Is a new footpath to be just another line drawn somewhere, with money claimed for doing that, but then it is ploughed up and cannot be used for six months of the year? If a hard surface to stop people trampling over the rest of the field and ensuring a higher level of disabled accessibility is the plan, how will that be reported on?
Amendment 138 may be the more important of the two amendments because it covers reporting back on how things are working. We are going into new territory here. It is almost inevitable that some of the schemes will not work and that some will not be as successful as others. How do we find out how the plans are supposed to be implemented and how do we report back on them? That is very important.
It may be that the Minister has a wonderful answer waiting for me that will mean that I and people outside can totally relax about this, but we should be able to hear about it. With these schemes, with their cultural heritage and so on, you have to know that when you pump money in you will get something back for it— public money for public goods—and in order to know that, we need a better guide through this reporting process.
The farmer—the person who has to change their practices—needs to know as well. They are the implementation system, unless there is going to be a new clause containing a new agency to do it for us. Pigs flying would happen more frequently than that in the current environment, so it is the farmer who is going to have to do the work, or at least the vast majority of it. Knowing how this will be implemented is what we are trying to get at here, or at least what I am trying to get at. Other colleagues have their names to these amendments and they may well have their own takes.
My Lords, I shall speak to my Amendment 126 in this group. I declare my interest as a landowner and arable farmer. Echoing what would be achieved by my Amendments 56, 60 and 69, this amendment would ensure that the requirement for the Secretary of State to have regard to the need to encourage the production of food by producers in England, and its production in an environmentally sustainable way, when framing any financial assistance schemes was explicitly taken into account in the development of the multiannual financial assistance plans required under Clause 4.
In earlier remarks on domestic food production support, the Minister said, if I understood correctly, that food production did not need financial support because this came to the farmer, who had a profit from the sale of his produce. However, in my view, this argument does not cover the situation where, for instance, dairy farmers sell their milk at a loss, or where farmers would like financial support to invest in new buildings, machinery, processes, new crops or different species of livestock, particularly when these take some years to develop. I believe that the scope of multiannual assistance plans set out in Clause 4 should be expanded to include the above. I ask the Minister for her views on this.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 124 and 138, which I have signed. While my thinking is very much informed by questions of public access in the way that my noble friend Lord Addington’s is, there is a wider point here about the operation of this new system that is echoed in one way or another by a number of amendments in this group. While I recognise that it is positive that multiannual assistance plans will provide a level of certainty both for farmers and for the public, who are interested in these things, this ought to be strengthened by a greater understanding of how the objectives align with the public goods in Clause 1.
As drafted, the Bill refers to the Government’s strategic priorities, but it is not really very clear how one would determine what those priorities are. I shall give the Committee an example: there is a national policy on flooding, for example, and we know that there are policies around climate change and the environment. That is probably clear. However, there are no strategic priorities established for the question of public access. It is quite difficult to see how assistance under the Bill will link to a government strategic priority that does not actually exist. It would be helpful if the Minister could say a word or two about this because it would really aid clarity about what the funding is to deliver and ensure that there is a coherence in approach and predictability.
That then feeds into Amendment 138 regarding clarity in the financial assistance scheme, which I think most of us would agree is an essential part of transparency. We want to see not just what is being given to whom but how these strategic priorities—these public goods—are reflected in the spending once it has happened.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 127, 134 and 137, relating to Clause 4, which deals with multiannual financial assistance plans.
Amendment 127, which I am delighted is co-signed by the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, seeks to enhance the usefulness of the Government’s multiannual financial plans. I warmly welcome the Government’s commitment to produce these plans, as they will provide a degree of assurance to farmers and other land managers regarding the Government’s commitment to schemes and programmes. I also welcome the Government’s commitment to come forward early in the policy transition period with their first such multiannual plan.
However, I fear that the current provisions of the Bill lack any requirements on the Government to specify levels of expected expenditure and how those levels relate to the achievement of each of the strategic priorities set out in the Bill. Without seeking to bind the Government too tightly, it is sensible to have a framework that requires the Government to be clear about what it is planning to spend, and on what. Circumstances can and do change over time, but we must see a clear direction of travel from the Government now, so that we and farmers can judge how well the Government are doing in achieving their objectives and in the targeting of public resources.
Farmers and land managers too will need assurance about the certainty of funding if they are going to enter long-term relationships to deliver outcomes for the public benefit and for the improvement of productivity. Identifying specific levels of budgetary expenditure will also enhance the ability of Parliament to scrutinise government plans and policies, both in advance of them being implemented and by way of evaluating performance afterwards; both are important parts of good governance.
Turning to Amendment 134—which I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, for co-signing—in framing the financial assistance scheme, it is absolutely right that the department and the Government should have regard to advice from time to time on the funding required to achieve the strategic priorities of financial assistance for the duration of the plan, whether that advice is from the Office for Environmental Protection, or any other public body with a national remit and responsibilities for the natural or historic heritage. In Amendment 137—which I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for supporting—I go on to say that we need to know that, under the Bill, any advice received from the Office for Environmental Protection and any other public body with this national remit is sufficient to prove that the financial assistance provided is sufficient to meet the strategic priorities of the financial assistance.
It is very difficult for us to take a view on what the role of the OEP and its relationship with these other advisory bodies should be when we have not had sight of the Environment Bill in its current form, or the chance to adopt it. I make a plea to the Minister and her department that the Environment Bill and the Agriculture Bill are mirror images of each other, and their provisions reflect and fully complement each other.
My Lords, I speak to Amendment 128 in my name, and declare my interests as set out in the register.
Time is running out to have all necessary legislation and implementation decisions and processes in place in the timescale set. There are still many aspects of transition and the success of future farming support policy that remain unclear, and the concern is that there will be a gap between alternative and effective schemes being in place and the start of the phasing out.
Amendment 128 allows the Government to return unspent funds to farmers as direct payments if they are not being used for other purposes. This enables Ministers to carry over any money left unspent at the end of a particular budget year for spending in subsequent years. Given the extremely welcome commitment of the Conservative Government to maintain current levels of funding, we must ensure that the precious resource of public money is used for its intended purpose of supporting agricultural businesses.
My Lords, I echo the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Rock. I will speak to Amendments 131 and 133 in my name. I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, on Amendment 131.
