Agriculture Bill

Lord Cormack Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 21st July 2020

(3 years, 10 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-VI(Rev) Revised sixth marshalled list for Committee - (21 Jul 2020)
On the next amendment, the noble Lord mentioned one large landowner stopping a scheme. I have met many a small landowner who would stop anything that interferes with his life as it currently exists, so the net might need to be spread a little wider. We are going down because everybody assumes that the way they live is of value. The vast majority have strived to get to where they are, so they will at best be wary of change. Getting some definition of when you are making a change like that, how it will affect you and where the Government must push and say “No, it is going to happen” is something that we need. These are very important amendments in the subject that they deal with, because if we do not have the definition and terms—I thought that I did and, clearly, I do not—then we must find them. Otherwise, this will run into trouble and only serve to annoy us.
Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I well understand why Members who are in the Government are anxious to move this Bill forward as quickly as possible, but if anything ever illustrated the value of this House and the limitations of another place, it is this Bill. The other place barely considered this Bill, and certainly not in any detail. Your Lordships’ House has sought to scrutinise, which without filibustering has still taken a long time, but it is a crucial Bill which will affect the lives of all of us, directly or indirectly, in the coming years.

There is no more important industry in our country than farming, and certainly no industry more productive or upon which we all depend so much, yet it faces a period of unparalleled uncertainty. I pay tribute to the Minister for listening so carefully and replying so sympathetically, but it is crucial that the Government display sensitivity and flexibility. This was illustrated very well indeed by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, who did himself a disservice by talking about “convoluted amendments”. Frankly, we must address this central issue of public goods and public money. I would prefer “public” to have a capital “P”, and to have “good” and “benefit” in the singular, because although the phrase may come trippingly off the tongue, the public good is very different in the farmlands of Lincolnshire from the farming of the Scottish borders. Of course, the farming duty goes with farming, the responsibility for wildlife, the countryside and the overall appearance of the environment, but the fundamental public good is the quality of what is produced, and this is where I cross swords with the Minister.

We touched on this in our debates last week. There is no greater public good and certainly no greater public responsibility than producing food to sustain the nation. Last week we also touched on the fact that the defence of the nation itself depends on the amount and quality of food that our farmers are able to produce. I hope that between now and Report the Minister—I address this to him personally and specifically—will seek to produce in the Bill a schedule or clause that defines “public good”, setting out precisely what it means and precisely what it is.

I will not go on at greater length. I am limiting my contributions to the debates on the Bill because I understand the Minister’s wish to move forward as quickly as possible. However, it must not be speed at the expense of scrutiny and, when we come to Report, ultimately the Government must help to put the Bill into better shape than it is in at the moment.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville [V]
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My Lords, my noble friend Lord Greaves has set out his case for the inclusion of Amendments 140 and 141, supported by my noble friends Lord Tyler and Lord Addington, both of whom pressed the case for an assessment of what constitutes “public goods”.

Amendment 140 would require financial assistance to be provided on the basis of public money for public goods, and it requires the regulations to be subject to the affirmative resolution. More examination is needed of exactly what the Government mean by “public goods” and how that will be defined. It could mean myriad things.

Amendment 141 would give clear instructions to the Secretary of State to order owners and managers of land to take part in a project—that is, a coastal marsh creation or a large-scale moorland restoration—in which they do not wish to participate.

The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, supports both amendments. She is aware that there are often disputes between tenants and landlords that need to be sorted out. My noble friend Lord Addington said that even small landowners and not just large ones are very wary of change and will often object to taking part in projects. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, raised the importance of scrutinising the Bill and of taking time to do it. I do not think that we can be accused of not doing so. As he said, farming is extremely important.

It is important that such vital projects for land improvement are not thwarted by individual landowners, but I am less clear that the degree of compulsion is in the spirit of the Bill. I look forward to the Minister’s response on this issue.

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Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Portrait Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick (Non-Afl) [V]
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My Lords, I am happy to support the amendments in this group and will refer particularly to Amendment 156, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington. For me, as somebody from Northern Ireland, this amendment resonates with our whole rural development approach. Through the rural development programme within the European Union, many rural communities benefited from the LEADER programme. It allowed farmers—and farming families—to supplement their income through like-minded industries such as crafts and other types of revenue-making businesses. It also helped the rural community to survive and ensured that those people were retained there, thus creating vibrant farm enterprises. It was a particularly good model. I would like to hear the Minister say how it is to be translated and transposed, through the Bill, into the local economy of England and Wales. What discussions have been held in the ministerial and officials’ group with the devolved regions about how it is to be translated on the ground, so to speak?

It is very important that productivity and employment in rural areas are underpinned so that farming families survive on the land. It is also important that we provide for sustainable farming enterprises, while recognising the difficulties that such households can face during unplanned-for crises, such as the pandemic at the moment or floods. We have witnessed many horrendous floods, which the science would suggest are a consequence of climate change. The amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, recognises the function of farming households in the countryside. It recognises that they are the pivot in the farming enterprise and of the rural economy.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack [V]
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My Lords, I am delighted to support all three of these amendments. I am probably the least qualified of all in your Lordships’ House to talk about broadband. Even during the previous debate, I lost the picture on my screen and without the Digital Support service would not have been able to regain it. But I accept all that the noble Lords, Lord Holmes and Lord Clement-Jones, have said; they made persuasive speeches and clearly have my support. I hope they will have the support of the Government.

I want to address my brief remarks to the amendments spoken to so eloquently by the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington. As someone who represented a rural constituency for 40 years in the other place, what they said rang true in every possible way. We must have not only a properly sustained agricultural industry in this country; we also need the rural support industries, of which they both spoke so eloquently and persuasively. I hope that when my noble friend the Minister comes to reply, he will accept the absolute necessity of what they called a ring-fenced rural fund because without it, there will be a bleak future.

We have all seen the devastation already wrought by Covid-19. It will take many in the rural communities much longer to recover than many of those in the urban communities. Businesses will have gone for ever; we need to keep all the businesses we can and add new ones. Most of all, we need young people who feel that there is a future in the rural economy. I give my total support to all three amendments and await with expectation the Minister’s response.

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab)
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My Lords, I had the very pleasant experience on Sunday morning of paying a visit back to Glenscorrodale, the farm-steading where I grew up. Walking around what is no longer a farm, I was reminded of a number of factors relevant to this debate. From a very young age, I was absolutely convinced that it was not the life for me, but I have never failed to admire my brother and cousins, who stayed in the farming life however hard it was for young people to continue in farming as the decades progressed. These three amendments are really important for that reason. I am struck by just how much has changed in farm life over the decades since I was first able to wander around Glenscorrodale, and how much of farm life now is computerised or driven by technology for productivity reasons.