Amendment 228 (to Amendment 227)

Part of Agriculture Bill - Committee (6th Day) – in the House of Lords at 7:45 pm on 23rd July 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 7:45 pm, 23rd July 2020

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.