Agriculture Bill

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 23rd 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-VII Seventh marshalled list for Committee - (23 Jul 2020)
Lord Alderdice Portrait Lord Alderdice (LD)
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My Lords, I put my name to Amendment 289, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, not only because agriculture remains Northern Ireland’s most important and largest industry, but because of some particular political issues that affect Northern Ireland. I recognise that the Minister has tabled some amendments in this group on the relationship with Ministers in the devolved Administrations and I welcome that. However, as my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness has just emphasised, it is important that Ministers in the devolved institutions are serious decision-makers in their own right and in their representation of the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and not just rule-takers from outside.

However, in the case of Northern Ireland, there are two other important issues that I believe this amendment facilitates by encouraging and, indeed, requiring the members of the Northern Ireland Executive to work together to develop bespoke legislation and an approach to agriculture that addresses the particular needs of Northern Ireland and the challenges and opportunities of the island nature of Ireland as a whole.

These agricultural issues are practical matters. I found in the negotiation of the peace process that when they could engage on practical issues, rather than those involving profound constitutional principle, it was often possible to reach a surprising degree of agreement between parties that were otherwise in deep disagreement. Recently, we have seen further evidence of this, as the Northern Ireland Executive have dealt quite well with the Covid-19 crisis in comparison with others. By inserting a sunset clause in this Bill, we would be giving a specific encouragement to Northern Ireland Ministers to engage in practical negotiations on the agricultural industry which, as I say, is not a partisan matter.

It was often noted that the late Lord Bannside, when he was Dr Ian Paisley MEP, was able to work closely with the predecessor of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, as leader of the SDLP, John Hume, who was also a Member of the European Parliament. Their co-operation was especially notable on questions of agriculture and the common agricultural policy. Our sunset clause would, in my view, encourage just this sort of bipartisanship and cross-community co-operation on agriculture in Northern Ireland.

The second reason for ensuring that the Northern Ireland Executive take up the development of their own legislation is that, in my view, the next few years will see significant changes in the relationships between the north and south in Ireland. It is clear from the protocol with the EU that Northern Ireland will have a special relationship with the rest of the island, which remains within the EU—something quite different from the rest of the UK. Indeed, it will be the only part of the UK with a land border with the EU and, with particular reference to this Bill, it uniquely has farms that straddle the border. In some cases, part of a farm will be inside the EU and part outside it.

It seems to me inconceivable that by 2026, the date in this clause, it will not have become necessary to develop new ways of addressing these issues that will be quite different from the ways that other parts of the United Kingdom—whether devolved or not—relate with the EU. By then, we will be almost 30 years on from the end of the Troubles that so deepened division on the island. A sunset clause will give the Northern Ireland Ministers the encouragement and freedom to address this complex and developing network of relationships. For these two reasons, I strongly support the insertion of this new clause after Clause 45 in the Bill.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, I associate myself with the amendments in the names of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and also with the remarks of the noble and learned Lords, Lord Hope and Lord Wallace. I am proud of the fact that I am a non-practising advocate, so I maintain an interest in matters north of the border.

As I entirely endorse the comments that the noble and learned Lords have made, I want to ask my noble friend a specific question with regard to the consultation that is asked for under these amendments. With regard to Amendment 291, I associate myself with the request from the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, for a UK framework for agriculture. What form will the consultation on these regulations take? Presumably, the regulations must be relatively far advanced, so when would my noble friend expect the consultation to commence? In reply, can he take the opportunity to inform us what developments there have been on the common frameworks? I understand that, originally, there were to be 24; we now hear word that there will be only three. They are absolutely key to this part of the Bill and to ensuring good faith—I know my noble friend likes to use the phrase “bona fides”—between the four parts of the United Kingdom. With those few words, I support the amendments in this group.

Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I am disappointed, like the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, that Amendments 290 and 291 have been regrouped with others in this group. I was looking forward to a full delineation by the Minister of the way forward envisaged by the Government in creating some body in which the four nations could thrash out the common framework of a single market for the United Kingdom. As I have said earlier in Committee, the agricultural systems of the four nations are bound to diverge, not just because the devolved Administrations are governed by different political parties that may have different aims, policies and ideas, but because of the very diverse nature of their landscapes and communities.

Looking at it broadly, there are two main issues: how funding will be distributed between the four nations, and to what degree divergence is compatible with the single market. My concern is that Wales does not lose its current share of UK funding of 16%. Indeed, it should have a greater share. Mr Michael Gove, addressing the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee of the Scottish Parliament on 27 June 2018, said that

“it is in the nature of the landscape and the environment in Scotland—and also in other parts of the United Kingdom—that the preponderance of less-favoured areas and the nature of upland farming impose particular challenges that require a specific level of support … we need to look in the future at how we allocate funding across the United Kingdom in order to reflect that … My aim … is to ensure that, in the future, we allocate funding in a way that is sensitive to the specific needs of each part of the United Kingdom.”

