Amendment 1

Agriculture Bill - Report (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 1:37 pm on 15th September 2020.

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Lord Greaves:

Moved by Lord Greaves

1: Clause 1, page 2, line 10, after “supporting” insert “and enhancing”

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I rise to move Amendment 1 and speak to the amendments in the first group. We come to Report and therefore I repeat my interests, as set out in the register, as vice-president of the Open Spaces Society and my historical involvement with the British Mountaineering Council.

This is the Agriculture Bill, so it is fundamentally about agriculture, farming and farmers. It cannot avoid being about many other things too because agriculture takes up some 70% of the land area of this country. Therefore, the Bill inevitably is also about everything else that happens on that land. We had a thorough discussion in Committee of Part 1, which is all about the permissive powers the Secretary of State will have in future to provide funding for a range of things, starting with farming and farming-related activities, but also those ancillary to or related to rural land.

Like much of Part 1, the small provision allowing funding for the provision of finance and access is permissive and general. The fundamental difficulty we all had with this Bill in Committee is that it is all about what the Government might do, rather than what they will do. We do not know what they are going to do, and they do not know either. We will have to wait to see how the Bill will be put into operation. Then, it will be far too late to discuss it as primary legislation.

All the amendments in this group are about access. Thinking back, huge progress has been made on access in the last 20 years in different parts of the UK. The CROW Act 2000 created access land, rights of way improvement plans, access forums and a great deal more. By and large, despite the horror stories that some people told us at the time, it has been successful. Scotland had the Land Reform Act 2003, which resulted in my political colleague Ross Finnie, who was the Minister in charge of it, being described as,

“Mugabe in a tartan outfit, by the Scottish Daily Mail, and lots of other things like that. That Act created the right of responsible access to land in Scotland—and it was all land—so long as the access was carried out responsibly. Again, people thought it would be horrific but, in practice, that part of the Act has been pretty successful. However, I emphasise the word “responsible”. It is absolutely true that some people go to the countryside and do not act responsibly, and that matter should be dealt with.

Under CROW, we had English coastal access, which was started by the Labour Government before 2010. In 2010 there was an attempt by some Conservative Ministers, which I can bear witness to, to put a stop to it, but that was one of the things that the Liberal Democrats in the coalition made sure happened. In 2015, Nick Clegg announced that it would be completed in 2020. It has not quite happened, for various reasons, but it is going to be finished—so things have been moving forward.

What is happening now is dangerous in several respects. There is the problem of the potential loss of the ability, under cross-compliance and the environmental requirements on basic farm payments, for access authorities to make sure that farmers do not block access. In Committee, I asked what was happening about that under the new system, but I have not had an answer yet. Will the new ELM tier 1 payments require that farmers and land managers adhere to the law and allow access where it is legal? Will tier 2 take into account rights of way improvement plans, for example? Will they have to do it? Many tier 3 landscape-scale payments will, if I understand them correctly, be made on access land, so they are a wonderful opportunity to develop and improve current access for both people undertaking the access and land managers.

Other issues are being dealt with by amendments in this group in the name of my noble friend Lord Addington, to which I have added my name. However, Amendment 1 puts in a specific requirement for consideration to be given to funding for access improvements as well as maintaining and supporting existing access. This is a really good opportunity to do this. Improvements would be voluntary, so it does not force anything on anybody, but it does put into the Bill the possibility of providing money to strengthen existing access. In some areas, access on farmland is very good; in others, it is pretty poor. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mann, and my noble friend Lord Addington for adding their support to this amendment.

We want to see enhancements to the path network and, importantly, improved maintenance of existing public access. This is very important. If the existing facilities—the gates, stiles and paths—are clear and well signposted, that is a route to good management and is in the interests of everybody. It is not to anybody’s advantage if they are all falling down and you have to climb over walls and barge your way through to get access, or if you cannot find where you are going and get lost. Maintaining access is, therefore, in everybody’s interest, whether you are managing the land or going there for recreational purposes.

We also want to see enhancements and maintenance of access on water—my noble friend will speak to that—and a strategic approach to enhanced access through rights of way improvement plans, which need a boost. This is a good opportunity to achieve that.

During the Covid lockdown in the early summer, access to the countryside was of huge benefit to a lot of people. It also caused a lot of problems and difficulties. Landowners, parish councils and other people put up signs saying, “No access. This area is closed due to Covid”—which was, of course, unlawful. Nevertheless, it showed the importance for people’s health and well-being of being able to walk in the countryside. Responsible public access is absolutely vital, and that is why the Bill is so important. The money ought to be able to contribute to education and information projects, as well as to farmers. Good provision and responsible use of the countryside for recreational exercise are vital for health and well-being and mental health, and I hope that this part of the Bill will play a vital part in this. I just wish that we knew rather more about the details of what the Government are proposing. I beg to move.

