Debates between Lord Krebs and Baroness Parminter during the 2019 Parliament

Mon 12th Dec 2022
Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage & Committee stage: Part 1
Wed 8th Sep 2021
Tue 21st Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords

Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill

Debate between Lord Krebs and Baroness Parminter
Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, for introducing this amendment so eloquently. I have added my name to it. In fact, I felt that the amendment was almost unnecessary because, earlier this evening, the Minister referred to precision breeding as being used to create public good—I think I am right in saying that. The amendment tries to flesh that out and ask what is meant by “public good”.

It goes without saying that one objective of farming is to produce food or other farm products. Precision breeding will be used to increase the efficiency, and maybe the productivity, of farming in this country. My noble friend Lord Curry of Kirkharle, who is not in his place, made a useful comment earlier about what is meant by productivity in farming.

It goes without saying that one objective is to increase efficiency and productivity: that is the “more” bit of “more with less”. Equally important, and what the amendment is about, is enshrining the “less”: less harm to the environment and to people. We have been through many times the kind of harms to the environment that intensive agriculture has delivered, and we hope that precision breeding will be used to reverse those harms rather than augment them.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, also raised the important point of how bits of the jigsaw fit together. She referred to Henry Dimbleby’s national food strategy. I would be interested in knowing from the Minister whether some of the recommendations that Henry Dimbleby made will be implementable or, indeed, supported by the Bill if it goes through—as I hope it will, possibly with some modifications.

In a way, this is almost uncontroversial. We all accept that there have to be public goods that are supported by precision breeding; that has to be balanced with increasing productivity and efficiency of agriculture; and what we are trying to do here is spell out what those public goods are and should look like. I very much look forward to the Minister’s response.

Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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My Lords, I want to say how much I support this amendment, which has been introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, that it was a very eloquent introduction. It should indeed be uncontroversial, for two reasons.

This Government have committed themselves to a number of welcome targets on climate change. We have not quite got there yet on the environmental targets, but the Secretary of State says that we will perhaps have them by next week. We also have the food strategy. If not set targets, we have a clear direction of travel. If the Government are committed to those targets, be it in the social, environmental or climate sphere, then they have to will the means to deliver it. Whether we are talking about a procurement Bill or this Bill, the Government have all these levers to pull to deliver the outcomes.

It would be almost a dereliction of duty not to will the means in a Bill like this to deliver the environmental, climate and food targets which the Government have so welcomely committed themselves to on the record in other places. If the Government were to miss the golden opportunity to embed this commitment to a public benefit in this Bill, I feel it would leave Members around the Committee worried that some of those commitments were perhaps not as deep as we all were hoping.

Moreover, in the way that the Agriculture Act did, there is an opportunity to shape the market by saying that we will rightly give farmers funding to produce the public goods that we want. The mirror approach here is saying that we will provide this new regulatory framework to regulate the benefits and risks of this new procedure. We will allow companies the investment and growth opportunities if it is clear that they are delivering public goods. It is about shaping the market in a way that delivers those public goods.

Environment Bill

Debate between Lord Krebs and Baroness Parminter
Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for moving the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bird. I support the sentiments and the important issues that it raises and thank her for her remarks and her support for my Amendment 20.

The point of Amendment 20 is to help the Government’s policy statement on the environmental principles to put environmental protection at the heart of government decision-making. Currently, the principles ask departmental Ministers to consider the least environmentally damaging option when they are looking at a range of policy options. However, not all Ministers are obliged to take that policy statement into account. The MoD and the Treasury are exempted because defence and tax and spending have a disapplication from the existing statement on environmental principles.

I thank the Minister and his colleagues for meeting me over this summer to discuss this matter, but I am disappointed that we have not made as much progress as I thought we might, and I reserve my right to test the opinion of the House on this matter. As the noble Baroness said, the Minister said in Committee that the reason for this exemption was that it could restrict our response to urgent threats. I accept entirely that the MoD will have urgent threats which it needs to respond to, and I would support the Government coming forward with a targeted disapplication to enable that to happen. However, this is not a targeted disapplication; it is a blanket disapplication for the MoD. The MoD has a third of all the UK’s SSSIs—our most special land for habitats and for environmental protection. In addition, there are all the tenanted farmers, the ancient woodlands and all the land that could deliver so much in terms of natural resource protection on the 2% of the UK land mass which is the military estate in the UK.

There are plenty of examples in pockets of the MoD where it shows that it can marry together environmental protection and the protection of the state. However, unless we change this clause as it stands, I fear that the description in the National Audit Office review in 2020 of environmental protection in the MoD as a Cinderella service will not change. Equally, since then, in March of this year, the Minister Jeremy Quin MP and others launched the MoD’s new climate change and sustainability approach. It says:

“The response to climate change and sustainability in Defence must be led from the top and applied across all areas and at all levels.”

Without this amendment, that cannot be delivered.

As regards the exemption for the Treasury and for tax and spending policy, given the importance of tax policies and departmental budgets to deliver environmental targets when we are looking at managing the land for protecting the environment, it is almost unbelievable that there is that exemption. It means that Ministers will not have to consider environmental matters when they are looking at spending issues such as roads. As the noble Baroness said, the Minister’s response was that the exemption was to allow maximum flexibility. In the Government’s response to the Dasgupta review, which was produced earlier and to which the Government have signed up, they accepted that nature was a macro- economic consideration and supported setting out steps to align national expenditure with climate and environmental goals. Without this amendment, that cannot be delivered.