The United Kingdom Government have guaranteed continued funding of Pillar 1 of the CAP until 2022 and, as we discussed the other day, the continuation of rural development programmes under Pillar 2 of the CAP until contracts come to an end, at the latest in 2023. But what happens then? Farming is not an industry in which capital can be quickly switched from one sector to another. It requires long-term planning, which can be achieved only by clarity on future funding. As for divergence, there should be agreed common standards for animal health, traceability, animal welfare, breeding and trading in animals, fertilisers and the like. What divergence of support in specific areas would be compatible with a single UK market?

There is no issue that there must be some forum—a forum for consent, as my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace argued a moment ago—in which these questions can be resolved. It would be quite unacceptable and in breach of the principles of devolution for decisions to be made by some Whitehall diktat. Indeed, the Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations) already agreed in October 2017 that common frameworks will be established, to

“enable the functioning of the UK internal market … ensure compliance with international obligations … enable the management of common resources”,

and to

“administer and provide access to justice in cases with a cross-border element”.

It also agreed to

“safeguard the security of the UK”—

in this context, I take it that means food security. However, nothing in the framework of the Bill requires or creates any mechanism, whether by secondary legislation or otherwise, for such a body.

Two alternative approaches are set out in Amendments 290 and 291. Each has their advantages but there really is a hole in the Bill, as I said at Second Reading, which the Government ought to fill themselves. It is no longer satisfactory to be told that civil servants are working away at this—I hope we do not hear that today. We need a commitment to the creation of a forum for negotiation and co-operation, as my noble friend Lord Alderdice said, and it needs to be written into the Bill.

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Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. I shall speak only briefly on this group of amendments in order to probe my noble friend the Minister on when we will have the Government’s response to the recent consultation on the activities of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board. There was overwhelming support for keeping the existing levy, and I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, that I do not think that farmers would welcome another levy in addition to the existing one. Support for the levy is fairly overwhelming at 66%, but it is important that we review the purposes for which it is used.

I want to place on the record the difficulties that abattoirs and auction marts are experiencing at this time because of Covid-19. I hope that we appreciate those difficulties and sympathise with farmers who, as sellers, are still not allowed to enter the auction mart because, as I understand it, the restrictions are still in place. Only the buyers are allowed to do so and if I was a livestock owner, I would find not being there very worrying. I would be interested to see the Government’s response to the consultation. I do not think that I have missed it—the website sets out only the responses that were submitted to the consultation.

Looking ahead to when we discuss other amendments to the Bill, I hope that part of the levy will be used for marketing and for export. I am sorry to raise my Danish connections again, but I have been hugely impressed by how the Danes use their levy, which is raised from livestock and other producers and then quite substantially matched by funding from the Government, to run marketing centres. I think that we are learning from that because we opened a marketing centre in Beijing and saw an immediate incremental rise in our exports of those parts of the pig that we do not like to eat. With those few words, I shall wait to hear my noble friend’s response.

Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, given her historic links to Yorkshire. It is not surprising that she has advocated a kind of danegeld in terms of this levy.

I am intervening in this debate because my name was not on the speakers’ list for the debate that took place earlier in Committee in which my noble friend Lady Mallalieu drew attention to the plight of small and niche abattoirs, many of which have gone out of business. This issue was flagged in the long-standing Radio 4 series “The Archers” when people engaged in a dialogue on it. I had been thinking mischievously of moving an amendment to try to get dialogue back into “The Archers” via this Bill. However, I take note of the stricture of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, that many people have spoken at great length in these debates and so we are moving slowly through the Committee stage. For example, I spoke in the Chamber on 7 July and again at 11.05 pm on Tuesday night.

The point is that we need to coalesce the debates that have taken place. On Tuesday, I said that I have learned a great deal by following the debates and listening to those who have a great deal more knowledge than I do. My early time in politics was mainly informed by listening to my predecessor in the Sheffield Brightside constituency. His home and roots were in north Yorkshire, and his campaign to protect the rights of tenure of farm workers was successful. I come at this as a novice, but I believe that unless we get some clarity, both today and on Tuesday, on how we are going to take the Bill forward on Report, it is unlikely to see the light of day for a very long time.

I say to the mover of the amendment, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that I hope that in debating this levy, we take into account an earlier debate in Committee that revealed, to my surprise, the very small amount of land in the UK that can be described as being of grade one quality. Be careful what you do when allocating a levy, given the impact it could have on the different nations and geographic regions of the UK, as well as avoiding proselytising for vegetarianism.

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Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I declare my interests as recorded in the register. I want to speak to Amendment 218 in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Parminter, and the noble Lords, Lord Grantchester and Lord Carrington, and express my appreciation to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for her introduction of the amendment and for her comments.