Photo of The Earl of Devon The Earl of Devon Crossbench 1:45 pm, 15th September 2020

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. I agree with much of what he said about public access and the health and well-being benefits thereof. I will speak specifically to my Amendment 2, which changes the ELMS targets in Clause 1(1)(b) from “enjoyment of” to “health and well-being benefits from” the countryside. This goes to the heart of the Bill and what the countryside is for. Is it for our enjoyment or for our benefit?

I apologise for not being present in person, particularly on a day when I have tabled a number of amendments. I am currently in quarantine following a fortnight in California, where it was 116 degrees last week. California is parched by drought. It is ravaged by wildfire and overrun by Covid, exacerbated by a food production system that maximises profit and productivity. There is no doubt that the Californians “enjoy” that remarkable land, but that enjoyment patently does not inure to the benefit of their health, well-being or environment.

This amendment was debated in Committee and many noble Lords supported the inclusion of health and well-being benefits, so I will not repeat myself, but I note that this provision remains unchanged from the original 2018 version of the Bill. This is despite the onset of the worst public health crisis in a century, during which the public health and well-being benefits of our natural environment, and our domestic food supply, have never been more important. It is disappointing that the Government have not seen fit to put the crucial goals of health and well-being on the face of the Bill. However, I am equally concerned at the use of the word “enjoyment”. This is either a wholly subjective term that is inappropriate for legislation, or it has a specific meaning as a property right—the right to quiet enjoyment—which simply cannot be a public good.

I declare my interest, now and for the rest of this Report stage, as a Devon farmer and the holder of certain long-standing feudal rights. I originally trained as a property law barrister and I am very aware that enjoyment of land is a basic freehold right that may be granted to tenants or exercised by bringing a tort claim in nuisance. Is the granting of public property rights what the Government intend to reference in Clause 1(1)(b)? If so, I would not be wholly opposed to that, but it needs to be stated explicitly and would deserve considerably more debate than is available today. I would also question whether that amounts to a public good, given that there is an all-too-vibrant property market at work in this country at the moment.

Equally, if this is merely the dictionary definition of enjoyment—“the taking of pleasure in something”—it is overbroad. As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, referenced, we have heard much in the news lately of public access and enjoyment, including raves taking place in contravention of lockdown guidance. The participants at those events are undoubtedly gaining public access to, and considerable enjoyment from, the land in question—but it may not be to the good of their health or well-being.

As I stated in Committee, I am a champion of responsible public access to the countryside, but not to the detriment of the environment, the well-being of the public or the private rights of property owners. This provision, as drafted, potentially damages all three. I hope the Minister can provide much-needed clarification on this important issue.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

My Lords, first, I thank the Minister and all those in Defra who have worked so hard between Committee and now to provide us with letters and briefings. The time they have given it is very much appreciated and will hopefully speed up this process.

I will speak primarily to Amendment 5 standing in my name, which seeks to ensure that public access is “granted voluntarily” in the ELM scheme

“by the recipient of that assistance.”

The Minister confirmed this during a virtual session we had the other day, and it is important that he puts it on the record, because there has been some confusion as to whether Defra would be able to impose any of the conditions in Clause 1(1)(a) to (j) as part of giving a grant. If the Minister could assure me that each and every one of them is voluntary, that would be a help.

I support what the noble Earl, Lord Devon, has just said. His wording in Amendment 2 is better than that in the Bill. I also support what the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said about irresponsible behaviour. It is important to remember that irresponsible behaviour is both ways—both by those who come to the countryside to take exercise and walk along a footpath, and also by the farmer who prevents that for various reasons.

Your Lordships will recall that, in Committee, I went on at some length about litter, which is the blight of Covid-19. I got an email from somebody who said, “You’re absolutely right but don’t forget the farmers, who leave an awful lot of litter around, from their black plastic sacks and other things”—and that is absolutely right. I wrote back to him and said I totally agreed with him. The responsibility has to act both ways, and I hope that the Minister will ensure that it does when the Bill becomes an Act.

I would also like to ask my noble friend about the status of access. If it is a voluntary agreement as part of an ELM scheme, what is the status when that part of the ELM scheme comes to an end? If it is a five-year agreement and there is voluntary access at the end of five years, does that access become statutory or just fade away?

A final thought: when we are talking about access, one of the great things that Covid has shown is that if you give animals and birds a bit of peace, they will come out and show themselves and they will prosper more than when they have humans around. There are certain times of year when the use of footpaths is not helpful to breeding animals and birds, and I hope that there will be a bit of flexibility on both sides to ensure that these rights benefit animals and birds as well as human beings.

Photo of The Earl of Dundee The Earl of Dundee Conservative

My Lords, I support the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, which encourage public access and improved accessibility. Equally, I am in favour of Amendment 5 in the name of my noble friend Lord Caithness. Public access should not be forced on farmers just because they have been given financial help. That would be inconsistent with the purposes of the Bill. What should happen instead, as proposed by my noble friend, is that, where relevant, access would be

“granted voluntarily by the recipient of … assistance.”

Photo of Lord Duncan of Springbank Lord Duncan of Springbank Deputy Chairman of Committees

I have a suspicion that the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, had not quite finished, but we will return to him if he indicates he had not completed his remarks.

