Debates between Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale and Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville during the 2019 Parliament

Thu 23rd Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords

Agriculture Bill

Debate between Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale and Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville
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 McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab)
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My Lords, my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch is absolutely right to move this amendment. She spoke eloquently at the beginning of this group and I do not need to repeat any of her persuasive arguments. I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Judd has moved his amendment, because affordable housing in rural and agricultural areas is vital and has been under threat for a long time. The availability of affordable housing for the agricultural and countryside workforce should be a vital component of the strategy demanded by the amendment.

There have been many excellent speeches, and I hope that the Minister and the Government are persuaded, but I shall add one more point that I do not think has been made by any other Members of your Lordships’ House during the debate. As someone who, as I have said before, grew up on a farmstead and was never very good at agricultural work—never mind ever wanting to be an agricultural worker—and who therefore got away quickly when I had the opportunity, at the age of 17, I have always been struck by the increasing development, over the decades, of a split between those who live in the town and those who live in the country.

One of the reasons for that is that it is so difficult for people who did not grow up in the countryside to become engaged with the opportunities for agricultural and other countryside work, or even to visualise themselves in that situation and see what it might entail. We have often discussed in your Lordships’ Chamber the lack of knowledge among children and young people who live in towns and cities about what goes on in the countryside. It is a contributory factor to their inability to see themselves in that line of work in the future. Among the many barriers to our having a good, secure agricultural workforce that my noble friend Lady Jones mentioned in introducing the debate, is the need to encourage new people to see that as an appropriate choice for their future.

I was struck by a scheme set up by Project Scotland, our national youth volunteering scheme, which was established when I was First Minister. One of its early projects was to take young people who were at risk of offending and who were in difficulties in the school environment away from school into full-time volunteering in agricultural and forestry work in Dumfries and Galloway. The life chances of those young people were transformed by finding something new and interesting, out of the town and out of their normal environment, that used their labour productively and suddenly gave them a real sense of purpose in life.

That is a model that could help with a lot of our social problems with certain kinds of young lads in different parts of the country, giving them a different kind of opportunity that maybe they have never seen before. If the Minister is minded to accept the amendment, or a form of it, during our debates on the Bill, and to have such a strategy in the future, one element of that strategy should be to see the opportunities that exist in agriculture and countryside work for those who may never have visualised themselves in that position, but who could find really productive careers and futures in it.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville [V]
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My Lords, encouraging and supporting the agricultural workforce is essential. Farming can be a dangerous occupation, and accidents often happen on farms. Ensuring that the workforce is properly trained, with formal relevant qualifications, and is properly paid, with their mental and physical health properly catered for, will ensure that agriculture as a sector goes from strength to strength. The right skills are not an optional extra. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, supported the amendment passionately, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick.

During the lockdown we have seen how important it is to have a sufficient supply of seasonal workers to pick the crops and work on the farms during their busiest period. It is estimated that over a 12-month period, some 17,000 additional migrant workers will be needed on our farms throughout the UK—although the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, gave a slightly different figure. It is essential that the Government ensure that workers are available to harvest crops, and the success in recent years in the expansion of soft fruit growing will be adversely affected by the proposed regulations.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, fully made the case for her amendment, and I support her comments about the need to direct and have a proper employed workforce. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, gave some statistics about the age of current farmers: less than 35% of them are classified as what we would call “young”. The noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, made the same speech and the same points as I did on yesterday’s immigration Second Reading, so there is political agreement across the House on this issue.