Genetically Modified Organisms (Deliberate Release) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2022

Debate between Lord Krebs and Viscount Hanworth
Monday 14th March 2022

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Viscount Hanworth Portrait Viscount Hanworth (Lab)
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My Lords, I am a member of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and I can assert that the committee is supportive of the purposes of this statutory instrument. However, the committee has been critical of the presentation of the instrument, as indeed it has been of the presentation of a large number of instruments. I find the objections of the anti-GM lobby to this statutory instrument to be wide of the mark. Its specific objections to the instrument may be disposed of readily as can its wider objections to genetically modified crops.

The main objection that has been raised against the instrument is that it gives no justification for the claim that a genetic modification effected by gene editing could have occurred naturally. In fact, the statement has a very precise meaning. It means that nothing is introduced into the genome by editing it. Only the genes already present in the organism—or crops, which we are actually talking about—will be subject to the editing. The crops will have at least two copies of the gene and, in many cases, there may be more copies. Wheat, for example, has three copies of its genome. Some of the genes may be of a wild variety and others may be of a cultivated variety. The purpose of gene editing would be to ensure the plant has a homogeneous genetic endowment of the cultivated variety. The presumption is that this will lead to a more fruitful crop.

A project aimed at homogenising the genome via selective breeding might take many years and is liable to be time-consuming and expensive. It bears repeating that the process of gene editing will not introduce any alien material into the plant. This fact serves to negate one of the wilder alarms of the anti-GM lobby, which warns that alien genetic material will be introduced into other plants by inadvertent pollination. There are, in fact, no such alien genes to be guarded against.

Another false alarm of the lobby is that genetically modified crops might propagate rampantly, thereby despoiling the natural environment. The truth of the matter is that cultivated crops are largely incapable of self-propagation. This is surely true of cereal crops, which require threshing to release their seeds. Other crops, if they do succeed at reproducing without human intervention, are liable to die out after one or two generations. I believe that we can confidently dispose of the objections to this instrument. It proposes the alleviation of some burdensome restrictions, which have been impeding research programmes in plant science and agricultural science.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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My Lords, I will speak very briefly, in part to echo the points made by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth. I listened very carefully to what the Minister said in his introduction and, as has been pointed out by the noble Viscount, the key point was that gene editing involves no introduction of novel genes into the genome. In so far as it involves no introduction of novel genes, it is surely in principle something that could arise by natural reproduction—in the normal process of breeding that takes place in agricultural crops and animals. So I do not buy the argument that the definition is unclear; I thought that the Minister was very clear.

The only other point I want to make is on the question of whether something “occurs naturally”. That is quite a risky approach to take since nothing in any agricultural crop or any livestock is natural. These are things that have been produced over the last 10,000 years by selective breeding. If we are trying to create some prelapsarian nirvana where things are natural, we will have to turn the clock back 10,000 years and forget about all the things that we survive on today. So, although I regret having to disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, on this occasion I do so.

I would be very interested to hear the Minister’s response to one point raised by the noble Baroness about the problem of different parts of the United Kingdom when crops drift across from one side of the boundary with Wales or Scotland to the other. I would think of it more in terms of the retail of the products. Let us suppose that a blight-resistant potato is developed by gene editing, as seems quite likely, and it is on sale in the shops in England. What will the retailers do about stocking the shelves in Wales and Scotland if their product is not allowed there? I would be very interested to hear the Minister’s response on that.

My basic point, however, is that I totally support this statutory instrument and, like the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, I do not think that the arguments against it are at all compelling.

Energy Bill

Debate between Lord Krebs and Viscount Hanworth
Monday 28th October 2013

(10 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, cites as his authority the Financial Times. I want to address the question of energy prices by turning to the authority of the statutory committee set up by this Parliament, the Committee on Climate Change. I declare an interest as a member of that committee. Through rigorous detailed economic analysis it has uncovered the facts. Between 2004 and 2012 the average household energy bill for a dual-fuel household that uses electricity and gas increased by £520, from £610 to £1,130. How much of that was caused by green, low-carbon measures? The answer is that £30, or 6%, of the energy price increases over that period was due to investment in low-carbon energy generation. Another £45 was due to investment in energy efficiency to help with the affordability of energy for vulnerable consumers, and the rest was largely due to increases in the price of gas.