It is not just me saying that; since we last met in Committee, the office for environmental protection has given its first advice—at the request of the Government—on the draft environmental principles policy statement. I will quote from the chief executive offer of the OEP, which we will come on to in the next group of amendments. Natalie Prosser said that

“there are such important benefits to be reaped should policy-making across all departments embrace and live by these principles.”

That is all departments—not some departments. It would be a very worrying sign if the Government were to refuse that first piece of advice from the OEP.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and I have put my name to Amendment 20. I will be very brief, because I had a real moment of joy and optimism this morning when I read the latest Defra briefing notes, called Key Facts on the Environmental Principles. I will read out two sentences from this factsheet, which lead me to believe—if these really are facts, as it says —that the Government have changed their mind. First, “Ministers across government”—I emphasise that—“will be legally obliged to consider the principles in all policy development where it impacts the environment”. Secondly, “All government departments” —I emphasise that—“must consider the environmental principles policy statement when developing policy”.

I assume that unless the key facts are not key facts, the Government have indeed accepted Amendment 20, and I very much look forward to the Minister confirming that in his response.

Agriculture Bill

Debate between Lord Krebs and Baroness Parminter
Committee stage & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 21st July 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 View all Agriculture Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 112-VI(Rev) Revised sixth marshalled list for Committee - (21 Jul 2020)
Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I am delighted to be speaking between the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, and the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, with whom I sat on the House of Lords committee that produced the report Hungry for Change, about which the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and other noble Lords have been so complimentary.

I speak in support of my Amendment 169 in this group. I am grateful for the support of other noble Lords who have added their names to it. It addresses how, if we are to be food secure in this country, we need to ensure that the minimum amount of food is wasted—yet, in the list of data that will be provided in the food security report to inform policy thinking on our future resilience and food security, there is no mention of food waste.

There are currently significant levels of on-farm food waste in this country. In 2019, WRAP estimated that about 3.6 million tonnes of food is surplus, and waste occurs on farm every year. That is equivalent to about 7% of the total annual UK food harvest. There is huge potential to reduce the amount of surplus and waste by promoting best practice, with new insights being good for growers, businesses, the climate and feeding our people.

One of the priority areas in Clause 1 of the Government’s Environment Bill is resource efficiency and waste reduction. We need better synergy between the Environment Bill and the Agriculture Bill, and a way to achieve that is for us to see where the main problems with food waste are in the supply chain. To do that, we need the data to cover each part of the supply chain. My amendment would provide for that, so that we have a food security report that does the job that we need it to do.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 173, so excellently introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. Many of my comments will echo hers.

As an aside, it is perhaps worth clearing up a point of definition. In the debate so far, we have heard the terms “food security” and “food insecurity” used in two distinct ways. First, we have heard “food security” as it applies to the nation as a whole: do we have a system that can guarantee a supply of food for the country as a whole? Secondly, as referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, we have heard “food insecurity” as it applies to the individual or household that cannot afford enough to eat.

The chief executive of one of the UK’s food companies told me a couple of years ago that when he asked at No. 10 what the Government’s food strategy was, he received a blank look. The question had simply not occurred to the people in No. 10. Fortunately, things have moved on since then with the establishment of Henry Dimbleby’s national food strategy, of which we have already heard quite a lot. I have no doubt that the Dimbleby report, and its interim report due out in the next week or two, will be an excellent piece of work and will have much to say about the issues covered in this amendment,

I would also like to mention the recently published report Hungry for Change: Fixing the Failures in Food from the Select Committee on Food, Poverty, Health and the Environment, which I had the privilege of chairing. This report has already been referred to in this debate by the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, Lady Parminter and Lady Boycott. The latter two sat on the committee with me. I would like to highlight just three points from our report.

First, as we have heard, food insecurity—that is, worrying about not having enough to eat—is a big problem in this country. We do not yet have official figures, although, as the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, said, we should soon have them. However, the UN has estimated that the number of people suffering food insecurity is at least 2.2 million. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, said, the Food Foundation estimates that more than 5 million people worry about not having enough to eat. This is shocking but not surprising, given that one in five people in Britain live in poverty, according to the Government’s own figures. Furthermore, as we have already heard from the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, Covid-19 is almost certainly making things worse.

Secondly, poor people tend to have less healthy diets, not through any fault of their own but because the way in which food is manufactured, marketed and priced conspires against healthy eating. Without the time, resources or emotional bandwidth, the least well-off people find it hardest to swim against the tide of cheap, accessible, tasty, heavily marketed and unhealthy junk food.

Thirdly, we know what kinds of measures would be effective in changing our food system for the better. We know that it will not happen by voluntary industry action or by public information campaigns. It will need a more interventionist approach from government on promotion, advertising, reformulation and perhaps taxation on less healthy food. The soft drinks industry levy shows how successful strong government intervention can be, but up till now the Government have been unwilling to do more. This inaction is inexcusable because it condemns the poorest, most disadvantaged children in Britain to a life of ill health followed by an early death.

We are all placing a lot of hope on the Dimbleby report, but there is a risk that it will make excellent recommendations only to gather dust in a corner, following the fate of many other earlier reports of the same kind. Our Select Committee report suggests how this might be prevented. The Government are already committed to publishing a White Paper on the food strategy, but the delivery of the strategy should, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, said, be monitored by an independent body, analogous to the Committee on Climate Change, reporting regularly to Parliament on progress.

Furthermore, the problem of food and poverty covers several different government departments. Therefore, there is a need for a high-level ministerial co-ordination group to ensure that actions are properly joined up across Government.

This amendment provides an opportunity for the Government to make a radical shift in their approach to food policy. Let us not waste the opportunity in the way that we waste a lot of our food.