The Minister kindly referred in his response to Amendment 12 two weeks ago—was it just two weeks ago?—to work on agricultural and horticultural skills that I have been involved with during the past two years or so. Of course, the coronavirus lockdown earlier this year highlighted how vulnerable we are to disruption when we depend so heavily on a seasonal labour supply from overseas. So I agree wholeheartedly on the need for a strategy to address this vulnerability. However, such a strategy should encompass all labour markets in agriculture and horticulture, not just those of seasonal workers. We are lagging well behind other professions in projecting our sector as an attractive career choice, with no clear signposting, no accurate labour market information, a fragmented and confusing landscape of skills delivery, very few nationally recognised qualifications and no record of individual achievements, including CPD.

A comprehensive skills strategy which includes engaging with schools, FE and HE institutions, the apprenticeship scheme and training and lifelong learning is long overdue. All of us who are involved with the agriculture and horticulture sectors are regularly impressed by the range of skills required to farm successfully, as listed by my noble friend Lord Carrington in an earlier debate and referred to again today. As has been stated, the digital age and robotics will extend the range of skills required to embrace the many challenges we face in a fast-moving world, whether improving productivity or delivering the multiple potential outcomes through the ELM scheme, as well as adding value in exploring markets for our produce.

As indicated earlier by both the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and my noble friend Lord Carrington, I have been engaged in a cross-industry skills leadership group which has the widespread support of all key industry organisations. This is not an appropriate time to do a sales job, but the group has recommended the establishment of a professional body to raise the profile of the sector and the exciting opportunities that exist in it, to recognise national qualifications and standards, to establish a single national data source of information, and to provide signposting for both employers and employees to encourage career development and CPD.

I once again thank the Minister for his personal support in trying to achieve these objectives and for the constructive discussions with and advice received from his officials within the department. I have to say that I do not agree with the comments made by the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, a few moments ago.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle. I pay tribute to the work that he has done and continues to do on the skills and leadership group.

In passing, I commend Amendment 219 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, because I think there is a problem of affordable housing in this sector, particularly when it comes to migrant workers. We saw an outbreak of Covid recently at a facility where the facilities that were available were less than desirable.

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Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle [V]
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My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 220. There is absolutely no question that we must maintain the highest standards of animal welfare. In the farming sector, we are proud of our standards and reputation for such standards, so we must not tolerate or condone bad practice. We must stamp it out and ensure that the regulations are enforced.

However, I am concerned about the amendment. The export of live animals for slaughter is without question an emotional issue and generates lots of public concern, as it has for a long time. When I chaired the Meat and Livestock Commission it invested in widespread research into the impact of transport on stress levels in sheep, cattle and pigs. As the noble Lord, Lord Trees, said, we should slaughter animals as close to home as possible and add value wherever possible so that we benefit from the marketing of those products in local, mainstream or export markets. We absolutely should do what we can to achieve that, but, as has been said, the reality is that animals suffer the most stress when being loaded on to and unloaded from lorries, not during transport, provided that the lorries comply with EU legislation, such as on journey times, and have the correct facilities on board.

I have always found it rather odd that crossing the 22 miles of water of the channel is such a major problem. It is misleading to believe, as has been stated, that all animals are likely to be mistreated as soon as they arrive. The reality does not support this belief. All the EU abattoirs that I have visited—and I have visited a lot—were of the highest standard, although I confess that I have not been to abattoirs in central Europe. Finished sheep and cattle travel much further than 22 miles from islands around the United Kingdom, including Shetland and Orkney, to the UK mainland for further finishing and for slaughter. Many lorries transporting animals for further fattening or slaughter in the UK travel 220 miles, never mind 22 miles across the channel. As the noble Lord, Lord Trees, mentioned, it is also often difficult to determine whether animals are being moved for slaughter, further fattening or breeding purposes, so it would be extremely difficult—almost impossible—to police the reason for movement.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering
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My Lords, I have every sympathy for the sentiments behind Amendment 220, but I query the basis on which it is drafted. I experienced early on the concerns that people rightly have about the trade of live animals for export. It first came home to me when I was an MEP back in the mid-1990s and represented the port of Brightlingsea in north-east Essex. The trade was closed over Dover and moved to Brightlingsea so, mindful of the concern, I boarded the ferry and saw the movement of the animals from the truck on to the ferry. I must say, they were transported in much more comfort than any North Sea passenger, from my experience of ferries at the time.

I urge the authors of the amendment to go back to the RSPCA and, I am sure, Compassion in World Farming, to check the veracity of the allegations. It is true that 20, 30 or 40 years ago—I pay tribute to the work that my noble friend Lady Fookes has done in this regard —there were horrendous tales of the live trade in animals but, when you got to the basis of them, many were not in this country or even on this continent. I was appalled at that time to see that videos were being made and shown in schools in north Essex and south Suffolk to try to drum up support for banning the live trade.

As the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, just said, you have to be very careful to differentiate between animals that are being exported for fattening and slaughter and those that are being exported for breeding, showing and other purposes; as he rightly said, it is difficult to differentiate between the two.

I would like to see the live trade as it currently exists, certainly between here and mainland Europe, which I understand most of it is—that is, for every live animal that is exported, only six or seven are carried in carcass form. It is a very limited trade, it is highly regulated, and no farmer in their right mind would like to see an animal stressed by transport because the meat would be worthless and there would be no market for it at all.

