Amendment 6

Agriculture Bill - Report (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 2:45 pm on 15th September 2020.

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Baroness McIntosh of Pickering:

Moved by Baroness McIntosh of Pickering

6: Clause 1, page 2, line 25, at end insert—“( ) protecting or improving the food security of citizens and access to food that promotes good health and wellbeing.”

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative

My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 48 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. I will listen with great interest to what the authors of the other amendments say in relation to theirs.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, for their support. Despite what has changed since Committee—which I have now lost—I am persisting with this amendment because of part 1 of the report on the National Food Strategy in the name of Henry Dimbleby. I will refer to this in later amendments as well. His conclusion in Chapter 5 is very telling. Although we “got away with it” in relation to the Covid crisis, we came perilously close to food security issues, particularly food shortages in shops during the early stages. Obviously that is something we wish to prevent going forward.

I believe that this is a genuine omission on the part of the Government. I am sure it is purely an oversight, rather than anything mischievous, but if we refer to the later Clause 17, it is extremely important to have a reference in Clause 1. The new subsection we are proposing would insert

“protecting or improving the food security of citizens and access to food that promotes good health and wellbeing” and that is extremely important. As the National Food Strategy: Part One so rightly identifies, there are many reasons why we may be presented with such shortages and shocks to food security in the future. That is why it is important to write this into the Bill as a recognised public good, and therefore qualifying for public assistance.

I mentioned the reference to Covid; it seemed that we got away with it this time. However, Clause 17 refers to

“global food availability … supply sources for food … the resilience of the supply chain for food … household expenditure on food … food safety and consumer confidence in food”.

Climate change is obviously a key theme running through a number of amendments which follow later, while future pandemics could give greater cause for concern. I know that other amendments seek to address national food shortages, caused potentially by not growing enough of our own—the level of self-sufficiency is low, as we have discussed previously—and potential household shortages. My main concern is a potential major shock flowing from the lack of a deal and the difficulties of trying to negotiate under World Trade Organization terms of reference, which could lead to major trading deficiencies. That is why I believe that Amendment 6 needs to be written into the clause.

I will listen carefully to what my noble friend the Minister says in summing up, but, without a shadow of a doubt, food security should qualify as a public good and thereby be eligible for financial assistance. If he is able to point us in the direction of how, in other circumstances, financial assistance would kick in, that may go some distance in allaying my concerns. This goes further than a probing amendment, but I do not necessarily wish to test the will of the House on it. I hope that my noble friend will take seriously what we propose in this amendment and what his own adviser, Henry Dimbleby, has said.

The House owes the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, a great debt for bringing forward Amendment 48, and I congratulate him on doing so. There is major cause for concern about how common land will be administered under the terms of the Bill. The danger is that if we leave the discussions at this stage, we will rely on the regulations that will follow, which I know will be manifold. I thank my noble friend for his rather lengthy telephone call. I do not think he realised it would be quite such a long call, but I am so grateful to him and his team in this regard. However, I support the sentiments that lie behind Amendment 48 and, in this regard, would like to know exactly how the regulations which flow from the Bill will apply. I know that, in other circumstances, departments have been willing to give advance notice of how the regulations will apply. That would be most helpful indeed.

I know the reason why common land is so vexatious. I may no longer be MP for Thirsk and Malton but, having stood there, I know that common land is generally not widely understood because it exists only in certain parts of the country. However, there are multiple interests at play there, so I hope that my noble friend the Minister will take this opportunity to put our minds at rest. Graziers and others may be few in number, but the current financial assistance they enjoy can make the difference between them putting bread on the table or otherwise. That will be of great interest to the House this afternoon.

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

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. I was pleased to add my name to her Amendment 6 because, for me, food security is very much about the public good. Putting this amendment into the Bill, as we would like to see, would try to ensure that the Secretary of State is given powers to give financial assistance to underpin food security, health and well-being. This is a laudable objective, which should be placed in statute and recognised by government as such. It should therefore be placed in the Bill. Particularly at the time of this pandemic, people should be able to access not only cheap food but the food that they need to stay healthy, with the food system acting in relation to policy areas such as health, welfare and food production.

During Committee, many of us referred to the report published by our Select Committee on Food, Poverty, Health and the Environment. The report, Hungry for Change, was particularly comprehensive and found barriers at all levels of the food system that make it harder for people, particularly those living in poverty, to access a healthy and sustainable diet. The lack of a unifying government ambition and strategy on food has prevented interrelated issues such as hunger, health and sustainability being considered in parallel, meaning that opportunities have been missed to develop coherent policies that could bring about widespread change. Everyone should have access to a healthy and sustainable diet, hence the need to ensure that financial assistance will be given for adhering to this objective as a public good, and therefore get public money for public goods.

It is interesting what the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, said about the National Food Strategy: Part One by Henry Dimbleby. He gave evidence to our committee some months ago. Basically, I suppose he is saying that we were lucky that we did not face further challenges in relation to the pandemic. However, there is no doubt that we have all seen the problems and challenges in food supply chains over the past months. It is important that food security—and, yes, food insecurity—should be recognised as a qualification for future funding in the Bill. I am happy to support this amendment.

Photo of The Bishop of St Albans The Bishop of St Albans Bishop

My Lords, I declare my interest as president of the Rural Coalition. I speak in support of Amendment 6, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and to which the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and I have added our names. Incidentally, I also support Amendments 12, 13 and 17 in this group, but do not intend to speak to them. Let me be brief, as a number of the main points that I had planned to raise have already been made by my colleagues. This amendment touches on two areas: food security and the food which brings good health and well-being. Both areas are about public goods.

I am planning to say something more about food security when we reach a later amendment, so I will confine myself to just one thing about good health and well-being. The results of poor diets are well documented. We know that poor diets lead to worse health outcomes, early onset of diseases and indeed, in the case of Covid, a greater likelihood of a slower recovery or death. At a time when the NHS is under considerable pressure, we need to do all we can to join up our legislation so that we can revolutionise diet in this country and make access to good food the best we possibly can.

The reason I am happy to support this modest amendment is that it strengthens this Bill to keep before us the need to improve the quality of food and diet and good access.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 3:00 pm, 15th September 2020

My Lords, I hope that even at this late stage in our proceedings, the Minister and Government will be able to take this group of amendments seriously and give them serious consideration, with a view to making necessary adjustments to what they finally bring forward. In supporting this interesting group, I emphasise my support for Amendments 7, 16 and 48.

On Amendment 7, I simply say this as a former president of Friends of the Lake District and a vice-president of the Campaign for National Parks. I cannot speak for those organisations, but all my experience with them and with my own family and friends is that, in many parts of our national parks and beautiful parts of the country, livestock are an important part of the scenic setting. I and my family—I speak subjectively—always feel a sense of contentment when we see cattle grazing, but one big condition of all that is that I cannot allow my enjoyment to mask my anxiety lest the farming is not of the highest quality. From that standpoint, this amendment is very valuable indeed.

What is put forward in Amendment 16 is just straightforward sense. I hope that my colleagues agree and that the Government can take it on board. We constantly talk about the relationships between landscape and climate change, countryside and climate change and agriculture and climate change, but this enables the Minister to take practical action to provide support in that context.

We also worry very much about what is happening to the condition of our soil; this is dealt with in the amendment. I have just spoken about landscapes. To encourage members of the farming community to see their role as trustees of our national inheritance in this sense is very important indeed.

How can I—living in Cumbria, five miles from Cockermouth—possibly overlook the importance of flood protection measures? What happened at the time of the great floods in Cockermouth was that the valley up where I live was filling up with water. I was stuck in London at the House and was ringing my neighbours, asking, “What’s happening? How’s it going?” A very great friend of mine, a hill farmer, said to me on the phone: “Well, Frank, all I can say is that I have never seen the valley fuller of water, and it’s got to go somewhere.” That is quite a dramatic illustration of what happened. It went somewhere. The bridge broke at the bottom of our section of the valley and the water poured through and down, out of control, towards Cockermouth.

