Management of Hedgerows (England) Regulations 2024

Earl of Leicester Excerpts
Monday 20th May 2024

(3 weeks, 5 days ago)

Grand Committee
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Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
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I have been having sleepless nights about this, noble Lords may be pleased to hear. I was always a great fan of cross-compliance. It was quite a low-key instrument; nevertheless, it could be deployed. Of course, hedges are vital for wildlife and for carbon. They provide linear routes through our landscapes and join up patches of habitat. Filling the gaps in hedges, for example, is really important, for all these reasons.

Turning to my anxiety, it took ages to establish whether there was going to be a statutory instrument to fill the gap left by the demise of cross-compliance, and it then took some time for that to come forward. In a way, my great regret is that we have not used this opportunity. For heaven’s sake, the benefits of leaving Europe are few enough, but improving the situation for hedges would have been one of them. I would have preferred it if the Government had removed the three existing exemptions: for fields under two hectares, for hedges younger than five years and for the no-cutting period. When you look at the consultation, you see that there was not really much support among the farming community for retaining them. This could have been an opportunity absolutely to re-recognise the value of hedges, particularly in fields of under two hectares, and the importance of hedges younger than five years having protection from the beginning.

Apart from lecturing the Minister on this and lying awake at night worrying about it, I simply want to ask the Minister for four things. First, will he re-examine these exemptions? We have this wretched statutory instrument, and let us get the damn thing in because, at the moment, there is no protection for these hedges; but there is an opportunity here to improve on what Europe is doing and re-examine the exemptions.

Secondly, there should be a real proposition to extend the no-cutting period beyond even that in the instrument. My own wildlife trust, of which I am patron—I declare an interest—the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, has done a big hazel dormouse project that shows that there are multiple active nests during the period from September to October. If hedges are cut at that point, it prevents the population really thriving, and this is a very threatened species.

Maintaining hedges and not cutting them for even longer provides valuable berries and other food for winter wildlife and, as the Minister said, for farmland birds that are really in decline, such as the turtle dove, linnet, cirl bunting and yellowhammer. Bedford used to be the yellowhammer capital of the world, as far as I could tell, and you would be very hard put to find one at all now. In these species, late broods are disproportionately important. If they can get a third brood away, the population has a greater chance of increasing rather than standing still or declining. Again, extending the no-cutting period is something farmers would appreciate.

Thirdly, I ask the Minister to think about two matters not connected to hedgerows, but whereby we lose as a result of losing cross-compliance: water body buffers and soil erosion conditions, which are absolutely vital. They are hot in the public mind at the moment, particularly in the light of water pollution. Will he undertake to look at them and produce statutory instruments to reinstate them?

Lastly, I know that the Minister likes to tell me when I ask him things that are not particularly germane to the subject in hand, that are not his brief or are above his pay grade—or he will have another way of sending me away with a sore heart—but I hope that he might bump into his DLUHC colleagues and look in a concerted way at not just hedgerows that are subject to agricultural practice but those threatened by development. I know that one should not take personal examples as the norm, but I cannot help feeling that, in both the planning applications against which I have fought in the last two years, the local planning authority chose to ignore the hedgerow regulations in the planning advice. It destroyed hedgerows that not only are vital for carbon and wildlife but have huge historic lineage. If he were to bump into the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, in order to tell her that, it would be extremely helpful.

Earl of Leicester Portrait The Earl of Leicester (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my farming interests as laid out in the in the register. I congratulate Defra and the Government; a lot of thought has gone into this. It was said that we have not had any regulations protecting hedgerows since we came out of cross-compliance, but I would just like to big up farmers, I suppose. Years and years ago, nearly every single hedge would be cut every year. Then, they were encouraged to cut them every second year; then, a further development was to cut one side a year and maybe leave the other for three years. Now, a lot of farmers in the regenerative movement and others are barely cutting hedges. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said, that provides many more berries, habitats and suchlike. So, the fact that we have not had any regulations for six months or so is not the end of the world; I do not think we have lost any great hedges.

I take issue with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, suggesting that we should continue not cutting hedges after 31 August. Two or three weeks later and we will be in autumn; all nesting birds will have nested well by then.

My question is very simple and follows on from what the two noble Baronesses said. It is about really small fields; I am talking now about private householders. While all the farmers are obeying the law and not cutting between 1 March and 31 August, you can drive out anywhere in the countryside or in small towns and villages and you will see plenty of householders cutting their own garden hedges. So, does this rule apply to them? If it does, I suspect that it will be very hard to enforce. I am sure there are plenty of gardeners becoming more aware of the importance of their hedgerows as habitats for nesting birds and suchlike, but I would be very interested to have an answer on this if my noble friend the Minister has one.