There is a scenario that we seem to have lost sight of in this amendment: new subsection (6) cannot possibly apply to Northern Ireland because of the Northern Ireland protocol. I hope my noble friend will set out that it is simply not going to happen there.

I also hope my noble friend will take the opportunity to say—and I take great comfort from this fact—that if it is true that we are leaving the European Union and the transition period will end at the end of this year, the rules of the World Trade Organization will apply. I think the RSPCA is well aware of that fact. Under the “most favoured nation” clause and non-discrimination treatment, the likelihood is that the WTO would rule to prevent any such ban on the import or export of live animals under that principle.

With these few remarks, I hope my noble friend will continue to reassure us that this minimum, highly regulated level of trade can continue, but there are implications from the protocol and the WTO that I am sure he would wish to have regard to.

Lord Rooker Portrait Lord Rooker (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, 20-odd years ago, when we formed the Government in 1997, this was new to me and not something that I had not given any thought to. I was responsible for animal health and Elliot Morley was responsible for animal welfare. We toughened up the regulations and we thought they were working, but over the years I have come to share the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, so I wholeheartedly support the view that she has put forward today.

There are some caveats that need to be dealt with, which I will raise, but I cannot see any excuse for the export of live animals for slaughter or for fattening. Frankly, I am not an expert, but I well understand how I could distinguish between the export of animals for breeding and the export of those for fattening and slaughter; I do not think it is that difficult. We have—or, probably, had—quite a big export trade in pigs with China. They wanted to vastly improve their stock, and it was done with breeding expertise from the UK.

It is a fact that we have far fewer live exports than we used to. If memory serves me correctly, 20 or 25 years ago the figures were probably nearer to 250,000 or 300,000. I remember the rows at Brightlingsea that the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, has just referred to. I also remember the tragedy there of at least one person being killed under the wheels of a lorry while campaigning to try to stop the export of live animals.

We have to be careful of certain things. There is a Northern Ireland route to France. Slipping animals across the land border and then on into France is certainly a method that would have to stop. The noble Lord, Lord Trees, and someone else raised the issue of France. As I understand it, the reason why the French want our sheep is that if they are slaughtered in France, they can legitimately put “French lamb” on the menu. It is as simple as that. They do not have to declare it as British. It is slaughtered in France and therefore it is French lamb, so it is a selling point in French restaurants. That is what I have always understood the position to be.

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Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering
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My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. I pay tribute to the restraint and brevity of my noble friend Lady Henig, with whom I had the pleasure to serve on the ad hoc Select Committee on the Licensing Act 2003.

I believe that Amendment 221 is well-meaning, but it is very prescriptive. On Amendment 226, I would like to associate myself with the call for research in this area, and I urge the Minister to outline in her reply to this debate what commitment the Government are making to conduct that research. I imagine that much of the research would have been done on a cross-European basis, and I would like to know how the Government are going to make up the funding, as they are committed to do—they have said that on a number of occasions.

I also pay tribute to the work that Rothamsted and other institutes are doing, but we need to have alternatives that are technically feasible and commercially viable. I hope my noble friend the Minister will put my mind at rest as to how this will be funded going forward.

Lord Addington Portrait Lord Addington (LD)
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My Lords, both these amendments are very difficult to argue against. They are telling us to be careful about how we use chemicals designed to kill things. My noble friend beat me to the word “poison”, but that is what they are for: to kill the organic life that we do not want in certain places at certain times.

Having controls about where you can use such substances is fairly basic. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, describing a farmer effectively getting into a biohazard suit before using them gives a hint that they are potentially dangerous. If can think of examples just from this Chamber. I look across to where the noble Countess, Lady Mar, sat for many years: organophosphates ruined her life and she led a campaign to get rid of them.

Many people have told us that we do not know what we are talking about and to just use these substances sensibly—but we can then discover that they are lethal. Another example is DDT, and I could carry on. The fact that these chemicals cause problems when they get into ground-water is very well established. We should be more cautious and targeted about their use—there is a lot of technology which enables us to be more targeted, and we should embrace this.

I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, on her amendment. I think that something like the study she suggests should be in the Bill. My gut reaction is to say yes to Amendment 221, but unlike the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, I would like it to be more specific, so we know what we are dealing with. Such guidelines probably would depend on work that would be done under the later amendment.

There is potential risk here. We have tolerated a degree of damage to ourselves and to members of our society because we did not know what we were doing in the past. We would not tolerate that now and our standards are probably going to get tighter. Therefore, tightening up the process of observation should be encouraged.

I have one last anecdote: how many people have still got a bottle of blue slug pellets at the back of their garden cabinet which they are not quite sure what to do with? We have discovered that these destroy far more than just the slugs. I have used them in the past, and probably should not have done.

We are tightening our standards and becoming more targeted and smarter all the time with chemicals. It is about time we took this on in a more coherent fashion, and these amendments are a good step forward. I salute the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, on her amendment.