Wildlife and the environment are concerns we frequently speak about, but we must not just sentimentalise. Here we are giving power—authority—to the Minister to take appropriate action, but it must be appropriate action. I hope the Government will feel able to make some adjustments to meet those points.

On Amendment 48, I have become deeply concerned about the neglect of common land. We may sentimentalise about it and some people may find it controversial, but for any of us who have an ongoing and lasting relationship with and deep commitment to the countryside, common land and the encouragement of a community approach to agriculture are tremendously important. Again, what is envisaged here is underlining the authority of the Minister to take necessary supporting action.

This is a thoughtful group of amendments and I hope the Government will take them seriously.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

My Lords, for those of us who have spent decades advocating for human society to work with instead of against nature, the specific references to agroecology in these amendments represent a great success. These amendments would each expand the principles of agroecology and ensure that ecological outcomes were delivered.

In particular, I have attached my name to Amendment 7 from the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, which would specifically support pasture-fed livestock systems and the improvement of landscapes and biodiversity linked to pastureland. This is all about a farming and ecosystem format that can help to move us towards some sort of food security.

Food security will be an absolutely huge challenge. Anybody who watched David Attenborough’s programme on Sunday will be aware that he mentioned several times that biodiversity is falling. We need biodiversity drastically. If we do not have it, growing food will become harder and harder. We are at a point in the world where some of it is burning, some is melting and neither of those things is good for the human race.

In addition, the world has not even fully met any of the 20 biodiversity targets set a decade ago by Governments globally. Nature protection efforts have been ineffective. We already have 1 degree of warming and are heading towards 3 degrees of warming. It will be a world that we simply will not recognise.

I am delighted to support Amendment 16 from the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and Amendment 11 from the noble Earl, Lord Dundee. Amendment 16 would ensure that agroecology was truly nature friendly. Amendment 11 would support farming opportunities for new entrants and young farmers, ensuring a healthy supply of innovative and motivated farmers ready to take on the challenges and opportunities of greening our farming and land management.

I hope that in his response the Minister will set out specific and deliverable plans for each of these issues.

Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Chair, EU Environment Sub-Committee, Chair, EU Environment Sub-Committee

My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 8, 21 and 23. I say again that I am very pleased that the Government have added a definition of the word “agroecology” to the Bill. That is a great step forward. I not only thank the Government but congratulate them on recognising this type of agriculture as something that is not just from the past—although it looks to the past for many of its methods and ethics—but is an important way to move forward. The motive of the amendments I have put forward—and I thank the noble Earls, Lord Dundee and Lord Caithness, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, for their support—is to reinforce that message within the Bill.

The area that is not mentioned is agroforestry, which is equivalent. This is not the forestry that the Forestry Commission is into—not that I have anything against that generally—but is around integrating forestry into whole-farm management. Benefits from water management include biodiversity, crops from those trees, silviculture and even energy. So the motive of these amendments is to up a style of whole-farm management that looks to the future and entirely fulfils the reason for having ELMS and this new funding structure. I very much hope that the Government, having taken this one step forward, will be able to take it further forward as well.

My Amendment 21 adds to the word “agroecology” at the top of page 3 of the Bill, which states that

“‘better understanding of the environment’ includes better understanding of agroecology”.

I am just suggesting that we add “and agroforestry” to the Bill. I am sure that that is something the Government would wish to promote in the new financing structures and I can see no reason why it would change the meaning of the Bill in any way. If the Minister could do that, I would be hugely grateful to him, knowing of his commitment to the future of farming and ways of farming that promote biodiversity.

That biodiversity and quantum of nature, which the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, just mentioned, are crucial to how ELMS rolls out. I will be talking about this later, so I will not say more about it now, but biodiversity is something that agroecology and agroforestry can promote to achieve what the Government want.

Photo of The Earl of Dundee The Earl of Dundee Conservative

My Lords, I support a number of themes and their corresponding amendments in this group. They suggest that more should be done in the Bill to promote them. The first is consistency between encouragement of production and of ancillary activities. However, Clause 1(2) almost implies a division between them, because the Bill implies that, although the Secretary of State might support both, equally he might choose to give a great deal of help to one and nothing much to the other. To that extent, Amendment 10 in the name of my noble friend Lord Northbrook usefully deals with this anomaly. It is also addressed by my Amendment 20, which also seeks backing for primary production and ancillary activities on peri-urban farms supplying food.

Secondly, as indicated by my Amendment 13, the allocation of rural development funding to local food infrastructures would enable the Secretary of State to continue and enhance rural development funding, previously available from the European Union, to invest in local food infrastructures. Clearly, investment in local food will improve the financial viability of all farm businesses, create many jobs, strengthen our domestic food system and decrease carbon emissions by reducing food miles, while facilitating access to fresh and nutritious food, to the advantage of all.

Thirdly, farming opportunities for new entrants are advocated by my Amendment 11. We must invest in the next generation of farmers, growers and land-based workers to ensure our future food security. A survey of new entrants conducted this year by the Landworkers’ Alliance shows that a diverse, creative, skilled and passionate new generation of farmers is ready to start farms. Very often, they are refreshingly innovative as well, integrating food production with public goods such as biodiversity or public engagement. We need them to succeed, but they are often held back by lack of capital, the insufficiency of affordable land, a lack of relevant training and planning issues. Defra figures reveal that, in 2017, a third of all farm holders in the United Kingdom were over 65. The Bill as it stands does not do quite enough to encourage new farmers. This amendment would ensure that new farmers are given the support that they need.

Fourthly, Amendment 21 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, is on how agroforestry is both separate from, yet allied to, agroecology, by integrating trees into productive farming. As it stands, reference to public goods in the Bill risks being interpreted in a basic and minimal way, missing the full opportunity presented by transition. It would be a great shame if some of the fundamental reforms needed to make the most of this changeover to a more sustainable future were omitted even from mention within the Bill.

A clear example of that is agroforestry, which often falls foul of current guidance, frameworks and systems put forward by Defra. The process of agroforestry, integrating trees into productive farming landscapes, including silvopasture, hedgerows, with standard and coppiced orchards and farmed woodlands, is central to our tree-planting targets, as well as diversifying farming and making farm businesses more profitable. As such, it needs to be seen alongside agroecology, which is already well mentioned in the Bill.

The further Amendment 23 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, usefully defines agroecological and agroforestry systems to the advantage of everybody who wants to be aware of their relative merits for funding.

Finally, in terms of achieving consistency in the Bill, Amendment 16 in the name of my noble friend Lord Caithness is on nature-friendly farming. The Bill’s core principle is that of public money for public goods, which will create an effective landscape model for future food production. These goods will include measures designed to improve the quality of our land and reverse damaging declines in our environment. Nature-friendly farming is central to that vision for our farming future.

The shift towards a nature-friendly farming approach is not just good for wildlife but key to the long-term survival of farming, delivering broader benefits to the public, including flood protection, climate change mitigation, water and air quality, and access to thriving natural landscapes—all listed in my noble friend’s amendment. Public money for public goods will support farmers to deliver all these benefits and produce sustainable food into the future. This Amendment 16 will put nature-friendly farming front and centre in the Bill, providing clear support for nature-friendly farmers and encouraging others to take up the mantle of these new methods of farming.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative 3:15 pm, 15th September 2020

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Dundee. I thank him for introducing my Amendment 16 so eloquently. He has done a brilliant job and it reduces much of what I have to say.

It is quite clear that when nature suffers, we all suffer. That is why I believe that nature-friendly farming should be front and centre of the Bill. When anybody coming into farming picks up such a Bill and reads it—as I did when I started way back in the late 1960s, when I read the 1947 Act—it should say that nature-friendly farming is the route forward. It is the only way that agriculture will survive in the long term.

I hope all your Lordships have read the recent Living Planet Report, which is pretty horrific reading. It says that the populations of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles have declined by an alarming 68% since 1970. That is not all farming’s fault, but farming has been a contributor to that decline. For that reason I welcome subsections (a) to (j), but nature-friendly farming should also be in the Bill. I chose to insert it at this point because of its importance. In Committee it was an amendment after (j), but I thought it deserved a paragraph of its own.

