Amendment 228 (to Amendment 227)

Agriculture Bill - Committee (6th Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 23rd July 2020.

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The Earl of Dundee:

Moved by The Earl of Dundee

228: After Clause 34, after subsection (2)(c) insert—“(d) proposals to support landowners to make land available to new entrants and farming entrepreneurs.”Member’s explanatory statementWithin the land use context of the new Clause this amendment would enable the Secretary of State to support landowners to make land available to new entrants and farming entrepreneurs.

Photo of The Earl of Dundee The Earl of Dundee Conservative

My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, and others, I support Amendment 227, which, as a proposed new clause, advises a land use strategy for England, as the noble Baroness explained.

First, it is consistent with the purposes of the Bill, for if we carry out the Bill’s dual intention of improved food security and environment conservation, we will have followed a different land use strategy in any case.

Secondly, however, we do need targets—this is what the noble Baroness’s amendment implies—for these are what strategies must use if they are to be successful. Meeting them does not have to be mandatory, but setting them in the first place makes it far more likely that we will get nearer to where we hope to be in 30 years’ time than if we do not start out with such targets in the land use strategy for England.

My Amendment 228 relates directly to the new clause suggested by the noble Baroness. It

“would enable the Secretary of State to support landowners to make land available to new entrants and farming entrepreneurs.”

As we are well aware, the average age of a United Kingdom farmer is 60—that has been mentioned frequently in our debates—yet for new and aspiring farmers, land continues to be hard to come by. Nevertheless, although it is a long-standing problem, we are now even more challenged in two ways.

We are challenged first by the terms of the Bill, for its twin aims of improved food security and land conservation require of our farmers ever more energy, vision and initiative; and, secondly, by the economic circumstances affecting and surrounding the United Kingdom, including the impact of cheap imports from the United States and of highly subsidised agricultural produce from European Union states. These considerations make it all the more necessary to encourage new entrants to farming.

On measures to increase their opportunities, the Scottish Land Commission recently made some useful recommendations proposing business incentives for young farmers and income tax relief incentives for landowners to make more land available. Provided that they already own three hectares of land and produce a workable plan, new entrants aged between 16 and 41 would qualify for a business grant, some of which would be paid at the outset and the balance of which would be paid at the end of four years if by then they have generated a stipulated amount of business income. Corresponding to this, under the current farm business tenancy scheme, income tax relief incentives would also be offered to landowners provided that they have contracted with a new entrant for not less than 10 years.

Does my noble friend the Minister agree that new entrants to farming are essential to the success of the Government’s intentions; that measures along the lines of the Scottish Land Commission’s recommendation would achieve a significant uptake; yet, that apart, but in the first place, the resolve of the Secretary of State to provide such incentives to encourage new entrants to farming should now be incorporated within the Bill? I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I have put down Amendment 228A largely because I had an amendment down in one of the mega-groups at the beginning of this Committee—that seems a long time ago now—which I never spoke to, because there was too much to speak to in that group and so I just ignored it. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, very carefully and kindly spoke at length about it, which I was very grateful for, and the Minister actually replied to my amendment, even though I had not spoken to it, so I got something out of it.

It seemed to me that the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady—I am going senile, I think—

A noble Lord:

Young.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Liberal Democrat

The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone—at least I can pronounce “Scone” correctly. Her amendment provides a good handle to put this issue back in as far as planning is concerned.

My original amendment was all about the need to incorporate or relate the ELM schemes—particularly in tier 2 and tier 3—to all the other strategies of different bodies and organisations in an area, particularly the planning system. It seems to me that, if there is to be a new system whereby the Government put money into farm-level schemes under ELMS, larger schemes under tier 2 and even larger landscape schemes under tier 3, there should be a very clear relationship between these and the local planning system, and it should be a two-way relationship.

