Farmers: Flooding Compensation

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Tuesday 16th April 2024

(3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what rules apply to compensation payments made to farmers affected by flooding from the Farming Recovery Fund and similar schemes.

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Douglas-Miller) (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. Farmers will receive payments from the new farming recovery fund for all land parcels that are flooded contiguous to a river with notably high river level gauge readings, following Storm Henk during January this year. Currently, eligible areas are Gloucestershire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Somerset, Warwickshire, West Northamptonshire, Wiltshire and Worcestershire. The fund remains under review and flexible as we ensure that it supports areas where farmland is most impacted. We are currently reviewing a further eight areas.

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, but why on earth are Ministers not fully compensating all farmers whose entire cropping land is submerged under water? They are at their wits’ end, refused compensation even when right alongside a major river because their farms are more than 150 metres from the centre of it. After six months of nearly solid rain—there has been nothing like that for nearly 200 years, says the Met Office—and with the climate emergency likely to make this a regular pattern, also threatening food production, surely farmers should be fully compensated now. We should bin these ridiculously restrictive rules, for goodness’ sake.

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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The noble Lord is right about the 150-metre restriction, which was lifted within 48 hours of that announcement. The farming recovery fund will pay farmers who suffered uninsurable damage from exceptionally high continued rainfall from Storm Henk in the period 2 to 12 January this year. The fund is a contribution towards the cost of recultivating whole land parcels flooded by notably high river levels caused by the storm. For grassland, the grant is towards the cost of recultivating grassland ready for reseeding; for arable land, it is for getting the land ready to plant crops. I appreciate the noble Lord’s point that there is extensive damage over a lot of areas, but it is not the Government’s intention or job to compensate every single farmer for all those issues.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall (Lab)
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My Lords, will my noble friend look kindly on the fact that livestock farmers are unable to put their sheep and lambs on to the fields because the fields are simply too wet? That is going to have devastating consequences for the livestock industry in North Yorkshire and other parts of the north of England. Will he agree to be less prescriptive with the criteria set out in the farm recovery fund? Will he go further and recognise the role that internal drainage boards play—I speak as a vice-president of the Association of Drainage Authorities —in regular drainage maintenance and recovery after floods of minor watercourses? Will he look to create more of them where it is appropriate to do so?

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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I am particularly sympathetic to the issue of livestock farmers, being one myself. As I explained in my opening comments, that fund is restricted to a number of areas at the moment but we are exploring what else we might apply it to. There are a number of funds that the farming community can use, and this is just one of them. The flood recovery framework covers the business recovery grant. It also includes the property flood resilience repair grant, and it provides for business rates relief from local authorities.

Lord Bishop of Newcastle Portrait The Lord Bishop of Newcastle
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Climate change and global events have exposed the vulnerability of relying on imported foods. Given the extreme weather events and flooding, the likelihood that this will continue and the impact on farming, what plans do the Government have in place to ensure food security?

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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The right reverend Prelate is entirely right to raise the issue of food security, which is high on the Government’s agenda. Through our environmental land management schemes, we are ensuring that food production remains constant. We also have the food index, announced by the Prime Minister at the NFU conference in January, to measure the amount of food that the country is producing and ensure that it remains constant.

Baroness Bakewell Portrait Baroness Bakewell (Lab)
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My Lords, to follow on from the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, the announcement by the Prime Minister in February of £75 million funding for internal drainage boards is to be welcomed. There are 112 independent IDBs in England. The consultation on the alternative valuation calculation statutory instrument is due to end this Friday. Is the allocation of the £75 million dependent on the outcome of the consultation, or has the money already been allocated and distributed?

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness very much for her question. I do not have the exact answer so, rather than perhaps mislead her and the House, I will endeavour to write to her very shortly.

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait Baroness Watkins of Tavistock (CB)
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In Princetown on Dartmoor, near where I live, 122 centimetres of rainfall was recorded from 1 to 12 April; the normal average for the month of April is 90 centimetres. The extreme rainfall illustrates that where flooding is occurring it is the result of streams and rivers breaching banks, affecting far greater areas of farmland than previously recorded. Planting is simply impossible and grazing some animals is extremely difficult. In the interests of the mental health of farmers and to reduce the number getting out of farming, can the Minister explain how quickly the Government will revise the current payment system?

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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I have recently attended a number of meetings on this specific subject, and the intention last week was to get the first element of this fund out and available to farmers. We have this issue under constant review and I hope that, if there are further announcements to make, we can make them very shortly.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I come back to the right reverend Prelate’s question about food security. The Minister talked about food production being constant and mentioned ELMS, but that also looks at flood relief schemes for farmers that take more land out of food production. The increase in climate change and the storms we have been seeing have really worrying implications for food security, and I genuinely do not think that measuring food production constants is going to solve the problem. We need a long-term food security plan that takes account of the implications of future storms and flooding.

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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The noble Baroness will be very well aware that there is a trade here between the environmental gains we are looking to enact and protecting our food production. One of the main aims of ELMS is to improve productivity, and a lot of the funding through ELMS is driving better productivity—higher yields from smaller areas of land—so that we can then allow land to be available for nature and improve our biodiversity.

Earl Cathcart Portrait Earl Cathcart (Con)
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My Lords, I am a farmer and luckily my crops are all planted, but many farmers are not so lucky, with fields that have been underwater since October. Even fields that have not flooded are too wet now to plant. Many farmers find it very difficult to get any information on the flood recovery scheme and to know whether they are eligible. What are the Government going to do to help them?

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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The Rural Payments Agency is contacting all eligible farmers to remove the burden of the farmers themselves having to contact the RPA. The RPA has a range of measures to look at these issues—aerial photography, digital mapping and local knowledge—to assess who is eligible, and it will contact farmers directly. Any farmer who feels that they should be eligible and has not been contacted by the RPA may, of course, contact it directly.