All 9 Lord Krebs contributions to the Agriculture Act 2020

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Wed 10th Jun 2020
Agriculture Bill
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2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading
Thu 9th Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
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Committee stage:Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 21st Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
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Committee stage:Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 28th Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
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Committee stage:Committee: 7th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 7th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 7th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 15th Sep 2020
Agriculture Bill
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Report stage & Report stage:Report: 1st sitting & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords & Report: 1st sitting & Report: 1st sitting: House of Lords
Thu 17th Sep 2020
Agriculture Bill
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Report stage:Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 22nd Sep 2020
Agriculture Bill
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Report stage:Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 20th Oct 2020
Agriculture Bill
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Consideration of Commons amendmentsPing Pong (Hansard) & Consideration of Commons amendments & Ping Pong (Hansard) & Ping Pong (Hansard): House of Lords
Mon 9th Nov 2020
Agriculture Bill
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Consideration of Commons amendmentsPing Pong (Hansard) & Consideration of Commons amendments

Agriculture Bill

Lord Krebs Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 10th June 2020

(4 years, 1 month ago)

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Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Consideration of Bill Amendments as at 13 May 2020 - large font accessible version - (13 May 2020)
Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB) [V]
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My Lords, in Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift wrote of the King of Brobdingnag:

“And he gave it for his opinion, that whoever could make two ears of corn or two blades of grass to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country than the whole race of politicians put together.”


That is precisely what Norman Borlaug and his fellow scientists did in the middle of the 20th century. The green revolution was a miracle. A combination of genetics, agrochemicals, irrigation and mechanisation meant that between 1960 and 2000, although the world population doubled, the amount of food produced per person increased by 25%. But we now know that this revolution came at a cost: damage to habitats, biodiversity, soils, the climate, freshwater, and farm animal welfare. That is why this Bill is so important and welcome. It gives us the framework for resetting agriculture in this country—for embarking on what has often been called the doubly green revolution. This means harnessing all the power of science and technology to produce more with less: more food with less impact on the environment, the climate and animal welfare. However, the Bill leaves as many questions as it provides answers. Here are just some of the points that should be explored in more detail in Committee. Other noble Lords have also mentioned them in their speeches.

First, how will the delivery of the public goods listed in Clause 1 be measured, who will do the monitoring and enforcement, and what sanctions will be applied to farmers who fail to comply? Will the office for environmental protection have a key role in this?

Secondly, there will inevitably be trade-offs. For instance, increasing productivity may imply extracting more from the land for our consumption and therefore leaving less for the rest of nature. By whom and by what process will these trade-offs be computed? For example, the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, mentioned the debate about land sharing versus land sparing. Will there be a transparent analysis of this approach to managing the trade-off?

Thirdly, the delivery of a cleaner, greener, more productive agriculture will require investment in science and technology, as well as knowledge transfer. What is the Government’s plan for enhancing the necessary science base, including gene editing, and ensuring that this new knowledge will be taken up by farmers?

Fourthly, as many noble Lords have already said, the Government claim that food safety, animal welfare and environmental standards will be the same for domestic and imported food, but what independent scrutiny of this commitment will there be?

Finally, it is often said that the UK has high animal welfare standards. However, we should be aware of the reality that many other European countries are already ahead of us. For example, beak trimming of hens is banned in six other European countries but not here. France and Germany will ban the castration of piglets without anaesthetic by the end of next year, but we have not made this commitment. Does the UK intend to catch up with the best in the world, or will it join the race to the bottom in the pursuit of new trade deals?

Agriculture Bill

Lord Krebs Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 9th July 2020

(4 years ago)

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Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I declare my interest as recorded in the register. I shall speak to Amendment 57 in this group. What I will say follows on very much from the last few words of the previous speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. In the past 60 years, there has been a trade-off between producing more food from agriculture and protecting the environment. In the UK, we have increased productivity, but at a cost: destroyed habitats, lost species, polluted and over-abstracted water, and an increased carbon footprint. This has been highlighted in many reports, including the one published on Monday by the Food, Poverty, Health and Environment Select Committee, which I have the privilege of chairing.

It is also spelled out in the 2019 State of Nature report, which monitors trends in thousands of species in Britain. The report concludes, for instance, that the total number of breeding birds in Britain went down by 44 million between 1967 and 2009. It also concludes that the Government’s own assessment is that they will not meet most of the global 2020 targets that they are committed to through the convention on biodiversity. The report further concludes that agriculture is one of the most significant causes of these losses in biodiversity.

The Bill is our opportunity to change the way in which we farm, and Amendment 57 seeks to plug a gap in the Bill. As it stands, Clause 1(2) could be a get-out-of-jail clause. The Government could subsidise productivity gains at the expense of the public goods listed in Clause 1(1). Can the Minister reassure us that public goods will not be sacrificed on the altar of productivity?

As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has so clearly articulated, new technologies provide the possibility of enhancing productivity with less damage to the environment. This is particularly important when you consider that agricultural productivity is usually measured as a ratio of output over input, which in itself has some very odd features. It means, for example, that if farm A produced 9 tonnes of wheat with 1 tonne of agrichemical from a certain piece of land, while farm B produced 90 tonnes of wheat with 10 tonnes of agrichemical from a piece of land the same size, both would have identical productivity—but the two would have very different implications for both food supply and environmental pollution. Farm B produces 10 times as much food as A, but with the potential for 10 times as much impact on the environment.

More importantly for Amendment 57, productivity does not include any reference to protecting the environment. If the Government are serious about rethinking the relationship between agriculture and the environment, is it also time to rethink how we measure agricultural productivity? For instance, should it be measured as kilogrammes of potatoes per skylark, or tonnes of wheat per pyramidal orchid? I look forward to the Minister’s reply on the Government’s plans for how they will measure productivity in future and how they intend to balance the increasing productivity that is referred to with protecting the environment.

Lastly, I add a footnote on Amendments 12 and 13, on education. We know that in this country there is a plan afoot to plant many trees. The climate change committee’s target is to plant 1.5 billion trees as soon as possible if we are to meet our 2050 net-zero target. How many forestry graduates are produced each year in this country, and are there enough to provide the expertise to manage this huge change in tree planting?