First, the scheme should take account of the local planning system and the local plan. Secondly, the local plan and local development control decisions on planning permissions should take account of the tier 2 and tier 3 schemes in particular. Otherwise, we will end up with public money, provided through the new ELM system, being put into schemes that then conflict with the policies of the local planning authority.

This is true for both plan making—which is one half of local planning—and actually determining particularly large-scale planning applications. If there is a tier 3 scheme to do something exciting with a valley and then somebody comes along and wants to build a large housing estate there, and the local plan itself—whether it is the district plan or the neighbourhood plan—does not take account of the tier 3 scheme being in existence, one can see that it is not going to be very helpful.

Therefore, the national planning policy statement ought to be modified to say that local planning—local plans and local planning decisions—should take account of ELM schemes, particularly the landscape-scale schemes and the larger-scale tier 2 schemes. The advice to local planning authorities about developing their local plans, and to parish councils about developing their neighbourhood plans, should say that they should take account of ELM schemes in their area. That just seems to be common sense to me.

Local planning is about spatial structures and elements, and it is increasingly about environmental and ecological things like wildlife corridors. If there is going to be a wildlife corridor in the local plan, then that needs to be linked up with the tier 2 or tier 3 scheme so that the farmers are then encouraged, by being provided with money, to do useful things in that wildlife corridor. The same applies to biological enhancement zones, large-scale SSSIs and even small-scale SSSIs—the abandonment, or neglect, of many SSSIs is a scandal. Landscape-scale policies in the local plan ought to be linked in with landscape-scale policies under ELMS.

I happen to live in a parish called Trawden Forest on the edge of Colne. The whole of Trawden Forest is a landscape conservation area, the purpose of which is to try to prevent people doing damage to such things as the special, historic local walls around fields that we have, and local structures such as that. If that is in existence as a council policy and part of the local plan, which it is, then it ought to be taken into account by whoever Defra appoints in that area to develop landscape or tier 2 schemes. Enhancing the structures in the conservation area scheme should be part of the farm-level schemes, the tier 2 schemes or whatever.

I had to do some campaigning, along with the Ribble Rivers Trust, which has done excellent work, because when the northern forest was announced two or three years ago, for some reason Lancashire was missed out. There is a huge bite in Lancashire that was not to be in it, despite the fact that adjoining parts of West Yorkshire and North Yorkshire were. We are in it now, so that is okay, but if there is to be a northern forest, with a particular focus on a lot of tree planting in the area, that ought to be taken into account in the ELMS. ELMS ought not to be regarded as something on its own; it ought to be incorporated with all the other planning that is taking place locally, so that the whole thing is integrated and the public money going into the public goods in ELMS contributes not just to the farms, but to everything else going on in the area.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

My Lords, the evidence we received when I sat on the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 Committee, the Rural Economy Committee and then the Food Poverty, Health and Environment Committee convinced me that we need a land strategy plan in this country. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, said, it does not need to be a detailed one; that is not the objective, which is to take a holistic look at the countryside in the way the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, just said so that there is no contradiction between various types of development.

There is only a finite amount of land in England, but there are often many competing demands for that land. If we take the north face of Scafell Pike, for instance, there is not much competition for that land, but if we take the triangle between Milton Keynes, Cambridge and Oxford, there is huge competition—from agriculture, horticulture and forestry, with the demand to fulfil the Government’s requirement to plant more trees, from industry, new roads, new railways and new housing. We are told that we need to grow different types of crops, to change our diets or to grow more fruit and vegetables in this country, but there is only a limited amount of land that can grow those sort of crops and there is no security for that land.

The National Infrastructure Commission and developers will be keen to take any agricultural land it possibly can to fulfil its development ambitions. Can the Minister confirm that the National Infrastructure Commission does not have to take biodiversity and climate change into account in its proposals? If it does not, then farming is at real risk and the proposals that my noble friend is so ably putting before the Committee are in jeopardy.