Moved by
3: Clause 1, page 1, line 3, leave out “an” and insert “a wild”
Earl of Leicester Portrait The Earl of Leicester (Con)
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My Lords, I apologise that I was unable to attend Second Reading. I was very keen to do so but unavoidably had to attend an important meeting at home. I refer to my interests as set out in the register. That includes my family’s management of Holkham National Nature Reserve, one of the most prolific in terms of conservation success in the land. I also stalk red deer in Scotland but have never hunted in other parts of the world.

This Bill will provide the legislative framework for understanding when someone commits a criminal offence. Therefore, in order to be fair and to avoid multiple legal challenges, clarifications around the definition of animals impacted by the Bill and the hunter himself or herself are required. Without clarity around these definitions, the Bill in its current form raises challenges for import and export agents preparing documentation relating to the importation of a hunting trophy into the UK and for Border Force officials tasked with enforcing the new legislation.

The purpose of my amendment is to highlight the extent to which the Bill has expanded in scope from the original manifesto commitment, which addressed endangered species—perhaps 10, in the recent UK context—to over 6,200 species, and the extent to which this highly disproportionate approach will create a far greater administrative burden than seems necessary. Amendment 3 would ensure that the new words “a wild” precede “animal”.

The Bill is clearly meant to be about conservation. That much has been made clear by the Government, who have stated that it was to be enacted in order to protect the world’s threatened species. If the Bill is about conservation, then it should be about wild animals, as the hunting of domestic, non-wild or captive animals is not a conservation concern. Such a ban does not, therefore, advance the intention of the Bill. This is not a small matter. There are many cases where animals are killed in situations which would not be classed as wild. The killing of tigers in South Africa is one such example. While very many of us would find that morally repugnant, it is clear that this Bill is about conservation and that the killing of a tiger in South Africa has no detrimental impact on wild tiger conservation in Asia.

If this is not about conservation and the killing of wild animals but more about welfare, then we should presumably take this time to address the killing of livestock in this country. It is worth remembering that, every year in the UK, approximately 2.6 million cattle, 10 million pigs, 14.5 million sheep and lambs, 80 million fish and 950 million birds are slaughtered for human consumption. Given that people can live perfectly well without meat, and plenty do, it is hard to argue that that kind of killing is not done only for the pleasure of people eating meat, but it clearly dwarfs by many orders of magnitude the average of 90 to 115 wild animals which are imported annually to the UK. The Bill, then, is clearly meant to be about conservation and therefore wild, rather than non-wild, animals.

Although it should be about conservation, in reality it can be tricky to find what is actually wild and what is not. We can see this complexity in our own wildlife legislation. Mark Avery has discussed this matter with regard to pheasants, which, for example, are determined as livestock when bred in captivity but, as soon as they are released, are deemed to be wild. This kind of complexity also applies to the kind of animals we see discussed all the time in the trophy hunting debate. Lions, for example, are one of the most high-profile species mentioned, especially since the killing of Cecil the lion. However, when is a lion a wild lion?

In South Africa, for example, there is a complex scenario where lions may be captive, managed or wild. According to credible organisations such as Panthera, South Africa has between 2,700 and 3,200 wild and managed lions, split roughly 50/50. The wild animals live in national parks such as the Kruger National Park; managed lions inhabit private reserves such as Phinda and Tswalu, and are managed in the name of keeping the gene pool diverse. Others are captive; the South African Predator Association keeps track of captive lions and captive breeding facilities, but not everyone who breeds lions in South Africa needs to be a member, and not everyone who is provides statistics. According to an article in National Geographic, the 2015 estimate was of around 7,000 lions in captivity.

Ideally, the animals covered by this Bill should also be wild animals which are native to that country. There are many cases where exotic animals cause immense concern in terms of their impact on nature biodiversity, particularly in Australia. One trophy-hunted non-native species in Australia is the camel, which needs to have its population controlled after feral populations were established by explorers and colonisers. Another example is the tiger, as I mentioned before. Although prohibited in a country in which tigers naturally occur, tiger hunting does happen in South Africa. Between 2002 and 2011, 17 tiger trophies were exported from South Africa—although, mercifully, none to the UK.