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) [V]
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. I very much endorse his committee’s report and urge noble Lords who have not read it yet to catch up with it. I also endorse his comments about Amendment 57, which is vital. We have seen so much focus on productivity measured purely as calories or tonnes per acre, which I will come back to in later groups.

I will speak primarily to Amendments 43 and 54, which are interlinked. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, already introduced them so I will not repeat that, but I thank him, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for supporting them. I also thank the noble Baroness for setting out so clearly the huge importance of county farms in allowing opportunities for new farmers and young farmers to get into the industry. It is crucial that this network is protected and, indeed, significantly enhanced.

I also reflect what the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said about local food and its importance in all communities, particularly those often labelled as “left behind”. Strong local food networks and strong local food-growing systems up and down the country mean that the economic benefits are distributed round the country. What we have in our economy in so many different ways is far too much concentration of economic benefits in London and the south-east. However, I have a word of warning about what the noble Lord said about cheap food. I always want to put scare quotes around “cheap food” in supermarkets. We always have to remember that cheap food is costing us the earth and our health.

I come to Amendments 43 and 54 and pay tribute to work of the Landworkers’ Alliance, Sustain and the Campaign to Protect Rural England, which all had input into them. They highlight how local food systems deliver benefits on a scale from the local to the global, but have suffered from decades of underinvestment. Many of the people involved in them—the producers, processors, retailers and caterers—are small and have limited management and financial capabilities for collaboration and sector development, although I note that other elements of the Bill seek to encourage that. It is something we want to see the Government support across the board.

The benefits of local food strategies and infrastructure are that they reduce our reliance on imported food. That means reducing exposure to volatile global markets and to the uncertainties of a world that now looks increasingly uncertain indeed. Local food systems have the capacity to meet up to 80% of the UK’s food demands through UK-based production, over 50% of which can be produced within 100 miles of where it is consumed. Think what a different system it would be if the majority of the food on your plate was local, with all the economic benefits circulating in the local economy.

This would also have the global impact of reducing “ghost acres”—the land in other countries which should be available to feed their own populations their own local food, but which is currently used for growing export crops. It would allow producers to gain a higher share of the retail pound through short supply chains, make farming enterprises more profitable and make a valuable contribution to those local economies. It should never be forgotten that farmers now get a lot less than 10% of the benefit of every pound spent on food.

On the broader economic benefits, there is evidence from Nourish Scotland that for every pound invested in local food, £6 to £8 is returned to local society and over 50% is retained in the local economy, while with non-local enterprises, such as supermarkets, only 15% to 30% of the money is returned. Local food means that public health priorities are catered to and local communities have fresher, more nutritious, more affordable food. There is also increased interaction with local vendors and the satisfaction, perhaps, of volunteering at local farms and of community-supported agriculture. It also means that we can have more diverse, sustainable, mixed farms that produce multiple products. That would enable more on-farm recycling, lower inputs, reduction of food waste and other environmental benefits.

A five-year mapping study from 2012, Mapping Local Food Webs, estimated that 103,000 jobs across England could already be attributed to the local food economy, with 61,000 flowing from local food sales. Spending in local food outlets supports an average of one job for every £46,000 of annual turnover, while in the three major national chains it is one job per £138,000 to £144,000. We are talking about a system that works for people and for the environment, so I commend Amendments 43 and 54 to your Lordships’ House.

I will also refer to Amendment 61 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, to which I attached my name. It refers to growing under glass. I not sure that “glass” is quite the right word, but I am sure everyone knows what we are talking about. It talks about using renewable energy and there are real possibilities, such as using waste heat, reducing carbon emissions and using energy and resources well. This is an area in which the UK has very much been left behind compared with countries such as the Netherlands. I express my concern here. I have already tabled a Written Question to the Government about the low-carbon heat consultation, which currently excludes the potential of large-scale heat pumps, which could be fed into this area.

I will also briefly refer to Amendments 12 and 13. My noble friend Lady Jones attached her name to Amendment 12 and has already referred to both of them. It is vital to understand where our food comes from. I refer noble Lords to a fascinating study from the British Nutrition Foundation that found that one-third of primary school pupils thought that cheese came from plants. We have a long way to go to ensure that we have a full understanding of where our food comes from, the importance of food security and how our entire economy is a subset of the natural world.

Agriculture Bill

Lord Krebs Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 21st July 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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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.

Agriculture Bill

Lord Krebs Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 7th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 7th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 28th July 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Hodgson of Abinger Portrait Baroness Hodgson of Abinger (Con) [V]
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I am pleased to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, and will speak to Amendment 271 in my name, ably spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and also in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell. We represent many sides of the House.

However, before doing so, I add my voice to those thanking my noble friend the Minister for his courtesy and patience through this long marathon of a Committee stage. I also thank the Public Bill Office and Government Whips’ Office for all their hard work. I know they have spent many hours making sure that we could debate this.

As others have stated, the Bill gives us the chance to ensure that we support our farmers by not allowing products into this country that have not been raised to the same standards that we insist on here. It is blatantly wrong to insist on standards for our farmers and then to let in food not raised in that way that undercuts our domestic production.

At Second Reading, I was struck by my noble friend the Minister, for whom I have enormous respect, talking as though all is in order now. The fact is that, at the moment, we are letting in food not raised to the same standards. As others have observed, the Conservative Party 2019 manifesto contains an important commitment:

“In all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.”


This is particularly important in the case of meat, where we not only undercut our own farmers but at times encourage poor welfare standards in other countries by buying their products. If we believe in good welfare standards—and there is a real moral case for this—we should not be turning a blind eye to what is going on in other parts of the world.

There has been a lot of publicity about chlorinated chicken, but the more concerning issues are the stocking densities and the amount of antibiotics pumped into them to keep them healthy. Of course, it is not just chickens from the US but those from other parts of the world, where we know even less about the quality of the production systems.

I gather that some of the Government’s opposition to this proposed new clause hinges on the UK’s lack of ability to produce enough to answer demand. In the case of chicken, this mainly revolves around the fact that British people like to eat breast meat rather than the dark meat. If more dark meat was eaten, we could probably more or less answer our domestic needs.

However, surely we need to tell those countries that want to export to us that we require a certain standard of welfare in their food production. During this time of Covid, we have realised how important it is to produce our own food, and our farmers have continued to work throughout. Surely, we should be looking after our farmers and encouraging more production in this country?