This turns again to the transition period—or transition chasm, as I described it earlier. Farmers are used to dealing with bad weather, but the thick fog that lies over the chasm is very foreboding. As I suggested earlier, the uncertainty is a major drag on investment and productivity in farming. Certainty and clarity are needed. My amendments seek merely to improve the clarity and certainty under the very welcome multiannual financial assistance plans.
Amendment 131 seeks more certainty by requiring plans to last seven years instead of five, permitting a greater length of commitment and avoiding the unfortunate coincidence with the election cycle. Agriculture and politics do not mix. To use a term popular in this Bill, we need to de-link them. I also note that seven years seems to be okay for the first multiannual financial assistance plan. Can the Minister state why it is not okay for the rest?
Amendment 133 merely seeks some clarity. At present a multiannual financial assistance plan is due to be laid before Parliament by
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 132 in my name. These plans are the fundamental basis for planning farming in this country. It is really not acceptable that the Government should be allowed to let a plan almost expire and then introduce a new one. How does that allow farmers to plan properly? I know that they will not get it under these circumstances, in the first iteration, but thereafter they deserve two years’ notice of changes that will be made between one plan and the next.
My Lords, I associate the Green group with the very useful amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, about transparency and accountability, and Amendments 131 and 133 from the noble Earl, Lord Devon. He displayed a touching faith in the regularity of the electoral cycle in his comments, but none the less a seven-year timeframe is much more realistic.
I will speak primarily to Amendment 112 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, to which I was pleased to add my name. This is a simple and practical amendment which says that financial assistance should be rolled over if it is not spent in one year. The noble Lord referred to the risk of funding going down if it is not spent. There is the other risk—as I am sure Members of your Lordships’ House will know, having spent much time over their lives on committees—of the rush that often happens at the end of the year to spend money before it runs out or disappears. That is something we do not want to see happening and do not want to encourage. Thinking particularly about farming and growing, dependence on the weather will mean that sometimes things simply cannot be done in a particular year.
I was also pleased to add my name to Amendment 227, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. She has not yet had an opportunity to speak to that amendment, which is also backed by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. I briefly reflect that this calls for a land use strategy for England and focuses on the two key issues of carbon storage and biodiversity. I am sure that most Members of your Lordships’ House would agree, for example, with the phrase “the right tree in the right place”. To get towards that goal we need a strategy to head in that direction.
I also suggest to your Lordships that any land use strategy would have to consider whether there are some existing land uses in England that cannot be allowed to continue because of the environmental damage they are doing all round. I refer particularly to driven grouse shooting, which has real issues as regards carbon storage and flooding, and which is spatially very closely associated with illegal persecution of raptors, which we saw this morning with the police releasing horrific information about the killing of a goshawk.
I was pleased to add my name to Amendment 228, tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee. This refers to supporting landowners to make land available particularly to new growers, new farmers—new entrants into the industry. We are seeing some exciting developments. I know that in Suffolk there is discussion of the concept of jigsaw farming, whereby a farmer or landowner might be able to welcome on to their land a large number of different growers occupying small parcels and developing their businesses. We have seen how organisations such as the Biodynamic Land Trust and the Kindling Trust have had to work very hard to find land to make it available to people who want to enter the industry, and we have had reference to county farms.
Of course, we have a huge problem in England with the massive concentration of land ownership. Your Lordships have heard me refer before, and will again, to land reform. We need to come back to that, but for landowners who wish to make their land available to others, it is important that the Bill includes provision to make sure that that happens, and financial assistance where that would be useful.
Briefly, I support Amendments 127 and 134, which are backed by my noble friend. Again, they look at strategic priorities and multiannual plans, creating certainty for farmers.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 124 and 138, which have my name attached, and which have already been ably covered by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market.
I have a couple of points to raise on Amendment 124. A strategic approach to financial assistance is required and should be necessary. Such an approach would specifically align the contents of the multiannual financial assistance plans with each of the purposes listed in Clause 1. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, was absolutely right when she talked about the need to have a coherent long-term national plan for each of the public goods to be delivered through financial assistance to farmers.
Amendment 138 was tabled because it would allow for greater clarity on the different public goods delivered through the financial assistance scheme, including public access to the countryside, farmland, water—which I would like to see greater clarity on—and, of course, woodland. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I am delighted to support Amendments 105 and 112, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and Amendment 127, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, to which I am a co-signatory. On the funding issue, it is important that there is rollover of funding, as Amendment 112 indicates, because that provides that level of certainty to the farming community.
It is also important to seek assurances from the Minister that there will be no diminution of funding for farming, agricultural and connected purposes in the new dispensation. For many communities, irrespective of farm type, whether in the lowlands or uplands, farming is the base of their economic activity. I would like the Minister to give us assurances on this matter, and an indication of whether resources or funding for the ongoing issues have been discussed at official and perhaps at ministerial level with the devolved regions.
On the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, I agree that a framework for expenditure and a clear direction of travel have to be written into the Bill, and the budgeted annual expenditure available to achieve each of the strategic priorities, which underpin food production, farming and the principle of public money for public goods, has to be set out. I say to the Minister that if we are to provide security to the farming community and prove that the Bill works, it has to benefit farmers and those directly involved in food production in the supply chain.
My Lords, whenever I talk to farmers, read the farming press or otherwise see them in the media, they are worried that they do not know how this will work, and that it will simply result in a cut in their income and will be a danger to the future of their business. I have listened to what has so far been an extraordinary seminar on all this business—it will go on rather longer; I did warn people about that —but we still do not get answers from the Government. Those of us who will again be asked by farmers, “What will happen?”, will have to say that we do not know, but we can tell them what might. It is not satisfactory.
The CAP changed several times. Fifteen years ago, it changed very substantially. It was decoupled—that is always the word used on these occasions—from a production-based subsidy system to the area-based schemes: the single farm payment with cross-compliance, which morphed into the basic payment plus greening, which was a bit different but not a lot. It was a major change that inevitably had a seven-year transition period in this country, which resulted in complete chaos with the payments.
I remember that when I was responsible for Defra issues for our party I asked questions time and again in this Chamber about the fact that the Rural Payments Agency was not able to perform its functions properly. People were not being paid on time and some were not being paid at all. The Government will say that it has settled down substantially now. That is true, but that is because the transition has finished, the changes have taken place and people now know what they are doing.
