Debates between Lord Krebs and Lord Benyon during the 2019 Parliament

Carbon Budget Delivery Plan: High Court Ruling

Debate between Lord Krebs and Lord Benyon
Wednesday 8th May 2024

(1 month, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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The Government are determined, as all of us who supported the Climate Change Act are, to live by the legal requirements we set for all Governments to hit the carbon budgets. The Carbon Budget Delivery Plan was not criticised for the measures it included. It was criticised in the judgment for the information provided to the Secretary of State. We totally accept that. We accept the ruling and will respond. We will make sure that we are putting in place measures to address this. Sections 13 and 14 of the Climate Change Act are, in hindsight, a little opaque. In a way, this has helped us clarify this and we will work to give all the information needed to show that we will hit our carbon budgets.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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My Lords, can the Minister unpack the pride that he has in the Government’s achievements so far in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions? If we look at the last six years, what proportion of those reductions have resulted from external factors, such as Covid and the war in Ukraine and the consequent slowing growth in our economy, and what proportion have resulted from implementation of policies in relation to transport and agriculture?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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The noble Lord asks a very detailed question. The third carbon budget ended in 2022, so I do not think that issues such as Covid will have been particularly relevant to that. We exceeded that by 15%. The noble Lord outlined some of the most difficult areas that we have to tackle: transport, housing, and agriculture. Agriculture is currently responsible for about 12% to 15% of our emissions, and that will grow as a percentage of our emissions as other sectors decarbonise, which they can do more easily. It is incredibly difficult. Defra, working with the Climate Change Committee and the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, is seeking ways in which we can absolutely make agriculture play its part in reducing our emissions.

Office for Environmental Protection

Debate between Lord Krebs and Lord Benyon
Tuesday 23rd January 2024

(5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the second annual progress report of the Office for Environmental Protection, published on 18 January.

Lord Benyon Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Benyon) (Con)
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My Lords, I refer to my interests as set out in the register. This Government are committed to leaving the environment in a better state than we found it. The Office for Environmental Protection’s report covers the period from 1 April 2022 to 31 March 2023. This includes the first two months of the 2023 environmental improvement plan and our new long-term environmental targets. The OEP’s 200-page report recognises the scale of ambition in the EIP 2023, including our challenging interim targets. We will study it carefully and respond in due course.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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I thank the Minister for his response. When Dame Glenys Stacey, the chair of the OEP, launched her report last week, she said that the OEP’s job was to hold up a mirror to the Government for them to assess their progress. I am afraid to say that the view in the mirror was not a pretty sight. As was mentioned in yesterday’s Oral Question, the OEP concludes that the Government are largely failing to meet the statutory and other targets they have set for environmental improvement. The Government’s response seems to be either to reject or to reinterpret what the OEP said. Would it not be better to acknowledge what the OEP has said, recognise that things are not necessarily going as well as they should, learn lessons and try to adopt a different tack?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I absolutely concur with the noble Lord in that we treat anything that comes from the OEP very seriously. I seek to reassure noble Lords that it is not our position to dismiss it in any way. As I said in my original Answer, the report refers to just two months of the environmental improvement plan, which sets out some very demanding targets and holds the Government to account for them. The noble Lord and I are meeting next week, when I will set out some of the things we are doing as a result of the EIP and other measures. I think he will be reassured that the report that looks at a full year of the EIP’s implementation will show the Government’s ambition and how we are responding to reasoned criticism and being held to account by a very well-led organisation.