Others have commented on the new Trade and Agriculture Commission and I do not propose to do so too. All I will say is that sometimes commissions can be a way of kicking issues into the long grass. This issue really needs addressing because, as others have stated, it has such enormous public support. In a recent poll, over four-fifths of people—81%—said that they think the Government should block food imports that do not meet the UK’s environmental and animal welfare standards, even if this could mean that consumers miss out on lower food prices. Please let us take this opportunity, not only to support our farmers but to ensure that, if we believe in welfare standards, we stop importing food that does not meet them.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB) [V]
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to speak in support of Amendment 270 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, which I have also signed. I also support other amendments in this group with a similar intent.

In their joint letter to MPs and Peers dated 5 June 2020, the Secretary of State for International Trade, the right honourable Elizabeth Truss, and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the right honourable George Eustice, stated that, in all their trade negotiations, the Government

“will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards”.

However, when asked in a House of Lords debate about trade deals that could allow imports farmed to less rigorous standards, the noble Lord, Lord Agnew of Oulton, Minister of State at the Cabinet Office and Treasury, stated that

“there has to be a balance between keeping food affordable for people ... to ensure that they are able to eat healthily, while not undermining in any way the quality of the food we eat.”—[Official Report, 6/5/20; col. 520.]

This second statement seems to leave wiggle room, so what is the Government’s position?

As the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and other noble Lords, said, the Government are unwilling to make a legally binding commitment to not dilute standards of imported food. As my noble friends Lord Curry of Kirkharle and Lord Cameron of Dillington, and many other noble Lords, said, the Trade and Agriculture Commission will not have enough teeth or last long enough to do the job that is needed. I also note that it has no consumer representative among its members.

My concern is this: assuming that the Government do allow food produced to lower standards to be imported—which I think is inevitable—who will end up eating it? The boss of Waitrose has already said that his stores will not sell food produced to lower standards, such as chlorinated chicken. It is very likely that other supermarkets will follow Waitrose’s lead. The same will be true of the major restaurant chains, which will wish to protect their brands. So where is the lower-standard food most likely to end up? It will probably be in the small, low-end independent restaurants and in fast-food takeaways such as fried chicken shops. It will primarily be eaten by less well-off consumers. I therefore ask the Minister to unequivocally state that the Government will not allow a two-tier food system to develop in this country in which poor people eat poorer quality food produced to lower standards.

Lord Addington Portrait Lord Addington (LD)
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My Lords, as I have listened to this debate my speech has got shorter and shorter. If ever there was a person ringing a bell and saying: “Press officer beware”, it is my noble friend Lord Greaves. I find myself strongly agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Randall, who said that the Government are getting into trouble here. Will they please do as the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, said and honour their own manifesto? That is all we are really asking for, and any of these amendments would take steps towards making sure that we know the standards are there.

It is an old cliché that we trust this Minister implicitly but the one who follows him could be the devil incarnate. However, the closest we get to binding anybody to anything is to put it in to law, even though, ultimately, it can be changed. If we do not get something on the face of the Bill—and I cannot see any other bit of legislation it could go into—there is no other way of at least making the Government stand up and say: “Yes, we are changing it because …” That is what this is about.

I hope that the Minister is taking this on board. As my noble friend Lord Greaves also said, there will be ping-pong; a backhand, a forehand and the odd smash might be involved in this one. The House could get involved in a long discussion, asking the Government to honour their own manifesto commitment. I would not have thought any Government would want that.

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Lord Cameron of Dillington Portrait Lord Cameron of Dillington [V]
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My Lords, in introducing this amendment I declare an interest as chair of the advisory board of the Government’s Global Food Security programme. On this board we look at all UK research relating to food. We cover not plough to plate but one stage further at either end—soils to stomach—thus tracing a chain from the billions of bacteria in soil that convert sunlight and water into crops, all the way through to the billions of bacteria in our stomachs that convert those crops into human energy.

The first thing to say about crop research in the UK is that the days when it was all about yield per hectare are long gone. If there is a primary target in present research objectives it is nutrition per hectare but, most importantly, without any degradation of ecosystems and natural resources. This has been the case in the research community for the last five to 10 years. Actually, there are many objectives in crop and animal research these days, and there could be many more as the world changes. Crops that have resilience are often better than crops that have high yields.

The questions being asked include: how do you breed plants that can resist the many different diseases and pests present in every country without having to put chemicals into the environment? We have already debated the problem of agricultural sprays in this country, but it is even more important in the developing world, where literacy is a problem among farmers and chemicals therefore tend to get used far too liberally, often to the detriment of the farmer’s health. The other thing about gene resistance to pests is that it is better for biodiversity. Why? Because, unlike sprays, it does not kill the pest; it just protects the crop from the pest.

Next, how do you breed a plant that can resist droughts brought about by climate change? Irrigation schemes are expensive and use valuable water. Seeds are much cheaper, so you can breed either a plant that requires less water or, more often, one that comes to fruition—that is, to harvest—two or three weeks earlier, during which time its older counterpart might have shrivelled and died.

How do you breed a plant that resists flooding—either one that can stay alive underwater for several days or one that, when threatened, spurts upwards to keep its head above the floodwaters? How do you breed plants that are salt-tolerant or that produce crops less susceptible to the dreadful post-harvest losses you get in Africa, or plants that have a longer shelf life for our supermarkets and thus reduce the need for plastic?

How do you breed a wheat that minimises its gluten content to help coeliacs? How do you reduce the major allergy features of peanuts? That would surely save a few lives. How do you produce plants, such as tomatoes, that can be grown in an urban context—small plants that are covered with fruit but can grow on walls or in window boxes—or a cassava plant that does not have to be dried and processed within 24 hours, or a cocoa plant resistant to mildew or phytophthora? Finally, turning to yield, can you breed a wheat or rice that produces a much larger grain?

The answer is that all of the above are part of gene-editing research programmes at different stages of development in different parts of the world. We are not talking only about wheat, maize and rice here but sweet potatoes, cassava, cowpea, sorghum, millet, coffee, cocoa, fruits and vegetables, et cetera. Let us face it: we are too dependent on wheat, rice and maize, from the point of view of both resilience and, above all, nutrition. More work needs to be done urgently on these so-called orphan crops.