What will happen now? The answer is that everyone will be plunged into a new transition period and another fundamental change where, the Government say, direct subsidies to farms and farmers will be abolished and people will be paid under the new environmental land management scheme. The Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, said that it will definitely start in 2024. Without wanting to be too cynical, my answer to that is, “Pull the other one.” It might start, but it will not be completed at all. I wonder whether it will even start then.
We are going to have a new transition scheme. During that scheme there are going to be temporary environmental schemes which people will be able to sign up to until 2024, so there will be people on the old scheme, people on the temporary scheme, people planning for the new scheme and people on the new scheme if they are in the pilots and the national pilot. It is going to be very complicated and risks being a shambles. None of us wants it to be a shambles—we wish the Government well—but.
There are going to be three tiers. The first tier, effectively, as I understand it and the Minister can tell me if I am wrong, is going to be a bespoke plan for each farm. Each farm that wants to take part—it will be voluntary—has to have a bespoke plan, far more bespoke than the cross-compliance which has taken place so far and has been relatively simple. I do not know who is going to put forward the bespoke plan or work it out for each farm but, unlike the old system, where farmers simply had to measure the size of the farm and send it in—think of all the chaos and difficulty that caused—it is going to be in the hands of consultants. There is no doubt about that. I am worried that the profit, in the early years at least, will be going to consultants not to farmers.
Thinking about the practicalities, I can see that you can have a standard price for a wooden stile, 100 metres of a path suitable for wheelchairs or tree planting. But for a lot of the things laid out in Clause 1(1) and (2), such as soil improvement projects, livestock welfare projects and productivity improvement schemes—who decides what new machinery people want and so on—it is going to be very complicated. Who is going to be there to say that this is okay and that is not, and that more negotiation is needed? Quite frankly, if it is not done really well, it is going to be a complete nightmare. This is direct payment for specific things. It is not like the basic single farm payment, whereby people got the payment and had to take some environmental steps as a result. It is direct payment for environmental measures, or whatever. Let us be clear: farms are businesses. The profit to the farmer will have to be written into the contract for building a new stile, for example. Can the Minister tell us how that is going to work? What will be their mark-up, as it were?
On tier 2 and tier 3, a farm is going be asked to take part in a wider scheme with local farms under tier 2, or one of the tier 3 schemes—whatever it turns out to be. I am still not getting very sensible answers from the Minister; he is not telling me what I want to know. I want to know what tier 3 schemes are going to be beyond peat, moors and forestry; the last time, I think he also mentioned catchment area schemes. Let us have some more information about tier 3. If a farm takes part in a tier 3 scheme, who carries it out? Who makes the money out of it? What is in it for the farmer? Will farmers just be paid a rent, for example, for allowing their farm to be part of it? How will that work? It is not very clear. It is complicated, and I can see that it is going to be an absolute disaster unless it is organised very well indeed.
My Lords, I have added my name to Amendment 131 because of the worry that political short-termism could interfere with what is a very long-term and often unstable industry. In farming, when you buy a bull, you are not likely to sell the progeny of that animal for at least three years. If you buy a dairy calf, it is two years before it produces its first litre of milk. If you invest in projects such as a new grain building or new milking equipment, you are likely to be taking out a 15-year mortgage, so that enterprise has to last for 15 years before you start to get any real return.
All this means that it would be incredibly helpful if you had a long-term perspective from whatever Government are in power or will be in power; you need a degree of certainty that the rug will not be pulled from under your feet after only five years. Of course, no business expects to operate in a world of total certainty, but farmers have enough uncertainty as it is without Governments removing key building blocks at short notice. Not only do we farmers get floods, droughts, pests and diseases, but our farm product prices sometimes literally halve overnight, dropping some 20% to 30% below the cost of production. It is difficult to make a decent living from a small farm.
All I am saying is that I think we owe it to our farmers to take government backing for agriculture, in whatever form that currently happens to be, out of the five-year political cycle and allow farmers the comfort of a seven-year, multi-annual financial plan. I realise that no Parliament or Government can bind their successor, but it would be politically much more difficult for them to change the rules if a seven-year term for a financial plan were in this Bill.
My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, when he spoke a moment ago about the dangers of short-termism. That issue is vital when we are talking about long- term investment. I draw attention to my registered interests.
I have put my name to Amendment 134, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. It requires financial provisions to be linked to strategic priorities, addressing the same issue as that referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie. The central message of this and other amendments in this group is to ensure that the good purposes in the Bill and as committed to by Ministers at the Dispatch Box are tied to the financial mechanisms—that one links to the other, and there is certainty.
The lead amendment in this group, Amendment 105, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, focuses on the need to ensure adequate finance—specifically, no less than has been provided in the recent past. Given our present economic plight, it is clear that assurances along these lines are very much needed.
Amendment 112 deals with carry-over, as does Amendment 128, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Rock. This question is one that we really need to give some attention to. We had difficulties in the National Assembly, as it then was, in Cardiff a few years ago when the Welsh Government very sensibly arranged not to spend money at year-end for the sake of it, but to carry it over into a consolidated fund for strategic purposes. That money was immediately taken back by the Treasury. If ever there was an example of short-term thinking and punishing people for sensible approaches to financial planning, that was it.
Maintaining the level of cash support for agriculture is clearly regarded by the farming fraternity as a key issue. A plethora of general commitments may well have been given to assuage their fears, but we need a specific commitment in the Bill, if possible. That is why I believe these amendments are important for the House.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. He feels passionately about these issues and I enjoyed his speech very much.
I agree with others who have said that this Bill is an enabling Bill. In essence, it gives the Government a lot of power and trusts them to go off and implement what we have decided without many checks and balances. I cannot imagine that there are that many people left in the UK who actually trust the Government any more, so why should members of your Lordships’ House trust them?
The collective theme of the many great amendments in this group is that they would, in one way or another, force the Government to show their working and allow Parliament to mark their homework. I think this is something that we need to take very seriously.
Turning to the amendments to which I have attached my name, Amendments 127, 134 and 137 are important because they will tie the Bill to the Environment Bill and ensure that funding is sufficiently allocated to achieve the environmental aims. There is little written into either the Environment Bill or the Agriculture Bill —two enormous Bills—to create a cohesive framework; both seem rather to create their own stand-alone systems. It is as if two teams drafted them and they were not allowed to speak to one another but just got on and produced their own Bill. Both Bills are setting up very long-term systems that will spread their tendrils throughout huge parts of our economy, and it makes sense to bring these together now, or we will be back here in a few years’ time, trying to close the gaps.
