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On climate change, I live in Cornwall and two issues have been farmers versus nimbys, as they would be described in the tabloids, and attitudes to wind farms. Although there are huge opportunities in terms of climate change and various biocrops, wind farms or whatever, a number of conflicts are likely to arise, which are of great concern. Going back to the meeting that I had with farmers in Somerset a couple of months ago, there was great frustration that a couple of farmers were trying to move ahead with anaerobic
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One or two years ago, Defra had a biomass programme related to wood. I have two wood burners. It is one of the areas where we have a great possibility to move forward. I should like to understand how that strategy has progressed. We must also remember that farmers have a challenge in terms of some of the outputs. I am sure that in the European context, dealing with the problem of methane and nitrous oxide, let alone nitrates from fields getting into our water systems, will be on the agenda and there will be pressure for farming to become more climate change and environmentally sensitive.
The area that we on these Benches see as particularly important is Defra's attitude to rural affairsthe much broader question of the future of the countryside and its prosperity, which is not often talked about. I do not often see much in the headlines and I do not, if I am honest, often see Defra as a great advocate for rural areas. I hope that I am wrong about that, because the Commission for Rural Communities in its recent report identified some 900,000 people as living in poverty in rural areas. In an urban context that would attract massive attention.
There is also the question of mobility in terms of cars and transport and increasing fuel costs, and particularly access to services. There is a government programme to close some 2,000 post offices. They are not all in rural areas, but that will have a major effect on the fabric of the village. Is Defra on the side of the rural community in that matter?
Finally, there is the question of affordable housing. Although I understand that the Government are trying to raise this on the agenda, frankly I believe that we need much more of a blunt instrument to increase affordable housing in rural areas so that we can relieve rural poverty and give people proper places to live. At the moment, because of earnings, that is impossible.
Given my history of speaking about fisheries policy, I am tempted to refer to it as it is very important for Defra. I cannot understand why we still allow discarding within the broader common fisheries policy when there is such a threat to fish stocks. New Zealand and Norway have made discarding utterly illegal but still have quota systems. That can work. I do not see Defra demanding those changes to the common fisheries policy, which I know are difficult to achieve because of unanimityI do not know whether that will change under the reform treatybut clearly this outrageous and terrible practice of discarding must be stopped if we are to preserve the biodiversity of our oceans and to preserve future food stocks. The matter must be taken seriously for the sake of the fisheries industry.
Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness for introducing the debate on this important subject, and for the expertise with which she did so. She is right, farming is very important to all of us. My particular interest has always been employment, and farming is a very important employer of labour. It is a substantial employer of immigrant labour. Indeed, I wonder whether the industry would be able to cope as well as it does nowadays without the labour of those who have arrived on our shores from the eastern European countries which recently joined the EU.
There is no doubt about the vulnerability of such workers. They are often almost pathetically glad to be here and to have any sort of job. Sometimes it has been quite a sacrifice for them to get here. They are willing to work hard, often for lower wages than our own workers would find acceptable. They are frequently unaware of basic employment protection, particularly in health and safety, and the accommodation available to them is often substandard and overcrowded.
Some time ago the plight of migrant workers was brought very sharply to our notice because of the tragic deaths of Chinese workers in Morecambe Bay. This led to the introduction of a Private Members Bill, the Gangmasters (Licensing) Bill, which was supported by the Government, and which established the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, covering gangmasters working in agriculture, horticulture and the shellfish industry. It did not cover food processing and packaging undertaken by mainstream food manufacturers or retailers. It was introduced in agriculture because it was felt that the problem was considerable there. Subcontractor labour providers were also covered by the scheme. The legislation forces gangmasters operating in agriculture to obtain licences and to operate within the law, including respecting minimum employment provisions. There are also robust maximum penalties for breach of the law, including a maximum prison sentence of up to 10 years. This acknowledges the involvement of organised crime in gangmaster activities. The desire of frequently desperate people to migrate has unfortunately led to a growth of trafficking by organised criminals. The legislation was intended to make these criminal activities much more difficult to pursue.
We have now had this legislation in place for more than three years. Agriculture was one of the industries in which it was intended to make a considerable impact and to prevent the exploitation of vulnerable workers. I would be interested to learn today the Ministers assessment of the success of the legislation. As a former union official, it is my belief that the only way really to ensure that vulnerable people can escape exploitation is by means of union organisation, and my union has certainly given time and energy to recruitment in this area. At the time of the introduction of the legislation to which I referred, the Transport and General Workers Union was involved and there was consultation.
The absence of trade union organisation creates a situation in which vulnerable individuals have to seek assistance from somewhere and, I believe with
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We are committed to bringing an end to the exploitation that has, for much too long, been associated with the supply of labour by agricultural gangmasters. There can be no place for unlicensed gangmasters in the future.
Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, I spoke on agriculture during the Queens Speech debate, because the current situation in livestock farming is dire. I want to emphasise some of the points that I made then. Some noble Lords will remember that I called for the sacking of the director of the Pirbright Institute. I certainly do not retract that.