My point is that the opportunities and urgent needs are there in their thousands. If we are to meet our sustainable development goals and keep up with our exploding world population, speed is of the essence. Speed is the essence of what this amendment is all about —but not reckless speed. I want to make this absolutely clear: we are not asking or wishing for any reduction in the stringent regulatory requirements or supervision of all forms of breeding techniques of plants or animals. Defra’s Animal and Plant Health Agency insists that all new varieties must undergo at least two years of official tests and trials. Furthermore, the Home Office animal experiment regulations also license and test every stage of gene editing, over many years, so we already have a well-functioning UK regulatory system, with an impeccable track record of food safety, animal husbandry and environmental protection. This will continue and can easily embrace these new breeding techniques. But, as with traditional breeding, once the crops have passed all the tests and we know they are safe to grow, farmers should be allowed to grow them for sale.

The speed that is necessary comes from the scientific precision of breeding plants and animals using gene editing. Let me explain. Genetic changes used by traditional plant breeders are mutations that arise randomly in crop plants. Normally, a breeder will select for a handful of beneficial changes, in a background of thousands of other mutations that are either neutral or sometimes even negative. At a plant-breeding station, the greenhouses are full of hundreds of hybrids, of which probably only one or two are desirable. The removal of undesirable off-target characteristics, by back-crossing and selection, is what breeders have been doing for thousands of years since the domestication of crops and livestock.

In gene editing, the genetic changes are the same as those used by traditional breeders, but targeted more precisely. There is only a small or non-existent background of trial and error, so the precision of the breeding technique is the clue to its safety for the environment and the world around it.

One of the problems with a recent EU court ruling on this, which is raising concerns even among the most conservative member states, is how you can tell a gene-edited plant from a naturally bred one. There is no way of telling unless you were present at its conception. Some members of the German Green Party have also questioned the ruling. Their point is that, if the technique is regularly used in human health—to genetically manipulate antibiotic clusters, for instance—why should it not also be used to benefit the wider world? I agree with them. With the strong backing of more than 100 EU scientific organisations, the Commission is now looking carefully at the rules on precision breeding, with a view to reporting next April. I strongly suspect that the EU rules will change.

So we seek both precision and speed. Instead of taking 10 to 12 years or longer to develop a new seed, we are talking about two to three years. This allows the development to be driven by a wider range of research organisations, mostly led by small businesses and public research organisations, not just large multinationals. It allows some of the world’s best agricultural research stations, which we have in this country—places such as Rothamsted, John Innes and James Hutton—to team up with smaller research stations in developing countries, which have special crops, often with special local problems. By working with these poorer countries, as well as with UK agriculture, we can help farmers everywhere produce the food that their local population requires.

Another important point is that this proposed amendment would not affect, in any way, the control or current status of genetically modified crops, in which entire genes or even groups of genes can be transferred between species. This would remain strictly outside this law, with even their controlled experimentation, in government research stations, having to be licensed in exceptional circumstances. This amendment, however, would bring our rules into line with most other countries, apart from the EU, where precise improvements are made within the same species—improvements that could have occurred naturally or through traditional breeding methods.

Another final issue I will touch on quickly is the possibility of unintended consequences of gene editing. I have already commented on the greater likelihood of risks from traditional breeding techniques, both in plants and animals, but the main point to emphasise—and this applies to all scientists, whatever techniques they are using—is that modern scientists are always wrestling with the effects of their work on the wider environment. How will this affect the soil, the air, the local flora and fauna, including humans, and even the landscape? The idea is that their work should benefit the world in all its aspects. If they do not think like that, in this country at any rate, their regulators certainly do.

As we emerge from this Covid disaster, it is vital that our scientists are able to employ the precision and speed needed to breed the best and most useful crops with safety. I urge the Government to accept this amendment, which empowers them to consult and act on the possibility of making changes to the Environmental Protection Act 1990. I beg to move.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs [V]
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My Lords, it is a privilege to follow my noble friend Lord Cameron of Dillington, who has so beautifully set out the basis for this amendment. I am sorry that, on this occasion, I part company with a number of Peers whose views I hugely respect and with Greener UK, whose support, on this and other Bills, I have much appreciated. I speak as a career academic scientist whose specialism is ecology and the environment.

I will make three points. First, I will reiterate the scientific difference between gene editing and genetic modification. Gene editing is like traditional breeding, but more targeted. It involves tweaking the genes that are already there in the organism. It is roughly analogous to adjusting one of the ingredients in a recipe to improve the flavour of the dish. On the other hand, traditional genetic modification involves inserting new genes from a different organism. It is a bit like the introduction of a new ingredient into the recipe to change the nature of the dish. For example, one of the major GM crops is Bt maize, with a toxin gene from the bacterium bacillus thuringiensis that confers resistance to corn borer. Gene-edited crops, with their ingredients adjusted, could be safer, more nutritious, more productive and more resistant to climate change, as my noble friend Lord Cameron of Dillington so eloquently explained.

But—this is my second point—the difference between genetic modification and gene editing is not relevant to those who object to gene editing. The objection is not about science but something else. Opposition to modern genetic technology, whether gene editing or GMOs, is often presented as three worries: the food made from GM crops is not safe to eat; the crops are not safe for the environment, for instance because genes could jump into wild plants or because it is part of the intensification of agriculture, which destroys habitats and biodiversity; and genetic technologies favour big agritech companies at the expense of small farmers.

The worriers also invoke the precautionary principle, saying that we should never adopt new technologies until we are 100% sure they are risk free. Ironically, the same individuals often invoke the precautionary principle as a call for new technologies to be used, even when the science is incomplete, for example on reducing pollution levels in the environment. In reality, these arguments are all code for a different vision of the future of agriculture, one that returns to traditional low-intensity methods, such as organic farming. In fact, organic farming and gene editing should not be in opposition. Organic farmers have as much to gain as conventional farmers, if not more, from the genetic improvement of their crops to make them more disease resistant without pesticides, more nutritious, more productive and so on.