Turning to the present, 2013-14, the climate change committee has calculated that the increases due to the renewables obligation, the feed-in tariff, the energy company obligation and the carbon-price underpin between them amount to 1% of household energy bills. Let us look forward to 2020. The climate change committee estimates that household energy bills will be 10% higher due to low-carbon investment but—and this is an important but—that 10%, which is small in relation to the overall increase, could easily be offset by investment in energy efficiency such as the installation of new boilers and energy-efficient lighting, appliances, heating and insulation in homes. It is therefore a complete canard to claim that investment in low-carbon energy is the cause, and will be the cause, of increases in energy prices. It is simply not true. What about the commercial sector? The climate change committee estimates that by 2020 1p in every £10 will be added to consumer prices as a result of investment in low-carbon energy.

We should not get confused in this debate by the arguments about energy prices. We should also remind ourselves, as the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, has said, that this country is by no means the only one to be taking serious steps to transition to a low-carbon economy. China, Germany, South Korea, Mexico and many others are taking steps, just as we are. We are not leading alone but should be among the leading nations that are setting an example to the rest of the world.

The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that if we take no action we are likely to see global warming of between 3.2 and 5.4 degrees by the end of this century, which could be disastrous for our descendants, and that we should take action now. In that context, I commend the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, and hope that this House will support it.

Viscount Hanworth Portrait Viscount Hanworth (Lab)
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My Lords, the description of the Bill by the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, bears no relationship to what I and many others understand to be its nature. It is a curious document that is suffused with the free-market ideology that accompanied the privatisation of Britain’s energy industry in the latter years of the Thatcher Administration. The Bill contains evidence of the dangers of global warming and the effects of carbon emissions associated with fossil fuels, which have been well understood. However, notwithstanding its pieties in that respect, the Bill does very little to promote the cause of climate protection. It poses some ineffective and non-binding constraints on the rates of emission and, in truth, will not help in reaching the targets set out in the Climate Change Act 2008.

The truth is that the Bill is attempting to appease a powerful faction within the Conservative Party that is strongly opposed to any measures that might be taken to staunch the emissions of greenhouse gases. There is solid and highly disturbing scientific evidence that should alert every one of us to the perils that we face through global warming. However, many in the Conservative Party believe that they are as entitled to their own contrary opinions on such matters as any of the scientists are to theirs. The climate change deniers have a powerful ally in the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne. He envisages a dash for gas based on fuel that might be conjured up by fracturing the ground on which we stand. This vision has strongly influenced the Bill. Such a dash for gas would utterly negate the purposes of the Climate Change Act 2008, which proposed that the emissions of greenhouse gases in 2050 should be 80% lower than those in 1990.

The Labour Party brought the matter to a head in the Commons by tabling a reasoned amendment declining to give the Bill a Second Reading in the absence of a decarbonisation target. In the absence of full support from the Liberal Democrats, the amendment was defeated by 279 votes to 206. Perhaps now we can trust that the Liberal Democrats are not bound by whatever agreement it was that made them adhere to the Government’s position on the amendment, and that they will support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, which surely accords with their natural instincts. There is clamorous support from industry for a binding emissions target. A target somewhere between 100 grams and 50 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour, to be set in 2014, would indicate that the UK Government are genuinely committed to their climate change obligations, and give much needed confidence to investors.

The privatisation of the power industry, according to the nostrums of free-market economics, has given rise not to a competitive market but to a dysfunctional oligopoly consisting of six big companies. On the sidelines are a few small independent companies specialising in renewable power generation. Given adequate protection, the independent companies could be expected to provide a large proportion of the new investment in renewable power generation. At present, there is a danger of their being squeezed out of the market by the big six, who are intent on fulfilling their renewables obligations with their own power plants. The Government and the Department of Energy and Climate Change have paid scant attention to the plight of the independent generators. They need to act with urgency to protect these players.

The Government’s free-market ideology and aversion to government sponsorship and national ownership have severely prejudiced the prospects for nuclear energy in the UK. It is an outstanding irony that in their pursuit of a free-market ideology they have bequeathed our nuclear future to two foreign state-owned monopolists, Électricité de France and the China General Nuclear Power Company. These suppliers are expecting a rate of return in double figures as a consequence of a high price for their electricity that is guaranteed for a period of 35 years. This return is supposedly justified by the risks inherent in the project and the difficulties of raising the necessary finance on the open market.

However, in their attempt to attract firms to undertake nuclear projects, the Government have provided a so-called infrastructure guarantee that guarantees 65% of the necessary funds. Surely under such circumstances, it would have been appropriate for the Government to raise the necessary funds by selling bonds and to commission the building of the nuclear power stations directly, thereby taking them into national ownership. Such a course of action would have given the Government powers to ensure that native suppliers would be fully exploited and that our nuclear industry would stand a good chance of revival. Instead, foreign suppliers will predominate and Britain’s taxpayers will have the burden of supporting a much troubled French nationalised industry.