My Lords, I am very glad to support this amendment. It seems to me absolutely crucial that at this juncture, of all times, we should be committing ourselves to making sure that proper funding is available for agriculture. It is one of these difficult situations: for quite a long time in Parliament I have been concerned about it. We have a Minister in our midst who takes these issues very seriously, but he will not necessarily be there for ever—alas—and that means that we do not know what lies ahead; nor do we know how far the Treasury and other key members of the Government share the commitment and aspirations that we know he has.
It seems to me, therefore, very wise of my noble friend to table this amendment, because it is saying that we must not allow circumstances, inadvertently or deliberately, to create situations in which the amount of funding available for agriculture decreases. This is the very time that this should not happen, and I believe that this amendment relates to other amendments, not least those by my noble friend Lord Whitty which are coming up in a moment—or at least this evening, we hope—in which he talks about smallholdings and the rest. The point here is that I think we are entering an economic phase in which land and the opportunities it offers for productive, constructive and creative activity will become necessarily more available and more important than ever. I am very glad that my noble friend has wisely tabled this amendment.
My Lords, I have heard it said many times by Ministers that the total amount of agricultural subsidy to be paid in 2021 will be no lower than the amount to be paid in the current year. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s confirmation of this. However, I am not sure that the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, is quite right in his drafting of Amendment 105, because “the total amount provided” under Section 1 in 2020 is obviously zero. I think that what the noble Lord wanted to say was that the amount to be paid is no less than the total amount, including amounts provided under the direct payment scheme and other existing schemes.
I am not sure that it is fair to limit the proportion of financial support spent on administration or consultancy. A farmer might spend a high proportion on consultancy in one year and then nothing for several years. Different farmers categorise spending on administration in different ways, and if a farmer spends all his financial support on unnecessary administration, it follows that he will not be achieving the approved purposes and will not therefore qualify to continue to receive support. I am therefore unable to support Amendments 107 and 123, but I would support Amendment 112, permitting carry- over of unspent funds—but probably only to the next year, which I think is reasonable. Amendment 128, proposed by my noble friend Lady Rock, achieves the same purpose, although, again, I suggest limiting the right to carry over to the following year only.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, in Amendment 129, seeks to require the Secretary of State to have regard for the current environmental improvement plan in setting out his strategic priorities. I should have thought that this would be the case whether or not it is included in the Bill.
I cannot support the amendment by the noble Earl, Lord Devon, to extend planned periods to seven years, because five years is quite far enough ahead to expect the Secretary of State to plan for these purposes. In addition, I do not think the reason given by the noble Earl is valid. Even if the Fixed-term Parliaments Act is not repealed, as I hope it will be, the noble Earl must be aware that general elections have not taken place regularly every five years.
My noble friend Lord Lucas seeks to require a new plan to be published a full two years before an existing plan expires. He is surely right to suggest that the new plan should not be published until the day before the old plan expires. But would the Minister not agree that publication one year before the old plan expires might be a sensible compromise? This would not only allow Parliament two months to debate the new plan, as proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Devon, in Amendment 133, but would allow farmers to have a full year to adjust their business models to match the new strategy.
Amendment 137, tabled by my noble friend Lady McIntosh, seeks to widen the purposes of financial assistance under the scheme in ways that would damage its focus and clarity. I could not support it, although I respect my noble friend’s tireless work in protecting the environment.
The noble Lord, Lord Addington, is surely right in asking for more information about how much financial support will be given for each of the approved purposes. Farmers need to know this now so that they can plan. The amendment by the noble Lord may be too prescriptive, but I would like to ask the Minister whether he can inform the House how much information on this the Government intend to provide, and—importantly—when.
I cannot see that the purpose of Amendment 139, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, is not already adequately covered in the Bill.
Amendment 232, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, would be a tough biannual burden on the Secretary of State, the benefits of which, some might say, would not justify it. Besides, it is strongly weighted towards the priorities of the noble Baroness, rather than those of the wider farming community and the consumer.
My Lords, I support Amendment 129 in the name of my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch. It would require the Secretary of State to take into account the current environmental improvement plan in agreeing priorities for incentives. It is about a big concern of mine at the moment, which is that we start to join up some of these silos that are growing—environment, forestry, other land management purposes and agriculture. There are myriad schemes that are going to be coming towards farmers that will affect land, agriculture, forestry and the environment. There is the ELM scheme itself, as enshrined in this Bill, the 25-year environment plan, the provisions of the Environment Bill, the climate guarantee scheme, the Nature4Climate fund, the biodiversity net gain provisions and nature recovery networks. It feels more overheated than I have experienced for a long time in this area, which is great, because it means that everyone is putting effort, energy and funding into those sorts of issues—but it would be quite nice if we could join them up a bit.
Way back, I had a pious hope that we could have one Bill—a joint agriculture and environment Bill. I thought it would be a good idea. But in view of the pace at which this Bill is going through the House—and despite the aspirations of previous speakers that the Minister stay in his post for ever—I think that if we had had a joint agriculture and environment Bill, the Minister would probably have done a runner at that stage.
We need to find a way to bring all these initiatives together. Amendment 129 would at least be a modest start in joining up the environmental and agricultural agenda, as it should be.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. She is right about pace. I am sorry that we have lost the noble Earl, Lord Caithness; I think he sacrificed himself to help this important Bill make progress. I congratulate him on the earlier debate on Amendment 73 and his closing emphasis on the importance of sequestration in meeting any climate change targets.
I agree with the spirit of the lead amendment in this group, Amendment 105, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. I agree with him that the transition to a new funding system should not result in a reduction in the overall financial assistance provided for agriculture and associated purposes. However, this may go a bit far, given the disastrous impact of Covid-19; everyone, including the agriculture community, may have to make a contribution to recovery.
However, farmers will need continued support from next year, as we leave the CAP on
I refer also to Amendment 112 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and to the similar amendment, Amendment 128, in the name of my noble friend Lady Rock. These would allow unspent funds allocated in one year to be carried over into future years. The Treasury, where I had the honour to be a Minister, will rightly never allow this. The wider ramifications for control of public expenditure are unacceptable and it could be a recipe for wasteful spending.