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Viscount Trenchard Portrait Viscount Trenchard
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My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, makes a powerful case for a new environmental regulatory regime for agriculture in introducing Amendment 229. While I accept that regulation will never stand still but always evolve in line with famers’ and consumers’ priorities and our understanding of the natural environment and what affects it, I think that, at a time when farmers are having to adapt their business models to reflect the loss of what is, for many, the largest single component of their annual incomes, introducing a new regulatory regime would be unnecessarily burdensome and confusing.

I seek clarification from my noble friend the Minister that the cross-compliance rules will also apply to payments under the ELM scheme; I expect that this would mean that this amendment and, indeed, Amendments 230 and 231, in the name of my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge, are not necessary. Furthermore, his intention to reduce from 20 metres to 10 metres the minimum length of hedgerows to which regulations apply is surely disproportionate and unreasonable. Is my noble friend not aware that, up and down the country, farmers are putting in new hedgerows?

In Amendment 297, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, seeks to place a limit on rearing pigs on any land at a density greater than 20 healthy pigs per hectare. A friend of mine whose family have farmed pigs in Lincolnshire for generations tells me that this density is very low. I ask my noble friend the Minister to confirm that he agrees.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering
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My Lords, I am delighted to follow my noble friend because I was also hoping to ask for confirmation that hedgerows will be covered within ELMS and that famers will have to meet the cross-compliance requirements. From memory, when we had the debate on Clause 1 and the many amendments that were tabled at that time, it was my understanding that that would be the case. I know that my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge has taken great interest and is very expert in this area. I also am concerned about water quality and our requirements under the water framework directive; I am interested to know if we will keep up with the requirements of the successor water framework directives to come.

My main point is that I find Amendment 229 from the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, very interesting, but I would be rather aghast to think that we were going to have a new environmental regulatory regime. I take this opportunity, if I may, to say to my noble friend the Minister that there is great uncertainty at the moment as to what the regulatory regime will be, as we have not yet had sight of the Environment Bill. Perhaps I am being slow here, but I do not see what the relationship will be between the office for environmental protection and the Environment Agency, Natural England, Rural Payments Agency and the host of other bodies. Who will be the policeman in all this and who will be giving the friendly advice to farmers in this regard?

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville [V]
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My Lords, the case for environmental and agricultural regulation has been set out very clearly by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. It is important that there is an updated regulatory framework. The Agriculture Bill makes radical changes to the way that funding is allocated. The ELMS are very different from direct payments, and it is therefore essential that the framework reflects the thrust of the Government’s intentions. A farm inspection only once every 200 years is pathetic, and indeed dangerous. Bringing the framework in line with the environmental standards that will pertain once the Bill has passed is essential. We cannot have two separate standards, otherwise there will be wholesale confusion. Effective compliance cannot be implemented without an updated regulatory framework; without this, it appears like putting the cart before the horse.

Amendment 230 proposes a new clause to protect hedgerows and gives detail on how this should be designed and implemented. I fully support this amendment, as other noble Lords have. Over the years, since I was a child, I have seen hedgerows ripped out to allow farmers to plough larger tracts of land. This has meant that the feeding and breeding grounds of small birds and insects have disappeared, leading to the disappearance of some iconic species, such as the bullfinch. This amendment seeks to protect the margins at the edges of fields and to reinstate hedgerows. It is important to reconnect with the wildlife that previously lived in our hedgerows and field margins. I believe this is a move in the right direction, and support the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, and the noble Baroness, Lady Quin.

Amendment 231, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, seeks to protect water, wells, springs and bore-holes from pollution. The area where I live is covered with natural springs, some of which provide domestic water supplies; preventing the pollution of this water is therefore extremely important. Farmers should do everything possible to prevent poisonous chemicals from entering the watercourses, and this should include pesticides and herbicides. Water is an important, life-saving ingredient in agriculture, and it provides biodiversity. I welcome this amendment and look forward to the Minister agreeing to this.

Amendments 296 and 297 propose a new schedule, which would introduce animal welfare standards for pigs, cows and cattle, give minimum standards of space and give protection to water and soil quality. Intensive farming and livestock management has a downside on both animal welfare and soil quality. I support this amendment and look forward to hearing positive comments from the Minister. I feel a bit sad that I am getting quite excited at the prospect of actually reaching—[Inaudible.]

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Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. I am delighted to support Amendment 255 and I entirely endorse his comments. Subject to his decision, I would be willing to support a similar amendment on Report, if that is helpful at this stage.

I shall confine my remarks to the amendments in this group that relate to labelling and marketing, particularly Amendment 256 in my name. I am delighted to have the support of the noble Baronesses, Lady Henig, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick. I am very grateful to them for their support.