I will correct one myth that seems to perpetuate in some quarters: that you cannot farm successfully and profitably if you also farm for nature. Many farmers have signed up to the Nature Friendly Farming Network, but I also draw the House’s attention to the amazing work of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Allerton Project, which I know my noble friend the Minister knows about. It has done years of research on this subject and proved time and again that farmers can improve yields, output and productivity at the same time as improving biodiversity and wildlife on farms.

I will take one example in conclusion: the grey partridge, which is mentioned in the Living Planet Report. There has been a huge decline in this country, of some 85%, in the grey partridge population since 1970. The work of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust has proven that farmers can get the grey partridge back in large numbers, as well as being successful and profitable. I commend that template to all farmers and to the House. I hope that when my noble friend the Minister implements ELMS, he will bear that very much in mind.

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

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb has already addressed the Green group’s support for a number of amendments in this group. I will not repeat that, but I will address a number to which I have attached my name, starting with Amendment 8, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, which focuses on the whole-farm agroecological and agroforestry systems. I thank him for tabling it, and the noble Earls, Lord Dundee and Lord Caithness, for supporting it.

It is clear that the age of industrial monoculture has given us the dreadful condition of our countryside that the noble Earl addressed in his speech. Its waters are polluted and its soil degraded, and biodiversity is in collapse. Yet, at the same time, we have a public with an awful diet and poor health. We need a whole new approach. Actually, agroecological farming is the only kind of farming we should see, with whole-farm systems. Agroforestry is a crucial part of that: trees sheltering animals, holding water, storing carbon, supporting biodiversity, and producing healthier food, including fruits and nuts, and healthier and more varied fodder for livestock. We need the Government to support this transformation, although ultimately that needs to be how all our land is managed.

We have already seen a significant move across most of the farming sector in its approach to soils. It has been a rediscovery of the understanding that the natural facility of soils depends on a flourishing ecosystem of microscopic animals, plants and fungi. I hope the Minister will think about this: I continue to hope that the Government will sort out the Bill’s description of fungi to make it scientifically literate—it currently is not—following the issues I raised in Committee, which are in no way political. They merely seek to ensure technical accuracy. When we focus on agroecology and, indeed, agroforestry, we need to move towards crop diversity. That is part of whole-farm varied systems. It means a system that works with nature, rather than trying to cosh it into submission.

I move to Amendment 9, to which I have also attached my name, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and backed by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. We have almost lost track of the fact that this is the Agriculture Bill. We are talking about environmental elements, but agriculture is also about food. We need joined-up thinking and systems thinking. There is really no point in producing more sugar, which the world has and consumes far too much of and does massive damage to rich and valuable soils. By contrast, growing fruit and vegetables is a super-policy—the kind of thing the Government should support and which they will have to, if they are to have regard to health and well-being policies.

Amendment 20, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and signed by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, focuses on peri-urban land. I have probably done this myself: in the Bill we talk about the countryside, but fringe areas and patches of land in cities, towns and villages that might be quite small are crucial for environmental benefits and healthy food production. I am sure the Minister is aware of an excellent article from 2019 published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, which found that allotments and gardens often had 10 times more bees and other pollinators than even the rich environments, as we regard them, of parks, cemeteries and urban nature reserves. Increasing allotment use and food growing can be a positive sign for nature and, of course, for people.

I also express support for Amendment 6 on food security, to which Amendment 20 relates. Relying on the market to supply us with food has given us a dreadfully unhealthy diet, as the impact of Covid-19 has sadly demonstrated—one more weakness the pandemic has exposed rather than caused. However, it is also an insecure approach to rely on the market to supply food. Hundreds of millions of people in the world go hungry now not because there is a lack of food, but because of a lack of access to it. There is enormous waste in the system, particularly factory farming, feeding what could be perfectly good human food to animals.

However, we are in the age of shocks. We have just seen harvests in the US in particular be hit hard by extreme weather. Sadly, a lot more like that is on the way. The state of soils is parlous. To assume we can just buy what we need is dangerously uncertain. There is also a moral question: why should we take food out of the mouths of people in other countries when we could and should be growing our own? Those are two powerful reasons for the Government to provide direct, clear support for food security. There can be few more foundational roles for a Government then ensuring that people do not starve.

Finally, I support Amendment 48. I note the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and I agree with them.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I thank everybody who put their names to Amendment 9. I have a little confession: the original intention was to discuss it in the context of the part of the Bill dealing with access, because of the idea of tying health and well-being into public legislation. It is clear, as I have already said—and nobody has argued otherwise—that if you are fit and active, you tend to have better health. However, does the amendment fit in its allocated group? Having thought about it, those organising the Bill have got it right. It fits because it ties in with the general thrust of what we are saying.

What are we doing to try to improve life for the whole planet and for ourselves together? I am afraid it sounds rather meaningless when I put it like that. The idea is that it is a whole, so we are taking something on board and relating it to other activities. If one thing is done under this Bill, it should be to ensure that we look at the whole of what we are doing. The amendment sits better in this group because we have to consider people’s health and well-being and the public good when we are putting money in. I hope that, when the Minister replies, he will not totally dismiss the idea that we should have better access to public spaces in order to undertake physical activity. However, that does not fit in with some of the other concerns being raised here about better diet and so on, because it is part of that whole.

I shall briefly turn my attention to the amendment, which I hope will be spoken to in some depth by my noble friend Lord Greaves, about common land. Common land survives for a variety of historical reasons, primarily because people did not think it was worth partitioning off for economic uses in the past. It survives in some very odd places, such as the tops of hills and—the ones that I am more familiar with—marshland at the bottom of river valleys. Common land fulfils a purpose and allows an access point for diverse types of agriculture. Unless we can get places protected and ensure that they are supported by a new direction of government activity, such as granting graziers rights, we are missing a trick. I catch a train from Hungerford most mornings. Hungerford has a large developed common; there are little patches of common land going down the Kennet Valley. If it survives and allows the type of agriculture, predominantly grazing, that could not happen without that common land, surely that is worth protecting, not only for agricultural and diversity reasons but for historical ones. Surely we should look at that and do something to protect it.

Photo of Lord Northbrook Lord Northbrook Conservative 3:30 pm, 15th September 2020

My Lords, I declare my interest as a landowner, arable farmer and NFU member. I am speaking to and, subject to the Minister’s response, planning to move Amendment 12, as well as speaking to Amendment 17. These amendments support domestic agriculture to ensure that food security and the stability of food supply are included in the purposes to which financial assistance can be directed under Clause 1.

According to the NFU, 21 August was the notional day on the calendar that would see the UK run out of food if it relied solely on UK produce. It states:

“The nation is only 18% self-sufficient in fruit, 55% in fresh vegetables and 71% in potatoes. For both veg and potatoes, this has fallen by 16% in the past 20 years.”

As I understand the figures, 30% of our food comes from the EU. Supermarkets are fine at the moment, but just imagine a scenario if the UK fails to get a trade deal with the EU so that nothing is agreed on fishing rights, and then French fishermen decide to blockade Calais. That could leave the UK really struggling in obtaining particular food items.

The coronavirus crisis has shown how important it is to have a domestic supply of food. The view of farmers as food producers has never resonated more with the public than at this time, with the need to keep our shelves stocked the highest of priorities. I welcome the fact that the Government recognised that food production role by granting farmers key worker status during the countrywide lockdown. However, I believe that, unless the Government change their post-Brexit immigration policy, there may not be enough workers to gather UK fruit and vegetables in particular, already in short supply, as mentioned.

Given the increased significance of food security in the UK, Amendment 12 in particular would enable the Government to give financial assistance for the explicit purpose of supporting the domestic production of food. After the original Bill barely mentioned food, there is a considerable improvement in this new one. In Clause 1 at present, in developing new forms of financial assistance, the Bill states that the Government

“must have regard to the need to encourage the production of food by producers in England and its production by them in an environmentally sustainable way.”

However, in my view that wording needs strengthening, as the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, has said, hence particularly my Amendment 12.