My third point is that the amendment calls for public consultation, which is key if we are to avoid the mistakes of the 1990s. Noble Lords will recall that the first GM food on sale in the UK was tomato paste made with Flavr Savr tomatoes. These tomatoes do not go squidgy on ripening, so they produce a sweeter product. The GM tomato paste tasted better, was slightly cheaper and was clearly labelled. It sold well, until the campaigning groups launched their highly successful “Frankenstein foods” campaign. Before long, the supermarket shelves were cleared of all products involving GM.

Agriculture Bill

Lord Krebs Excerpts
Report stage & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords & Report: 1st sitting & Report: 1st sitting: House of Lords
Tuesday 15th September 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 130-II(Rev) Revised second marshalled list for Report - (15 Sep 2020)
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, Amendment 31 would require the Secretary of State to have regard to the Government’s environmental improvement plan when setting out their strategic priorities for financial assistance in the multiannual plans.

This amendment tackles an issue raised in previous debates in your Lordships’ House—the lack of joined-up policy across the different initiatives before us. It was an issue in the Fisheries Bill, and there is a similar issue in this Bill. It was a failing identified by this year’s report of the Natural Capital Committee, which criticised the silo approach to policies being adopted by Defra. It is a failing identified by the Committee on Climate Change, which wrote to the Minister, Victoria Prentis, in June this year, urging the department to develop a joined-up approach, stating:

“Defra has yet to set out how ELM”—


environmental land management—

“the Environment Bill, the 25 Year Environment Plan and various policies planned for trees, peatlands and nature will fit together.”

It is also a failing underlined by the latest progress report on the 25-year environment plan, which showed, for example, no progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from natural resources such as agriculture and forestry.

This amendment would forge a critical link between the Agriculture Bill, the Environment Bill and the 25-year environment plan. It would ensure that we avoid the mistakes of the past, where the common agricultural policy made decisions on farming which bore no relationship to the EU’s environmental policy.

We accept that the Government’s current intention is to base the new ELM scheme on the 25-year environment plan. This point was made by the Minister in Committee when we tabled a similar amendment. But this Bill is for the long term, and policy priorities change. Equally, the 25-year environment plan is a long-term document. It would be all too easy for these documents to diverge over time. Without the clear link to the environment improvement plan set out on the face of the Bill, it would be entirely possible for a future Secretary of State to set out strategic priorities for financial assistance under this Bill that bear no relationship to the key environmental strategy set out elsewhere. The amendment seeks to fill that structural deficit. It would provide stability and reassurance for the long term, and policy direction to address the many criticisms of a lack of joined-up government on these issues.

We were disappointed that the Government did not hear the sense of our argument at Committee and come back with their own version of an amendment which would address our concerns. I ask the Minister specifically to give a commitment to come back at Third Reading with a government amendment on this issue. If the noble Baroness feels unable to do so, I give notice now that I am minded to test the opinion of the House. I beg to move.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB) [V]
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and to support this amendment. She set out the issues clearly, so I will be brief.

In Committee, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has already mentioned, the Government sought to reassure noble Lords that they were committed to achieving their aim of leaving the environment in a better state than they found it and that the environmental improvement plans involved in this strategy would be covered in the Environment Bill. We were also told that the office for environmental protection will monitor progress and make recommendations to the Government for further action. We do not yet know what sort of teeth the OEP will have and whether or not the Government will follow its recommendations.

Agriculture Bill

Lord Krebs Excerpts
Report stage & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 17th September 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 130-III(Corrected) Third marshalled list for Report - (17 Sep 2020)
Moved by
58: After Clause 17, insert the following new Clause—
“National Food Strategy
(1) The Secretary of State must, before the end of the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, lay before Parliament a strategy outlining the steps that Her Majesty’s Government proposes to take to—(a) increase sustainability of food production,(b) support food production and consumption, and(c) improve dietary health and reduce obesity,in the United Kingdom.(2) In relation to the priority mentioned in subsection (1)(a), the strategy must include analysis of the merits of—(a) incorporating the environmental sustainability of food into the Eatwell Guide,(b) ensuring that domestically produced food meets environmental sustainability standards,(c) ensuring that food waste is minimised,(d) ensuring that public procurement meets both health and sustainability standards, and(e) providing increased funding for research and development into sustainable agriculture.(3) In relation to the priority mentioned in subsection (1)(b), the strategy must include analysis of the merits of—(a) supporting local and regional food identities,(b) supporting procurement of food produced in the United Kingdom where appropriate and sustainable, and(c) developing an assurance scheme for food produced in the United Kingdom to enhance consumer confidence in the safety, quality and sustainability of such food.(4) In relation to the priority mentioned in subsection (1)(c), the strategy must include analysis of the merits of—(a) ensuring the reformulation of less healthy foods using fiscal and other appropriate means,(b) restricting the marketing, promotion, and advertising of less healthy food both in retail outlets and through the media,(c) reducing food insecurity, food poverty, and obesity in the lowest income groups,(d) standardising and mandating food labelling relating to nutrition, and(e) improving children’s diets.(5) Before publishing the strategy under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must develop a standardised set of reporting metrics on health and sustainability across the food system by which progress on implementation of the strategy can be measured.(6) The strategy in subsection (1) must—(a) set out proposals for independent oversight of aspects of food policy covered by the strategy, and(b) consider whether responsibility for such oversight should be given to—(i) a new non-departmental public body, or(ii) an existing organisation.(7) In preparing the strategy under subsection (1) the Secretary of State must consult—(a) other relevant Ministers of the Crown,(b) the Scottish Ministers,(c) the Welsh Ministers, (d) the Northern Ireland Department, and(e) bodies that appear to the Secretary of State to represent the interests of the UK agricultural and food sectors.(8) In this section—“Eatwell Guide” means the United Kingdom’s national food guide entitled the “Eatwell Guide”, as produced by Her Majesty’s Government;“food waste” means waste of agri-food products by households or the food service sector;“less healthy food” means foods high in fat, salt and sugars.”
Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I thank the Minister and his officials for spending time yesterday in discussion with all four of us who have signed this cross-party amendment. Amendment 58 seeks to put into the Bill something that the Government are already committed to doing. The Government have said that they are

“committed to ensuring our food system delivers safe, healthy, affordable food for everyone, regardless of where they live or how much they earn, and which is built on a sustainable and resilient agriculture sector.”

This is precisely the purpose of the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, spoke eloquently a few moments ago about the nature of our food system. He anticipated a number of points that I will make in my short introduction.