Photo of The Earl of Dundee The Earl of Dundee Conservative

No, I have finished my remarks.

Photo of Lord Duncan of Springbank Lord Duncan of Springbank Deputy Chairman of Committees

Would the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, please finish his remarks?

Photo of The Earl of Dundee The Earl of Dundee Conservative

I confirm that I have finished my remarks already.

Photo of Lord Duncan of Springbank Lord Duncan of Springbank Deputy Chairman of Committees

I beg your pardon: they were worth waiting for. The next speaker will therefore be the noble Lord, Lord Addington.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the access part of the Bill immediately caught my eye in terms of improving people’s health and enjoyment of the countryside. “Enjoyment” may be a term that is challenged, but it surely includes healthy exercise in the country, in a controlled environment with support. The amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, is not necessary, because I was assuming it was a voluntary interaction to get support; you get some funding to do support in a constructive, sensible way. I understand why he tabled it, because it is a useful piece of clarification, and we probe in Committee but clarify on Report. Hopefully, it will remove some of the, shall we say, more lurid stories we had over the summer—a quiet summer with the press.

I discovered on certain occasions that I was in favour of an unlimited right to roam over everybody’s gardens. It started with the BBC and carried on. I have to give praise to the Telegraph, which did not put anything like this out, possibly because it spoke to me first.

Anyway, as we go through this, the amendments I have down in my name are all about clarifying and, when they make reference to existing Acts of Parliament, trying to put this in context. I refer to the 2000 Act and the 1980 Act: we have something solid, so let us pin it down and find out what we are trying to do.

In the current environment, one thing we have discovered is that if your heart and cardiovascular system are in good condition, you are less likely to be a vulnerable person who is collapsing the NHS. Exercise is the wonder drug, and the best introduction to exercise if you are away from it is walking, after which you may start running or anything else. Taking exercise easily in a pleasant way is the thinking behind most of my approach. It is a pleasant experience to be outside walking.

My amendments also make it possible that the Government will fund those people who have entered into this to make sure or attempt to make sure there are paths that are useful for just about anybody, not just the convinced rambler who, armed with the right clothing and heavy boots, marches across a muddy field. They are for the person in a wheelchair or pushing a wheelchair or pushing a buggy. Can they get support to make sure that they have a hard surface that does not turn to mud at the first drop of rain? That was some of the thinking behind linking this to other Acts.

Farmers should get to it. This is very important for the simple reason that people stick to a hard path, by and large, but not to many other paths, including great paths such as the Pennine Way and the Ridgeway that get muddy. People avoid the mud and expand the path. Any biodiversity around that path is immediately destroyed by people’s size 6 and up shoes. It ruins the ground and the diversity. So the aim of my amendments that refer to other Acts is to try and make sure you can maintain a path that is usable under most circumstances.

I also agree that on certain occasions, certain paths might have to be curtailed. That could be for wildlife reasons; it could even be because a path that is not fenced off goes through a field of cows with calves. How to get a dog killed: let one loose among cattle. I think I saw a small nod from the noble Lord there; we do hear about such cases. Horses are another example. “Oh, the horsey would like to be patted.” Not if the horse in the field is a jumpy one year-old racehorse. As has already been said, there has to be a degree of common sense.

Under the Bill there is the potential for farmers to be rewarded for giving something that the general public will be able to use. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some clarification of that. Okay, this is a framework Bill—but if we can get some idea of where we are trying to get to, we will have a better idea about this potential benefit.

On the water aspect, we again find ourselves going into new territory. As for my amendment with the list of what constitutes water, I am afraid that the noble Earl, Lord Devon, must take the blame for it, because when we tabled it, he said, “Yes, great! Something we can refer to.” I am sorry that he is not now in his place to defend himself. The purpose is to give some idea of what we might do.

The use of water outside has grown in popularity, and it involves potential conflict if we do not provide some facility for it. If we do that, there is potential benefit for farmers, either directly or indirectly. We do not want canoeists clambering down a path and possibly destroying a natural environment. We want them to have some point at which they can get in and out of the water safely and easily—and if the farmer is rewarded for providing that, great.

I had little time for someone who determinedly said, “I should be allowed to paddle everywhere.” I said, “What about a trout stream in mid-season?” He said, “Oh, yes, there as well,” and I had to suppress an expletive-laden outburst hoping that he might drown in it, because of his sheer stupidity. We have to share such facilities, and some clarity is required on that.

The same applies to wild swimming, although to a lesser extent. Someone may want to turn a pond into a swimming pond. There is a heath in London that has been doing very well for years out of something like that. Why should we not have a few rural examples? Clarification of what the Government are driving at here would help, because there is potential for great public benefit—and indeed state benefit, if society becomes a bit healthier. That ties in with everything else that has been said.

