All 6 Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale contributions to the Agriculture Act 2020

Read Bill Ministerial Extracts

Wed 10th Jun 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading
Tue 7th Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage & Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansarad) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansarad) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansarad): House of Lords
Thu 9th Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thu 16th Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 21st Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
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

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 10th June 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Consideration of Bill Amendments as at 13 May 2020 - large font accessible version - (13 May 2020)
Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I do not have any interests in the register in relation to agriculture these days, but I have a lifelong interest in agriculture and farming, having grown up on my father’s small tenant sheep farm back in the 1960s and 1970s. Even now, I acutely remember the onslaught of the European Union in the mid-1970s and the way in which the common agricultural policy, even on small farms such as ours, almost immediately started to have an impact on the long-term decision-making of the farmers in our immediate community. While the European Union has been good for the UK in so many ways—obviously, it is important to maintain and, in my opinion, improve the high standards mentioned by other noble Lords in this debate—nobody should mourn the loss of the common agricultural policy. This is an opportunity for us to set our own agricultural policy and legislation in the United Kingdom.

The Prime Minister said in May, shortly after his return from hospital and when looking to the future out of lockdown, that we need

“a fairer, greener and more resilient global economy”.

He said that we need “to build back better” and that there is

“every need for us to work together to get our shared goals back on track, including … the Sustainable Development Goals”.

Those are the bold aims set out by our Prime Minister, and where better to start than in the Fisheries Bill and the Agriculture Bill that your Lordships’ House will debate over these coming weeks and months?

I was very pleased to hear the Minister’s commitment on behalf of the Government to link this legislation and our onward agricultural policies with the target of zero emissions. I would, however, be interested in how he sees this new legislation, and the policies that the Government will pursue, linking the agriculture and environment strategies to the sustainable development goals. It will be interesting to explore that in Committee and later debates on the Bill.

The second issue I want to raise is the relationship with the devolved nations. It is welcome that this newly drafted Bill makes appropriate amendments and rectifies some of the concerns over the earlier Bill, published in 2017, particularly on the red meat levy but on other issues as well. The Bill rightly respects Scotland’s autonomous jurisdiction in agriculture. Although agricultural policy and agricultural funding may be devolved to the Scottish Parliament and Government, there will be aspects of UK government legislation and policy, not least in relation to the operation of the internal market and on other standards, where what happens in Scotland, England, Wales and, indeed, Northern Ireland will have an impact on each other. The co-ordination of those policies and decisions will be vital.

Therefore, will the Minister say something more in his conclusions about how the Government see decision-making operating in the UK context, where the Bill does not relate specifically to English legislation but to UK-wide legislation? How will the UK Government ensure that, in determining the future steps in that legislation, the different devolved Governments will be involved properly—on a consensual basis, we hope—in helping to determine the way forward? If we can achieve that at the same time as securing higher standards and working towards the sustainable development goals, the Bill will be a very worthy transition from where we have been.

Agriculture Bill

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansarad) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansarad): House of Lords
Tuesday 7th July 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 112-II(Rev) Revised second marshalled list for Committee - (7 Jul 2020)
Duke of Montrose Portrait The Duke of Montrose (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, forgive me if I turn off the video, because my signal is very poor. I declare my interests as in the register; my background is in livestock production in a hill area. As a Scottish farmer, I am particularly interested in the outcome of the devolution framework negotiation.

I was interested to hear my noble friend Lord Marlesford saying that we must emphasise the context in which we are. Behind it all, we have to bear in mind that as a country at present we should go out and buy exotic food or cheap food as and where we can find it, but we need to remember the warnings in the Beddington report that before too long these other parts of the world will need most of what they produce to feed themselves.

The Bill as it stands already opens up 10 headings of activities or causes for which the Government propose to offer financial assistance. Many noble Lords have tried to define a more focused approach to the payments. The noble Earl, Lord Devon, told us of his rationale for focusing only on agriculture and how he envisages rural support to be directed. I was interested to hear that he had drawn his definition of land from an EU definition.

In Amendment 64 the noble Earl envisages limiting the land eligible for assistance by the type of activity it supports, but those of your Lordships who have been involved in existing support schemes will be familiar with the difficulties that were dreamed up when the rules were made in Brussels to start to try to make clear what was agricultural land, starting off with a mapping exercise. Very many in my part of the world had to spend a great deal of time identifying what were rocky outcrops, patches of impenetrable scrub, bracken or bog on a field-by-field basis. I seem to remember that Northern Ireland faced a huge fine for claiming on areas with these conditions. I am glad to see that in Amendment 91 in the previous group, the noble Earl added a role for managing wetlands as part of cultural or natural heritage.