In reply to Amendment 12 in Committee, the Minister stated, if I understood him correctly, that food production does not need financial support because that comes to the farmer by way of profit from the sale of his produce. While that will be the case in some areas, that argument does not cover the situations where dairy farmers have been selling their milk at a loss; where hill and lowland farmers could suffer hugely from the loss of their BPS and a delay in introducing ELMS; or where farmers would like financial support to develop new crops or new processes for growing crops, particularly when these take some years to come into profit.

On Amendment 17, the Minister stated in her reply that

Clause 4 already places a requirement on the Secretary of State to consider in as much detail as considered appropriate each financial assistance scheme that is in or will be in operation during the plan period. If deemed appropriate, this could include how the scheme is to give regard to the production of food in an environmentally sustainable way.”—[Official Report, 16/7/20; col. 1848.]

I accept that explanation and will not be moving Amendment 17.

Some Peers have said that this amendment is trying to do the same thing as Amendment 58. Amendment 58, while totally valid in its own right, is about a national food strategy, which is a perfectly valid plan, but my Amendment 12 is about the provision of financial assistance in order to promote the domestic production of food. It would give the Secretary of State total flexibility on how that was done; it could be through the findings of the food security report in Clause 17.

In summary, I do not think this is a particularly controversial amendment; it is non-party-political, it is supported by the NFU and it need not affect support for environmental measures. I will listen carefully to the Minister’s reply to Amendment 12, but I am strongly minded to move it to a vote.

Photo of Baroness Boycott Baroness Boycott Crossbench

My Lords, I am happy to be part of the debate on this group. I agree with almost all the sentiments that have been expressed, especially by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, as well as by the Green Party.

I am speaking today particularly to support the noble Earl, Lord Dundee. One thing that has not been talked about enough is the role of farmers. If the Bill is to do what I think everyone sitting in the Chamber and who is part of this debate at the moment wants to do, which is to ensure that healthy, affordable food is grown on our land and that our land becomes environmentally sustainable and healthy again, then we need a new generation of farmers, but the facts are pointing in a different direction.

The noble Earl, Lord Dundee, mentioned briefly that in 2017 one-third of all UK farmers were over 65. Almost more worrying than that is that, since 2005, those in the 35 to 44 age group have decreased. However, evidence from surveys points to people wanting to farm and to be involved in growing at a local level, on a big level and on a small level. But how are they going to do it? Land is too expensive and they struggle to scale finance and cover the high start-up costs. Responses to the Landworkers’ Alliance survey indicated that 61% of people responding to surveys wanted to access land, 46% needed finance and 54% struggled to access training. All believed that an average grant of around £20,000, which is not a fortune, would really set them on the road.

Another route for the young farmer is also being closed because of poor funding to local councils. Recent investigations have shown that county farms in England have halved in the last 40 years. This is a crisis. If we do not have farmers, particularly young farmers, then everything that we are talking about is not going to happen. When Michael Gove was Secretary of State for the Environment, he talked lavishly about equipping a new generation of farmers, but I am afraid the facts are now pointing in the other direction. You cannot be a farmer if you have nowhere to farm. If we value our farmers then we have to make some changes. With the right kind of investment and the right help, a lot of people could join our cause.

The other big issue is food security and local food. I mention briefly that for 10 years I ran the London Food Board. We instigated a scheme called Capital Growth, which enabled up to 100,000 people to have access to community gardens. In the process, we turned over 200 acres of London into small community farms where people could join in. We are now looking to take that scheme countrywide, but we need grants for that and land needs to be made available.

My final point is covered by the amendment in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and concerns training. In my years in London, I spent a lot of time in schools. It strikes me that, unless you are at a public school and the idea of a farm, as something possible, is somehow in your blood, you do not even think about it. I spent seven days, as many of us did, watching the debates on the first stages of the Agriculture Bill. I am absolutely guilty of this myself, but it was quite noticeable that the people who feel invested in the Agriculture Bill tend to be white and middle-aged, and an awful lot of us own land and are quite well off. It seems to me that we are missing a great trick in terms of diversity.

This Agriculture Bill belongs to all of us. It is about our land, our food, our health and our environment. Unless we take some steps to try to change the lack of diversity, we will head towards a greater separation between town and countryside. People have talked about litter being dropped, and there will be more of that because people do not feel that the countryside is theirs and that it belongs to all of us. Schemes that enable people in inner cities to grow vegetables on rooftops, under pylons and in sneaky little corners can really start to change attitudes. It is fantastically cost-effective, and I urge the Minister to look at this as the Government move forward.

In the meantime, I am very pleased to be part of this debate and to see agroecology and food security registering so high up among people’s concerns.

Photo of Lord Carrington Lord Carrington Crossbench

My Lords, once again, I declare my interests, as set out in the register, as a farmer and landowner. I am very pleased to follow my noble friend Lady Boycott, as many of the points that I will make are complementary to hers.

My support for Amendment 11, tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, is wholehearted. It involves the whole essence of the Bill, the aim of which is to take an important and profitable industry into a new era of post-CAP farming in this country on a sustainable and environmentally friendly basis.

The encouragement and support for commercial farming through productivity grants and the funding of ancillary activities are clearly stated, alongside the development of attractive environmental land management schemes—although I fear that the details are still unavailable, so we must put our trust in the Government delivering this. However, what is largely missing is support for new entrants into the industry, other than through encouraging some perhaps more elderly farmers to retire by offering them the balance of their basic payments. Although this will free up some land for new entrants, it is in itself not wholly positive, in that the land so freed up will go to the next farmer with no basic payment to cover the transition period. I fear that the most likely home for this land will be with neighbouring farmers or investors who enter farm contracting arrangements with large farm operations. The small farmer and the new entrant is likely to be squeezed, particularly as he is unlikely to have the financial backing that is available to established farmers and the outside investor.

That is why this amendment is so important. It enables the Bill to provide finance for young farmers and new entrants, who are very important to the industry if it is to grow and develop. These people will, unless extraordinarily fortunate, not have easy access to finance, as they will not have the assets and other security to offer banks and other lenders. Buildings, machinery, equipment and livestock are all expensive. As the land may well be held through a tenancy or other time-limited arrangement, obtaining a loan on acceptable terms will be difficult—hence the need to make it attractive for landowners to let land to such new entrants.

In addition, access to training is key if we are to encourage and help develop new entrants into the industry. The addition of this small paragraph in the purposes for providing financial assistance will help the industry to offer an attractive farming business proposition to those aspiring to a career in it, independent of established farm businesses that might not be able to offer them the same prospects. It also has substantial application to the tech-savvy who see a future in small, capital-intensive farming but who lack land and buildings.

I also support Amendment 12, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, as it clearly sets out the very purpose and essence of the Bill.

Finally, I support Amendment 20, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, as it recognises that with changing circumstances, such as limits on movement caused by disease and of course new technology, peri-urban land becomes increasingly relevant to agriculture, horticulture and sometimes trees.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Liberal Democrat 3:45 pm, 15th September 2020

I shall speak specifically to my Amendment 48, which concerns commons. I am not sure how it ended up in this group, but it does not matter. In Committee, we had a longer discussion and I put it in a group on its own, so as to talk about quite a lot of the issues connected with commons. On this occasion, in order to save time, I did not mind in which group it ended up, as I can talk about it in any event.

Again, I am grateful for the help and advice that I have had from the Foundation for Common Land and the Open Spaces Society. It is interesting that they come from different angles. One comes from a management of the commons angle and the other starts from an access angle, but they come together and work together because it is necessary to do so.

I need to go through again briefly what common land is. It is land registered as common land in a register kept under Part 1 of the Commons Act 2006 or the Commons Registration Act 1965. It is land owned by one person or a number of people which is subject to the rights of other people—the commoners—to use and take some product from it. Nowadays, typically that is the grazing of animals.

Common land is only 3% of the total land area in England but it is 37% of the land above the moorland line. It is therefore used by hill farmers, who depend on the rough grazing, natural grasslands and other sorts of moorland. It accounts for a fifth of the area of the SSSIs in England—not a fifth of the number of SSSIs but a fifth of the SSSI land, as a lot of the moorland SSSIs are quite large. It delivers many public benefits and includes two-fifths of the access land in England. It is often designated in different ways for nature, and, not surprisingly, over 90% of common land was under an environmental stewardship scheme under the CAP. Importantly, these sorts of schemes can continue on the upland commons. However, there are also lots of small, local commons, such as the ones referred to by my noble friend Lord Addington, many of them vital for informal local recreation, such as the village common where people play rounders or whatever. They are also often environmentally important for the reasons given by noble friend.