I refer to Acts in some of my amendments because the many strategies that might be touched on simply are not solid enough to have that effect. We need something that has the force of law. I hope that the Minister can give a series of positive answers, so that people know what they will be entitled to, and who will benefit from it. It will be a combination whereby the farmer, or other land user or manager, gets a benefit from giving something good to society: public money for a public good. Can we have a definition here? The Government started this: they said “access”. What do they mean by it?

Photo of Lord Randall of Uxbridge Lord Randall of Uxbridge Conservative 2:00 pm, 15th September 2020

My Lords, I shall not detain the House long. I have added my name to those of my noble friends Lord Caithness and Lord Dundee on Amendment 5, because, as has been said, it is important that we get clarification. We must also ensure that farmers and other land managers realise that the access provisions are voluntary and will not be imposed. We need to take everybody along with the new framework, and the new way of looking at how we finance our agricultural system. If land managers fear that this will be compulsory they may not take part in it. Obviously, there is a good reason why we want more access—but it must be voluntary.

I echo the thoughts of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, about making paths, if possible, accessible to all, not just to what he called the hardened rambler. I also concur that there are occasions when paths and access must be curbed, for various reasons. Even nature reserves have to close paths because a bird—or some other creature, but it is normally a bird—has decided to nest right by them, and the last thing it needs is a lot of people walking past. I hope that the Minister can give us the clarification that we desire.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge. I offer the Green group’s support for Amendment 2 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Devon. My noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb will speak on other amendments, so I shall confine myself to this one. Amendment 2 has multiple benefits. As the noble Earl explained, it would improve the clarity of the Bill, with “health and wellbeing” being measurable and quantifiable terms rather than the—if I may say so—rather woolly drafting of “enjoyment”.

This also helps us to come to terms with the rest of the debate and to set out clearly what the Bill is trying to achieve. We need our countryside to provide multiple services for us. In terms of our health and well-being, we need a great improvement from our present diet, to one packed with fruit and vegetables. We also need widespread broadly available leisure opportunities, and we need to look after the health and well-being of the natural world so that it can maintain biodiversity and bio-abundance, store carbon, prevent flooding, provide clean water, et cetera.

The economy is a complete sub-set of the environment, and ours is in a parlous state, as the RSPB reminded us this week with its reflections on our “lost decade for nature”. There is a context to the Bill involving contesting views, summed up as “sparing versus sharing”. The idea behind sparing is that we trash much of the land—the soils, the biodiversity and the waters—but we leave some of it, in its still surviving or restored state, as pristine as possible. Spare some, and the devil—or the agrochemical companies—take the rest.

Sharing involves looking after all our land—the soils, the wildlife, the air and the water. Those are things that everybody needs around them all the time for health and well-being—rural and town residents, visitors, and those who eat the food that comes from them. That is, as the noble Earl’s amendment says, for their health and well-being. An occasional visit to a specially protected treasured area will not deliver health and well-being if the rest of our countryside is trashed.

When we reach Amendment 78 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and consider the damage done by pesticide application, this will all come into acute focus. Amendment 2 gives us a chance, in the early stages of the Bill, at the start of today’s debates, to set out a crucial understanding of how our health and well-being, and our future, depend on looking after every inch of our environment. If we live in a healthy land, we will have a healthy society.

Photo of Lord Naseby Lord Naseby Conservative

I too thank the Minister for the timeliness and succinctness of the brief we have received. As we will be on this subject for a while, I had better declare an interest, in that I own woodland, which is managed by a professional and with the agreement of the Forestry Commission. And if anything comes up about horticulture, Bedfordshire is part of the heart of the horticultural world, so I will be interested in that.

We should pay tribute to the noble Earl, Lord Devon. I too worried about “enjoyment” for a while and wrestled with it but could not think of anything better at the time. Then I found that he had produced something very helpful, which gives precision. In law, precision is very important, so I hope the Minister will consider it.

I say that particularly because I happen to have some footpaths close to where I live and, as my noble friend will be aware, there is a new hobby of flying drones, which is not necessarily for the enjoyment of anybody other than the person flying the drone. Certainly, if people are walking along a footpath and find somebody else in the middle of the path flying a drone—which is allegedly, but not actually, flying within sight—that is not to the enjoyment of anyone at all.

On Amendment 4, which is the other one that caught my eye, there is no doubt that “accessibility” is vital. There cannot be a Member of your Lordships’ House who has not taken a walk along a footpath and found either a stile broken, something overgrown or another hazard that has appeared, so it is vital. I am slightly worried, though, in that some years ago I experienced that a section of the “rambling community” had gone back to the original maps showing where the closed footpaths were. Those had been closed whenever it was, legally et cetera, but there was then a move to open them up again. There may be a case for opening some of them, but it seems to me that that campaign does not fit with what we require today. However, I come back to the point that accessibility is vital. New public access is much more difficult in today’s world, and I think one has to tread very carefully in that area.