European Union: Trade Barriers

Debate between Lord Krebs and Lord Benyon
Tuesday 4th July 2023

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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We work very closely with Hannah and other port managers—for example, on the common user charge, which is a way of alleviating very high costs on some and very low costs on others, which we think is fair—but we also work with local authorities. The local health authority is also facing a cost-recovery arrangement. We are making sure that we have a risk profile that minimises the number of stops for low-risk items, but we are absolutely focused on the problem. We will continue to work with ports and all other authorities to make sure that the impact is minimised as much as possible.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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My Lords, the Minister has referred on several occasions to a risk-based system for checking food imports: the border target operating model. Of course, we are moving into unknown territory here—we have not used it before—so does the Minister agree that it would be sensible for the Government to ask the Food Standards Agency to produce an objective assessment every so often of the impact of the changes in import controls on consumer food safety?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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The noble Lord makes a very good point. Obviously, we work with the Food Standards Agency—although it is not covered by my department—daily to make sure we have got this right in all areas of food safety. At the moment the highest-risk items are products of animal origin, for obvious reasons, and certain plants that can bring in diseases such as Xylella, which I mentioned earlier. None of the work we are doing with the Food Standards Agency is secret, so there is no problem with making it public.

Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill

Debate between Lord Krebs and Lord Benyon
Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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I do not know who drafted this response but it is a masterpiece of obscurantism, in my view. I do not blame the Minister; he is simply reading out what his civil servants have given him. I could not understand—maybe because I am falling asleep or something, but I do not think I am—whether the answer is that PBOs are equivalent to the plants or animals that could be produced by conventional breeding, and therefore enjoy the same protections, or whether they are different. Will he just nail that point down, with a very simple yes or no? Is his answer that precision-bred organisms are treated as equivalent to those that could be produced by conventional breeding, and therefore they enjoy the same patent protections?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I apologise to the noble Lord if I am sending him to sleep, but this is a complex area. Patent lawyers will dance on the head of a pin on some of these issues. As I said, we have worked with the Intellectual Property Office to get this exactly right and to address precisely the point he made earlier about some of the difficulties that were faced, with large international companies owning the rights to seed entitlements. That caused great difficulty in the past.

I shall just read one bit to him again, and if the noble Lord could try to stay awake, it will be an achievement that I will rejoice in. The Bill does not make any changes to laws associated with obtaining a patent; nor does it alter the process by which an applicant would apply for patent protections. Breeders wishing to patent their precision-bred plant or animal should therefore undertake this process in the same manner as for all other inventions and under the guidance of the Intellectual Property Office.

The Bill is also an attempt to provide precisely the balance that the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, stressed. We want to secure the rights of those who are investing enormous amounts of money in the development of these technologies, while also not making it impossible for farmers—precisely the people we want to have access to these technologies—to have access. That is the balance we are seeking to achieve.

I can work only on the best legal advice I am given. There are noble Lords in this Committee whose speciality is intellectual property law, and I am sure they could dance much more dextrously on the head of that particular pin than I.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful for Amendment 19, which raises the importance of ensuring that what we do has a public benefit. Across government we are undertaking a range of what I believe is really exciting work to deliver public good and we want to see precision-breeding technologies complement this work to improve our food system and the environment.

On my phone I keep some crucial lines from the Agriculture Act, because when I meet farmers and they say that this Government no longer mind about food production I remind them that right at the front of the Agriculture Act, in Clause 1, it says:

“In framing any financial assistance scheme, the Secretary of State must have regard to the need to encourage the production of food by producers in England and its production by them in an environmentally sustainable way.”


That is a declaratory statement right at the front of the Act. What we are seeking to do in terms of environmental land management goes through the heart of that piece of legislation and this piece of legislation fits very firmly within that.

As noble Lords are aware, the UK is privileged in its scientific position and researchers across the country are already delivering exciting research that contributes towards public good in the field of precision breeding. In the other place, the John Innes Centre gave evidence about the vitamin D tomatoes that its research group is developing, striving towards improving the food we eat for the benefit of our health. Another notable example is from researchers at Rothamsted who are exploring ways to increase the lipid content of grasses. This could help improve the quality of animal feed and has the potential to reduce methane emissions in livestock. I think we are all proud of the work taking place in this country and I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, is particularly proud of Rothamsted.