We need to assess what agriculture needs over the next period to secure production and the growth of the right crops so that it does not conflict with forestry ambitions or the Prime Minister’s demand to “build, build, build” wherever we can, and so that our countryside is not ruined as a result. We are at the brink of making a huge mistake for our grandchildren and future generations. In our effort to improve this country’s economy and drive it forward, which we very much want, we must also secure the landscapes and the agricultural land that needs to be kept for production of food and which is now under threat.

Sitting suspended.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green 7:31 pm, 23rd July 2020

My Lords, I was delighted to attach my name to Amendment 227, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, and Amendment 228, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee. I also express my support for Amendment 228A, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, which makes an important point about the need for joined-up thinking to ensure that what is being decided and acted on at a local level is reflected in national action. I also very much put myself behind his comments on the state of our SSSIs and the issues in that whole area that desperately need to be addressed.

When I came to think about the whole idea of a land use strategy, I started by reflecting on how many invitations I have had to conferences, how many reports I have had sent to me, and how much work has been done by a whole range of civil society actors, academics and campaign groups over recent years on how land is used in the UK, and in particular in England. There is real frustration, determination and understanding of the need for change. I will refer to a couple of these.

Back in 2014, perhaps one of the most aptly and clearly named was a report on The Best Use of UK Agricultural Land, produced by the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership. Look at the ongoing work from what was the Royal Society of Arts’ Food, Farming and Countryside Commission—it does a great deal of exciting work, although it has now perhaps moved more towards a local level. It asked how we should, can and must use our land. I also point to an excellent report from Dr Helen Harwatt from Harvard University, Eating Away at Climate Change with Negative Emissions, which was presented at an excellent Grow Green conference that I went to.

I will not take up too much of your Lordships’ time in making a long list, but I am sure that most noble Lords taking part in this debate would be able to add a dozen or half a dozen similar to those on that list. There is clearly a real hunger for an overview or vision of what land use should look like. If we are to say how we, as the nation of England, are to form a view of what we want our land to be used for, surely the Government have to provide the place where that is coalesced. I hope that that would be in some kind of citizens’ assembly, with a consultative process, but producing the sort of outcome that Amendment 227 refers to.

Before I comment directly on Amendment 228, I stress that what I am about to say reflects my personal views. I should be fair to the noble Earl and say that it may or may not reflect exactly his intentions in placing the amendment. When I saw this amendment and decided to put my name to it, I thought of a brilliant performance which has been described as a show, a sing-along, and a TED talk-style live event: “Three Acres and a Cow”. It draws its title from campaigns over land use and access to land in the 1880s, and which we saw again in the 1920s. We have a long-term drive in England in particular—we have already seen some fruitful developments in Scotland in these areas—for people to be able to get access to land to start their own small businesses, produce food for themselves and for others, and get together in co-operatives. I point also to the excellent The Land Magazine, which describes itself as an occasional magazine about land rights and which often explores these issues.

These two amendments aim to ensure that there is a sense of direction— something which we have heard again and again is lacking from the Bill. However, I want briefly to address the comments made in an earlier debate by the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, when talking about pesticides. He said that this is not the year to make dramatic changes. Respectfully, I very strongly disagree with him. ELMS is a dramatic change from the CAP, we are seeing dramatic changes in the climate, and Covid-19 is of course imposing dramatic changes on us all. We are heading in a very different direction from what we have seen for decades. The British countryside is headed in the direction of ever-larger farms, ever-greater mechanisation, and the production of fewer and fewer crops, very often with more and more expensive inputs. We are changing direction, so it is very important that we have a sense of where we are going, which is what these amendments aim to achieve.

I see from looking at the news during the break that there are hints that, over the weekend, we will see a dramatic change in the Government’s obesity strategy. The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, made reference to the drop in rapeseed plantings, which is a dramatic change that has come about through the ban on neonicotinoid pesticides—here I commend the Minister for her strong defence of that ban. Perhaps now, when we are seeing this big change in the Government’s obesity strategy, we will see a similar change in direction and great reductions in the planting of sugar beets, and the preservation of fields and very good soils by the planting of vegetables instead.