If this wording is familiar to the House and to my noble friend the Minister, indeed it should be. It is the form of words that was adopted by my noble friend Lady Fairhead during the Trade Bill, which I think was technically the rollover Trade Bill, that we debated a year ago but which then did not pass because of the general election. I was delighted that after some toing and froing and lots of debate in Committee, on Report my noble friend Lady Fairhead literally adopted this wording, so I therefore take it to be government policy. Obviously I have adapted it, taking advice, to make sure that it fits the remit of the Bill before us today.

I take great heart from the fact that my noble friend said again, in winding up a previous debate, that the Government will keep and raise our own environmental standards. What concerns me here is that we seem to be disadvantaging our own farmers and producers in two ways. One is that while we are keeping the same high standards that we currently have and possibly raising them even higher, we seem to be contemplating importing produce of lower standards in marketing, environmental health, animal welfare and hygiene. That to me is just not a Conservative thing to do; I cannot believe we are even contemplating it. That is why the thrust of my Amendment 256 is that the regulations within this clause cannot be used to make provisions that will have the effect of lowering animal health, hygiene or welfare standards for agricultural products below those established in the EU or the UK.

This is something that we are already familiar with, having been members of the European Union since 1973. I remember that in my days briefly in practice as a European lawyer we relied very heavily on the original Article 36 of the Treaty of Rome, which basically set out a limited number of exceptions to the free movement of goods, specifying that if it was deemed necessary on the grounds of the protection of the health and life of humans, animals or plants then under Article 36 an exemption could be applied for to prevent those products from coming into another European country from a neighbouring country or another member state. I see that that is now increasingly coming into trade deals that are negotiated multilaterally or bilaterally under the auspices of the World Trade Organization, so I am hoping that my noble friend will say that when it comes to the end of the transition period, this is where we will be.

I caution against something that Minister Prentis said in the other place: that the Government are considering consulting on mandatory labelling at the end of the transition period. Labelling seems very attractive. It is something that we looked at after the horsemeat scandal, because I am afraid that supermarkets were caught a little on the hop; they had not conducted a full test of the probity of the supply chain, and that is why we had the case of fraud and the passing off as beef, lamb and other products what was effectively horsemeat.

The difficulty is that labelling does not encourage people to eat home-produced meat, which is something we have discussed in the context of other clauses in the Bill. Another example I would give in this regard is what happened when we unilaterally banned the use of sow stalls and tethers. Technically, the Red Tractor label is meant to advise people that the pork, lamb and beef that we produce in this country—particularly, in this instance, the pork—is produced to those high standards. But that is not the basis on which people buy their food; they buy on price. It can have as pretty a red label as you like, but people will often still buy the cheapest cut of meat.

The other issue with labelling is this. How am I, as a consumer eating out in a restaurant or other catering establishment, to know that what I am eating is from this country and meets the high standards that the Government have asked our own producers to meet? This could create a two-tier system and mean that only those who can afford the higher prices of our home-produced food would be able to buy it.

As for what we are being told, I shall repeat again what the Minister, Victoria Prentis, said in Committee on the Agriculture Bill in the other place. She said that

“we are retaining existing UK legislation, and at the end of the transition period, the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 will convert on to the UK statute book all EU food safety, animal welfare and environmental standards. That will ensure that our high standards, including import requirements, continue to apply.”—[Official Report, Commons, Agriculture Bill Committee, 5/3/20; col. 372.]

As was helpfully pointed out to us by a letter from the Food Standards Agency, the difficulty with that—I will take as long as it takes here, because this is the crux of the Bill—is that those standards are enshrined in statutory instruments, so primary legislation is not needed to amend them; only a subsequent statutory instrument would be needed.

I hope that we can learn from previous mistakes and will seek to maintain the high standards that we have and ensure that we refuse to accept any standards lower than those that our own producers meet.

Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu [V]
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My Lords, I share some of the concerns that the noble Baroness has just raised, but I take a different view about the need for mandatory labelling of animal products. I shall speak just to Amendment 258, in my name and those of the noble Lords, Lord Trees and Lord De Mauley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, who will speak shortly.

On 29 June, Peers received an open letter from the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, which said:

“The Government has committed to a rapid review and consultation on the role of labelling to promote high standards and animal welfare, and remains committed to delivering informative food and drink labelling and marketing standards to protect consumer interests, ensuring that consumers can have confidence in the food and drink they buy.”


I welcome that, and I thank the noble Lord, but I would like the Minister to tell us, first, what the word “rapid” means to Defra. Will he give us the proposed timetable for the initial consultation and the review, and then for publishing the proposals that follow, and for making the necessary regulations? My amendment suggests six months from the passing of this Act—which I hope will mean March 2021—for the earlier steps, and 12 months for the regulations to come into force, in about September 2021. I hope that he will agree with that.

The regulations on labelling are urgent because, as a result of the new trade deals we are, we hope, about to receive—they are being negotiated—we shall shortly see new products coming on to our markets from overseas. People will, as the letter says, need to have

“confidence in the food and drink they buy.”

That means they need to be confident that those meet the high standards that we were promised, but which the Government would not, apparently, put into the Bill.