The problem is the management of the commons under the ELMS. How does a system designed to provide financial support for all these different purposes to traditional owners cope with a number of different interests—owners, commoners and perhaps others? They may be competing interests, and individual commoners may have different views on what should happen. In Committee, I asked the Minister whether the Government had already turned their mind to the administration of agreements in relation to commons, with the particular difficulties that can arise in negotiating, administering and delivering them. The noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, said among other things that the Government were working in the trials to create commons-specific land management plans and systems. There are two tests and trials which I understand include substantial amounts of common, one in Cumbria and one in Dartmoor.

Since then, I was very grateful to have a meeting with civil servants and lawyers, and I was astonished how many people in and around Defra had an interest in commons. It was an extremely interesting meeting, and I was very grateful indeed. I am sorry that the Minister could not come, but I understand. I asked about the two specific local tests and what the Government were doing in relation to small, lowland commons, to find systems for them. I understand that there will be some small, lowland commons in the tests and trials once the national system is brought in next year. I was told—this is where it got interesting—that they were developing toolkits to understand the issues; everybody develops toolkits nowadays. These are toolkits not for what should happen but to understand the issues. One very interesting comment by one of the people in the meeting was that we need to focus on what we need to learn. This all gave me to understand—and it was extremely useful for this, if nothing else—that, as had been suggested to me by some of the people from the Cumbria test and trial, working out what to do with commons is really in the early days. In particular, I asked about disputes and was told that they were still working out a way forward. This was all very honest, and I was grateful to be given that time.

It really comes back to what I said before about the Bill—that we really have to treat the Government as though they are on trust on these matters; we have to trust them to do it properly and do it right. As far as commons are concerned, as the months go by following the passage of this Bill, I shall certainly be on the Government’s back. Indeed, I got some promises in relation to the tests and trials taking place and so on, that people would keep in touch with me—and I shall keep in touch with other noble Lords, such as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, who are interested in this issue. I hope that together we can form a little group and follow it through with the Government.

It was confirmed that the details of the ELMS with regard to commons would, along with lots of others, be outside legislation. I tabled this amendment saying that that should not be the case simply because it was the amendment that I had tabled in Committee, and I had not had time to think of a new one, but I am not going to push it to a vote when we get to it in order. A lot of work is taking place, but it is at a very early stage, and it will be very important that a lot more work takes place much more quickly. This whole thing is going to come rushing up on people, and we really do not want the commons missed out.

Photo of Lord Randall of Uxbridge Lord Randall of Uxbridge Conservative

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and his very interesting thoughts on commons. That is a very useful debate to have and one we must take seriously. I echo the words of those who have been talking about the need to get new entrants into agriculture and develop diversity.

I have added my name to Amendment 16 in the name of my noble friends Lord Caithness and Lord Dundee, who have already spoken about it adequately. I am delighted to see that climate change mitigation is in the list, because we have to take it seriously. I know that the NFU has set an ambitious target with regard to being net zero, so that is something that the agriculture sector is taking very seriously.

I congratulate my noble friend Lord Caithness on his myth busting around the fact that farming can be eminently profitable and nature friendly. As we have all been hearing, nature-friendly farming is the way forward. I also send my congratulations on his words about the Allerton project of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust. I visited it a few years ago and was incredibly impressed by the work there. He mentioned the grey partridge. In conjunction with the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, National England and others, there is also the Peppering Partridge Project, which shows that not only can farming be very beneficial to wildlife but game shooting can be very beneficial to wildlife. That might seem slightly counterintuitive, and I speak not as a shooter myself, but it shows how all those different aspects can work together.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, talked about trust. I have immense trust in the entire ministerial Defra team. We are very fortunate in this House to have my noble friends Lord Gardiner and Lord Goldsmith, and in the other place we have other very committed people who take the environment and farming interests very seriously. There is always the case of not knowing what is going to happen later but, at the moment, I have immense trust in them and wait to hear what they have to say.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, this has been a fascinating and thoughtful debate, and I would like to make a few remarks about three amendments. My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering set us off to a good start. However, I want to talk not about Amendment 6 but rather about Amendment 7, and really for the reasons mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, who referred to those very important words “pasture fed.”

The only thing that really terrifies me about farming is the increasing move in certain places, particularly across the Atlantic, towards what can only be called factory farming, with vast sheds occupied by living creatures who never see the light of day. The glory of farming is, in many ways, pasture farming. Anything that we can do we should do to encourage our farmers to pasture their cattle, have their sheep on the hills and, indeed, to have their pigs eating their mast in the woods —and, of course, to make sure that we move away from that ghastly poultry farming which so polluted one of the loveliest stretches of the Wye earlier this year, when it seeped out from massive chicken battery farms. Anything we can do to emphasise the importance of pasture farming should be done.

Of the other two amendments which I wish to mention, Amendment 11 has been talked about by several noble Lords. The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, made a very eloquent plea to encourage and help more young people into farming, and this was endorsed and amplified by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, in a very well-chosen speech just a few minutes ago. The future depends on coming generations. We must be innovative in the schemes we have that provide them with the wherewithal to go into farming. The noble Baroness referred to a grant of £20,000 being very significant in this context, and the noble Lord talked about encouraging larger landowners to make land available for young people. I very much hope that, as we move forward with global Britain, we will ensure that our farmers are not all over the age of 60.

Finally, I will touch on Amendment 16, which again has been talked about by several colleagues and was spoken to very forcefully and eloquently by my noble friend Lord Caithness. Last week there was a splendid edition of one of my favourite magazines, Country Life, featuring farmland birds. On the cover was a wonderful picture of my favourite bird, the barn owl. Many of the farmland birds were featured in a very depressing way, because of how they have declined over the years. It is very good that my noble friend has highlighted the importance of nature-friendly farming. If we are to have a countryside which people want to visit, and farming and agriculture of which we can all be proud, there must be nature-friendly farming. I very much hope that when the Minister winds up this constructive, thoughtful debate, he will reflect on some of those points.

Photo of The Earl of Devon The Earl of Devon Crossbench 4:00 pm, 15th September 2020

My Lords, I support many of the worthy aims of this group of amendments, but my focus is on Amendment 22 in my name, which once more focuses on the clarity and implications of the language used.

Are uplands more important than wetlands? A wise parliamentarian recently told me, when we were discussing the addition of an individual word to this Bill, that considerable care must be taken. The addition of a single word will suggest the exclusion of others. In this clause, the inclusion of “uplands” could well suggest the exclusion of other types of land. The clause seeks to remedy this by including the catch-all language “and all other landscapes”, but this begs the question of why uplands deserve special mention. At the least, it will ensure that all future readers of this legislation will consider the promotion of uplands as more important than the promotion of those other landscapes. Consider the public servant tasked with committing funds to the protection of cultural heritage who is faced with the choice of two projects, one for uplands, one for wetlands. He or she will read this provision and undoubtedly choose the former, which would be a mistake.

Undoubtedly uplands are important, and the cultural and natural heritage therein is vital, but uplands can be no more important than wetlands; indeed, stating my interests as an estuary dweller, I argue that wetlands are considerably more important than uplands. Wetlands harbour considerably greater biodiversity than typically monocultured uplands, and 90% of wetlands have been lost since 1700. Being often near to urban centres and easily accessible, wetlands offer ready public access. Being found on or near the coast, wetlands are much more susceptible to the ravages of climate change and are at the forefront of our battle with rising sea levels. Wetland farmers, often pasture farmers, are as marginal as upland farmers and will struggle with a loss of BPS and export markets due to Brexit, and wetlands are often created and maintained by a remarkable physical heritage in the form of levees, embankments and drains.