I welcome this important and very timely debate on farming and Defra, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard. The temptation is always to be too negative about farming. I have often accused farmers of crying wolf too frequently. The weather, disease and poor prices all take their toll. The present situation is very mixed, however. For one part of the industry, cereal prices are buoyant, but for the livestock sector, feed prices have doubled, disease has struck in the south-east resulting in animal movement restrictions and, in the west, Wales, the north-west and Scotland, export bans for three months have halted markets. The impact has been devastatingI really mean thaton all the upland areas, including the Pennines, the Lake District and the south-west of England. My remarks apply to all those areas, but the best thing I can do is to highlight some quotations from a speech by Rees Roberts, whom I know well from my time working for the Agricultural Training Board. He is now the chairman of Meat Promotion Wales and spoke at the Royal Welsh Winter Fair last week. This is equally relevant to England, and in particular to the role of Defra. He said:
This had been one of the most damaging years for our industry that I can remember. Make no mistakethe industry in Wales is in crisis and the whole of the traditional Welsh rural way of life is now under threat. ... It is entirely possible that we could come to this event in two years time to discover that half of the Welsh sheep industry will have been wiped out.
The Welsh sheep industry alone has suffered more than £30 million of losses since early August because of foot and mouth disease breaking out in Surrey. Meat Promotion Wales estimates that more than £2
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In spite of that, retail prices are holding up. Just over a week ago, Welsh farmers were being handed 73p per kilo when consumers are joining long queues to pay £6 a kilo at the checkout. Rees Roberts said that we are heading at speed towards the collapse of our industrys critical mass. The single farm payment is currently bolstering the hopelessly low pricing structure imposed by the retail sector.
That evidence confirms my long-held beliefI am speaking for myself nowthat the Government are inadvertently subsidising the supermarkets, which discount single farm payments and offer ridiculously low prices to producers. There is an honourable exception in all this. Waitrose has paid 2006 prices this year, thereby giving their lamb producers a future in the industry. Why could the other supermarkets not do the same thing in the middle of the biggest crisis to hit the sheep industry for many years? Words fail me to describe their action, which has been despicable.
Frankly, the Competition Commission, for its report, should be able to see the evidence before its very eyes. As an aside, Rees Roberts and his organisation have calculated that to produce a lamb costs 143 pence a kilo, not the 73 pence that has been given to farmers over the past month. Bluntly, the headline is Supermarkets seize massive opportunity of foot and mouth outbreak to boost profits and hammer the sheep industry into the ground. That can properly be said. We Liberal Democrats have advocated for the past 10 years to the nation, the Office of Fair Trading and the Competition Commission the importance of installing an independent ombudsman to ensure that the prices paid to primary producers are fair. It should be illegal for purchases to be made at less than the cost of production.
It is very important that the code is updated to include the followingwe hope that Defra will ensure that this is the case. Suppliers should be able to complain anonymously to the ombudsman as in Germany and other EU countries, and all agreements between suppliers and purchasers must be in writing. Compliance must be monitored. The ombudsman must deal with complaints and advise the OFT. He must be able to mediate and solve disputes, and his decisions must be binding on the parties within the code. If the current problems for suppliers and retailers are to be solved, those provisions must be included in the Competition Commissions imminent report, and Defra must ensure that occurs. Defra has a moral obligation financially to support the sheep industry now in its hour of need.
Defra must surely also ensure a European ban on the import of Brazilian beef. FMD is rampant in three regions of Brazil, and yet we are still importing 33,000 tonnes of Brazilian beef a year into this country. Surely what has applied to us in the recent crisis should also apply to the import of Brazilian beef. The efforts of the Secretary of State at Defra to get farmers to absorb disease control costs at this time should be dropped immediately. He should stand up
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Other action points must surely ensure that Defras remit to provide social cohesion through upland farming is vital. Those areas have some of the lowest GDP in the United Kingdom. They do not have other production opportunities. The Minister replied to my question earlier today about historic payments. You cannot move mountains or the sheep that are hefted on them. They have been there for centuries, which is why the historic payment is a sensible rationale. I know that is not the view in the EU, but Defra should fight for those principles.
Defra is alert to the threat of climate change, flood-prevention measures and the production of vaccines against exotic diseases. Those are all urgent priorities. Continued research on climate-change-busting agriscience must be a top priority. There is no doubt about that, given what has happened with climate change in the past five years. It is accelerating. Even now, on top of that, Defra has the CAP health check to deal with in 2008, which has been mentioned by my noble friend. The reforms of 2003 must remain in place until 2013. I know that is not a popular view. If Defra is only now beginning to put the Rural Payments Agency into proper working order, this is no time for further changes to take place.
The Government have a duty to fund Defra properly on the issues that I have mentioned. Defra has massive problems to solve, not least that of bovine TB. We know that the Minister is not afraid to speak his mind, and as long as he effectively continues to do so and gets results I, for one, will support him.
The Lord Bishop of Carlisle: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her welcome. I was told that the House is a warm and friendly place and I have found it to be so. It is a great honour to be a Member. I hope from time to time to speak particularly in support of the county of Cumbria, where I have lived and worked for the past seven years.