Photo of Lord Carrington Lord Carrington Crossbench

I declare my interests as a farmer and landowner as set out in the register. Briefly, I support Amendment 5, in the names of the noble Earls, Lord Caithness and Lord Dundee, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall, if the intention is to make public access a precondition of eligibility to obtain financial assistance for the purposes set out in Clause 1. Many farmers welcome public access and understand that, in many instances, it is most helpful to their businesses, leaving aside any altruistic intent. However, there will always be circumstances in which, for one reason or another, it is inappropriate. Reasons may range from it being environmentally detrimental to safety concerns and privacy reasons. While encouraging public access, surely it should be granted voluntarily by a willing and perhaps enthusiastic farmer, rather than being imposed. Public access may well devalue the farmer’s property and might lead to a reluctance by the farmer or landowner, as the noble Lord, Lord Randall, has said, to make an application to the relevant ELMS.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to be back discussing the Bill on Report. I declare my interests in the register, particularly that I sit on the rural affairs group of the Church of England and that I am an associate fellow, I think, of the British Veterinary Association. I have one comment and a question for the Minister. I do not think that these amendments are necessary, as we discussed in Committee. It would be most helpful if the Minister in summing up could refer to the figures on current public access and rights of way, both in numbers and in miles, that are currently available but not being used and may lapse as a result, before we go on to create any new ones.

Photo of Lord Bhatia Lord Bhatia Non-affiliated 2:15 pm, 15th September 2020

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 27. The consultation with the dairy industry highlighted a need to define how the codes of conduct will be enforced and how that enforcement will be financed. The dairy industry must be given a chance to provide views about enforcement. A range of options are possible. Arbitration or an ombudsman model are suggested. In either of these models, the cost must be considered. Legal advice and litigation costs will have to be considered. All such costs will ultimately fall on consumers. In this pandemic era, consumers must be considered. Families of lower income and those facing homelessness must be protected. Does the Minister agree that all such extra legal costs must not fall on consumers?

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, I shall speak very briefly to two amendments: Amendment 2, in the names of the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and Amendment 5, in the name of my noble friends Lord Caithness, Lord Dundee and Lord Randall of Uxbridge. I agree entirely about the beneficial effects of being able to enjoy the beauties of our countryside; that should go without saying. But I also very much agree with my noble friend Lord Caithness and, indeed, the noble Earl, Lord Devon, about the position of the landowners and farmers in question.

As we begin what I hope will not be quite such a marathon stage of the Bill, I very much hope that we will never, at any stage of our deliberations, lose sight of the fact that this is the Agriculture Bill, and its prime purpose is to protect and enhance British farming and those who earn their living from it. It is to underline their duties to be custodians of the countryside; it is to underline their responsibility to enable people to enjoy the countryside.

But we have only to reflect briefly on some of the ghastly things that have happened since Committee to realise how important it is that not only are farmers and landowners responsible but that those who enjoy the countryside are responsible. We have witnessed some, frankly, despicable scenes over the last two or three months—people going into the countryside and not enjoying it but pillaging it, defacing it, neglecting what it truly is and creating horror and squalor where there is, and always should be, beauty. I hope we can bear all those things in mind as we go through Report.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, who has been exceptionally kind to me in previous debates. It deeply saddens me that I do not quite agree with him: I think there will always be a tension between town and country, and some of that comes down simply to a lack of information available to those who despoil the countryside, and that is something we should think about.

It gives me great pleasure, even joy, to be speaking on Report on this Bill, with such a broad consensus on shaping a greener future for British farming and land management. The sheer volume of amendments on the Marshalled List is testament to the scale of ambition shared by noble Lords across the House, and it is unfortunate that your Lordships may not be able to divide on as many amendments as we might have liked.

I was going to speak only to Amendment 4, because I thought it was the most radical, in terms of opening up new paths and new opportunities for people to walk, but now that my noble friend Lady Bennett of Manor Castle has given me the opportunity to range wider, I shall speak to some of the others.

I am pleased by the cross-party, non-partisan way in which the House has come together to focus on some of the most important issues, so that the Bill addresses some of the most pressing issues facing the health of our people and our planet. I felt that the noble Earl, Lord Devon, was very brave in going to California. I have watched with horror the pictures and the testimonies from a California that is clearly suffering and will clearly have a problem feeding and nurturing its own residents in the near future.

The amendments in this first group can be broadly categorised as improving public access to the benefits and beauty of British land, and anything that can be done to expand the public’s access and use of the land is a positive step. The Bill already makes broad overtures in that regard. Despite having a great respect and liking for the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, I am not quite sure about the word “voluntarily”. On a path that I regularly walk, the farmer puts all sorts of impediments in the way, and that footpath has been there for many centuries. For example, one often finds wire fencing, flocks of geese or cows that are about to be milked—it makes it quite difficult for the average walker.

Some of the other amendments are simply common sense. It would be perfectly logical for the Minister to go back to the Government, and when the shadow, the spectre, of Dominic Cummings looms over him, I think he should say “Dom, you know nothing about this—go away, and let us improve the Bill”.