We are very much in a time of change and we need some kind of road map or guide, so that we do not flail around wildly. We cannot just say that we have a Secretary of State with the power to make decisions, while we have no idea where he is seeking to direct the use of our land, which is so valuable and so scarce.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I will try to focus on the amendments in front of us. If we are talking about land use and a land use strategy, it has to go fairly wide —a bit of lateral thought will make this stick together better.

My name is down, along with that of my noble friend Lord Greaves, on the amendment to bring the local government plan in alongside this. However, it encapsulates just about everything we have in the Bill. I spoke about many things, such as access. If I can remind the Government Front Bench about Clause 1 without them grimacing too much, all the things we have down there should be working into a strategy. A strategy is a good idea, but it has to go wide and bring things in. The exact form of that will be slightly difficult, but the idea of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, is sound.

I am not quite sure how you do this without having a list that never ends. What is and what is not on the list has always been a parliamentary challenge, has it not? I like going back to the parliamentary clichés every now and again. If we are to try to get this, it has to encapsulate much more thinking. It cannot just be about agriculture but must touch on other things as well. We have established that agriculture does not stand by itself. Whether it is housing or other things, everything else has to be in there. I will be interested to hear what the Government say about this. This cannot stand alone; agriculture is not another planet.

Photo of Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Non-affiliated

My Lords, I rise to support Amendment 228, in the names of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, talked about the need for a land-use strategy—I could not agree more—and said that Northern Ireland had a land use framework. Part of that framework is a land mobility scheme, designed to bring into farming new entrants and young people, who hitherto would not have been able to do so because they did not have access to land or were waiting on succession arrangements in their own family structure. This is a voluntary initiative between the Young Farmers Clubs of Ulster and the Ulster Farmers Union, and it gets some funding from the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.

To underpin what the noble Earl was saying about bringing new entrants in, I can tell the Committee that the land mobility scheme is about helping to restructure our industry. It is about how we encourage young people into farming, and how we bring new skills, new thinking and a new generation into agriculture by matching people with opportunities and providing a service to facilitate workable arrangements. This much-needed initiative will match older farmers with no succession arrangements in place with younger farmers, and together they can develop long-term operational and financial plans for the farms in question, on an agreed basis. That is one way of bringing young entrants, and new entrants, into farming. It is a very slow process, but it is well worth examining. I recommend it to the noble Earl and to the Minister. We should see whether there are any possibilities to share experience. I suggest that something like this should be written into the Bill. That is why I support the amendment.

Photo of Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Defence)

My Lords, never let it be said that we do not range widely in our discussions. “Three acres and a cow” was, of course, the mainspring of the distributist movement, which enjoyed some popularity in the late 19th century and again in the 1920s. I have not heard it discussed for a long time, and the noble Baroness who brought it to our attention has allowed us to reflect on history.

I shall speak to Amendment 228A, in the names of my noble friends Lord Greaves and Lord Addington, but having heard those who tabled Amendments 227 and 228, I support those amendments as well. Amendment 228A would create a statutory obligation that a land-use strategy, if adopted, should be taken into account in the development plan documents and the planning decisions of all planning authorities. It is worth asking: what would be the point of it if it did not enjoy that kind of notice?

As has been said, we are embarking on a period of considerable uncertainty in agriculture. We are changing from a long-standing regime to a new one, and in that change, planning authorities would be much assisted by a land-use strategy. If they adopt it as far as relevant in their development plans and use it to determine competing land uses, they will produce valid and consistent policies and informed decisions on such planning applications as come before them.