My main interest—perhaps “concern” would be a better word—in this group is Amendment 135 in the names of the noble Lords, Lords Lucas and Lord Addington. This seeks financial assistance for the provision of advice, with less emphasis than proposed on regulatory enforcement and penalties. Others assisting with the scrutiny of this Bill have talked about a revival of something like ADAS for this purpose. I do not support either proposal. What we need—I hope my noble friend the Minister will agree—is a professional implementation plan for all the new schemes, especially ELMS, with proper training and lead times, as you would find in a commercial context. It needs to be very clear and consulted on, with a view to successful, easy compliance and not just to satisfy interest groups. As much effort needs to be put into implementation as to policy formation. Much of that is, unfortunately, still to do, as the Lord, Lord Adonis, pointed out earlier.
We can learn from the initial failures in the health and safety context when the EU six-pack was introduced; that included things like manual handling, risk assessment and, indeed, PPE. It was burdensome and chaotic, providing opportunities for consultants, who flourished on the complications. There was uproar, especially in small businesses, but under a very able official, Jenny Bacon, the system was radically simplified with good guidance written by the HSE. The political heat went out of the issue despite the inevitable burden of these EU laws. The use of digital for documents and seminars for farmers and land managers makes all of this easier today.
I would be very happy to offer the Minister and his officials thoughts from my long experience at Tesco—I register an interest, as I am still a shareholder. Simplicity, clarity and training were essential to successful projects, whatever the scale. We do not want or need to set up a costly new advisory service, or to reimburse the cost of advice.
Finally, I do not agree with Amendment 232 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. Of course data should and will be collected, but this should be done as part of Defra’s normal research programme and in the context of a five-yearly review of food security .
My Lords, those are some wise words from my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe, which I hope the Minister will reflect upon. There is no doubt that her previous experience, both as a Tesco director and as a Minister, is enormously helpful in planning something as difficult and challenging as this transition—and that is what we are talking about.
I can comment only on those farmers in Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire, where all are worried—of course they are; I would be if I was any sort of farmer, but I am not. I think that Amendment 105 has the kernel of an answer; it may not be the ideal answer, but it is up to the Government to have a look at it.
The amendment covers the
“financial assistance available in the first year in which the Secretary of State intends to exercise the power under section 1”.
Secondly, it addresses the fact that the total amount provided in the preceding financial year should be adjusted for inflation. In other words, year 1 is whatever figure it is, and then there is inflation on top of that. The amendment proposes that in the third, fourth and fifth financial years there should be some forecast.
That seems to me a basis on which a farmer could work. The farmers I know in my part of the world, particularly those on the larger farms, are sophisticated businessmen. Although my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe says that Covid-19 may influence these figures, my view is that because this is such a big transition, from Europe to the UK, the farming community should not be asked to do that in this instance.
I note just a couple of other points en route. The noble Lord who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench said that the Bill implied a reduction after one Parliament. I have been in the House long enough to know that no one Government can be committed to something by their predecessors, so I just do not see that as being the case at all. I am not sure where his evidence comes from.
Amendment 128 sounds good, but it is pretty unusual in any organisation for underspending to be automatically spent somewhere else. It is perfectly normal, if there is a budget and something has not come up to scratch, to spend it on an existing project, but not on another one.
I think that the noble Earl, Lord Devon, is absolutely right in Amendment 133. You need to have a minimum of two months to discuss any forthcoming budget. As for the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, I remember starting life politically in a part of London where compulsory purchase orders were the methodology whereby you could dictate to landowners what should happen. They failed miserably, and I suspect her project on land use will fail equally.
I finish by saying that, in my judgment, the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is full of detail but also full of despair. I would rather have the words of my noble friend Lord Trenchard—who is sitting there still, as I look across: there were a lot of wise words in his contribution.
My Lords, I am afraid that I could not hear much of my noble friend Lord Naseby’s speech, but I gather that he gave his support to Amendment 105, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. I was certainly glad to ask for my name to be added to it because it seems a prudent, sensible and balanced approach. I will not weary your Lordships by going through a whole list of amendments.
It is important that our farmers have a degree of clarity and the opportunity to plan. They are going through a very difficult time. I live in Lincolnshire, a great farming county. I talked to a farmer whose family has farmed here for generations, going back a couple of centuries or more. He was a very worried man. He said, “We had those desperate floods in the latter part of last year and the beginning of this one. We then had the driest spring that we can remember. We have all the uncertainties created by Covid-19. Dairy farmers were pouring hundreds of thousands of gallons of milk away because there was no custom from the catering trade. This is creating a real deterrent to young people because we have all the uncertainty created by our leaving the European Union and we do not know precisely what is planned for us.” I hope that, this evening, my noble friend the Minister can give some real guidance, clarity and certainty.
The noble Earl, Lord Devon, with his enormous knowledge of farming, spoke about this, but of course there are so many small farmers. We do not want to see the creation of a farming community that consists of, relatively speaking, a handful of major industrial concerns. The farmers who live on the land, who love the land, who have created the land and who, quite rightly, will be rewarded for maintaining it also have the duty of producing food for our people. We talked about this on Tuesday evening—that is, the security of the food supply being essential to the very defence and existence of the nation. They deserve some clarity and stability. I hope that, in responding to the debate, my noble friend the Minister will be able to give that.
Without our farmers, this country would be in a parlous state. We have a national duty to give them clarity and the opportunity for stability, and to encourage our younger generation to go into farming. It is one of the noblest callings; indeed, it is a vocation, with the hours that farmers work and the uncertainties of the weather that they face. We must not let down our farming community.
My Lords, as has been intimated, many of us are particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for tabling Amendment 139. If adopted, it would greatly increase efficiency since the type of monitoring here envisaged is a comprehensive one that would apply to regulation, productivity improvements, ancillary activities and market interventions. However, to maintain consistent and improved clarity, competent monitoring must be allied with timely parliamentary scrutiny, as advocated in Amendments 133 and 232, tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, respectively.
Therefore, I hope that my noble friend the Minister will accept both these qualifications and my noble friend Lord Northbrook’s Amendment 126, which, in calling for financial assistance to protect the production of food in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way, precisely reflects the central new joint purposes of the Bill.
I will speak briefly in support of Amendment 105. As we all made clear at Second Reading, British agriculture is now in a period of enormous uncertainty. This has run as a theme through the Committee stage of the Bill. As the NFU notes, British agriculture does not know what will happen in relation to its main market, the EU, or access to labour from the EU, let alone arrangements for other markets around the world.