Baroness Morris of Bolton Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Morris of Bolton) (Con)
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My Lords, if Amendment 3 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments 4 or 5 for reasons of pre-emption.

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Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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My Lords, I do not wish to add to what I said earlier, but my noble friend has asked me something specifically. There are considerable concerns about the hunting of captive bred animals, including what is termed “canned hunting”. Such trophies should not be exempt from the import ban. The concept of what most of us imagine canned hunting to be is one that excites all our wrath and indignation about a practice that, in risk terms, is like shooting a cow in a field. I entirely understand, and I think that everybody is keen to find a way in which to differentiate it.

We could find ourselves dancing on the head of a legal pin here. What is an enclosure? There could be a small enclosure the size of this room, which would of course be ridiculous; there are also hunting concessions that are fenced in and, effectively, a managed population of animals. I do not want to get into that debate or make legislation that would create circumstances in which a court would be sought to adjudicate that legal definition. Therefore, I cannot recommend that this Committee supports this amendment, and respectfully urge the noble Earl to withdraw it.

Earl of Leicester Portrait The Earl of Leicester (Con)
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My Lords, I thank those noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Bellingham, who highlighted many examples around the world, and the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, who highlighted the importance of differentiating between wild and captive animals. However, like my noble friend Lord Caithness, I will not seek to divide the Committee on this issue. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 3 withdrawn.

Land Use in England Committee Report

Earl of Leicester Excerpts
Tuesday 25th July 2023

(10 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Earl of Leicester Portrait The Earl of Leicester (Con)
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My Lords, I do not want to appear too self-congratulatory as I refer your Lordships to my interests as set out in the register, as a landowner and farmer in north Norfolk. On our holding, to quote from the summary of Making the Most Out of England’s Land, we have achieved

“place-based multifunctionality—the concept that simultaneous multiple benefits can be achieved in the same location”.

Examples include food production with carbon sequestration, with biodiversity, with renewable energy production; biodiversity, wetlands, access, tourism, landscape and commerce; and old and new housing and new office space, with the latter powered by renewable energies, with forestry and carbon sequestration. These are all examples of land sharing. That, of course, is only an example of multifunctionality at a localised scale, but it is mirrored up and down the country in the private and charitable sectors.

I briefly pay tribute to my fellow committee members, some of whom are in the Chamber, and one who is not—the noble Lord, Lord Curry. My noble friend Lady Rock, who is sitting in front of me, said she wanted tenant farmers to be able to carry out actions on their farms without the permission of their landlords. I remember the noble Lord, Lord Curry, saying during a committee meeting that it would not occur to him not to ask permission from his landlord to do something that might deviate from the original plan.

I believe it was the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who asked for this Select Committee on land use to be held, but sadly she is not here. I pay tribute to her and to my noble friend Lord Cameron of Dillington, whose pedigree confirmed him as an excellent choice to chair the committee. He worked as an elected officer for the Country Land and Business Association between 1991 and 1997, and as its president for the last two of those years. From 1997 he was a member of the UK Government’s Round Table on Sustainable Development, and he chaired the Countryside Agency for five years until 2004. I will stop at 2004, lest I embarrass him. He is also a practitioner, of course, managing his own estate in Somerset, which I believe he has now handed over to one of his children. He was an excellent chair.

I pay tribute to Simon Keal, our clerk. I understand that we do not like to point in this House, so I will do a broad sweep of the hand to a smiling Simon in the corner. He and his team did a fantastic job. I also pay tribute to Alister Scott, who is professor of geography and planning at Northumbria University, and finally to the 106 people who submitted written evidence and the 52 we interviewed face to face or on Teams.

I turn to a couple of aspects of the report and, where necessary, the Government’s response to it. I make no apology for referring to rural matters, as that is where my knowledge lies. According to our report, agriculture takes place on 63.1% of England’s land. Some of that follows the land sparing route and is very intensive. How sustainable that is in the long term is questionable. Encouragingly, an increasing number of farmers are embracing renewable agricultural techniques.

There are two things that our report does not recognise, and I blame myself for them both. My noble friend Lord Devon pointed out that we did not refer to the importance of wetlands in our report. They are the quickest sequestrator of carbon. The other one to mention is the multiple benefits that renewable farming brings, such as reduced chemical inputs, longer rotations, the mix of livestock back into arable operations leading to improved biodiversity and—this is the point we neglected to highlight—improved carbon sequestration. It is not just trees that sequester carbon; cover crops and leguminous herbal and grass lays can provide a green cover on the soil for up to 12 months.