There is one particular area in which planning authorities will need to be consistent and informed. If the present Government’s announced policies in relation to the provision of housing are to be achieved, there is little doubt that local authorities and planning authorities will be under severe pressure to permit residential development. Volume housebuilders prefer green fields. They do not like brownfield sites because of the problems of land assembly or access, and they certainly do not like contaminated land because of the considerable expenditure involved in making it suitable for construction.

If, as a result of a land-use strategy, there were to be multiple applications for housing development on what had been farming land, which had become available because of retirement or on other occasions, planning authorities would bless the day that they had a land-use strategy as part of their statutory obligations. Some of these issues will, of course, be resolved by a constructive approach to land banks. I know that that is not part of our considerations and that we have been promised details of a policy document in due course, but I just want to say, from some professional experience, that if we can find a way of using land that is currently banked, the pressure on the countryside will be very much reduced.

Photo of Lord Holmes of Richmond Lord Holmes of Richmond Conservative 7:45 pm, 23rd July 2020

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem. He has a barrister’s brain and an Olympian’s frame. Mark Twain said, “Buy land, they aren’t making it any more”. Although he did not see the Dutch project of polderisation, he certainly had a point, which goes to the essence of the amendments in this group. What has connected every speaker so far is a simple point of coherence. It makes coherent sense to have a land-use strategy. Anything else would inevitably mean competing interests, with land often going to the highest bidder or the largest voice. I support, in particular, the comments of my noble friend Lord Caithness, and, in essence, I support the amendments in this group.

Photo of Lord Cameron of Dillington Lord Cameron of Dillington Crossbench

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 227, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young. England—not Britain, but England—is the fifth most densely populated country in the world, from a list that includes the city state of Singapore. The south-east of England, with London at its commuter heart, is obviously very crowded, but so too are the Midlands. For instance, the Peak District National Park has 21 million people within an hour’s drive of it. That is a staggering number of human beings.

The second fact to note is that, as Bill Bryson once said, the unique feature of the English countryside is that its citizens love it to death. We all feel it belongs to us. Furthermore, most of us want to live in it and to have a home there. A survey in the 1990s showed that more than 80% of those living in southern England wanted to live in the countryside, where less than 20% currently live, so there are immense pressures on our countryside, even before we start to plan our nation’s food production. There are demands for leisure, housing, transport, energy, forestry and business property, as well as our obligations in relation to biodiversity, landscape and climate change.

How do we deal with all these pressures? At the moment, the way our countryside produces all those services and goods is a matter of haphazard chance. There are, of course, myriad strategic and neighbourhood plans, guided by the national planning policy framework, but there is a difference between what people need to get planning permission for and how we actually want to use the land on the ground.

At the moment, most of the usage is dictated by the marketplace and responded to—admirably, in a way—by a new generation of young, entrepreneurial landowners and others who look for whatever possible use the land might be suitable for. But we have already decided in this Bill that the marketplace cannot and should not drive all land usage. With the powers in the Bill, the state is going to step in with large amounts of money—£3 billion per annum is promised—to buy land uses that the market does not cater for.

This brings us to the question of what we should use our land for, and where. The answer may be that we need a plan, or rather a framework or frameworks, possibly at different levels—we possibly need a national framework and a regional framework. Personally, I would avoid local frameworks as I fear they might encourage too much nimbyism, which could destroy the innovation we so badly need for our future land use. The one thing we do not need, of course, is a Soviet-style plan that knocks local enterprise on the head.

Although I think a land use strategy is a good and useful idea, I strongly support the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, in his wish to have a one-off Select Committee in this House to really examine how best we could set up and implement such a land use strategy. There are now many new variables to go into the mix, including the need to plant more trees to absorb CO2, maybe the need for more domestic tourism venues now that overseas travel has taken such a hit, and maybe even the imminent arrival of lab-produced meat and milk, which could dramatically change our farming landscape and what we want from our land. I strongly believe that this is just the sort of issue that a Lords Select Committee could get its teeth into to produce an illuminating and compelling message for government.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Liberal Democrat

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Campbell remarked that this is a wide-ranging debate and that the whole Committee stage has been. There is an inevitability about that, because our shared objective of a thriving agricultural sector delivering a range of public goods can be met only if certain foundations are in place. It is those foundations that I think are troubling many Members of your Lordships’ House. We discussed one in the previous Committee session, namely the lack of an overall food strategy.