I note by way of example the Exminster marshes. Created by Dutch engineers in medieval times, they are the site of a civil war battlefield, England’s oldest lock canal, Brunel’s amazing atmospheric railway—the great western railway—and the M5. They host the university’s playing fields, a major RSPB nature reserve and many small farms that traditionally raise England’s earliest spring lamb; this is ancient pasture-fed farming of the most carbon-neutral variety. To their west is Marsh Barton, with Europe’s largest collection of car showrooms, all of which they protect from the ever-rising sea levels. No area of landscape can be more important yet, without this amendment, they may lose out on ELMS funding to possibly less-deserving grouse moors in Yorkshire.

I trust that the Minister will clarify this issue. I am highly supportive of many of the other amendments, particularly that of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, with its focus on common land. This is such an important element of ancient land tenure in Devon on uplands and wetlands. It is undoubtedly deserving of special protection.

Photo of Lord Naseby Lord Naseby Conservative

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady McIntosh for tabling this amendment. When I first read it, I thought the key words were

“protecting… the food security of citizens”.

I am of the generation who went through the war. We had extensive food rationing, even after the war ended in 1945; it was nearly 10 years before we got rid of all food rationing. Did we not have a reminder in the first few days of the coronavirus lockdown of just how important food supply is? I pay tribute to our supermarkets and the supply chain, particularly those suddenly putting on extra production and extra harvesting in a magnificent way.

I very much support Amendment 12, tabled by my noble friend Lord Northbrook, and Amendment 11, spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and the very wise words of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. The Minister has told us in his briefing notes that he is aware that agriculture is going through a major transition stage. As we move to this new subsidy arrangement, I am confident that the Minister is aware of the challenges and is alert to them. At the end of the day, food security is vital and absolutely fundamental to this country.

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

My Lords, I repeat what I said in Committee about this part of the Bill. It is a bit like a Christmas tree that everybody wants to hang their favourite bauble on. Indeed, many of these baubles are very admirable, but we risk getting to the point where the list of the purposes for which the Government can give support becomes so long and detailed that the Bill threatens to collapse under its own weight, and, as noble Lords have said, give undue prominence to those elements that just happen to have had a handy pair willing to put them on to the list.

However, I must give myself a moment of indulgence on this one—while I am ticking everybody else off—and say that, if I was asked which one candidate bauble I would favour, it would certainly be the agroecology- and agroforestry-related Amendments 8, 21 and 23, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, which he very eloquently introduced. However, to be honest, the environmentally sound practices included in several of the amendments in this group, including my favourite bauble, can already—and hopefully will be—supported by the new ELM scheme and the list of purposes already listed in Clause 1(1), and I am sure that is what the Minister will say.

I am afraid I cannot support Amendment 12, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook. Food security is important, but an amendment here is not the way to secure it. Even in the interests of food security, food production is already supported by markets, as the Minister said in Committee, and we must not erode the already skinny funding needed for the environmental and other public goods that are already supported by public funding and would simply be diminished if funding for food security were to be added to that list.

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative

First of all, I declare my interests as a farmer in Suffolk. The lesson I draw from the seven days we had in Committee on this Bill is that we—and the Government—need to widen our attitude and approach to this whole subject. With the final departure from the EU, we have a tremendous opportunity in being able to redesign the CAP, which had become very narrow and bureaucratic, into something that covers a much wider aspect—I am talking about the rural economy. This is a crucial part of the British economy and, therefore, it is crucial to the national interest. We have heard from a number of noble Lords about the importance of food security.

I am really trying to say that, in this group of amendments, we have had many examples of the way we can expand and change the uses of the money that previously went through the CAP, which was really based on that original trade deal between Germany and France—the French were going to import from German manufacturers, and the Germans would look after French farmers. Now, we can look much more widely, and one of the things that all these amendments do is encourage different forms of support, endeavour and action within agriculture.

I very much agree with my noble friend Lord Cormack when he says that we do not want to focus on the mega factory-farming approach. It must be much more about smaller and more intensive farms. For example, the Dutch produce an enormous amount of food on their very much more limited land but in a very sustainable and environmentally friendly way. There are many lessons to learn, and I hope very much that our further discussion on this Bill will enable the Government to widen the final output of this Agriculture Bill. Thank you.

Photo of Lord Inglewood Lord Inglewood Non-affiliated

My Lords, I begin by saying how pleased I am to be following my noble friend Lord Marlesford who, while his experience of farming is at the opposite end of England to mine, shares many of my concerns, interests and priorities. I also declare my own interests as a farmer and landowner in Cumbria.

I approach these amendments from the perspective that the scope of the financial powers in the Bill should, so long as they are discretionary, be drawn as widely as possible. I understand the strictures of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, but at this stage, when we really do not know how the future is going to evolve, we must keep our options open.

I spent some of the summer looking at farm accounts, and one of the things that struck me is that most of the money that comes into farming in rural Britain comes from the food sector. If this is to change rapidly and significantly, some huge bills are going to have to be picked up by somebody somewhere and, certainly, in the middle of the current financial predicament in which the nation finds itself, we have not got unlimited resources to do that even if we wanted to. In the short term, I cannot see that this form of income into the agricultural sector can be found either by cutting costs or by another form of payments if there is a dramatic reduction in income from food production. Therefore, it seems to me that this has got to be at the core of rural land use businesses, and policies for them, in the immediate future.

What we are all talking about in the discussion on this Bill—and everybody is doing this but from slightly different perspectives—is trying to find ways of balancing the various conflicting uses, and the implications of those uses, for rural Britain. While food quality and food security may not, in an economist’s strict sense, be public goods, I believe that, using those words in a lay man’s sense, they must be at the heart of rural policy. Hence, they are within the scope of the financial provisions of the Bill, which, as I said, are discretionary and not mandatory.

For example, if we talk about carbon contributions made by emissions from grazing and other livestock, it is very appropriate to think about how we can find ways in which those emissions might be reduced by changing the way those animals are looked after. Of course, this may well mean that the cost to the consumer of the products will have to go up. While we say this, we must not overlook the fact that, although food prices may be at a historically low level, for many people this still represents a very substantial part of their family’s expenditure.

Finally, I will throw my weight behind Amendment 48, of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in respect of common land. I declare that I am president of the Uplands Alliance. It seems to me that common land has been elbowed out of agricultural politics for far too long. In my view, farming common land is as much a mainstream form of farming as growing wheat in Lincolnshire, and it should be recognised as such by policymakers and politicians.

As I said in my opening remarks, I believe that the powers of financial assistance in this Bill should be drawn as widely as is reasonably possible, but they must be discretionary and not mandatory because we are all of us feeling our way towards a different rural future—one that I would like to think is better than the one we have now. However, we do not know in detail how this will evolve.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Labour 4:15 pm, 15th September 2020

The reason that I put my name to this group was a single amendment—so I will resist pontificating on the others—and that was Amendment 11. Looking down the notes of the points I was going to raise, every single one can be ticked off in the speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, and the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, so I do not propose to repeat them. What I will do is give them my 100% support.

One point I will raise concerns the point of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, about younger people being tech savvy. I remember that, in my last session at Defra from 2006 to 2008, the noble Lord, Lord Curry, organised a seminar for young farmers. There were about a dozen or 15, as I recall. I remember being absolutely gobsmacked and overwhelmed by the technical language they were using, which was way above my pay grade. That gave me considerable confidence that the future was in good hands because technology was going to be used, and that reinforces the point the noble Lord made about the change in attitude and culture.

The fact of the matter is that those two speeches encapsulate all the points I want to make, and I say to the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, that, if you push this, I will vote for it.

Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. This is an extremely important group of amendments. The House spent a long time debating financial assistance in Committee and there was a thorough airing of all the issues, some of which have come back in this group.

The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, has raised the issue of food security, a subject which concerns us all. Access to healthy, affordable food is the right of every child and promotes good health and well-being. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans raised the issue of food poverty, which is also extremely important. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, raised biodiversity and the role that pasture-fed grazing stock can play in promoting it. It was clear from watching David Attenborough’s programme “Extinction” on Sunday that biodiversity has come into sharp prominence —a point also raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I shall be listening to the Minister’s response on this amendment.