Photo of The Duke of Montrose The Duke of Montrose Conservative

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to be able to contribute to this Bill, and I declare my interests as a farmer in Scotland and a member of NFU Scotland. Even so, Part 1, to which most of these amendments apply, only affects England and Wales.

I add my support for Amendment 2 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Devon. This is one of a number of amendments noble Lords have referred to which are aimed at bringing the benefits of agriculture to health and well-being. It will be important if this Bill gives official recognition to this element.

I have been listening with much interest to the proposals surrounding Amendments 3 and 24, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, particularly his extensive list of what constitutes “water”. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, asked that financial assistance be sought for access—it is a bit of a longer shot to diagnose what assistance is actually needed for the water itself. It might be necessary to define the context in which the words listed should be taken, as they are likely to have different meanings in different parts of the country.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, drew your Lordships’ attention to the legislation in Scotland, which gives unlimited right of access to land and water, but allows access only by foot, horseback or bicycle. Motor-driven transport can go only where there is an appropriate right of way, unless the occupant is disabled. We have yet to learn if this distinction will apply to water, but this needs to be thought about. This helps to ensure that the countryside is accessed in a way that provides the most benefit. Even so, there are already examples of the approach of different users conflicting, in spite of the fact that, with one-tenth of the population of England, one might expect there should be less of a risk.

Something which deserves consideration when talking of extending access is that historically, Scotland had a more general right of access before our current legislation was introduced, whereas in the majority of England any access is limited to defined rights of way. During the Bill’s passage, it has been only proper that we give these proposals some consideration. However, the extent and location of acceptable access has not been discussed.

The changes envisaged in these amendments are a complete departure from the current situation. My noble friend Lord Caithness pointed out the way in which they extend the present position. The subject should be introduced with more care than we can readily give in the context of this Bill. I would not be prepared to support the amendments at this time.

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

My Lords, it has been a fascinating debate. A number of noble Lords have made the point that this an agriculture Bill—of course it is—but we cannot get away from the fact that the principle which underpins it is public money for public goods, and the Government are quite right to make that the principle. The link between citizens as taxpayers and the farming industry is now going to be clearer and more direct than at any time in the last half-century. Therefore, anything which helps public understanding of farming and agriculture is actually in the best interests of farmers and landowners.

Many noble Lords have highlighted the importance of public access and recreation in the fresh air and countryside as part of a broad strategy for improved health, well-being and mental well-being, and I agree absolutely with that. I have observed in this debate and in Committee some conflation of the public rights of way network—which is often historic and enshrined in law—and public access more generally. I am not going to give a lecture on that, your Lordships will be pleased to hear. However, it is important that we understand that these are two separate things.

This comes across very clearly in the Bill, in understanding the extent to which compliance with the law on the part of landowners will be taken into account in assessing eligibility. The other issue is public access: opening up not new public rights of way but new voluntary access. My view—perhaps the Minister can confirm this—is that nothing in the Bill or in any of the amendments would create a new public good or in any way force landowners to do something they do not want to do.

A number of noble Lords have talked about the problems of vandalism, fly-tipping and so on. I understand that: I live in a small village, and the lane out of here is often full of litter. Nobody suggests banning cars, even though people are chucking McDonald’s boxes out of car windows; we do not do that. We try to educate, to enforce, and that is the approach we should be taking with public access, not trying to ban the many for the misdeeds of the few.

I would really like the Minister to make it clear whether financial assistance will be available where landowners voluntarily decide to provide new access opportunities or to improve existing ones. I would also appreciate the Minister’s saying whether any of the ELM tests and trials have been related to water and public access to waterways.

Finally, there is the question of what used to be called cross-compliance, to which my noble friend Lord Greaves referred: whether a landowner who blocks a footpath or a public right of way will still be eligible for grants, or whether that will be taken into account. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s answers.

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

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. As we are talking about access, I should declare an interest as a member of the South Downs National Park Authority.

I do not intend to speak at length as we have a great deal to get through today. We had a good debate on these issues in Committee, and I think we all acknowledged the important health benefits from being in the open air and walking in the countryside. Noble Lords have raised many of these important issues again today and, of course, we concur with many of the arguments that have been put forward.

There is clearly a great deal more that can be done to open up the countryside and provide safe and secure footpaths, particularly for those with disabilities. We also recognise the importance of enhancing public understanding of farming and nature. As we know, the Bill already spells out a commitment to provide financial assistance for public access to the countryside and for greater public understanding.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, again raised the issue of access to water—to canals, lakes and the other things listed in his amendment. As I said in Committee, this Bill is about farming and the environment; extending its remit to the recreational enjoyment of waterways is perhaps pushing its boundaries too far.

On reflection, since Committee, I have had a more fundamental issue with these amendments. We believe that the purposes set out in Clause 1(1) have the right balance of interests between the farming community and the environment. It is a delicate balance, which is nevertheless broadly accepted by those whose livelihoods depend on it. This is why we have refrained from putting amendments to this clause, and it is why, even now, I urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

All of the amendments in this group are worthy in their own way. The issues that they raise are important and we will happily work with noble Lords to pursue them elsewhere—but not in this Bill or at this time, when there is so much else at stake and the future funding of farming is so fragile.