This amendment, I fear, might hinder the important research in this area by placing restrictions on and creating significant uncertainty for critical field trials for researchers and breeders attempting to make new varieties of precision-bred crops. While I understand the intention of this amendment—and it is an intention I applaud—it would not be appropriate to restrict technologies used in breeding, nor do we have any evidence that suggests developers are doing anything other than creating better and improved varieties or breeds.

Of course, it is important to note that these technologies are not a silver bullet, and we want them to be part of our innovation toolkit to improve our food system. Delivering public good is what I did say earlier, and I am very glad I did—and it has been underlined by other noble Lords. It is what we strive for across government and we are fully committed to developing a more sustainable, resilient and productive food system.

Noble Lords quite rightly referenced the Government’s food strategy and, building on Henry Dimbleby’s extraordinary, in-depth piece of work, we have set out a plan to transform our food system and ensure that it is fit for the future. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, mentioned sugar beet. This is a crop where there is an application which might be of huge benefit, and not just in terms of the food that we produce. Being able to develop a strain resistant to virus yellows would mean that we would not have to seek noble Lords’ permission through secondary legislation for a derogation to allow the use of neonicotinoids to control virus yellows. More importantly, we could have a crop that was not only able to produce more sugar for our producers here but would require us to import less sugar from abroad, thereby lowering the carbon impact of that crop.

There are counterfactuals in everything. Trying to improve the home-grown element of our food, while reducing the impact that failing to produce it at home would create by having to import that food, sometimes from far away, needs to be factored in. It is fundamental to our food strategy.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Winston, for his Amendment 21, which would require the genomes of precision-bred organisms to be sequenced before they can be released into the environment, regardless of whether or not an organism with the same genetic changes had previously been assessed and classified as precision bred. It also stipulates that the genomic changes resulting from the use of modern biotechnology have to be recorded, that no unprecedented changes can be present in the plant or animal, and that this must be reported to the Secretary of State.

I assure noble Lords that the criteria for defining a precision-bred organism, as set out in Clause 1, consider both intended and unintended changes to the genome. This means that any changes resulting from the use of modern biotechnology, whether intended or unintended, must be able to occur through traditional breeding or natural transformation for a plant or animal to be considered precision bred. It also means that unintended changes will already need to be assessed as meeting these criteria before any precision-bred organism is released.

The noble Lord’s amendment would mean that plants and animals could not be classed as precision bred if they contain unintended genomic changes. Unintended genetic changes occur during the traditional breeding process. Some of these may be removed during that process and others not, as will be the case with precision-bred organisms. As I expect the noble Lord is aware, many recent gene-editing studies about animals have reported no incidences of unintended genomic changes when using CRISPR-Cas9. Having assessed this evidence our expert advisory committee, ACRE, has also advised that unintended genomic changes occur significantly more often during the course of traditional breeding than they do as a result of precision breeding. This is also the view of the European Food Safety Authority, which advises the EU. Consequently, while we expect developers to ensure that any unintended changes are within the range of what can occur naturally, the scientific advice we have received suggests that it is not appropriate to prevent plants or animals with unintended genetic changes from being classed as precision-bred organisms.

We are committed to taking a proportionate approach, requiring only the information that fulfils the regulatory requirement at the appropriate time. It is for this reason that the Bill distinguishes between requirements for research trials and marketing applications of precision-bred organisms. This amendment is likely to add regulatory burden, without adding value to the process. For example, developers would be required to submit a release notice to Defra, confirming that the founder organism they intend to release for research trials meets the criteria in the Bill. They would have generated genomic data to confirm that this is the case.

However, requiring whole-genome sequencing would be disproportionate, given the specific, targeted nature of changes being made. I assure the noble Lord that breeders who release an organism modified using modern biotechnology that does not meet the criteria outlined would be subjected to sanctions under existing GMO legislation. This is a strong deterrent against releasing organisms that do not qualify as precision bred. That also goes some way to answering the point that the noble and right reverend Lord tried to pick up from the previous group, which was not moved. However, we are clear about the sanctions that we want implemented.