Today we discuss another: the total absence of any kind of comprehensive land use strategy. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, had it exactly right when he remarked about having no framework on which to balance and manage the competing demands we make of our land. In May the RSA published a report and said:

“Land use is not an aspect of policy that can be compartmentalised, parcelled away and deemed to matter only in certain places and to certain people. We all live with the choices over how land is used every day.”

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, highlighted that this was just one of a whole number of reports and organisations doing a lot of thinking in this area.

We know that Scotland has a land use strategy, Wales has a spatial plan and Northern Ireland has a regional development strategy. It was fascinating to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, how that is used to help new entrants. On the other hand, England has no overall framework. What it has for planning is a morass of strategies, plans and initiatives, so I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and her cosignatories for tabling the amendment to set out the vision for a land use strategy that could help the Government to deliver their agriculture and forestry aspirations, as we are debating today, but also the 25-year environment plan, the 12 policy statements for critical infrastructure, and this sense of place, which is something on which the Government have based their civil society strategy. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, was quite right to highlight just what a crowded island this is, and the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, talked about the lack of coherence; he is quite right too.

Amendment 228, tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, addresses this problem of new entrants to agriculture and the difficulties they face. In some ways this links with amendments on county farms in earlier groups, because county farms were intended to do just this, but, as we have heard, are becoming rarer. That links with land use, of course, because if you are a cash-strapped council and can sell some land on the edge of town for a housing development, I am afraid you are likely to do that. It is a fact that land for agricultural purposes will struggle to compete against the land demands of housing, for example.

Finally, Amendment 228A, tabled by my noble friend Lord Greaves, would create this link with local development plans and the neighbourhood plan process. This is absolutely the right thing to do. It has seemed to me for some time—clearly the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, tends to feel the same—that in this country we are very good at development control but not very good at planning. We had some elements of it up until about 2004 in the form of county structure plans. They did not cover the whole country, but they were at least strategic. However, they often got stymied by differences with district councils, which had the development control function. County structure plans disappeared in 2004, replaced by regional development plans, which bit the dust in 2010. It seems sensible to include local planning in any provisions and thought in Amendment 227.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone for raising the case for an integrated land use framework today and in her very good contribution at Second Reading. She makes a very important point.

As all noble Lords have said, there are huge competing pressures on land use, and we do not currently have a mechanism to resolve the priorities among those competing claims. We already have expectations on land to deliver carbon storage, extensive tree planting, renewed biodiversity, flood management, water storage and, of course, food, and we are about to add the pressures of all the environmental and habitat improvements set out in Clause 1.

In his excellent speech on food security on Tuesday, the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, reminded us that population growth and urban development are producing demands to build 2 million to 3 million more houses, with all the services and infrastructure needed to underpin those communities—new shops, schools, hospitals and so on. This will inevitably put the squeeze on land available for food production.

As we have debated several times, we are busy making policy and legislative decisions in silos and not taking account of the impact of one on the other. This is a major criticism in the latest report by the Natural Capital Committee. It quite rightly identifies the need for a “natural capital assets baseline” against which priorities can be assessed and progress measured.

A land use framework could comprehensively map out the opportunities and benefits of different forms of land use. It could provide clear guidance on cross-departmental priorities and mechanisms for resolving conflicts over land use. It could join up resources and money to rural areas, providing funding on a game-changing scale rather than separate pots of money and layers of bureaucracy. It could also ensure that overarching government priorities such as tackling climate change are delivered coherently, utilising national, local and private funding. I see great benefits in this approach.