Following on from my noble friend Lord Randall’s concern, many noble Lords have drawn attention to what the EU now describes as “areas of natural constraint”. There would be a problem if we went solely down the line of production. There is a difficulty in dealing with the more awkward parts of what, in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, was described as

“mountain, moor, heath or down”.

Some of these areas support agricultural production but, since the advent of the current basic payment scheme, some areas have no livestock on them at all. They are perhaps given over to conservation or peatland restoration. Are these to be excluded from any development assistance as we go forward?

As I said, many amendments are trying to direct more defined targets for funding. As we go forward, it will be interesting to see whether any wording will be found that will be acceptable to my noble friend the Minister.

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

My Lords, I will first say that I strongly support Amendment 118 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. If we are talking about public funds for public goods, it makes absolute sense that there must be regulations to oversee the system. I cannot understand why we would want to leave that as optional. Her amendment does not specify the regulations or get into detail on what might be in place in future, but she quite correctly highlights the need for this to be a priority. A substantial amount of public funds will be distributed following the passing of this Bill, and clearly there should be regulations to check on the way in which these funds are being spent.

Agriculture Bill

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 9th July 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 112-III Third marshalled list for Committee - (9 Jul 2020)
Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Duncan of Springbank) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are going to try to return to the noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale. His connection, however, may not be good enough to sustain the call.

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I hope that you can hear me—[Connection lost.]

Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The connection has not been adequate to connect.

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords—[Connection lost.]

Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sorry, Lord McConnell, I am afraid that your connection is not going to work. If you will forgive us, we will move on to the next speaker.

Agriculture Bill

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 16th July 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 112-V Fifth marshalled list for Committee - (16 Jul 2020)
Duke of Montrose Portrait The Duke of Montrose (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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 - -

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.

Lord Adonis Portrait Lord Adonis (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I know that the Government are frustrated at the very slow progress of the Bill and, although we are very grateful for the extremely assiduous responses we have received from both Ministers—the noble Baroness and the noble Lord—I know there is concern at the slow progress.

In my experience of legislation passing through the House, a pattern establishes itself and, once you see the pattern, you understand the underlying issue of the approach that the House is taking to a Bill. It is very clear to me what the issue is in respect of this Bill. The Bill—which is of huge significance for the future of one of our major national industries as we leave the European Union—is, essentially, a framework Bill. It contains very little policy. It sets out a whole range of permissive provisions that enable the Government to do X, Y and Z but only one or two broad-brush policy statements, such as the noble Lord’s statement in our earlier debates that the Government will not subsidise food because that should be left to the market; in fact, is it clear to me that, even in our debates on that, when it comes to issues of shortage, scarcity and crisis, the Government not only have, but are proposing to take, significant new powers in that regard. Leaving aside very broad-brush statements of that kind, we do not know what the Government’s policy will be hereafter.

Agriculture Bill

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale 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 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 112-VI(Rev) Revised sixth marshalled list for Committee - (21 Jul 2020)
Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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)
- Hansard - -

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.

Agriculture Bill

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 23rd July 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 112-VII Seventh marshalled list for Committee - (23 Jul 2020)
Lord Northbrook Portrait Lord Northbrook (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I support Amendment 218, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and other noble Lords. I declare my interests as a landowner and arable farmer.

At the time of the Second Reading of the Bill, there was a double-page government advert in the Mail on Sunday headlined: “Why there’s never been a better time to support our farmers and fishermen”.

It added:

“By buying local … you’ll be guaranteed to get the very best produce”.


However, the advert also said, revealingly:

“Another challenge for farmers has been getting enough people to harvest”


the vegetable and fruit crop. This can be fairly blamed, this year, on Covid-19, but the campaign to get local people to pick crops, to take the place of the EU pickers who normally do the job, does not seem to have gone very well. The Government have sensibly allowed foreign workers in this sector to be exempted from the quarantine rules. The fact remains that, as I understand it, from next year only 20,000 overseas workers will be allowed in the UK to do this work. The NFU says that 80,000 are needed.

My noble friend Lord Trenchard said that extra workers should be allowed in in the short term, but that automation will then solve the problem at the flick of a switch. I am far from being an expert on this subject, but I wonder whether automation could take place that quickly. It will certainly require time and a considerable amount of capital investment, which I hope will be aided by the ELM scheme. I therefore completely agree that Her Majesty’s Government should, as Amendment 218 states,

“lay before Parliament a strategy to ensure an appropriate supply of seasonal agricultural workers”.

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

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]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.