The Government say that they are concerned about tackling obesity, encouraging healthy food choices, making more use of local produce, reducing food miles, limiting carbon outputs and improving animal welfare—and I am sure they are. But if consumers are not given the information on the packet, how are they to know where it comes from, how it was produced or whether it complies with any of those objectives?

I am also afraid that if you do not give sufficient information then, as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, has just suggested, consumers will simply select on price—some will do that anyway—and highest animal welfare standards considerations will simply not feature. The result will be that producers who meet high standards, which are usually more expensive, will simply go to the wall.

Consumers surely need to know the country of origin, particularly in these times. Amendment 254 from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, makes that point, as did the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, with great force in our debates on Tuesday. That does not mean simply where the chicken was processed, but where it was reared. They need to know the method of production. We already do it for eggs; we have free-range, barn-reared, organic and so on, but we do not do it routinely for milk, meat or egg products. We should. The consumer needs to know whether his meat comes from a feedlot, was intensively reared or was pasture-fed. Some people will not care—they will just go for the cheapest—but more and more people do care and are looking. They could be told simply in words or, with enough publicity as to what they mean, through symbols.

The method of slaughter matters too, and to some members of the public it matters a great deal. I accept that this Bill is not the place to argue for the abolition of non-stun slaughter, which I very much want to see. However, it is the place to argue that consumer choice matters. Whether you require meat slaughtered in accordance with the requirements of your religion or meat which has been pre-stunned before slaughter because you have animal welfare concerns, you want to know, one way or the other, from the label of the joint you pick up at the supermarket. You want “confidence”, to use the Minister’s word, that you have picked the one you want and are getting the type of meat you selected. Will the Minister share his timetable and plans for doing what Amendment 258 suggests?

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Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe [V]
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In moving this amendment, I remind the Committee again of my interest as chair of Assured Food Standards, commonly known as Red Tractor—a world-leading food chain assurance scheme used, in some form, by every major retailer and food service operator in the UK. It is owned by the entire food chain and allows the free flow of certified food and drink across the UK.

Part 5 of the Bill, particularly Clause 35 on marketing standards, is very important and wide-ranging, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, said during discussion on the previous group. It permits the Government, with only the safeguard of an affirmative resolution procedure, to make regulations of a stunningly wide kind, from the definition of agricultural products, their labelling, packaging and claimed attributes, to the farming methods used. These are backed up by highly intrusive enforcement powers, such as powers of entry, inspection, seizure and monetary penalties. Clearly, much of this activity was previously regulated in Brussels. We need powers to operate in the new world beyond the carryover provisions in previous Brexit legislation.

However, as someone concerned with setting and improving standards, farm and factory inspection, and generating consumer awareness and support for British produce—we cover everything except eggs and fish, for historical reasons—I would like to hear much more from the Minister on his intentions. All assurance schemes, such as the RSPCA, Soil Association, LEAF and any devolved variants, have an interest in such plans. However, as the largest such scheme, assuring over £14 billion of British food and drink, and with regular inspections by UKAS-accredited bodies underpinning safety, traceability, animal welfare and environmental protection, we have the biggest interest.

We can also contribute most to future success directly and as agents of government bodies such as the Environment Agency. We can help to promote export success, and I know from operating around the world that, especially in Asia, certified standards are very important after decades of food safety problems in certain markets. We can be the flagship of British food and farming. Without EU country of origin labelling rules we can promote it better, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, said among his wise words.

Some of this is in the realm of developing policy, and we all await the Dimbleby findings with great impatience. However, my amendment is designed to require a proper consultation process before new regulations are made on marketing standards, and a report to Parliament summarising the responses.

In his comments on the previous group, the Minister suggested that the requirement to consult arises in food law already and would bite here. That is helpful, but many of us, coming at these provisions from different angles, as we do, would like to see a provision here too, given the scale and breadth of the powers proposed, which could make or break many rural food or drink operators.

I would also like confirmation that impact assessments will be made and published on such draft regulations. This seemed to be the helpful response that the Minister gave to the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, and my noble friend Lord Lindsay at Second Reading.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering
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My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on moving this amendment. The Red Tractor has much to commend it; I expressed one or two reservations about it but I fully endorse the call for a consultation on the regulations. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will look favourably on the amendment.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville [V]
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My Lords, I spoke too soon about the fact that we may reach our target tonight, but we are nearly there. The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, explained her reason for tabling her amendment, which is about assured schemes. They are extremely important in improving food standards but, as she said, this measure could make or break some small food companies.

I have looked at the amendment and where it comes in the Bill, and I find it unnecessarily restrictive. It is important that the Secretary of State should consult those likely to be affected by the regulations in Part 5 on marketing standards, organic products and carcass classifications, but there is a limit. In previous debates, we heard that the UK lags far behind other European Union states in the incidence of organic farming. Most supermarkets have sections where organic produce is properly labelled and displayed, enabling shoppers to make an informed choice. It is important that we promote organic food.