My noble friend Lord Teverson raised whole-farm agroecology and agroforestry systems—a subject he is, quite rightly, passionate about. Trees are the green lungs of any country and we destroy them at our peril. It is therefore vital that we encourage agroforestry and tree planting, and that the financial rewards match the level of investment and management required. My noble friends Lord Addington and Lord Greaves are pressing the case for joint health and well-being strategies to be included in the financial assistance provision. Given the current health situation of the nation, I would hope that they are pushing at an open door.

Domestic production of food and agricultural products to ensure sufficient food security is a key element of the Bill. Nearly every sitting day we have a question about the impact of Covid-19 on the population, both elderly and young. The longer the pandemic goes on, the more the scientists learn about its impact, how to treat it and who are the most vulnerable of our residents. We know that exercise and a healthy weight and diet, while not a total fail-safe protection against infection, make a tremendous difference to our ability to survive and make a full recovery. As we enter a possible second peak, it is therefore paramount that the Secretary of State should have available to them sufficient information to ensure that food supply is stable and sufficient, and that food is produced in an environmentally friendly way. The whole thrust of ELMS is to move agriculture on to a more environmental footing. However, ELMS is not exactly just around the corner, and it is necessary to act now to protect both food supply and the environment. Can the Minister give the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, and the Chamber the reassurance that we are seeking?

I have added my name to Amendment 11 from the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, on new entrants. Many of our long-standing farmers are considering whether now is the time for them to retire—as the noble Earl said, a third of our farmers are over 65 years of age. As we move from CAP to ELMS, it is vital that everything possible is done to encourage new entrants and young farmers to take up the reins. Entering farming is a very expensive venture; buying land is likely to be well beyond the reach of many young entrants, even if there is land available. Encouraging existing landowners to make land available will be vital to allow new entrants. Start-up capital will be needed to make a success of the new venture, alongside training and qualifications. Just talking of the list is intimidating and could put off some would-be hopefuls. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, set out the case eloquently and was well supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. Like the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, I am looking for answers from the Minister as to how the Government intend to deliver on this vital element of continuing successful land management on behalf of the rest of the country.

The Minister made it clear in Committee that he was keen to limit the list of activities attracting financial assistance, and he is supported in this by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. However, I fully support the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, in his quest to gain support for nature-friendly farming. The activities listed in his amendment are all vital and inextricably linked. We cannot have biodiversity if we do not have good soil health and good water and air quality. We cannot protect species if we do not have sufficient flood-protection measures and climate change mitigation. If the Minister is not minded to accept this amendment, can he tell us just how the Government intend the activities in the list to be achieved and protected?

Similarly, I support the noble Earl, Lord Devon, in including wetlands as well as uplands. The different types of species that can be raised on the various types of farmlands all add to the rich cultural and natural heritage of our countryside. Not all farmers will be blessed with grade 1 agricultural land, but all types add to the variety of produce and the rich diversity of our land. I thank the noble Earl for raising the issue of the wetlands in Somerset.

Lastly, my noble friend Lord Greaves has made a thorough case for the inclusion of common land, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood. I look forward to the Minister’s comments on this important element of land management, as well as on the rest of the amendments.

Photo of Lord Grantchester Lord Grantchester Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

My Lords, at the start of my remarks on Report on amendments to the Agriculture Bill, I declare my interests as recorded on the register, including as being in receipt of funds from the CAP under the present system. As with the first group of amendments, I thank noble Lords for tabling their further thoughts after Committee with these amendments today. Once again, they highlight the very broad nature of agriculture, which, in many ways, interacts with economic activity from many sectors and interests in the rural economy. This in turn has a bearing on many government departments.

Several of the amendments focus on matters related to food security and, indeed, insecurity. We agree that these are important matters that we will come to later in the Bill. In relation to the Minister’s concessions—which are very much welcomed—and to Amendment 58 on the national food strategy commissioned by the Government, I can add that I too was very impressed with the initial report recently published by Henry Dimbleby.

We consider that the Government have a very clear focus on the issue without requiring the specific Amendment 12 so eloquently spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, which we are unable to support from the Labour Benches. However, we have regard to Amendment 11 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and others, which overlaps with Amendment 70 in the name of my colleague and noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch on the Front Bench. Ensuring opportunities for young farmers and new entrants is incredibly important and underlines the future prosperity of the sector.

In outlining the purposes for which financial assistance can be given, we consider that Clause 1 gives a fair balance and appreciation of the many options that may be developed over time. It provides a good way forward, rewarding the production of food while protecting the environment. I am sure that the Minister will be able to provide the extra information and assurances that we are all looking for, and that he has taken due note of all the important points raised for sustainable agriculture into the future.

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 for contributing to what I think has been an extensive and very interesting debate. I turn to Amendment 6, which I shall address along with Amendments 9, 10, 12, 17,13 and 20. I will say—particularly to my noble friend Lord Northbrook and as a fellow member of the NFU, but to all noble Lords—that the Government agree absolutely that the production of food is of critical importance and that this will not be overlooked in the designing of our future schemes. Indeed, this is precisely why the Bill includes a duty for the Secretary of State to have regard to the need to encourage food production and for food to be produced in an environmentally sustainable way. So I say, in particular to my noble friends Lady McIntosh of Pickering and Lord Northbrook, that Clause 1(4) as drafted recognises the strong interdependence of farming and the environment.

Regarding the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, the reforms in the Bill will ensure that food production today does not come at the expense of food security tomorrow. It will do this by incentivising farmers to secure the foundations of food security, namely our natural resources essential for food production: clean air, clean and plentiful water, wildlife—including pollinators—and soil. The Bill is designed to ensure our farmers and growers receive the important support they deserve to provide healthy, homegrown food made to high environmental and animal welfare standards.

Clause 1(1) sets out the purposes for which the Secretary of State may provide financial assistance, which contribute to underpinning sustainable food production. In practice, this means the Secretary of State may reward land management practices, such as those that support pollinators, which are essential for some food crop, or which help to improve soil health—thus ensuring farming can be sustainable for future generations.

Clause 1(2)(a) of the Bill will help in this respect by giving powers to provide financial assistance for the purposes of starting, or improving the productivity of, a horticultural activity, and supporting the adoption of new technologies. This could lead to greater resource efficiency. The Government are currently considering the best way to support, for instance, the horticulture sector and will be working closely with the industry to design a replacement for the EU fruit and vegetable aid scheme.

In response to my noble friend Lord Northbrook, let me say that new schemes will offer a variety of ways for farmers to receive an income under Clauses 1(1) and 1(2). The Bill contains many provisions to help food producers better engage with the market, including measures to support investment in technology and research to improve productivity. Part 3 of the Bill will improve transparency in the supply chain and help food producers strengthen their position at the farm gate and seek a fairer return for their produce.

To my noble friends Lady McIntosh and Lord Northbrook, regarding the powers to pay for food production in pandemics, I should also say—and this is a point that I make to all noble Lords—please look at Clauses 18 and 19. This will allow us to pay farmers, should there be, for instance, another pandemic such as the one we are enduring; it would qualify as “exceptional market conditions”. We are confident that we could have used these powers, had we had them, for Covid-19.

The Government will also support the adoption of new technologies to help producers increase both the quality and quantity of the fruit and vegetables they grow. These interventions could see the extension of our domestic growing seasons, enabling more healthy homegrown food to come to market.

In recent years, new developments such as vertical farming have revealed the potential for how peri-urban locations could make an important contribution to the sustainability objectives at the heart of the Government’s new approach and better connect people with the food they eat through local supply chains. Clause 1(2)(a) covers peri-urban areas.

Tackling public health and food issues properly requires a joined-up and practical approach across government departments, which goes beyond this Bill. Defra is working with the Department of Health and Social Care and others to ensure that improving public health is a core priority of government policy. I am grateful to noble Lords for acknowledging the work of Henry Dimbleby and the National Food Strategy. We look forward to the conclusion of his report and further work on that, because I believe it will furnish much of the future work on how we—if I may use this word—cure the country and improve the health and wellbeing of many of our citizens.

