Debates between Baroness Mallalieu and Baroness Young of Old Scone during the 2019 Parliament

Tue 7th Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage & Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansarad) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansarad) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansarad): House of Lords

Agriculture Bill

Debate between Baroness Mallalieu and Baroness Young of Old Scone
Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansarad) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansarad): House of Lords
Tuesday 7th July 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 View all Agriculture Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 112-II(Rev) Revised second marshalled list for Committee - (7 Jul 2020)
Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I would like to make a general point about this group. We have a considerable number of amendments to Clause 1. They add further purposes for which the Secretary of State can give financial assistance. In my view, the Bill runs the risk of becoming a bit of a Christmas tree—everybody wants to hang a bauble on it. Many of these baubles are lovely. They highlight important activities which the new environmental land management scheme should support, such as integrated pest management and nature-friendly farming. I have signed to support some amendments, such as those on agroforestry and agroecology, so I am as guilty as many noble Lords in wanting to hang baubles on this Christmas tree as it passes. We all want our bauble to shine to impress on the Minister how vital they are so that he will consider whether these additions could be added to the Bill.

However, I think we need to examine our conscience and look at whether some of these proposals can be delivered under the current purposes in Clause 1, since they clearly come under the heading of improving the environment, mitigating climate change or improving soil et cetera. Many of them are about management practices rather than the purposes that those management practices are intended to deliver. So, although I will polish my baubles nicely when the amendments I have signed come up in order to impress on the Minister that they are important issues, I think we all have to ponder whether we really want the Christmas tree to crash to the ground overwhelmed by the weight of amendments in its first clause and to create an overly complicated framework for the future of agriculture and land management.

I shall also comment on those amendments in this group that could be interpreted as a return to payments directly for food production. We all know from the past that that distorted markets, encouraged environmental harm and ended up being a rather poor use of taxpayers’ money. The Bill needs to be much more visionary than that. It is a ground-breaking opportunity to set a new UK-based framework for agriculture. It needs to be focused with rapier precision, not a loose, baggy monster.

Finally, I support Amendment 1, which requires that the Secretary of State “must” fund the public goods that are listed in the Bill, rather than a discretionary “may”. We need a duty on the Secretary of State, not simply a power.

Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I support Amendments 37 and 78. A great many noble Lords from all sides of the House have done so with great eloquence, so I will cut my speech short. The Bill needs to be beefed up in relation to pasture-fed grazing systems and support for hill farms and other marginal land.

In speaking as I do, I declare an interest in addition to those set out in the register as a patron of the Exmoor Pony Society and as someone with a particular interest in the conservation of rare breeds. I follow on from the remarks that have already been made by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. Version 1 of the Agriculture Bill contained no provisions such as those which are now set out in Clause 1(1)(g), which provides the possibility of financial assistance for,

“conserving native livestock, native equines or genetic resources relating to any such animal.”

In tandem with the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, who I think is going to speak later, if this version 2 Bill had emerged with the same deficiency, we had intended to try to introduce just such a provision, so I am grateful that this second version made good that deficit as a result of a number of approaches from the Rare Breeds Survival Trust and many others, assisted, I do not doubt, by the Secretary of State for the Environment’s personal knowledge and appreciation of the value of the British Lop pig, a breed on the endangered species list.

It was therefore with some dismay that I saw Amendment 27, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, which proposes to widen the clause from native livestock to all livestock at a time when we all know that funds are going to be very limited. Were he to succeed, he would so water down the provision that the very purpose of this paragraph would be rendered pointless. The Explanatory Notes to the Bill say that it is,

“to provide financial assistance for measures to support the conservation and maintenance of UK native Genetic Resources relating to livestock or equines.”

A dilution of such funds as are likely to be available would necessarily weaken our ability to meet our obligations under Aichi target 13 of the biodiversity convention and United Nations sustainable development goal 2.5, both of which require us to conserve the diversity of our livestock breeds.

The amendment would remove something which I believe could be a means of encouraging and incentivising farmers to invest in rare and native breeds, many of which have gone already. We are only just at the very beginning of an appreciation of the genetic bank that we possess in relation to our native breeds. We are only just beginning to carry out widespread genetic testing, which is revealing just how precious and potentially valuable some of those genetic qualities are. A genetic ability to cope with extreme weather conditions, such as that possessed by the Dartmoor hill ponies of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, the ability to thrive on inferior pasture, like the Exmoor pony, and docility, good mothering abilities and not running to excess fat, like George Eustice’s British Lop pigs, have not just an actual value but a potential one, which is as yet often unknown.

Some people still keep these breeds because they like them, out of tradition or sentiment, or due to local culture, which is not unimportant. However, without an incentive to farmers to conserve them, which is often the case at present, many have been lost and many more are under threat. Clause 1(1)(g) is their lifeline, and I hope that it will not be cut.