Agriculture Bill: Bishop of St Albans supports amendments on food security, spending, and direct payments

On 15th September 2020 the House of Lords considered amendments to the Government’s Agriculture Bill at its Report Stage. The Bishop of St Albans, Rt Revd Alan Smith, sponsored and spoke in favour of amendments to:

  • improve food security and access to food that promotes good health and wellbeing,
  • require Government to set out detailed spending plans,
  • delay the start of the transition away from direct farm payments from 2021 to 2022.

The amendments were not put to a vote but withdrawn after debate.

BARONESS MCINTOSH OF PICKERING

BARONESS RITCHIE OF DOWNPATRICK

THE LORD BISHOP OF ST ALBANS

LORD JUDD

6) Page 2, line 25, at end insert—

“( ) protecting or improving the food security of citizens and access to food that promotes good health and wellbeing.”

The Lord Bishop of St Albans [V]: My Lords, I declare my interest as president of the Rural Coalition. I speak in support of Amendment 6, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and to which the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and I have added our names. Incidentally, I also support Amendments 12, 13 and 17 in this group, but do not intend to speak to them. Let me be brief, as a number of the main points that I had planned to raise have already been made by my colleagues. This amendment touches on two areas: food security and the food which brings good health and well-being. Both areas are about public goods.

I am planning to say something more about food security when we reach a later amendment, so I will confine myself to just one thing about good health and well-being. The results of poor diets are well documented. We know that poor diets lead to worse health outcomes, early onset of diseases and indeed, in the case of Covid, a greater likelihood of a slower recovery or death. At a time when the NHS is under considerable pressure, we need to do all we can to join ​up our legislation so that we can revolutionise diet in this country and make access to good food the best we possibly can.

The reason I am happy to support this modest amendment is that it strengthens this Bill to keep before us the need to improve the quality of food and diet and good access.

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Clause 4

BARONESS MCINTOSH OF PICKERING

THE LORD BISHOP OF ST ALBANS

30) Page 5, line 14, at end insert—

“( ) set out the budgeted annual expenditure to be used to achieve each of the strategic priorities set out under paragraph (b) for the plan period.”

Member’s explanatory statement: This amendment will place requirements upon the Government to set out levels of expected expenditure and to identify outcomes for that expenditure as part of its multiannual financial plans.

The Lord Bishop of St Albans [V]:  My Lords, I added my name to Amendment 30 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, which seeks, as she explained, to increase the levels of accountability and ensure that Parliament can understand Her Majesty’s Government’s strategic priorities and the extent to which they are being met. We discussed this issue in Committee.

Many Members of your Lordships’ House have already expressed concerns about levels of financial accountability in this Bill, and we have a number of amendments that seek to address that. On page 4, line 15, the Bill specifies that the Secretary of State will be,

“monitoring the extent to which the purpose of financial assistance has been achieved.”

The amendment, dealing with the multiannual financial assistance plans, specifies that the Secretary of State will produce annual budgets for each strategic priority. There is a powerful argument that we need this so that the public can have confidence in the spending of public money. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s and indeed other noble Lords’ reflections and responses on the extent to which this amendment can strengthen transparency and accountability.

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Clause 8

BARONESS MCINTOSH OF PICKERING

BARONESS RITCHIE OF DOWNPATRICK

THE LORD BISHOP OF ST ALBANS

THE EARL OF DEVON

36) Page 7, line 40, leave out “2021” and insert “2022”

Member’s explanatory statement: This amendment will move the start of the seven-year transition away from direct payments from 2021 to 2022.

The Lord Bishop of St Albans [V]: My Lords, I can be brief. Amendment 36 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, may appear very minor, but when you consider that we are in the last third of this year and that this is first day of the Report stage of the Bill, there is very little time left before the seven-year transition period is due to begin.

The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, both laid out the uncertainties facing landowners and farmers, not least until greater details of ELMS are clear. The Bill is going to make a huge change to both farmers and landowners, and it is much better that we take them with us. Indeed, I think it is only fair that we give them time to make the necessary adjustments, as there are still so many details to be worked out and the implications of the Bill are so significant. I hope the Minister will find a way that we can adopt this proposal.

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