The amendment would ensure that the Government put in place policies that will, in combination, help to tackle the dreadful burden of ill-health in this country that is caused by poor diet, particularly among the poorest in society. The Covid-19 epidemic has brought the cost of obesity into stark relief. The Government have spoken of it as a wake-up call. The new obesity strategy, launched on 27 July, is a very welcome step and an acknowledgment of the crisis we are facing.

The amendment would also ensure that our food system is more environmentally sustainable, underpinned by the latest science, while supporting farmers by encouraging local food, where appropriate. The fact that this country is one of the most depleted in the world in its biodiversity shows how unsustainable we have been up to now. I anticipate that the Minister will say in his reply that the Government have commissioned Henry Dimbleby to prepare a report on the national food strategy and are committed to publishing a White Paper within six months of his final report, and that this amendment is therefore unnecessary. However, this process may well take us into mid-2022. Any actions that follow would not only be uncertain; they might not arise until some distant future.

Fixing the failures in our food system is too urgent for further delay. If the disagreement is about not whether but when, let us get on with it now. Neither the children whose lives will be blighted by ill-health from unhealthy foods nor the environment that is being damaged by food production can wait any longer. I will listen carefully to the debate and the Minister’s reply but if he is not able to give a commitment to act sooner rather than later, I will wish to test the opinion of the House. I beg to move.

Baroness Boycott Portrait Baroness Boycott (CB) [V]
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and it has been an enormous pleasure to serve on the committee of which he was the chair. I think that our report has been invaluable and is extremely thorough, and I know that, like him, we are a little disappointed by the Government’s reaction. However, also like him, I very much thank the Minister for the time he has spent with us.

It is roughly 12 years to the day since I began work as the chair of the London Food Board—appointed by our current Prime Minister, in fact. I have worked for many years in this area: I have loads that I could talk about and loads of things that I have done. However, despite all the effort of so many people working across the sector—charities, Governments, think tanks, consultancies, agencies, doctors and health departments—the situation has not got better. Actually, it has got worse.

Next week, the Food Foundation—of which I am a trustee—publishes the updated version of its annual publication, The Broken Plate. It makes for terrible reading. I will give the House just a few snapshots. Within food advertising budgets, out of a rough spend of around £300 million, 14% is spent on soft drinks, 17% is spent on confectionery, 17.7% is spent on snacks and just 2.9% is spent on fruit and veg. The poorest 10% of households would need to spend 76% of their disposable income to meet the Government’s recommended diet, the “eatwell plate”. Since last year, this has risen by over 2%.

If you are a baby born today, these are your life chances with the system we now have. At age five, 13% will be overweight and 9% will be obese. At age 21, 21% will be overweight and 25% will be obese. However, at 65, 22% will be overweight and a staggering 57% will be obese, and they will have a range of illnesses: diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancers and osteoporosis, as well as really bad teeth.

Why on earth do we let this carry on? I have been asking myself this question repeatedly for 12 years. I have also been involved in many measures to fix it: little moves that perhaps make something a bit better; bits of Sellotape over this problem or that problem. But the thing is—and this is why this amendment is so important—it is not about fixing one little thing here or another thing there; this is a system that is largely outside the Government’s control. As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said on the previous group of amendments, it is a system run by a few very giant companies that have become very rich at our expense.

If you apply simple capitalism to the food system, this is what you get: sell more products made from ever-cheaper ingredients. It is easy to see it when you talk about clothes or cars, but it is also what we do with food, and these are the results we see around us. We have foods that contain chemicals, that have necessitated cutting down rainforests and that have deprived orangutans of their homes. In short, we have created a system that is out of control. What we have is the politics of the market and not the politics of health.

If we want to make proper improvements, we have to support this amendment. It is only by having a proper food strategy—one that cuts across government, involves all the departments and is treated with the serious attitude that it deserves—that we will make the proper changes that we need. When noble Lords are thinking about voting on this, I ask them to please remember that food is also the major driver of our biodiversity. That is why it belongs here in this discussion about agriculture.

It is not just that we are getting ill from our food system: insects are dying, while animals all over the world are losing their habitats. Right now, roughly 65 billion animals are sitting in some sort of cage somewhere on our planet, eating food that, as was said, often requires deforestation to make, and waiting to be killed and processed on the journey to our plates. This is a really lousy way to run such an important system. It is a tragedy, because nature gives us healthy food—amazing and extraordinary stuff. I believe that we all have a right to it, wherever we live and whatever we own. I beg noble Lords to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs.

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Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords. I am well aware of the mindset of many of your Lordships, having had discussions with the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and other noble Lords yesterday, as well as from what has been said today.

However, I open by saying that the Government are committed to developing a food strategy. I thought that in some of the contributions it appeared as if this was not the case so I point out that commitment, which will support the development of a sustainable, resilient and affordable food system, support people to live healthy lives, and protect animal health and welfare. I say to my noble friend Lord Dundee—without any chiding—that that is why the Government have already commissioned an independent review into the whole of the food sector. The review was launched in June 2019, and in July this year the first report was released, dealing with some of the most urgent questions raised by Covid-19 and EU exit.

The final report from Henry Dimbleby’s review is expected to be published in 2021. It will provide an opportunity to analyse the food system in this country and put forward—yes—an ambitious and comprehensive plan for transforming it. Although it will be for the independent team to develop its final report, it will examine the food system from root to branch, analysing in detail the economics and power dynamics that shape it, the benefits it brings and the harm it does. In doing so, it will look across the interwoven issues of health, climate change—mentioned by my noble friend Lord Caithness—biodiversity, pollution, antimicrobial resistance, zoonotic diseases and the sustainable use of resources.

The Agriculture Bill is a framework Bill, and it is unusual to put detailed commitments into this enabling legislation. The Government have been very firm on their commitment to publish a food White Paper within six months of Henry Dimbleby’s final report—my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering referred to that. It is only reasonable to say that we will need that time to reflect and secure agreement from all government departments ahead of Henry Dimbleby’s final recommendations.