In her amendment, the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, wants the Secretary of State to

“consult anyone reasonably likely to be affected by the regulations”.

I find “anyone reasonably likely to be affected” difficult. “Anyone” seems unreasonable. It is a catch-all that I am not sure can be delivered. I remember a case when a child regularly complained to a crisp manufacturer that he was not completely satisfied with the packet of crisps he had purchased. The packet stated that anyone “not completely satisfied” could have a replacement. The dialogue between this enterprising child and the manufacturer went on for some time until the manufacturer realised that it was dealing with a child and called a halt to it. I give this as an example of why we should be very careful about exactly what wording we have in Bill. The Secretary of State should consult but the question of with whom needs to be more tightly worded, otherwise he or she could consult the whole population.

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Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain [V]
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My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendment 269 standing in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Wigley.

Brexit has returned significant powers to the UK Government to negotiate and agree international trade agreements with other nations. As a reserved power, it is the responsibility of the UK Government to represent the interests of the agriculture sectors throughout the UK, including those within the political boundaries of devolved Administrations.

To ensure that agriculture businesses in Wales have access to equal opportunities in relation to trade as counterparts in England, it is reasonable to assume that any devolved Administration, responsible as they are for their own agriculture policy, support and monitoring, would share any information necessary with the UK Government in relation to trade. Enabling, where reasonable, the sharing of information to support trade policy and enable the free flow of tradable commodities within and beyond the UK should surely be considered a common-sense matter.

Large areas of rural Wales are heavily dependent on the agriculture sector as their primary economic industry. The symbiosis of agriculture and trade should be a priority; these policy areas must work together to ease the short-term economic shock and longer-term adaptation to new markets that will arise from the UK’s new trading arrangements. It is not an area where political wrangling should overrule what is most beneficial to the people and livelihoods of those affected on the ground.

As food has become a global commodity, the UK does not have the land area to compete on a volume basis with larger developing nations where agricultural production is increasing year on year. However, due in no small part to the structure of the CAP, the agriculture sector in the UK, and Wales in particular, produces agricultural outputs at a commodity scale where the amount of land available would indicate that a focus on higher-quality outputs rather than quantity would be more beneficial.

Generally within the UK, but more specifically in Wales, where legislation such as the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and the Environment (Wales) Act (2016) are steering the nation to deliver against sustainability goals, there is a growing and marketable evidence base around the value of the sustainable production of food products. This provides significant potential for agriculture producers in Wales not only to promote our current high standards for animal health and welfare but to move into the added value, niche world of “sustainable brand values”, with the potential that this brings to extend into new international markets. Such standards and brand values would demonstrate that a foodstuff grown in Wales was produced with all due consideration for its impact against every aspect of sustainable food production and the sustainable management of natural resources. Businesses in Wales are already starting to look at the potential such a USP could deliver.

To deliver a trade policy that complements Welsh farmers and food businesses, it is essential that the UK Government not only adheres to our existing high standards when negotiating trade deals involving agricultural produce but opens wider avenues for those within the UK whose ambition reaches beyond our current understanding of food standards, to open new and exciting markets. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will indicate the Government’s acceptance of the substance of this amendment.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering
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My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and I endorse the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, on his Amendments 264 and 265, which I was delighted to sign. I endorse his sentiments and hope my noble friend will look favourably on his amendments, particularly Amendment 264, in much the same vein as I support my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe’s Amendment 257. I think it is essential there should be proper consultation with the relevant interested parties before regulations are adopted, as I will set out. For the same reason, I support Amendment 265, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes. I am sure my noble friend will agree that this is a genuine oversight and I hope she will look favourably at approving these or similar provisions before the Bill leaves the House. I also associate myself with Amendment 269, which is incredibly similar to the provisions in my Amendment 256, which was supported by other noble Lords: I would like to see the same apply in Wales as in England and other parts of the United Kingdom.

Lord Wigley Portrait Lord Wigley [V]
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My Lords, it is a delight, even at this late hour of the night, to follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. I very much agree with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and particularly, of course, with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, on Amendment 269, which also carries my name.

There are many threats facing agriculture in Wales and in the other parts of the United Kingdom at this time, but there are also opportunities, and to grasp those opportunities to the full we have to build on the reality and the understanding of the standard of food we produce. Therefore, we need whatever co-operation mechanisms that have to be brought forward to ensure that agriculture in Wales, as in other parts of the United Kingdom, is working to that agenda, and that the world knows that we are working to that agenda, and that food and food products from Wales and the UK will be seen in that light, and equally that those food products coming into the UK from agricultural regimes that are of a lower standard will be seen as unacceptable.

This is relevant not only in terms of the food itself—the content and the way it is manufactured—but also in terms of the impact that the process has on the environment. That will be an increasing consideration in all parts of the world when people come to judge the products of these islands. The policies we have in Wales, putting an emphasis on the needs of future generations, is particularly relevant in this context, and this group of amendments gives the Government the opportunity to respond on this issue and to give some certainty as to how they see these important elements being safeguarded.