Farming is an especially long-term enterprise—as the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, rightly emphasised—and is risky and uncertain, especially for small farmers and tenant farmers, who farm a third of the UK’s agricultural land. It is therefore vital that when the Government talk about the transition period from the CAP for agriculture, they sustain the level of financial assistance to this sector despite the many demands that will be in competition.
Amendment 105 aims to ensure that there is not a reduction in the level of that financial assistance. It has been striking how short a period the Government have attached to their funding commitments, and already there are cuts. It is all very well the Government saying they “may” take certain action, as the Bill has it, but that does not mean they must or will deliver it, as my noble friend Lord Greaves said. Like him, I recall the chaos of the Rural Payments Agency.
If we bear in mind the many changes planned for the United Kingdom from next January—right across the economy, including in agriculture, and as we may or may not be coming out of the pandemic—it is understandable that farmers are deeply worried. I therefore welcome Amendment 105.
My Lords, I also will speak in support of Amendment 105 as well as Amendment 112, both in the name of my noble friend Lord Grantchester. Indeed, I associate myself with the remarks he made on those amendments. They are designed to give farmers some degree of certainty during a challenging time of adapting to new circumstances.
So many recent speakers in the debate have stressed the importance of a smooth transition, and we certainly need to ensure there is no gap between the new system of ELMs and the present system. Such a hiatus in payment at a time of such uncertainty would be completely unacceptable. I certainly know of farmers in my own part of the country who in the past have suffered both mental stress and financial hardship as a result of schemes not being fully operational or involving late payments. We need to ensure as far as we possibly can that those problems do not recur. I am not trying to make a party-political point here. I am well aware that administrative problems and problems of implementing schemes are not unique to Governments of particular political complexions.
I also support the principle of limiting expenditure on administration and consultancy as a proportion of overall expenditure. One or two of the amendments mention that, but this point has not been raised so far in the debate. I am not sure whether the 5% limit mentioned in one amendment is the best limit, but I am interested to know whether the Government have a view on that.
Finally, I very much support the point made in the amendment from the noble Earl, Lord Devon, that Parliament should be given time to consider the plans. Obviously, we are concerned here about how much time your Lordships’ House has to consider these proposals, but it will also be crucial that the other place, the House of Commons, has ample time. As Members of Parliament have constituencies, they will want time to evaluate what the effects will be on the areas they represent. They will also want to discuss these proposals with farmers, environmental organisations and others in their constituency before coming to a verdict on them.
My Lords, it is an honour to have participated in the debates today. They have been informed by the wisdom and farming experience of noble Lords who collectively have farmed this country and made our land what it is with over 1,000 years of experience between them. I refer to two Dukes, four Earls, a Viscount—and of course we Barons, who are 10 a penny. As a Scot, I might be right in saying that the nobility of Dundee and Montrose have about 1,000 years of experience of farming in Scotland between them.
However, tonight, I want to commend in particular a Baroness, my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe, and her words of wisdom. We do not need a new ADAS; the best advisory service on nature-friendly farming, the environment, wildlife and ELMS is Natural England, and I declare my interest, as per the register, as a member of its board.
I did not seek to speak after the Minister, my noble friend Lord Gardiner, at the conclusion of his last wind-up but, wearing my hat as chair of the Delegated Powers Committee, I stress that the codes of practice that he referred to should be subject to parliamentary scrutiny simply via the negative procedure. Far too much government guidance and far too many codes that avoid parliamentary scrutiny are coming out, imposing possibly quite severe consequences for business and subjects. Parliament should have a chance to look at those codes.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and I often agree on things—to our joint consternation—but on this amendment I disagree with her. I trust and have trusted the Government, the Secretary of State and his predecessor before him when they have said that the Government will spend the same amount on supporting British agriculture, although by different means, as has been spent under the EU regime. I passionately support maintaining the same level of funding.
I am afraid that it is a bit naive of us, and it is also fairly meaningless, to try to put that commitment on the face of the Bill, since it guarantees nothing. If a Chancellor of the Exchequer wanted to reduce the amount in the future, a simple amendment in the Finance Bill would negate such a provision and remove this clause. If it were possible to tie the Treasury’s hands to a future level of funding when passing a Bill, the statute book would be awash with such Acts of Parliament. I am confident that the Government will honour the promises they have made and that there is no need for this amendment.
My Lords, this group also deals with funding and the snappily titled “multi-annual financial assistance plans”. We have heard much about the level of funding that the Government are guaranteeing for the farming community. This is set at £2.8 billion. It sounds sufficient, but exactly what it is proposed to cover is unclear. Many of the amendments that we debated on the first day in Committee sought to ensure that certain aspects of our agriculture were included in that funding.
Many noble Lords have spoken in favour of Amendment 105. Payments to farmers should definitely arrive on time. The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, is seeking to ensure that the overall financial assistance is not reduced and that no more than 5% of this assistance is spent on administration and consultancy. I am sure that we have all had experience of the costs of consultancy spiralling out of control. My noble friend Lord Greaves referred to this. The Government will have difficulty in reining consultancy back once it has begun. Similarly, it is important that any funds unspent in one year are carried forward to the next and future years, rather than being returned to the Treasury, when they will likely be lost to agriculture. The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and the noble Baroness, Lady Rock, drew attention to that. Can the Minister give us some reassurance that this will happen?
The question of public access to farmland, water and woodland, and how it will be funded and monitored, was raised by my noble friends Lady Scott of Needham Market, Lord Addington and Lord Greaves, and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson. This is also extremely important for the health, well-being and enjoyment of the public in general. It is necessary to understand how the plan will work to deliver public good in this area.
The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, pressed the case for the Secretary of State to ensure that environmental improvement plans are given full consideration. I support that aim. As we have reiterated time and again, the environmental improvement and sustainability of agriculture must be at the top of the list of priorities. The noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh of Pickering and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, have spoken on the same theme, and believe that the Secretary of State must seek advice from the office for environmental protection. I look forward to the Minister’s response to those points.
I have great sympathy with the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, in wishing to extend the multi-annual assistance plan period from five to seven years. so that it does not coincide with general elections. It would be the very worst outcome for agriculture if it became a political football on the campaign trail. Extending the plan period from five to seven years would help farmers with their planning. Farming is a long-term business, as my noble friend Lady Northover has said. Whatever period is chosen, there will always be the danger that the Government of the day will be having a tough time, for a variety of reasons, and will decide to call a general election, ignoring the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, so on that basis it might be best to stick with five years. What is the Minister’s view?