We must also be careful not to pre-empt the contents of the final report, providing the independent team the opportunity to assess independently which measures would be most effective for our food system. Specifying what the White Paper must cover at this stage brings with it the risk that it directs thinking in a certain way, which could lead to new and innovative ideas being missed. It would therefore be premature to set out exactly what the Government’s food strategy must cover in the way that the amendment prescribes. The Government also have an issue with fixing a timetable without certainty on the publication date of the final report.

I also see this amendment in the context of the food security reports. Matters such as food supply and consumption, food safety, the resilience of the supply chain for food and household expenditure are already stated as being within the scope of these food security reports. The first report is be published on or before the last sitting day before Christmas for both Houses of Parliament. This report will also include an analysis of statistical data relating to the effects of coronavirus on food security in the United Kingdom, which was a key focus of the first report from the national food strategy. These reports will therefore certainly support the development and fulfilment of an ambitious food strategy.

I am also grateful for the Hungry for Change report, published this July by our Select Committee on Food, Poverty, Health and the Environment. We will of course be building on a wide range of work as we develop our food strategy, including that report and many others.

I will cut in here and say that the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, mentioned diet, but only one noble Lord referred candidly to exercise: the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, obviously has a lifetime’s commitment to access and walking. Again, this is not just one thing but a combination of many issues that we have to grapple with.

Tackling public health and food issues properly requires a joined-up and practical approach across government departments, which goes beyond this Bill alone. During the Covid crisis, collaboration between government departments has been vital to ensuring that the food system receives the required support. We set up a joint ministerial food and essential supplies to the vulnerable taskforce, and throughout the crisis this example of cross-government working ensured that vulnerable people had access to food.

We are committed to continuing this level of collaboration and engagement across government to develop and deliver a new food strategy, as will be set out in the White Paper. I say to my noble friend Lord Caithness, for example, that Defra is already working with the Department of Health and Social Care and others to ensure that improving public health is a core priority of government policy.

Covid-19 has brought the risks of obesity and other health issues into sharp focus. As we all identify, it is more important than ever that people achieve a healthier lifestyle. The Government launched their new obesity strategy on 27 July to set out practical measures to get the nation fit and healthier, protect people against Covid-19 and protect the NHS. A coalition of partners is supporting delivery of the strategy through the Better Health campaign, which is encouraging adults to introduce changes to help them work towards a healthier weight.

The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, referred to his concern about “sooner or later”. I understand that, of course. There is an imperative about the Government’s work in seeking out Henry Dimbleby to bring this forward, and our promise remains to bring forward a White Paper within six months of the final Dimbleby report. If we are on target, Royal Assent to this Bill is probably in October. Advancing this amendment, we are voting, if that is noble Lords’ wish, for something the Government will have to reject in the other place in the end—I must not conjecture on what the other place will do—because of the timing.

I say honestly, and can commit this across government, that I am fully confident that the plans already in place by the Government to develop a comprehensive food strategy will deliver the intent behind this very laudable amendment. There are issues, as in all these things. My noble friend Lord Caithness said he would have liked this or that. There are issues in putting something in the Bill now, but I think we are all united in wanting to ensure that our food system is fair, affordable, healthy and sustainable.

I understand the mood of the House. I think I assess the mood of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, although I must not pre-empt him. I ask him to withdraw his amendment because of the points I have made genuinely. The Government are developing a food strategy; it is an issue of timing. The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, has been engaged in the Dimbleby report. She, more than anyone else, can confirm that this is a report of the utmost depth and rigour. The Government will want to have at least six months—or within the six months, as I have said—to make sure we get cross-Whitehall collaboration to bring forward something of lasting value to every person in this country.

My reasoning for asking the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, to withdraw his amendment is not to reject his and other noble Lords’ very distinguished role in bringing this matter forward but to be honest in saying that I think there are difficulties because of the timing. I respect whatever the noble Lord does, but that is why I ask him to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB) [V]
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I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate and the Minister for his careful and considered response. Overall, there has been very strong support for the amendment, with some excellent speeches. I will mention just a few points; I cannot really do justice to them all.

My noble friend Lady Boycott made the important point that, in spite of all the efforts made in recent years, things are still heading in the wrong direction. The Food Foundation’s Broken Plate report highlights some stark statistics to support this. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, also emphasised the urgency and pointed out that the current strategy is to let the industry rip. She also highlighted, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, the importance of metrics and measurements to ensure that we know whether we are moving in the right direction.

Agriculture Bill

Lord Krebs Excerpts
Report stage & Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 22nd September 2020

(3 years, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 130-IV Provisional Fourth marshalled list for Report - (21 Sep 2020)
I close by expressing my gratitude to the noble Lords, Lord Wigley and Lord Empey, for their Amendments 103 and 105. They may have taken slightly different approaches, but the theme is consistent: the legislation before the House should deliver on the Government’s own stated aim of maintaining the UK’s high agricultural and animal welfare standards. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, for Amendment 90. We agree with the sentiments behind the amendment but cannot support it, as our amendment is much preferred. I hope that all noble Lords will feel able to support the amendments in my name and I signal my intent, at this stage, to call for Divisions on them. I beg to move.
Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB) [V]
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and to support Amendments 89ZA and 93, both of which I have signed. Noble Lords have received repeated assurances from the Government that, to quote from the most recent Defra briefing note,

“in all future trade negotiations we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards”.

With this assurance, why is Amendment 93 needed? For me, there are unanswered questions and uncertainties about the Government’s statement. I will summarise some of them.

First, the wording of the Defra briefing notes that I have just quoted avoids saying that there will be no imported food of lower standards than UK-produced food. Perhaps this is because the Government consider that imposing certain domestic standards on imports may breach WTO rules as “technical barriers to trade”. This was just discussed in great detail by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. According to the interim report from Henry Dimbleby, we are already able to import certain commodities produced in ways that would not be allowed in the UK—for instance, using neonicotinoid pesticides. It is also unclear whether the pledge that the Government make applies only to novel foods, as it refers to the future, or to existing approved foods. My first question is: what is the Government’s position?

My second question is: what is meant by food standards? Standards is a vague term that can mean different things to different people. How do the Government define it? For instance, do they include food production standards in the definition?

Thirdly, it is not clear what role the Food Standards Agency and its sister organisation Food Standards Scotland will play alongside other bodies mentioned by Defra, namely the Animal and Plant Health Agency, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate and the Health and Safety Executive. This is pertinent, as the Food Standards Agency is an independent, non-ministerial department while the other bodies are not independent—they are executive agencies, or non-departmental public bodies, directly accountable to their parent departments. Will the Food Standards Agency advise on welfare and environmental standards as well as on food safety standards?