I hope that, despite the good debate that we have had, the noble Lord will reflect on this and feel able to withdraw his amendment. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Photo of Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lord Gardiner of Kimble The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 2:30 pm, 15th September 2020

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for contributing to what has been a thoughtful debate. I declare my farming interests as set out in the register. I very much look forward to these days spent on Report, building on our consideration in Committee.

In addressing Amendment 1, I will also address Amendments 25, 3, 4 and 24. I am a great advocate of the benefits that access to the countryside and the natural world can bring. Clause 1(1)(b) will allow financial assistance to be given to support public access to and enjoyment of the countryside, farmland and woodland.

The Government are supporting and enhancing access to the countryside in a number of different ways. We are working to complete the England Coast Path and to support our network of national trails, and we intend to create a new national trail across the north of England. We are ensuring that rights of way are recorded and protected, as well as developing ways to support access through the ELM scheme. I say to my noble friend Lady McIntosh that it is estimated that there is around 140,000 miles of rights of way in England and Wales. The ELM scheme will reward land managers for the public goods that they deliver, including beauty, heritage and engagement with the environment. Public access is a key way that people can engage with the environment. Supporting access is therefore an important aspect of achieving this goal.

In her point about balance, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, reminded us of the clear essence of this—in fact, it is the way in which the countryside is generally successful. How do we balance the many demands on the countryside? Her point was made well and succinctly.

We are looking at how the ELM scheme could fund the creation of new paths, such as footpaths and bridleways, which provide access for cyclists, riders and pedestrians where appropriate. This will be in addition to current local authorities’ rights of way arrangements. The scheme could also support wider access opportunities to, and on, water and waterways, such as lakes and rivers, for canoeists, anglers and swimmers where appropriate. Again, this is about balance. We all know—this is so often the case, in my view—that when this is done through interested parties meeting together, some of the hostility evaporates: they all get round what is perhaps in these times the proverbial table and work through the issues to everyone’s mutual interest.

We will determine in more detail what ELM will pay for as we develop further the scheme; importantly, we are engaging with stakeholders to inform this. The current wording of the Bill allows us to develop, in close collaboration with stakeholders, the best ways of making further enhancements to our exceptional access network, including waterways.

Turning to Amendment 2, I am absolutely seized of the health and well-being benefits that access can bring. All of us have experienced them—many of us throughout our lives—but I think that the nation has particularly found this during the current circumstances. I assure the noble Earl that these benefits can be supported by public access to the countryside. Access provides a huge range of benefits, including improving physical and mental health, but also supports local communities and economies.

I thank the noble Earl for highlighting the importance of access as a public good, which this scheme can support. As drafted, Clause 1(1)(b) will allow for a more permissive approach to meeting the aims of providing greater and more varied access. A broad range of access improvements will be aimed at promoting the benefits of enhancing health and well-being through enjoyment—in the fullest sense of the word, rather than that pertaining to property rights—and understanding of the countryside. I should say that the noble Earl and I discussed this issue with lawyers. The current scope of Clause 1(1)(b) is broader than that proposed by the noble Earl and provides options to develop the best ways of making further enhancements to our impressive access network, including waterways.

Turning to Amendments 19 and 27, rights of way are managed by local authorities and the rights of way improvement plans set out the needs at local levels. When developing schemes such as the ELM scheme, understanding and addressing local needs will be of paramount importance. This is why the Government have proposed that the design of tiers 2 and 3 of the ELM scheme may require spatial prioritisation; in other words, a targeting process to ensure that priority environmental outcomes are delivered in the right places. The Government are exploring the best approach to spatial prioritisation for ELM, including how to ensure that local stakeholders can be involved in determining local priorities. Rights of way improvement plans will already be considered as part of this process.

Clear arrangements are already in place through the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 to allow for the establishment, recording and appeal of rights of way to agreed standards, and local authorities hold responsibility for their maintenance. Indeed, a national stakeholder group is being reconvened, enabling historic claims to be negotiated and resolved while the consideration of other initiatives, such as a coast-to-coast national trail, is also progressing. The ELM scheme is separate from these aspects of rights of way and thus may offer new and different opportunities, such as the creation of new access, easier physical access and clearer information to enable greater public access.

A number of noble Lords mentioned access. Having have had the privilege of seeing some of the new coastal paths and the opportunities for those of varying abilities and disabilities, I am absolutely seized of the importance of access. As we seek to enhance greater opportunities, wherever possible we should be in a position to help those who do not have the ability that noble Lords here have to enjoy access to the countryside.

Turning to Amendment 5, I again stress to all noble Lords that ELM is a voluntary scheme; I put that on record. Therefore, no farmer will be forced to sign up to the scheme, although they will of course be required to meet their obligations under the law. Ultimately, ELM is a policy delivered by land managers on the ground who know best what their land is capable of delivering. I agree with my noble friend Lord Caithness and the many noble Lords who raised this issue, but again, balance comes into it. There must be balance between food production, the environment, conservation, and the well-being and health of people who want access to the countryside; all these things are the essence of balance.