I have added my name to Amendment 127, which asks the Secretary of State to ensure that he or she produces a proper budget, setting out what should be achieved in each of the strategic priority areas for the planned period, and how much in the way of resources the Government are planning to allocate to each priority. That is common sense. The noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, made the arguments well. Can the Minister tell us how much will be allocated to each priority in the plan?
I agree with the wish of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, to provide clarity and stability for farmers. That is extremely important. I am afraid that, as usual, I do not agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard. The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, mentioned the expertise of dukes, viscounts and earls. It is undoubtedly true that the great landowners have much to contribute to the debate, but we would be wise to remember the smaller farmer in our deliberations too. I support the general thrust of this group of amendments and look forward to the Minister’s response.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for tabling Amendment 105, with which I will also address Amendments 107 and 104, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and Amendment 127, tabled by my noble friend Lady McIntosh. The Government’s 2019 manifesto guarantees the current annual budget in every year of the new Parliament, which gives significant certainty on funding for the coming years. We demonstrated our commitment to this further when, in December 2019, the Chancellor announced £2.852 billion of funding for direct payments in the UK for 2020.
The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, mentioned the cut in financial support. The maximum reduction of £150 million will immediately be ploughed back into the new countryside stewardship scheme and the productivity grant, which will be brought in next year. I hope that this also reassures the noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick and Lady Northover.
The Government have reflected carefully on the scrutiny by the other place during the passage of the previous Agriculture Bill, and we introduced Clause 4 to address the concerns raised about funding. The clause requires the Government to publish a multi-annual financial assistance plan before the start of the agricultural transition. This will set out the strategic priorities for the transition and describe the financial assistance schemes expected to be in operation during the transition. As part of our commitment under Clause 4, and to ensure that we keep stakeholders aware of the latest developments, I can confirm that the Government intend to set out our plans for financial assistance during the first years of the transition in the early autumn.
Clause 4(2)(b) already places a duty on the Secretary of State to have regard to the strategic priorities established when making any decisions regarding what financial assistance schemes are to be supported under Clause 1. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, asked about the Government’s requirements to report. This is covered in detail in Clause 6. In addition, Clause 5 commits the Government to publish annual reports on the total amount spent on financial assistance, as well as the total spent on each financial assistance scheme. Clause 6 requires periodic reports on the impact and effectiveness of spending on financial assistance schemes.
There are existing processes for determining funding arrangements. These will apply to domestic spending when we leave the EU. Parliament has the opportunity to vote on Defra’s budget each year through the estimates process, and of course the EFRA Committee takes a close interest in scrutinising Defra’s accounts.
The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, also asked about the link between public access and the Government’s strategic priorities. I believe that Clause 1(1)(b) embodies this link. Clause 1(1) also covers access. The multiannual financial assistance plan will require the Government to publish information about their strategic priorities and how the financial assistance powers in Clause 1 will be used in future years. The Government make decisions through a structured and comprehensive process, which allows us to assess spending in the round.
On Amendment 123, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, the running costs for Defra and the Defra group are considered separately from the payments being made to beneficiaries. As the Government continue to develop their future schemes, they may find that they need to include some administration costs for third parties, such as those potentially incurred to run farm clusters or other groups that bring multiple farmers and land managers together to work in partnership. There may be very valid reasons why administration or consultancy costs may be higher than 5%. For example, investing in the early years of a scheme, when development and testing are critical, could lead to greater efficiencies and refinements later.
On Amendment 112, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and Amendment 128, in the name of my noble friend Lady Rock, the Government are determined that farming in the UK should not see a reduction in government support at this very important time. That is why they have pledged to guarantee the current annual budget in every year of the new Parliament. The Government recognise that even with the best financial planning, underspends can happen. The concept the amendments raise would, in principle, be beneficial. However, legislation is not the best route to pursue this. Instead, it is more appropriate that the Government first discuss such an arrangement as part of the spending review process, when they will look at spending priorities across government. We should not legislate now for such flexibility without going through the proper process to ensure that spending can be considered in the round.
I will address Amendments 131 and 133, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Devon, alongside Amendment 132, in the name of my noble friend Lord Lucas. Clause 4 replicates existing multiyear funding cycles, but provides for some flexibility as necessary around the length of individual plans. As the clause stands, it states that future plans must be for at least five years. The Secretary of State has discretion to design a longer plan, which I hope will reassure the noble Lords, Lord Cameron and Lord Wigley. The first plan was designed to cover the whole seven-year transition, to provide certainty to farmers while they adapt to the significant changes that the transition will bring. Although plans must run for at least five years, the Secretary of State has discretion to design a longer plan. The first plan will span the length of the agricultural transition and run for the seven years. This is an example of the Government’s commitment to designing plans appropriately with regard to farmers’ needs.
I was asked by the noble Earl, Lord Devon, why we could not confirm the budget for the length of the agricultural transition. Future funding allocations will be determined through future fiscal events, as is right and proper, to ensure that government spending is considered in the round. The regular cycle of spending reviews, single departmental plans and supply estimates at departmental level is well established. Parliament can vote on Defra’s budget each year through the estimates process.
The clause also states that the first plan period will run for the seven years. It will expire at the end of 2027 and the next plan must be in place by
The agriculture transition will be a key time for the development of government policy. Schemes will be tested and piloted, and the findings from those experiences will inform the development of future schemes and strategic objectives. Accelerating the production of future plans during the agriculture transition period would be counterproductive to our aim of assessing schemes and taking a considered view of what works and what does not.
Clause 4 requires that a multiannual plan be updated and put before Parliament as soon as it is practicable to do so. This requirement will ensure that the plan is a live document that can respond to any necessary changes to financial assistance schemes or strategic objectives.
On Amendment 126, tabled by my noble friend Lord Northbrook, Clause 4 already places a requirement on the Secretary of State to consider in as much detail as considered appropriate each financial assistance scheme that is in or will be in operation during the plan period. If deemed appropriate, this could include how the scheme is to give regard to the production of food in an environmentally sustainable way.
Amendment 138 concerns reports on financial assistance and is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Addington. Clause 5 as drafted already commits to providing an appropriate level of detail and clarity on the delivery of public goods through each scheme. Furthermore, it is important to note that many of the schemes that the Government are developing, and the individual actions within those schemes, cover multiple purposes. For instance, under ELM we might pay for hedge planting to protect or improve the environment while also restoring cultural or natural heritage and at the same time protecting from or reducing environmental hazards. It would not always be possible to unpick these relationships.