I am a Scot; my father came from Glasgow and my mother came from Edinburgh. My father, however, became an English barrister, and I grew up in Harpenden in Hertfordshire. I went to school in St Albans, where I was in the same class as Stephen Hawking, the discoverer of black holes and the author of A Brief History of Time. I get a brief mention in one of his biographies because of my conversion to Christian faith in 1955. It was that experience that in due course led to my seeking ordination as a priest.
I have been the Bishop of Carlisle for seven years. As I quickly discovered, the diocese is the most pastoral that I have ever worked in. In our first month, a shop assistant in Carlisles Mothercare offered to carry our goods to the car in the car park. That would never happen in the other places where we have lived. Kindness is a basic value in Cumbria and
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Ever since the 1980s, when the Cumbrian economy was strong, the economy of the county has been going backwards compared to that of the rest of the country. There are many reasons for that, particularly the huge reduction of the workforce in Barrow at BAE Systems and the winding down of the British Nuclear Fuels plant at Sellafield. Very recently, however, there has been an upturn. BAE Systems has a full order book with the Astute submarine class. West Cumbria has seen the arrival of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, for which we are very grateful. A most exciting recent development was the establishment of the University of Cumbria on 1 August. We had a splendid inauguration service two weeks ago, with the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York on sparkling form. I hope to speak about the university on a future occasion.
Every section of the economy of Cumbria is now, and only very recently, starting to move forward positively, except for agriculture, which is why from a Cumbrian point of view this debate is so timely. Farming in Cumbria is mostly beef, dairy and sheep. I want to tell it how the farmers tell me it is. Hill farming is precarious financially at the best of times. As the noble Lord has just stated, this year it has been disastrous because of the ban on animal movement following the recent foot and mouth outbreak in Surrey. The farmers tell me that that could not have come at a worse time. It came at the end of August, at exactly the point in the year when hill farmers sell their lambs and around one-third of the lambs are normally exported for food. When the auction marts reopened, the prices collapsed, both for the farmers on the higher fells and for those lower down. Those who kept their animals instead of selling them have had to buy winter foodstuffs, and the price of lamb has not recovered. Sheep farming is a complex business in which lambs pass from the high fells to farmers lower down for the next stage in the breeding process. Farmers pointed out to me that what has happened this summer will also have serious consequences for next year, because the chain of breeding has been seriously interrupted.
The Government have provided a support package, for which of course the upland farmers are grateful, but they are still in great difficulty. One firm of Cumbrian farm accountants, taking a sample of 30 farms, has calculated that the estimated profit for the year ending next April is an average of just £2,000 per farm family, which compares with £18,000 two years ago. That £2,000 includes the single farm payment. In other words, a huge loss is being made on the livestock. There has been a large increase in applications to farming charities, because the bills cannot be paid. The farmers are borrowing more and getting deeper into debt, and the accountant whom I mentioned says that he is often a shoulder to cry on.
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If hill farming were to fade away, the Cumbrian fells would become wild and the well cared-for landscape would change dramatically, as would biodiversity. That would affect tourism, which is vital for Cumbria. This is not only about land management. One leading young farmer emphasised to me the contribution that farming families make to the social glue of rural communities. They provide social capitalI use the current terminology. Tourism in the Cumbrian hills and lakes flourishes because the farming families bind the rural communities together and a whole lot of related businesses flourish as farming flourishes. It really is vital that the hill farmers are supported.
For dairy farmers, the milk price has risen in the past year, not I think because of any change of heart by the supermarkets, but because of a shortage of dairy products worldwide. Things were looking up for the dairy farmer until August. However, the price of winter foodstuffs has also dramatically increased because of a world shortage of grain, so the gains of the better milk price are being taken away in other ways.
What has long been needed is for the farmers to take more of a stake in the food production process. The First Milk farmers co-operative has bought the Dairy Crest cheese-making factory in Aspatria and another producer is to create a new factory for dairy products. All this is good, but the change is slow. It would really help if policies could be developed that encouraged this added value for the farmers.
Meanwhile, the beef and dairy farmers tell me that, at best, they just about keep afloat, but they have no possibility of investing capital in the future of their businesses. As they see it, their counterparts in Belgium and France receive much more support and competing with them in a European market is very difficult. One of the goals that the NFU seeks from Defra is a level playing field across the single market of the EU. The Cumbrian farmer finds it hard to see why we do not have clearer policies to support food production. As they see it, the carbon footprint would be reduced if more food was produced locally and they are aware of important issues about national food security, to which several speakers have referred.
In conclusion, farming is part of the fabric of communities all over Cumbria and many other businesses relate in some way or other to the prosperity of farming. Cumbrian farmers have always faced hardship and I am full of admiration for their resilience, but it is hard seeing them struggle when there could be policies to help them.
Lord Jopling: My Lords, I have two happy tasks, the first of which is to thank my noble friend Lady Shephard for introducing this debate. Secondly, I am given the opportunity to congratulate the right reverend Prelate on his fine speech. I was particularly impressed with it because I had the honour for 33 years to represent in another place the southern
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