I understand that, at times, providing such public access can bring about some extra costs or risks for land managers. We will therefore work closely with stakeholders on the full costs of providing access, to make sure that the system works for and is attractive to land managers. My noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge and the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, made that point. We want this scheme to work because it is a positive for those who are custodians of the land. It will not work if it is an imposition. Permissive routes—that is, routes agreed for a certain period of time—cannot be claimed as permanent rights of way. Again, this is important in the climate in which we are seeking to do something of strong public benefit by seeking this element of financial assistance for land managers.

I will look at Hansard to see whether there are any further issues. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, referred to tests and trials. All this—whether it is access or the range of financial assistance—is going to work only if we have the tests and trials with interested parties, so that there is confidence that when all of these financial assistance schemes are applied for, they will be attractive.

I hope I have answered noble Lords’ questions and concerns with the references I have made, through consideration of these matters between Committee and Report and by taking the advice of lawyers as to the drafting. I hope that this will sufficiently reassure the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in particular, and I ask him whether he would feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for what he said. He elucidated the point on which I wanted to question him but, by that stage, I had already sent in my request to speak. He also mentioned consultation on the ELMS. How many farmers are involved in this? Is he convinced that it covers enough respondents to give an overall picture for the country? It is crucial that we get this right.

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

I am grateful to my noble friend. I can confirm that the tests and trials will be across all sorts of land tenure in all parts of the country. This is a venture between Government with responsibility to the taxpayer and land managers who are doing—and will continue to do—a considerable amount of work for which, currently, they are not rewarded. I can confirm to my noble friend that we will be working very strongly across the country on access and other matters, so that when the design of the scheme is rolled out, we know that it will be attractive to land managers.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Liberal Democrat

My Lords, on the Minister’s last point, I am not in touch with a huge number of tests and trials. There are complaints that the ones with which I am in touch—which deal with things in which I am interested—are not getting on fast enough. We understand that there are problems with Covid et cetera. The people I talk to have no complaints at all about how they are being conducted; they are being involved. In terms of new rights of way, the tests and trials in parts of Somerset—I think they are in the Quantocks—in which the Trails Trust is heavily involved are certainly finding a lot of lost bridleways which are likely to be turned, in modern terms, into new access. The people there are quite pleased with what is happening.

I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this discussion. I am also grateful for the considerable discussions and consultations which the Minister and his department have taken part in during the summer. I believe that the words “health” and “being” in the amendment from the noble Earl, Lord Devon, belong in Part 1 of the Bill. They ought to be there somewhere. I would have hoped that this was something the Government might accept, if not necessarily in the exact form in which the noble Earl put it forward. I know that this is a Government in the early gung-ho stages of “We know everything, everything we do is right and we are not going to change anything”. It will change as the years go by; it always does. This is something to which the Minister should and could give further consideration. I would like the words “outdoor recreation” to be there, but I am not going to press this.

The noble Lord, Lord Naseby, talked about drones. On the Sunday before last, our little family bubble went up to a place called Trawden Rec, as in the Red Rec. It is a recreation ground and playing fields on top of a hill. After a 10-year campaign, we finally got model aircraft banned. People were coming from all around the region to fly their model aircraft on Sunday afternoons and it was an absolute nightmare. I do not know whether those by-laws now apply to drones, but the sign saying “No model aircraft” is still there. I very much sympathise with that.

There is a fundamental thing about what is voluntary and what is not voluntary. As I understand it, ELMS will be voluntary. If I am wrong, the Minister will tell me. Tier 1 ELMS will be a matter of negotiation with a particular farmer or landowner and the appropriate authority. He or she will be paid an amount of money for carrying out the environmental land management scheme on his or her farm. That will replace the existing agricultural subsidies. So it is simply not true to say that this Bill is just about farming and agriculture. It is fundamentally about this, as I said in my opening remarks, but it is about other things as well. It is about using the money that farmers are paid to provide public goods. It is not about using that money to provide food and agriculture. Providing public goods is what it is all about—and if access is not a public good, frankly I do not know what is.

I am not going to press this to a Division because I think there has been a huge amount of agreement. A lot of us do not start off from the same place on these issues, but we can come together to agree on sensible schemes. When I go back and they say, “What have you done this week?” I will say, “I was proposing amendments about access”. They will say, “Oh, were there lots of right-wing Tories opposing them?” I will reply, “No, I was followed by three Earls and we were basically all agreeing with each other”. They will accuse me of selling out, but never mind. We are having to trust the Government enormously on this Bill. On the basis of what our nice Ministers here have said, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 1.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.

Amendments 2 to 5 not moved.

Photo of Baroness Henig Baroness Henig Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 2:45 pm, 15th September 2020

We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 6. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once. Short questions for elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this, or anything else in this group, to a Division should make this clear in debate.