Committee stage & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 16th 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-V Fifth marshalled list for Committee - (16 Jul 2020)
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Portrait Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab Co-op) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, that is indeed helpful. I am pleased to speak in support of all these amendments but particularly Amendment 272, tabled by my noble friends Lady Jones, Lord Grantchester and Lord Judd. I endorse everything said by my noble friend Lord Clark of Windermere about trees. He speaks with authority as a former chair of the Forestry Commission. I hope the Minister will take account of every word he said.

Central to all these amendments is incorporating in the Bill the principle that our future farming framework has climate change and our net-zero emissions target at its very core, as was outlined so eloquently by my noble friend Lady Worthington. I am pleased to be a member of the organisation Peers for the Planet, which she and my noble friend Lady Hayman were instrumental in setting up. They have been doing an excellent job in driving forward discussion and debate on the key issues relating to this Bill. Like them, I want to see a more sustainable farming system which incorporates a good balance between food production, sustainable land use, biodiversity protection and emissions reduction. As we know—most of us, anyway, I hope—time is of the essence. We need a clear plan to put these goals into action and give ourselves a fighting chance of meeting our 2050 target. Important to this is providing the necessary tools, funding and infrastructure to support our food and farming industry in order to make this transition possible.

I support the specific requirement, outlined in Amendments 272 and 274, that the Government must publish a strategy within 12 months of the Bill becoming law. The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, claimed that this was absurd but he did not give any reason why. It is not absurd; it is absolutely vital. This strategy must outline plans to reduce emissions from agriculture and its associated land use, and it must set out interim emissions targets for 2030 so that we can make substantial progress towards the 2050 target.

I turn to another aspect of Amendment 272. I am speaking as a Scottish Peer, along with many others today. Looking around, I see Peers from Caithness, Montrose, Old Scone, Glenscorrodale, whose contribution is to come; and there is me, from Cumnock. We represent almost every corner of our great country of Scotland. I am keen to highlight the need for strong co-operation among all the nations of the United Kingdom. Noble Lords may recall that I raised this issue in Committee last week. Amendment 272 would require the Government to publish a future farming strategy and oblige the Secretary of State to consult devolved Ministers. We have already had disputes between the UK Government and devolved nations, and these look increasingly likely after Brexit. It is therefore critical that any discussions and decisions about a future farming strategy place the devolved nations, as well as the industry and farmers themselves, in the starting line-up, rather than relegating them to the subs’ bench—if I can be excused a footballing metaphor.

As many in the farming industry and beyond continue to argue, we need a whole-system approach to support this transition—critically, one that instils collaboration across our four nations. I hope the Minister can assure that that will happen.

Duke of Montrose Portrait The Duke of Montrose (Con) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, as he bangs the drum for Scotland’s place in the union. I declare my interest as a lifetime livestock producer. I support my noble friend Lord Caithness in his Amendment 73, which flags up one of the great challenges facing agricultural production. Noble Lords will know that when the Kyoto Protocol was signed in December 1997, there was an awareness that, as well as the industrial emissions on which the subsequent climate action was largely focused, emissions from land use would need to be incorporated.

At that point, knowledge about emissions from agricultural production had not got much beyond rarefied academic studies. The difference now is that, since the Paris Agreement of 2015, Governments are required to pursue agricultural emissions as a major policy consideration. These amendments focus on that aspect. From a practical farmer’s point of view, I see immense scientific research around the world into both emissions levels and ways to reduce them. This indicates that we have not yet arrived at a full understanding of how these complex systems work and interact. I particularly think of the Oxford Martin School studies on the lack of persistent methane emissions in the atmosphere.

One of the quainter remedies I have come across to alleviate cattle emissions is mixing biochar—a form of charcoal—into the regular feed. As we strive to improve our current understanding of emission levels, I put it to my noble friend the Minister that the one thing we must not do is import agricultural produce—I think particularly of beef—which has a higher carbon footprint than that which we have achieved here, no matter how cheap it appears to be. It is important that our government policy and research have this element firmly in their sights. This amendment would ensure that it was on the face of the Bill.

I have much sympathy with Amendment 144A, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Devon; this is obviously dependent on what methods are found to reduce greenhouse gas production. On Amendment 272, we need more clarity regarding what is meant by

“agriculture and associated land use”.

A great deal of government policy on achieving net-zero emissions seems to be based on taking land out of agriculture. The idea that agriculture on its own could reduce emissions to 100% below 1990 levels appears a bit fanciful.

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I support the general thrust of these amendments and I hope that the Government will listen carefully to this debate and perhaps come back with the best of each amendment in future stages. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, made a very powerful contribution in support of his Amendment 73.

Obviously, there are some differences between Amendments 272 and 274, but I will address in particular the point that my noble friend Lord Foulkes made about the fact that Amendment 272 mentions specifically the need to work with the devolved Governments in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. At each level of government in the United Kingdom, there is a responsibility to tackle climate change and each of these devolved Governments have specific legislative responsibilities for agriculture. If we are to make the case in this debate, and perhaps beyond, for a tighter connection in the Bill to the climate change targets, it makes sense that engaging with the devolved Governments would be a key component of that. There needs to be, in my view, far better co-ordination and agreement at all levels of government—local, national and UK—if we are to meet these targets by 2050.

The idea of including the climate change targets in this Agriculture Bill is inspired. The noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, made that case very powerfully when she talked about the leadership that the United Kingdom could show in what may end up being the largest Bill to come before your Lordships’ Chamber—and maybe our longest debates—this year. This Bill, taking back powers from the European Union and setting out a new strategy for British agriculture to be so closely aligned with the climate change targets, would be a very powerful signal not only inside but outwith the United Kingdom in the run-up to the summit in Glasgow, now in 2021. For reasons of the opportunities that the noble Baroness outlined and the leadership that we could show, I think these amendments are on the right lines.

If I may be allowed to digress slightly for a second, I tried to intervene last Thursday in Committee but had connection problems and was not able to make one very small specific point that in fact relates to this topic today. Amendment 12, which was debated last Thursday, used the phrase:

“the impact of climate change on agriculture”.

The amendment proposed this as one of the additional purposes to which the Government could provide finance. I felt at the time that this was the wrong way round and that it should have been about the impact of agriculture on climate change. That would be more in keeping with the amendments in front of us today, which are about the impact of agriculture on climate change. Perhaps those who were involved in moving Amendment 12 last week might think about that before we reach Report. I look forward to hearing what the noble Baroness the Minister has to say in response.