Allied to rediscovering ancient wisdom from the agricultural revolution of the late 18th century, it is essential that agriculture also embraces technological advances. We recently passed the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act, which could give us drought-resistant seeds, for example, leading to resilience against climate change, higher yields and possibly the need for less arable land. Precision agriculture using robotic machinery in the fields, with cameras that can identify weeds within crops and either zap or spray just those single weeds, will lead to huge reductions in chemical usage and damage to the land with huge benefits to biodiversity and the bottom line.

It was encouraging to see in paragraph 22 of the Government’s response their acknowledgement of the importance of making open sources of data more accessible and usable for land managers. That can only improve management decisions. We also heard evidence of vertical growing of salad crops using technology, often in urban areas closer to market.

I turn briefly to access to green spaces and the countryside, which we all know has numerous mental health and wellness benefits. I add a note of caution: this should be handled with a great deal of thought, because unfettered access to the countryside by humans, dogs and cats in a suburban environment has a deleterious effect on biodiversity. I have just come back from Iceland, a country of only 360,000 people, where the correlation between very few people and a plethora of flora and fauna could not be more obvious. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, in his argument about freer access to the countryside, did not even mention biodiversity.

Finally, on tree-planting, it was good to see the Government highlighting, in paragraph 15 of their response, the importance of encouraging good woodland management. That is something that has not happened a great deal in Britain—our reputation for managing woodland is not as good as that of the continent—but it improves biodiversity such as by cutting in butterfly glades. A 30% thinning of a wood every seven to 10 years lets in more light and speeds up growth of trees in a multi-canopied woodland, which increases carbon sequestration and, importantly, carbon storage in the wood itself.

To conclude, I again thank everyone who took part. I am happy with some of the Government’s reaction to our report, but I have concerns that siloed thinking is still prevalent, with Defra very much taking the lead, almost to the exclusion of other government departments. Making the Most out of England’s Land is a great report and a great start, and I am excited about what the future can bring thanks to this body of work.

Animal Welfare (Electronic Collars) (England) Regulations 2023

Earl of Leicester Excerpts
Tuesday 13th June 2023

(1 year ago)

Grand Committee
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Duke of Montrose Portrait The Duke of Montrose (Con)
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I thank my noble friend the Minister for laying out these regulations and the work that has gone into drawing them up. I declare my interest as a vice-president of the National Sheep Association. Of course, worrying by dogs is a major concern for the industry. I have had sheep worried by family pets, and it is very sad for all concerned because, at the moment, the only cure for a dog that is worrying sheep is to have it put down. If a dear family pet fails in this way, often people send it away somewhere else, which does not really solve the situation.

Recently, the secretary of the NSA issued a statement that some farmers in Wales are finding that they can train a dog not to worry sheep by using electronic collars. It is not a question of monitoring the collar but of training the dog. This could prevent the putting down of healthy dogs. Has this been considered? The collars are limited to shocks of about 5,000 volts, whereas electric fences and so on can be about 35,000 volts, which animals quickly come to recognise. This is an area where the limits covered by this measure might have to be reconsidered.

Earl of Leicester Portrait The Earl of Leicester (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my interest as a landowner and farmer. We have a flock of sheep and, of course, I keep dogs. These days, it seems that every public document states that it is evidence-based, but too often the scientific research and the evidence involved are pre-organised to produce a political result—and so it is with this legislation, prepared by Defra.

Wales, a country with a great deal of sheep farming, banned electronic dog collars a few years ago. A year after the ban, Welsh farmers reported four times more dog attacks on sheep and that they had needed to shoot three times as many dogs. At home, in 2020, our flock lost five sheep to dog attacks and two in 2021. One was saved but was never the same again, and perhaps we should have euthanised the poor thing when we found it. Last year, we lost 23 sheep. I am not saying that this legislation would have saved all those dogs, because clearly there is an issue with responsible dog ownership. Most responsible dog owners keep their dogs on leads. However, we are about to pass this legislation. Defra understood that 500,000 electronic dog collars were in operation in this country. The RSPCA’s 2021 figures for cruelty to animals reported 1,094 killings of animals and 38,087 abandonments. How many e-collar incidents of cruelty were reported? Zero.

