On 26th June 2017, the Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Rev Alan Smith contributed to the Queen’s Speech debate on business, economic affairs, energy, transport, environment and agriculture. He focused on the impact of Brexit on agriculture and fishing, and on the environment, calling for legislation on clean air.
Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, I will confine myself to a few comments on agriculture and the environment. In doing so, I need to declare my interest as president of the Rural Coalition.
As regards agriculture and food, Brexit poses one of the greatest challenges to future food production. The UK produces some of the highest-standard food in the world and, indeed, some of the finest food. In our negotiations, it will be crucial that we do not sacrifice food quality, animal welfare or environmental protection as part of those multi-sector trade agreements which will form the foundation of future international economic partnerships.
The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, has already referred to agricultural workers. As reported only last week, soft-fruit and salad growers are already finding it hard to recruit the skilled workers they need to pick and pack the crops. A survey of the members of the British Leafy Salad Association and of British Summer Fruits revealed that almost a third of their respondents are already not sure whether they have enough seasonal workers for the start of the picking season this year. Researchers from Queen’s University, Belfast, in evidence to the Lords EU Committee suggested that 98% of the seasonal horticultural workforce are migrants from elsewhere in the EU. Many successful businesses will face a very uncertain future if the Government cannot produce some sort of seasonal agricultural worker scheme as part of the immigration plans. Defra and the Home Office will need to work in partnership to achieve a coherent approach and secure the economic future of rural businesses and the communities in which they are based. It is also critical that young people living in rural areas are given the skills, training and support they need to remain in, and contribute to, their local economy.
A new fishing Bill will be essential as the UK exits the EU, as we seek to regulate the access of foreign vessels to UK waters and determine our fishing quotas. However, I note with concern that there is no direct mention of the marine protected areas created by the EU birds and habitats directives in the documentation supporting the gracious Speech. These areas need to be maintained by UK law to ensure the long-term health of wildlife in the waters around Britain.
Finally, on climate change, the commitment in the gracious Speech to continued participation in the Paris Agreement is most welcome. This emphasises that the delivery of dramatic emissions reduction remains the core environmental policy adopted by the Government and will help provide stability and direction following the decision of the US to leave the agreement. Allied to issues of climate change are a number of other very pressing environmental issues, some of which have already been referred to, with around 40,000 deaths, for example, attributed to exposure to outdoor air pollution in the UK each year. I hope that the long-awaited clean air Bill will not remain absent from this extended parliamentary Session despite its exclusion from the gracious Speech.
Lord Plumb (Con): [extract]..My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate. I agree with everything he said. It is good that we have such interest in rural affairs and the countryside in its entirety.
Baroness Kramer (LD): [extract] …There was one fascinating area of the discussion that I had obviously not focused on to the extent I should have: concerns around agriculture. A number of Members of this House—the noble Lords, Lord Inglewood and Lord Colgrain, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington—talked about the impact of Brexit on agriculture, reminding this House of the need for a workforce and access to European markets, because agriculture in this country is underpinned by its capacity to export to the European Union. The domestic agricultural system survives only because it also has that export opportunity. Those complications have been underdiscussed in this House and I hope they will be discussed more.