I turn now to Amendment 139 on monitoring the impacts of financial assistance in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. Clause 6 already requires the Secretary of State to monitor the impact of each financial assistance scheme and make one or more reports on the impact and effectiveness of the scheme, having had regard to the monitoring effects that have taken place.
On Amendment 129 in the name of my noble friend Lady Rock and Amendments 134 and 137 tabled by my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, the Government are committed to achieving their aim of leaving the environment in a better state than they found it. That is why they seek to legislate for environment improvement plans in the Environment Bill. Environment improvement plans will have the objective of delivering significant improvement to the natural environment. Plans must set out the specific steps that the Government intend to take to improve the natural environment.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, also asked about the Office for Environmental Protection. Under the Environment Bill, the OEP is required to monitor progress on improving the natural environment. It must produce an annual report on its findings and could, for example, recommend that additional funding be provided to deliver the purposes set out in Clause 1 of this Bill. Where issues are identified, the OEP may engage in constructive dialogue with the Government and advise on necessary remedial measures. The OEP can also investigate alleged serious breaches of environmental law by public authorities and take legal action where necessary. The reports of the OEP must be published and laid before Parliament and the Government are specifically required to address any recommendations made. Therefore, when the Secretary of State determines the funding for the strategic priorities set out in the Government’s multiannual financial assistance plans, they will be able to consider any advice provided by the OEP under its duties as set out in the Environment Bill. The Secretary of State will also have had to respond to any advice. Both the OEP’s reports and the Secretary of State’s responses will be published and laid before Parliament.
The Government are actively engaging with many public bodies about the proposed future financial assistance schemes, for example, 17 environmental land management schemes and tests and trials projects are working with public bodies including national park authorities, Historic England, Natural England, the Environment Agency, the Forestry Commission and the National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty to provide expert insight and input into the development of policy.
I turn now to Amendment 232 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. The Government already produce reports that cover a number of these points. For example, Defra publishes a set of England biodiversity indicators to assist in the evaluation of progress on the outcomes and commitments of Biodiversity 2020, our strategy for England’s wildlife and ecosystems. In addition, the Government produce the Agriculture in the UK report annually, which contains a range of data including farm incomes, land use, livestock numbers, prices, the production of key commodities, overseas trade, organic farming and the environment. A new requirement to report on the state of agricultural land would replicate what is already available.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, asked a number of rather gloomy questions, which I will endeavour to address. There are a lot of different schemes, and a lot of advice will be provided. The environmental land management scheme is running live tests and trials to test how elements of the scheme will work ahead of the national pilot. Advice and guidance is one of the priority areas, and 34 tests and trials are feeding into that theme. Evidence shows that for advice to be effective, it must be trusted, consistent, credible and cost effective. The Government are considering how these principles can be embedded into advice for all schemes and are working with farmers and other land managers to do so.
On how people will get advice, the Government are clear that accessible advice and guidance are critical to the success of the schemes, which is why we are working hard to ensure that there are robust mechanisms in place to achieve that. As outlined in the policy update of February, the Government are considering carefully the role of advice and guidance and have already committed to having in place a future system of agricultural regulation which understands and implements better ways to provide advice and guidance.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, also asked about details of tier 3 of the ELMS provisions. Tier 3 could focus on delivering landscape-scale land use change projects that can make substantial contributions to our environmental commitments, such as nature recovery and net-zero targets. It would likely require collaboration from farmers and other land managers. We are exploring how we could incentivise land managers to collaborate with each other and other relevant stakeholders.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, asked about new entrants to farming, and county farms in particular. We will be offering funding to councils with county farm estates, landowners and other organisations which want to invest in creating new opportunities for new-entrant farmers. We will invite applicants to set out how they would use the funding to meet our ambitions for new entrants. Funding could be used to undertake estate planning and reorganisation activities or as part of other investments that might be needed to make more holdings available to new entrants.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, asked about the devolution settlements and how the Government will engage with the devolved Administrations. The UK Government are committed to working closely with the devolved Administrations to implement a UK agricultural support framework. The aim of this is to ensure effective co-ordination and dialogue between the Administrations on agriculture subsidy and a range of other issues.
With those reassurances, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am sorry for keeping us late. I note that I can hear the combine rolling outside my window—today is the first day of combining. The farmers are still working late, so I am sure that noble Lords will not mind working a little late too. I thank the Minister for confirming that the multiannual financial assistance plan will be published in early autumn this year. Does that mean that the Government agree to Amendment 133?
My Lords, I apologise to the Minister if I did not hear her answer correctly, but I did not detect an answer to my Amendment 132. Surely it is not acceptable for the Government to publish a new five-year plan on the last day of the old one. That would cause enormous disruption to agriculture. People would be unable to plan until the new plan was there and then it would then take them a year or so to put their new plans into place. We would get a year when nothing was happening. Surely there must be a decent overlap.
As I think I said in my speech, we have built flexibility in to the planning stage, although it does not need to be five years, and in all cases there will be no gap between one plan and another.
I thank all contributors to this debate for speaking to the various amendments. Even the negative comments were interesting.
If the Government commit to having multiannual plans, as stated in the Bill, it would seem conceivable that they would honour a package that financed the plan ahead in its entirety from the start through to the finish. The amendments scrutinise the Government’s plans around financial assistance in delivering outcomes that are sufficiently robust in their application—with the necessary oversight, as stressed by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra.
I thank especially the noble Baroness, Lady Rock, for her amendment in sympathy with mine and the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, for her emphasis on a robust implementation plan being adopted by Defra. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for adding his support.
As with so much in every group of amendments, the Minister has been exhaustive and considerate in responding to the many points raised. Along with other noble Lords, I will consider her reply carefully, but at this stage I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 105 withdrawn.
Clause 2: Financial assistance: forms, conditions, delegation and publication of information
Amendments 106 to 116 not moved.
Clause 2 agreed.
Amendment 117 not moved.
Clause 3: Financial assistance: checking, enforcing and monitoring
Amendments 118 to 121 not moved.
Clause 3 agreed.
Amendments 122 to 123 not moved.
Clause 4: Multi-annual financial assistance plans
Amendments 124 to 129 not moved.
House adjourned at 8.51 pm.