I also have a great deal of sympathy for the amendment from the noble Earl, Lord Dundee. These are issues that we have debated in other groups, most notably in the debate on county farms and tenancies. I think we all agree that we need to find new ways to bring new blood and business skills into the sector. The question remains: where will that land come from? How can we make that aspiration a reality?

Finally, the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, would make it more explicit that local planning should be part of the land use strategy. This is understood as one of the competing forces that needs to be balanced by the mechanisms in my noble friend’s amendment, but it is nevertheless helpful to have it spelt out.

This debate has raised some important questions about competing pressures on a scarce, finite and precious resource. I hope the Minister will be able to provide some reassurance that the proposal laid out so ably by my noble friend is being taken seriously.

Photo of Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lord Gardiner of Kimble The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, especially the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, who has moved Amendment 227, which I will address along with Amendments 228 and 228A.

The Government agree that strategic planning can play an important role in identifying a sustainable long-term approach. The National Planning Policy Framework sets out the Government’s planning policies for England and how they are expected to apply. Localism is at the heart of the Government’s approach. The NPPF provides a framework within which locally prepared plans can be produced. It supports a more flexible approach that is tailored to the nature and extent of the strategic issues facing each local area.

It is interesting that no noble Lord raised the question of the NPPF. I remember some Noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, taking part in debates about it, so I am intrigued that it was not mentioned in this evening’s short debate. That framework refers to measures to support a prosperous rural economy. It notes that planning policies and decisions should enable the development and diversification of agricultural and other land-based rural businesses. It also says that planning policies and decisions should contribute to and enhance the natural and local environment by recognising the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside and the wider benefits from natural capital, including the economic and other benefits of the best and most versatile agricultural land—grades 1, 2 and 3a of the agricultural land classification. Indeed, the framework says that where significant development of agricultural land is demonstrated to be necessary, areas of poorer-quality land should be preferred to those of higher quality.

In addition, the NPPF refers to

“protecting and enhancing valued landscapes, sites of biodiversity or geological value and soils”,

and

“recognising the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside, and the wider benefits from natural capital and ecosystem services – including the economic and other benefits of the best and most versatile agricultural land, and of trees and woodland”.

I remember a discussion, I think with the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, about veteran trees, which of course she and I cherish.

Further to that, the Government are proposing as part of the Environment Bill to introduce local nature recovery strategies. These will help to provide a local context for investments under Clause 1 of the Agriculture Bill. Local nature recovery strategies are a new system of spatial strategies for nature, covering the whole of England. Each strategy will, for the area that it covers, agree priorities for nature’s recovery, map the most valuable existing habitat for nature and map specific proposals for creating or improving habitat for nature and wider environmental goals. In that connection I should also say, particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that the Government are working with stakeholders to determine how these could help to direct investments under Clause 1—for example, through the ELM scheme. The local nature recovery strategies will help local planning authorities to create local plans that reflect national policy requirements for protecting and enhancing biodiversity.

I say to my noble friend Lord Caithness that the National Infrastructure Commission’s charter sets out three high-level objectives on sustainable growth, competitiveness and quality of life, but that is not to say that it takes no account of climate change or sustainability. For example, the national infrastructure assessment that it publishes includes chapters on low-cost, low-carbon energy and on reducing the risk of drought and flooding.

On Amendment 228, the Government recognise the importance of enabling new farmers to join the industry; indeed, we have had considerable debates on that in Committee. In February’s Farming for the Future policy update, the Government set out our plans for offering funding to councils, landowners and other organisations to help them invest in creating new opportunities for new-entrant farmers. We will help landowners to feel confident in letting land to new entrants, delivering benefits to both parties and creating a new generation of innovative farmers. Alongside investing in creating more smallholding land opportunities for new entrants, we will also provide guidance and mentoring to new farmers so that they can develop sustainable and profitable farming businesses.

