My Lords, the last time that I can remember being called to speak by the noble Baroness the Deputy Speaker is when she was chairman of Lancashire County Council and I was a somewhat dissident member on the back benches. The reception and politeness that I have found in your Lordships’ House since I came here a long time ago is of an altogether greater level than the shouting and ranting I got in Lancashire County Council from time to time. Noble Lords can decide whether they ought to be a bit more robust when I speak—I do not know.
I spoke in the debate last Thursday afternoon about what I might have said today on this amendment, so I will not repeat it. I was accused of being gloomy by the Minister and one or two other people; I thought I had perhaps gone a bit over the top—in a Lancashire County Council sort of way—until I read Hansard. Having read Hansard, I thought that what I said was rather good, but Hansard sometimes has that effect on what noble Lords say in this Chamber.
I very much support everything that the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, said this afternoon. I understand the point that my noble friend Lord Teverson and others are making about the need to get on with transforming agriculture and the countryside in this country for ecological reasons and climate change and so on. Nevertheless, the thought that this new, extremely complex, top-down system of working out what people are paid for, with individual assessments of every farm and three tiers that have to be linked together, will be carried out by the Rural Payments Agency fills me with dread. I say to the Government—in a friendly way, because I do want this to succeed—that, in modern parlance, it is a huge car crash rushing over the horizon. We will see. It requires huge resource, effort and ability to introduce large, complex computer-based schemes, which British Governments—not just this Government—are not terribly good at doing. I say no more about it.
I was very pleased indeed to put my name to the amendment tabled by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. Again, the particularly small hill farms are the main concern here. As I said on another amendment, which now seems a long time ago in this Committee, unless these farmers get a considerable amount of subsidy, which not only allows them to do things that are desirable environmentally and for the landscape but to carry out their basic job of hill farming and make at least some profit from it, they will simply go out of business. I do not believe that the Minister and the Government have, so far, explained how such farmers will survive under the new system and continue to do their farming. We all know how the sheep farming system in particular works in this country: the people who rear sheep in the lowlands require the sheep to come down from the hills; it is all pretty integrated. If the hill farms close down and stop keeping their sheep, it will have an effect right across the industry and the country. The most important thing is that the hill farmers themselves get the support they need for their own benefit and the benefit of their communities and landscapes.
Can the Minister explain how the new system will do this, when it is supposed to provide only for what are known as public goods and is not meant to be a production subsidy? I do not see how hill farms can continue unless a significant part of the money they get from public funds is, in effect, a production subsidy, whether or not the Government disguise it as something else.