Bishop of Leeds asks Government about farming and rural policy post-Brexit

On Thursday 23rd March 2017 the House of Lords debated a motion from Lord Teverson “That this House takes note of the Report from the European Union Committee Brexit: environment and climate change (12th Report, HL Paper 109).” The Bishop of Leeds, Rt Revd Nick Baines, spoke in the debate:

The Lord Bishop of Leeds: My Lords, a number of questions have already been posed, and I pity the Minister for having to go through them in some detail. We heard earlier that we in this Chamber tend to be gloomy, and now we should be cheerful. I am neither; I am just puzzled—which is not a new experience.

From reading the report, which is a model of clarity, as are most of the Brexit reports that come from the various committees, it seems that, as we peel back the layers of the onion, we end up with more layers. I realise that that sounds paradoxical, but it seems to get more and more complex. The other night in the debate on Brexit and Gibraltar I tried to ask some questions about stress testing, to which I got no answer. So I shall try again, focusing very briefly on just one or two questions.

Is any stress testing going on in varying scenarios in relation to what happens when the legal and regulatory costs come away from the EU and have to be borne by the UK—for example, after the European Commission has lost its role and the European Court of Justice is out of the picture? Do we have to create other bodies? I ask the question because I do not know the answer—maybe everybody else does. Have these things been costed and, if so, what are the options for us likely to be?

If I were to press one point it would be derived from experience in my own diocese, which comprises the whole of West Yorkshire, a slice of South Yorkshire and a big chunk of North Yorkshire—particularly those upland areas and farming communities that were referred to earlier. Not only do they face challenges in relation to farming and the effective financing of that, but the problem of second homes, where local people can no longer afford to buy and the children of local people cannot afford to live in the same communities. Rural schools are being closed because the Government’s definition of what constitutes a small school is about three times the size of many of the schools in that part ​of my diocese. There are also areas within the diocese where broadband access is non-existent—so that is another challenge on top of those challenges.

When the common agricultural policy ceases to apply, what will be the impact on the land and on the countryside management that is so essential? You cannot just have farms closing down and abandoning territory. What happens to land management? Who will replace the subsidies that allow many of these farming communities to survive, if not thrive? There is an assumption among some farmers to whom I have spoken that the Government have promised to replace what is taken away. I am not sure that I have heard that—but maybe it is in addition to the £350 million that is going to go to the NHS. Is someone going to inform the farmers? As I also pointed out in the debate the other day, it seems that we get a lot of bland statements of optimism, and I keep asking myself in my puzzlement where all the realism is in this. It might be that the department is facing those questions, but it seems to me that those of us also involved in those communities need them to be addressed fairly soon.

We have heard that there needs to be policy stability, but I identified in the report a distinction that I thought was very helpful between technical and political questions. If some of the decision-making is being politically driven, what happens to the prioritising of the technical questions? This seems to add enormously to the complexity that we have already described. We have heard in a number of these debates that we need to be ambitious and to raise our ambition in the light of Brexit. This leads me to ask: will our ambition be diluted under the weight of the complexity that is being revealed as we go into the detail of these matters?

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con):… The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds asked whether any economic or regulatory impact assessment had taken place. If no such economic impact assessment has taken place, it would be a matter of great regret as it would be the first time that such a major issue for the country had been addressed without the backdrop of an economic assessment to inform the House and others.

Lord Grantchester (Lab)… The Government have not yet come forward with proposals for funding agriculture post-exit, around 2019, a point underlined by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds. This will be fundamental to food policy, the food chain and the food industry, which accounts for 6.8% of GVA and is the UK’s fourth-largest exporting sector.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Gardiner of Kimble) (Con)…. I can assure your ​Lordships that we are assessing all the opportunities for agriculture and fisheries outside the EU. A number of noble Lords raised this, including my noble friend Lady Byford, who particularly raised the importance of a successful agricultural sector, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds. It is absolutely clear that a successful agricultural sector in this country is compatible and has traditionally, in so many parts of our country, been compatible with a good environment…. I would say to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds that it is my privilege to sit on the ministerial taskforce on broadband and we are absolutely clear about the need for increasing the rate of superfast broadband in rural areas.



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