As I said in Committee, we believe the best place to encourage healthy eating is later on in the supply chain. It is on the processing of food that we need to target efforts across government and in society. For example, government may support the production of fruit and vegetables, but some could still be used in unhealthy products if not taken in moderation.

Amendment 9 requires Ministers to consider the health needs and well-being strategies which relate to local communities when giving financial assistance under Clause 1. We are concerned that this may not represent the most effective way to connect farming policy and health policy. For example, if Ministers and officials are considering the question of productivity grants to farmers in Cumbria, the local health and well-being plan for people living there may not be the most relevant consideration, since much of the food produced by farmers may not be consumed in that area. As I noted earlier, the best way to encourage health and well-being through food policy is at the other end of the process.

We all agree that there is more to be done. Covid-19 has brought the risks of obesity, for instance, into sharp focus. It is more important than ever that people achieve a healthier lifestyle. Consequently, the Government launched their new obesity strategy on 27 July to set out practical measures to get the nation fit and healthy, protect people against Covid-19 and protect the NHS. A coalition of partners is supporting delivery of the strategy through the Better Health campaign, which is encouraging adults to introduce changes to help them work towards a healthier weight.

On Amendment 7, the new ELM scheme, which is based on a public money for public goods approach, seeks to reward farmers across a diverse range of land types for the delivery of these environmental public goods. The Bill has been drafted to allow environmental public goods to be delivered in different ways. This could include funding livestock management actions, such as pasture-fed grazing livestock systems, where such systems deliver environmental benefits, improving feed efficiency of livestock through targeted breeding to reduce ammonia emissions, or limiting grazing where appropriate to avoid compaction and run-off. To my noble friend Lady McIntosh, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, let me say that I am absolutely clear in my mind that the UNESCO designation in the Lake District is because of, not in spite of, pastoral farming.

The Government remain focused on providing public money for public goods and are committed to supporting animal husbandry methods that help to deliver these. Many farmers who employ such farming practices, including upland farmers, will therefore be well placed to benefit from the ELM scheme.

On Amendments 8, 21, and 23, the Government recognise that agroecology and agroforestry can contribute to the delivery of many environmental public goods. For example, organic farming methods can help tackle water pollution, improve habitats for wildlife, reduce flood risk and improve soil quality. Other agroecological farming techniques, such as integrated pest management, agroforestry and mixed livestock and arable farming, can also provide environmental benefits. I should say—I hope that I am going to please the noble Lord, Lord Teverson —that the definition of “better understanding of the environment” is non-exhaustive. I note the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, about putting all these references in, but financial assistance could already be given for this under Clause 1(2)(a), which lists agriculture and forestry, which include agroforestry activities.

On Amendment 11, the Government recognise the importance of attracting skilled talent into farming, which is important for a sustainable and productive agriculture sector over the long term. Clause 1(2) already allows for financial assistance to be given for the purposes proposed by this amendment. In the Farming for the Future policy update, published in February, the Government gave a commitment to offer funding to councils, landowners and organisations to help them invest in creating more opportunities for new-entrant farmers. We are working towards offering this funding early during the agricultural transition period. I echo the words from the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. Spending a day at Harper Adams University, you see how technology is used by, and grasped by, the students. It is remarkable and absolutely the way forward. We will encourage the development of innovative and collaborative bids that deliver the outcomes my noble friend has highlighted, including facilitating access to land for talented new entrants and providing them with training and business mentoring advice to help them thrive. I know these are points made by many noble Lords, on which I also place great importance.

Turning to Amendment 16, the Government are committed to providing financial assistance for nature-friendly farming under the Bill. ELM will pay farmers and other land managers to deliver environmental public goods as set out in the 25-year environment plan: clean air; clean and plentiful water; thriving plants and wildlife; reduction in and protection from environmental hazards such as flooding; adaptation to and mitigation of climate change; and beauty, heritage and engagement with the environment. I say to my noble friends Lord Randall and Lord Caithness that I have spent a day at Arundel seeing the success of the revival of the grey partridge; it is indeed impressive. Picking up on a point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, I said in Committee that,

“Clause 1(5)(b) already includes the conservation of fungi as conserving can relate to the restoring or enhancement of a habitat.”—[Official Report, 16/7/20; col. 1818.]

Fungi are also referred to in other parts of the Bill.

In their policy discussion document, published in February this year, the Government proposed that tier 1 of the new ELM scheme should focus on supporting environmentally sustainable farming. For example, this tier could fund nutrient, pest, soil, and livestock management, field margins and cover, and water storage and/or use. I give my noble friend Lord Caithness the strongest assurance I can muster that the powers in Clause 1(1) already enable the Government to support nature-friendly farming in the way he has outlined.

Turning to Amendment 22, the Government recognise the value of wetlands, the habitats and other environmental benefits they can provide and the way in which they enhance our landscapes. Clause 1 allows financial assistance to be provided for managing land or water in a way that maintains, restores or enhances cultural or natural heritage. Cultural or natural heritage includes wetlands; therefore, the management of our wetlands is already included within the scope of Clause 1. We also know that wetlands may be managed in such a way as to contribute to other environmental objectives already listed under Clause 1 as being eligible for financial assistance. The Government are committed to providing financial assistance to a wide range of land types through the new ELM scheme, including wetlands, where these land types can deliver our environmental public good objectives.

I turn to Amendment 48. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has pioneered much of this and I was glad that he was able to have that meeting. I left it to the professionals because I thought it much better for the officials if they were with the noble Lord in that context. I confirm, and endorse, the Government’s view that commons are some of the most diverse and environmentally rich land in the country and provide excellent opportunities to provide even greater public goods. The Government recognise this and are designing future financial assistance schemes to be accessible to as many farmers and land managers as possible, including tenant farmers and those with common land rights. As part of the planned three-year ELM pilot, the Government will ensure that it tests how best to enable commoners to participate in ELM and provide those environmental benefits. Clause 1 already enables the unique circumstances of common land to be taken into account when designing payment systems. The Government recognise the particular circumstances of commons, and Defra is working closely with stakeholders representing commoners to ensure that these are fully taken into account in the ELM scheme design.

My noble friend Lord Northbrook has suggested that he might be minded to move his amendment and test the opinion of the House. I hope that he will look at the provisions in the Bill. I have outlined Clause 1(2), Clause 1(4), among others, and the Bill’s fair provisions clauses. All of these entrench our shared quest: that the Secretary of State must have regard to food production. But surely, what we are seeking to do, and which our farmers and land managers are very capable of securing, is to enhance the environment, as we must. By the environment, I mean the very ingredients that will make the farmers of the future—the many young entrants whom noble Lords have referred to this afternoon. We will not be doing them well if the soil structure is not remedied. They will not be able to feed the nation as we all want if we do not attend to these environmental imperatives.

I hope that I have reassured my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering that the intent of her amendment is already well addressed, and I hope that she will feel able to withdraw it.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative 4:45 pm, 15th September 2020

My Lords, I am grateful for all the contributions to this debate and the support for Amendments 6, 7 and 48. I am delighted that my noble friend the Minister has met me half way, but he has not gone quite as far as I would have liked. I am concerned about Clause 17, which sets out what the specific circumstances of food security might be. There would fall within Clause 1, but I would like confirmation. For example, if there is a shock to the trade system, would that be considered? I am sure there will be opportunities to discuss those later.

I am grateful to noble Lords who spoke in support of Amendment 7, in particular the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick. For the reasons given by my noble friend Lord Cormack, it is important that we have the opportunity for what my noble friend Lord Northbrook would call nature-friendly farming: the pasture-fed grazing livestock systems and the more extensive, less intensive form of farming that this country has come to know and love, particularly in the north of England. I am delighted that there has been such a good, positive discussion on common land. I will leave the Minister with one question; I do not expect him to reply today. Will the registration of common land be complete before the pilots are finished and the new ELM schemes come into effect? Perhaps that can be banked for later.

I fulsomely thank all those who have contributed to the debate on all the amendments in this group. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 6.

Amendment 6 withdrawn.

Amendments 7 to 11 not moved.