I am very happy to discuss the amendment further with the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, because, as I say, it would be very interesting to cross- reference the National Planning Policy Framework, which covers planning policies for England, and the provisions of the Environment Bill with any further considerations or concerns she has.

I am always nervous of what I might call statist plans; they have not exactly worked terribly well around the world. We have put localism at the heart of our approach, but we have accepted, as we always would, that there are important areas at the national level, which is why the National Planning Policy Framework is an essential part of the approach.

I am very happy to talk further with the noble Baroness about her amendment and what we are doing in government. With that, I would be most grateful if she felt able to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 8:00 pm, 23rd July 2020

My Lords, I have received no requests to speak after the Minister. I call the noble Earl, Lord Dundee.

Photo of The Earl of Dundee The Earl of Dundee Conservative

My Lords, on the need for better and clearer incentives to encourage many more new entrants into farming, and as indicated in my opening remarks, I believe that the Scottish Land Commission’s recent recommendations are well worth studying. These set out to provide mutually attractive incentives to both parties, landowners and new entrants, to form farming business contracts together.

I am grateful to the Minister for his response and to all noble Lords for their useful comments. I will look carefully at what has been said and possibly return to the matter on Report. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 228 (to Amendment 227) withdrawn.

Amendment 228A (to Amendment 227) not moved.

Photo of Baroness Young of Old Scone Baroness Young of Old Scone Labour

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for his amendment requiring close links between the planning system and any land use strategy. My view is that we need an overarching land use strategy which would guide all sorts of decision-making processes—the planning system, the ELM schemes and some of the initiatives the Minister referred to, such as local nature recovery strategies and some of the work of the National Infrastructure Commission.

I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, who rightly pointed out that we are at a time of great flux in land use and that a strategy is very much needed now. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, who was quite right about it needing to be wide and not just about agriculture; this is really a strategy about what land is for and how we get the right balance between competing uses.

The noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, has huge experience in these areas and rightly stressed that there should be perhaps one framework at a national level and others more regionally, but also that we have to guard against the nimbyism of too local a structure. If I cannot get the Minister to agree to this amendment, I would be delighted if there were to be a relevant Select Committee of this House.

I listened very carefully to the Minister’s response. Much as I love the National Planning Policy Framework, and I have worked hard on it over the years, it is partial. The reality is that the planning system does not really do anything to weigh up from a range of competing needs what should happen in a given area. It is much more focused on development needs, particularly built development needs. I still think that, irrespective of the National Planning Policy Framework, there is a need for an overarching land use strategy.

The same goes for local nature recovery strategies, which are very much about biodiversity. We are currently looking at a piecemeal arrangement which needs integrating into this strategy. I do not think it needs to be statist at all; it can be generated in ways that make it very much about conversations at a county level and at a national level about the right way to maximise the benefit for all these uses of our limited land.

To touch on the point made by the Minister about the National Infrastructure Commission, I had a hugely interesting discussion with its acting chief executive just before lockdown. It is now getting the hang of its climate change responsibilities, but it has never been tasked with responsibilities for other things such as biodiversity. It is time that the Government tasked the infrastructure commission with taking account of biodiversity needs, as well as the other half of the twin challenges, climate change.

I thank the noble Lord for his offer of further discussion. Although I would much prefer him to accept the amendment, clearly that is not going to happen. I should say that even if we cannot get this amendment accepted in the Agriculture Bill, there are myriad opportunities on which I shall not be backward in coming forward, including the Environment Bill—if it ever comes to our House—and the rumoured changes to planning legislation. When we talk about flooding or carbon or water, I shall be there to talk about an integrated land use strategy. I shall become the Countess of Mar of integrated land use strategies.

As has been said, land is a finite resource—we are not making any more. We need a framework now, and the pressures are growing. I hope that the Minister will recognise the need for some such way forward, but at this moment I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 227 withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

We come now to the group beginning with Amendment 229. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or any other amendment in this group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.