I have had 15 dogs. I have had five generations of working spaniels. In answer to the emotive speech by the noble Lord, Lord Jones, about dog owners loving their dogs, of course I love my dogs. The fifth generation of my working spaniels is a batshit crazy spaniel. I am sure that noble Lords with spaniels will agree with this. I try to love him. Well, I do love him. For Christmas, he got an e-collar. The first thing that I did was use the “vibrate” button on him, but in worst-case scenarios I use the “shock” button. I am lucky that the Government are allowing me a transition period to February 2024; I am certain he will be a brilliant dog by then. He wants to do a good job but he is a lively animal.

What will happen after February 2024 to the 500,000 people in this country who own an electronic dog collar? This legislation says that they will be subject to unlimited fines. I know about this, so I will have to destroy my electronic dog collar and put it in the bin, but what will happen to someone found with one who is unaware of this legislation? What sort of fine will they get?

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Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction to the SI. He will be pleased to know that I am happy with it and have only a couple of points to make.

In contrast to the previous SI, this one seeks to protect animals from harm and amends the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Once implemented, it will ban the use of handheld devices and prohibit the use of electric shock collars. Anyone found guilty of using a handheld device will be subject to unlimited fines. This is quite clearly a good thing.

Defra conducted a public consultation in 2018. Most respondents supported a ban on all types of electronic training collar but some were in favour of retaining the ability to use them provided they did not deliver an electric shock. Animals quickly learn from these devices and they are useful in keeping animals safe near busy roads by keeping them contained in a restricted area. There is also an opportunity for their use in preventing dogs escaping and chasing livestock, as we have heard. Sheep worrying is a very serious matter—

Earl of Leicester Portrait The Earl of Leicester (Con)
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Might I suggest that the seven-week public consultation in 2018 received 6,700 responses, of which 64% opposed making it an offence to attach an e-collar to a cat or a dog and 63% opposed making it an offence to be responsible for a cat or a dog who had an e-collar?

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD)
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I thank the noble Earl for his correction. However, I was going on the information that I had received in the SI.

As I was saying, sheep worrying is a very serious matter and one where every effort should be made to prevent it happening.

I welcome the consultation but wonder why it has taken so long since its completion in 2018—five years ago—to bring forward the SI. In the intervening period, many dogs will have suffered electric shock treatment, which could have been prevented.

It is useful to make a distinction between domestic dogs and working dogs. I would support that.

There is a great difference in the way the two systems work. Collars that make a sound or vibrate are not prohibited under this SI. Paragraph 7.12 of the Explanatory Memorandum is very clear on that. It says:

“As electronic training collars that emit sound, vibration or some other non-shock signals are not prohibited under this instrument, they will remain available for situations where voice, sound or other recall methods cannot be used”.


An electric shock is a form of punishment for a dog or a cat, whereas the other system is a more humane way of encouraging domestic animals to adopt a different behaviour. I have seen some of the comments made in response to the consultation, including from those who believe that dogs will go on killing if electric shock collars are banned—the noble Earl, Lord Leicester, seems to indicate that this will be the case. This is the response, I believe, of the farmer and the shepherd, and some weight should be attached to that response. A collar that provides an electric shock is the tool—certainly in a domestic situation—of the uncaring. A better option is for a collar that emits a sound or a vibration.

The noble Lord, Lord Jones, raised an important point about the Armed Forces, and I am very interested in the Minister’s response.

From my point of view, this SI is long overdue in preventing unnecessary suffering endured by dogs and cats. I fully support the ban and the measures contained in the SI; there are exclusions, but I am happy with them.

Agricultural Tenancies

Earl of Leicester Excerpts
Monday 12th June 2023

(1 year ago)

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Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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The noble Lord speaks an awful lot of sense. To an extent, it is impossible for government to be perfect here because, as he says, we are dealing with human relationships. Government should create the right incentives. We are talking about a business relationship. There are so many different types of tenure in this country—owner-occupier, tenancies under the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986, farm business tenancies under the 1995 Act, graziers, contract farmers, share farmers and multiple graziers on commons. The complications of trying to create a farming support system that can be accessed by them, particularly in areas such as Countryside Stewardship, are really difficult, but it is vital that they are there.

The noble Lord is absolutely right that, if we get this wrong and government tries to impose things that the market does not want, we will end up getting the worst of all possible worlds—people we want to see on the land not on the land. We want to make sure that we keep this vibrant, diverse form of occupation and use of land, which requires landlords and tenants to work together for their mutual benefit and for the societal benefit of us all, through the use of our vital natural capital, which will deliver many more wider societal benefits.

