All 1 Debates between Lord Krebs and Baroness Finlay of Llandaff

Mon 15th May 2023

Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill

Debate between Lord Krebs and Baroness Finlay of Llandaff
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Finlay of Llandaff) (CB)
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My Lords, I must inform that House that, if Amendment 48 is agreed to, I will not be able to call Amendment 49 due to pre-emption.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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My Lords, I will speak to the cross-party Amendment 48 in my name and those of the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Hayman of Ullock, and the noble Lord, Lord Duncan of Springbank. As always, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Caithness; he gave me a namecheck in his speech which I hope to add to my CV, so that for my next job application I can say, “As quoted by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness”.

I support in large part what he said about the importance of rigorous scientific evidence to underpin policy—he referred to the environment, but I would say more broadly. I will add a note of caution from my personal experience. As many noble Lords will know, I was responsible for instigating the randomised badger culling trials, the so-called “Krebs trials”, which were meant definitively to determine whether killing badgers was a good way of controlling bovine tuberculosis. The trial was probably the largest ecological experiment ever done in this country; it did produce results, but it did not settle the arguments or the policy. So science has an important role to play, and I support the noble Earl’s amendment, but we must recognise that political decisions come in as well.

I turn now to Amendment 48. I want to keep it brief so I will say what it is not and what it is. It is not an attempt to block any change. It is also not an alternative to the earlier proposals that came from my noble and learned friend Lord Hope of Craighead to involve Parliament in future decisions. It is not either of those. It supports the Government in their declared ambitions for the environment and for food. In doing so, it also ensures that the Government make good decisions rather than bad decisions. The amendment is about protecting the environment and consumer interests in relation to food.

These two areas—food and environment—are crucial to the REUL Bill, as between them they account for approximately half of the 4,900 regulations that come under REUL according to the current dashboard. At its board meeting in December 2022, the Food Standards Agency noted 800 items related to food and feed. The REUL dashboard reports about 1,700 items related to Defra, most of which concern environmental protection. These two areas are also crucial because of public concern. You have to think only of sewage in rivers, outbreaks of food-borne illness or GM foods to realise that these areas—environment and food—resonate with the public. These two areas also attracted a great deal of debate from your Lordships in Committee.

The amendment that I have proposed has three elements: first, non-regression—which we have already heard about from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. Any future changes, according to Amendment 48, should not reduce or water down current levels of environmental protection or food safety standards. Nor should they contravene any international agreements to which the UK has committed.

My second point is expert input. This resonates with the amendment in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. Regulations should not be changed without consulting the relevant experts. These should include the Office for Environmental Protection, the Food Standards Agency and their cognate bodies in Scotland.

The third element is transparency. The amendment would require the Government to publish a report showing how any changes do not reduce environmental or food protections and what advice was received from the experts consulted. As a further transparency measure, the amendment also requires the Food Standards Agency, together with Food Standards Scotland, to report on the impact of any changes resulting from the implementation of this Bill on food safety and other consumer interests in relation to food.

The proposals in these three areas—non-regression, expert advice and transparency—are totally in line with the Government’s own commitments. They have said over and over again that they do not want to weaken environmental protection or compromise food safety and standards. The noble Lord, Lord Benyon, who I am delighted to see is going to respond to this grouping, has himself said that on more than one occasion in your Lordships’ House. This amendment simply formalises these commitments in the Bill. As we heard earlier, Clauses 13, 14, 16 and 17 leave Ministers a great deal of discretionary power. While, of course, we totally trust current Ministers to keep their word, who knows who will be in charge in future? This amendment will ensure that, in the future, Governments will build on the good work that has been done up to now and the promises that have been made.

Outside this House, who supports this amendment? Let me give noble Lords some examples. I asked the Food and Drink Federation whether it supported the food parts of this amendment. The FDF, with more than 1,000 members ranging from global brands to innovative start-ups, represents the UK’s largest manufacturing sector. It says in writing that it is happy to be quoted as supporting this amendment. If the Government wish to be business friendly—and I have heard that said—here is a good place to start: accept an amendment that has the weight of nearly half a million jobs behind it.

Equally, non-regression of environmental protections is supported by the Government’s statutory advisers, the Office for Environmental Protection and the Climate Change Committee, which both said in recent written statements that it is important that the REUL Bill includes a non-regression clause.

The amendment applies to the whole of the UK, and in that context it is noteworthy that the Scottish Government have also written to express their support for Amendment 48.

I hope that in this brief introduction I have said enough to convince your Lordships that this amendment is sensible, proportionate and fully supportive of the Government’s declared commitments on the environment and food. Indeed, I cannot see why on earth the Government would not accept it, and I very much look forward to the Minister agreeing with me. However, if that agreement is not forthcoming, and recognising from Committee that there was widespread support from across the House for the areas of environmental and food protections, I will wish to test the opinion of the House.