All 1 Lord Inglewood contributions to the Direct Payments to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Act 2020

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Wed 29th Jan 2020
Direct Payments to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Bill
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Direct Payments to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Bill

Lord Inglewood Excerpts
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Wednesday 29th January 2020

(4 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Inglewood Portrait Lord Inglewood (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, like a number of other contributors to this debate, I must begin by declaring my interests in the register. I farm in Cumbria, both in the uplands and on the lower ground, and I am now and have been for some time in receipt of basic payment scheme payments. I have received those because it was considered that what I was doing was in the public interest and should be supported.

That has been the case for a long time. For decades, not to say centuries, agriculture has been a market regulated in the public interest, but the problem now is that what I am being paid for is not thought a particularly good way of supporting me to do what I am doing, and nor is it necessarily supposed that what I am doing is in the public interest. It is thought more desirable that there should be different outputs that are produced and procured in a different way.

That seems an entirely reasonable proposition. What we are seeing today is a change which began in the 1990s and reversed a tendency that came into being at the end of the Second World War. The view that rural Britain was essentially the location of a single activity—namely, farming—is being replaced by a view that it is a place where there are multiple outputs and not a single one, food production. Let us remember, however, that food production is still important.

The hard part of this transition is the detail of where we go from here. A number of speakers today have detailed some of their concerns. I do not wish to go over that ground again, other than to say that we need also to look at the taxation system for both full-time and part-time farming, which is an equally important part of the rural economy, and at farming businesses from the perspective of sustainability. It is not desirable in the longer run for those businesses not to be able to fund reinvestment in those activities from the profits they generate.

It is also worth remembering—a point I raised in the debate on the Queen’s Speech—that rural England is similar in many ways to the north of England and the Midlands, on which the Government are placing considerable emphasis. As I said, I come from Cumbria, and I am chairman of the Cumbria local enterprise partnership. The economic condition of much of rural England is equivalent to that of the north and the Midlands, which have seen their standards of living and quality of life degraded by failure to keep up with the increased prosperity that we have seen in the south, and in particular in the south-east.

When thinking about the future of farming, it is also terribly important not to forget that we can generalise, but farms are different, random parcels of land. Many of the land uses and other things deemed desirable may well cross boundaries and it may be difficult to get people to agree on how this should be taken forward. Finally, it is very important that whatever emerges runs with the grain of land and water. We have to enlist people’s hearts and minds in the rural communities towards achieving an outcome that is considered in the national interest.

We already see cross-compliance attached to agricultural payments, and the direction of travel implies an extension and wider application of this principle. That does not seem to me remotely undesirable. Clearly, a combination of leaving the CAP and a reconfiguration of the definition of public goods means a new basis for payments. Hence the Agriculture Bill in the last Parliament; hence this Bill, now to be followed by the forthcoming Agriculture Bill just introduced in the other place.

The reality of the current state of affairs is that the Government have little alternative but to introduce the Bill in front of us, and I commend and support it. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Bew, for his work on various aspects of the payments system, particularly his emphasis on the desirability of solidarity across the United Kingdom as a whole. I would add that those in the north of England, whose agriculture is very similar to that of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, feel when you talk to them that they are getting a raw deal and that they are being discriminated against. It is important that this is both recognised and acted on.

Having said that, and as a number of other speakers have said, the Agriculture Bill introduced in the other place does not really get us a great deal further. By itself, it is very little help to those who are trying to look at the framework and financial implications of a new era and want to work out where to go from here. It is important to appreciate that, looking forward, this is both a science and an art. I feel slightly conscious in saying this that I might be portrayed like one of our 18th-century predecessors, although I would not go as far as the nobleman who is reported to have commented that he was very anxious to die before Capability Brown because he wanted to see heaven before he improved it.

It is clear that, if the new regime depends on an embedded system of public money for public goods, the requirements and terms and conditions attached to it are crucial. Currently, as Professor Julia Aglionby—recently appointed professor in practice at the Centre for National Parks and Protected Areas at the University of Cumbria—has pointed out, many in the uplands are currently staring into an economic black hole because there is no indication of what will happen next. This is a chasm as deep as that which separated Dives and Lazarus, lying between where people are today and a future sketched out by senior political leaders in statements of generalised policy tinged in green, painting a picture of sunny uplands a decade hence. Unless detail is forthcoming, and forthcoming shortly, I believe we shall have to come back to this debate 12 months from now and have a similar Bill to this one.