Developers will have to submit an additional notification to Defra should they wish to market their precision-bred organism. Breeders will need to provide fit-for-purpose information to demonstrate that they have met the requirements that I have outlined. The technical details will be developed with the advisory committee appointed to advise the Secretary of State on the regulatory status of these organisms.

For marketing approvals, assessments will be carried out on a case-by-case basis. The full genomic sequence of an organism may not be required in addition to information on intended and unintended genomic changes to determine similarity to traditional breeding or natural transformation. As a result, we do not feel it necessary to include a provision that specifically requires whole-genome sequencing.

Finally, to address the noble Lord’s point that the DNA of all progeny of a precision-bred organism should be sequenced before release, if a “founder” organism has met the criteria laid out in the Bill—specifically, that the genetic changes made by modern biotechnology are stable and could have arisen naturally or through traditional breeding—we have been advised that the regulatory status of its progeny does not have to be assessed. This is because the changes made are stable and in line with those that occur naturally.

To address the noble and right reverend Lord’s point about this being a public good, I hope I have set out why the Bill fits in with the Government’s food strategy and how environmental sustainability will be enhanced by it if we get it right. Perhaps the greatest public good will be if we are able to adapt to and tackle elements of climate change that affect not just these islands but countries all around the world. It could benefit some very challenged environments, so we owe it to them to make sure that we are regulating this correctly, making it accessible not just to large multinational companies but to smaller businesses and—to use the rather pompous word I used earlier—democratising it, ensuring that its benefits can be felt far and wide. I hope this provides the assurance that noble Lords need not to press their amendments.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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I thank the Minister, but I have one question of clarification, just to check that I have understood what he said—namely, while accepting that it is important that public goods are delivered by precision breeding, that it would in some way stifle innovation if one defined too precisely what one meant by “public goods”. Can the Minister give an example of where saying what one means stifles innovation?

Growth Plan 2022

Debate between Lord Krebs and Lord Benyon
Tuesday 25th October 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

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Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I firmly believe that the two are not mutually exclusive. I was talking to an organisation called the Nature Friendly Farming Network, which, on one farm, is producing more food on 11% less land. All of us who are farmers know about those corners of fields that are farmed only because of the dishonest form of area payment that we have been living under for decades. There are schemes enabling farmers to be more productive off the land that should be farmed, thereby allowing us to continue to feed our hungry world sustainably.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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My Lords, the Minister will no doubt remember that the biggest crisis in living memory to hit the UK farming sector was caused by deregulation. The BSE crisis arose because the regulations governing the processing of meat and bone meal were relaxed. In light of that, can he reassure us that there will not be further examples of deregulation in future that will threaten not only food safety but the future of the farming industry?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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The noble Lord is absolutely correct. Reputable businesses—whether they are in farming, food production or any other sector—like good regulation because it means that they are not undercut by bad producers who produce poor-quality food unsustainably. We absolutely want to ensure that our regulations not only protect the environment but allow competent and decent producers to produce food that is much needed in society.

Climate Change

Debate between Lord Krebs and Lord Benyon
Tuesday 1st March 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

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Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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The greatest stability in an unstable world is for us to decarbonise our economy as much as we can and become less reliant on other countries, or indeed on hydrocarbons, for our future. The Government’s strategy thus far has been absolutely right, and we will continue to make sure that our economy is resilient to the kind of global instability that we are experiencing at the moment.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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My Lords, one of the risks highlighted by the Climate Change Committee is the risk to buildings of overheating from extreme heat waves. In the light of that, can the Minister tell us what proportion of the 460,000 new homes built in the last two years are designed to be resilient and cope with extreme heat waves, which are likely to be the norm by 2050?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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The noble Lord is very experienced in this whole area of adaptation. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has introduced a new requirement on overheating into the building regulations to ensure that new residential buildings are built for a warming climate. The new requirement prioritises addressing overheating through passive measures, including reducing solar gains and sufficient removal of heat.