Earl of Leicester Portrait The Earl of Leicester (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my interests as a landowner with a number of tenants, as a farmer and as an agricultural contractor. I too welcome the excellent Rock review, but I quite understand the Government not accepting all 70 recommendations. Some of the proposals in the review have the potential to harm confidence in the tenancy industry. While they may enhance the interests of existing tenants, they would reduce the land available to new tenants. We must remember that tenancy is not the only entry into agriculture; there are share farming arrangements and a lot of young people start off as contractors and build up as they increase their capital. Can my noble friend elaborate on inheritance tax and on how longer tenancies, with regard to planting of trees et cetera, might affect inheritance tax for landowners?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I thank my noble friend; his experience is really important in this debate.

I do not know that any report that has so many recommendations has been accepted in full by any Government, but we think the vast majority of these recommendations are really good. Some of them, such as the inheritance tax point, is one where we think we need to do more work. Government does not exist in an ivory tower; that is why we commissioned this call for evidence, which closed on Friday. We want to explore more ways to encourage more landlords and tenants to consider a longer-term tenancy agreement while retaining the flexibility that farm business tenancies currently provide.

As we transition to new farming schemes, there will be more certainty and encouragement for both landlords and tenants to enter into longer-term tenancy agreements and we are designing our new schemes to be accessible to as many farmers and land managers as possible. As I said earlier, at the Spring Budget the Chancellor launched this consultation to explore the extension of inheritance tax relief to include land in environmental land management schemes and this consultation will also explore the benefits and impacts of the Rock review recommendation to limit inheritance tax relief to land let out for a minimum of eight years and analyse further what impacts that would have on the length of a tenancy agreement. A number of noble Lords made the very good point that if one goes about this in the wrong way, one achieves a perverse outcome, which is that fewer landlords are incentivised to let land and we suffer because our tenure becomes less diverse and less accessible to new entrants.

Growth Plan 2022

Earl of Leicester Excerpts
Tuesday 25th October 2022

(1 year, 7 months ago)

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, if we are swift, we will have enough time for both noble Lords. We will hear from the noble Earl, Lord Leicester, and then the noble Lord, Lord Winston.

Earl of Leicester Portrait The Earl of Leicester (Con)
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My Lords, I refer to my farming interests as listed in the register. Can my noble friend outline what this Government are doing to encourage more young people into the farming industry and to improve our food production?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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My Lords, this is absolutely vital, as was brought home to me yesterday at the reception organised by TIAH and the noble Lord, Lord Curry. Teaching people the necessary skills is vital if we are to see the average age of farmers—which is my age, 62—come right down, and we can achieve that only if they have them.

Game Birds (Cage Breeding) Bill [HL]

Earl of Leicester Excerpts
Earl of Leicester Portrait The Earl of Leicester (Con)
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My Lords, I thank your Lordships for allowing me to speak at such late notice, and I refer to my interests in the register with regard to land management, farming and forestry.

Policy towards animal welfare, including the welfare of game birds, should be based on principle and evidence, not opinion. The evidence from the Defra research in 2015 clearly demonstrated that there was no need for further restrictions on the use of laying units, including raised laying units, when they are used in accordance with the existing statutory code of practice and industry guidance. The evidence from this research suggests that restricting or banning the use of properly managed raised laying systems could very well compromise the welfare of breeding birds. Advice from the game bird veterinary sector suggests that if RLUs are replaced with alternative systems, a rise in the use of antibiotics is almost inevitable. This is important.

There are two fundamental advantages to raised units from a health and welfare perspective: the health of the breeding birds is better in raised units as they do not come into contact with contaminated ground conditions, and eggs produced are always cleaner than floor-laid eggs and therefore have a significantly lower chance of yolk sac infection or other diseases such as rotavirus. Both these factors have had an important impact on antibiotic use in the game sector. Indeed, over the last six years, I think the game sector has reduced the use of antibiotics by 70% and therefore the build-up of antimicrobial resistance—AMR. The WHO has predicted that AMR, if left unchecked, could be responsible for more human deaths in the world than cancer by 2050.

Finally, I will go part of the way to answering the assertion or question from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, on the number of prosecutions. There have been no successful prosecutions against game farms by the Animal and Plant Health Agency, which carries out regular targeted game bird farm inspections. We also need to put this into perspective: each year, 50 million pheasants are reared, but we must remember that 1 billion broiler chickens are also reared in this country.