Fourthly, the Defra statement does not say who will police production standards of imported food as it crosses the border. The Food Standards Agency and the Animal and Plant Health Agency currently check food safety and phytosanitary standards, but not production standards.

Fifthly, the Food Standards Agency will have to carry out additional duties in future. Has it been given sufficient additional resources in its baseline to carry these out? If so, who has determined the amount of extra money required?

Sixthly, and finally, the briefing says that decisions on imported foods will be taken by Health Ministers informed by the advice of the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland. What are the other factors that Ministers will take into consideration when making these decisions? The briefing implies that they will not simply follow the advice of the FSA or FSS but will take other factors into account.

It is only by supporting Amendments 89ZA and 93 that we can be sure that the Government are bound to their commitment not to import food of lower standards than our own domestic products. I look forward to the Minister’s answers to my questions but, as things stand, I will support these amendments if there is a vote and urge other noble Lords to do the same.

Baroness Boycott Portrait Baroness Boycott (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Lords, Lord Grantchester and Lord Krebs. I, too, thoroughly support the amendment. I apologise for my internet connection and hope that noble Lords can hear me.

Food is already in a mess, before we even contemplate lowering the standards that we have. For instance, we already know that chlorinated chicken is just the tip of the iceberg of bad food that comes into this country. I am greatly worried not just about the environmental impacts of cheap and bad food on the planet but also about its health implications. Bad food is the result of overconsumption and overproduction of processed, sugary foods, yet recently US negotiators have said that they were concerned that labelling food with high sugar content

“is not particularly useful in changing consumer behaviour”.

Anyone who has been involved in food politics knows that that is rubbish. It is like saying that labelling a packet of cigarettes as jolly good for your health is a way that will not help change consumer behaviour. This is completely contrary to over 20 years of UK policy to introduce clear, front-of-pack, traffic-light nutrition information to help shoppers easily identify which products are high in sugar, salt and fat. Reading any of the Government’s proposed new obesity strategies shows that this labelling is planned to be even clearer.

Across the world, labelling is already incredibly complicated. The industry likes it like that. It does not want things to be simple. However, there are people around the world trying to deal with this. For instance, the Health Minister in Chile recently decided that no cereal companies could use cartoons to sell their products, so Tony the Tiger disappeared, replaced by a black splodge. Children now tell their parents not to eat that cereal. If we do not set high standards, we will never be able to change things like this. We will not even be able to label sugar clearly.

I am also very worried about what will come into this country. Why on earth do we need more American biscuits? If you take a biscuit such as Tim Tams, a chocolate-covered cream biscuit, extremely like a Penguin, we will get this in spades and it will be cheaper than the Penguin, which already sells to 99.1% of households. Low-quality food is unhealthy food. It has usually meant deforestation in its production, terrible treatment of animals and, as I said the other day, there are over 60 billion of them; 80% of all living creatures on earth sit in cages waiting to be fed to us.

We have fought very hard for our high standards, and it seems quite extraordinary that at a moment of extreme crisis in health and the environment, we should even need to have this debate, let alone have the feeling that the Government might try to overrule it when this Bill goes back to the Commons. Even supermarkets are agreed that we cannot lower our standards. I listened the other day to Christiana Figueres say that we only have 10 years to get on top of the climate crisis, and that in 10 years we must cut our emissions by 50%. Food and agriculture contribute hugely to this, and if we do not have standards that look at the environmental impact, then quite frankly, we have not got a prayer. Next year, we are leading the COP. We should now be talking about achieving higher standards, not fighting to defend the ones that we already have.

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Lord Randall of Uxbridge Portrait Lord Randall of Uxbridge (Con) [V]
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My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. The hour is late, but it is also late for our planet. While I do not take quite such a pessimistic view of the Government’s actions in this field as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb—in fact, they should be congratulated in many respects—for many of us, things are not moving fast enough, and we need to encapsulate some of this in the Bill.

I agree that the NFU has brought forward its own ideas, but there is a lot more to this. For example, I know that Defra is looking at the issue of burning blanket bogs, but surely, under ELMS, we will not be able to give money to land managers who consistently burn peat bogs. That should also be part of the Bill.

I will not detain noble Lords any longer. I support the amendment and I recognise that the Government have taken steps towards it. Perhaps we are too impatient, but we need to get on with it.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB) [V]
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My Lords, this amendment has been most ably introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. I want to briefly re-emphasise the reasons why I strongly support it. As the noble Baroness said, agriculture has to play its part in meeting our net-zero commitment. At the moment, as she also said, agriculture may account for only some 10% of UK emissions, but by 2050, if nothing is done about agriculture and other parts of our economy play their part, it could account for about a third.

In earlier debates, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, referred to an excellent new book by Professor Bridle entitled Food and Climate Change Without the Hot Air. Professor Bridle expresses the challenge by calculating that, at the moment, the average daily food-related greenhouse gas footprint for each of us in the UK is six tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalence. To limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, we need to halve emissions by 2030. In other words, if food and agriculture are to play their part, the footprint of every one of us has to go down from six to three tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalence per day within 10 years.

We have already heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, that the climate change committee has repeatedly reported that agriculture and land use are not making their required contribution to our greenhouse gas emissions reductions. This leaves an intolerable burden on other sectors, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, has already said. I will share a different quote from the climate change committee’s 2020 report to Parliament:

“Agriculture and land use, land-use change and forestry … have … made little progress.”


It concludes that there has been no net change in emissions over 10 years, and no coherent policy framework to deliver change.

The noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, referred to peat bogs. Last Sunday’s Observer reported that there are currently no plans to stop burning peat bogs this autumn. Peat bogs are a major carbon store and burning them releases significant amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Surely, if the Government are serious about their green credentials and about reducing greenhouse gas emissions from land use and agriculture, they should ban this burning now.

Agriculture is not delivering the necessary greenhouse gas reductions. This Bill is the chance to change that and ensure that the right policies are put in place. The Climate Change Act is, in the argot of the day, an oven-ready framework within which to place both agricultural emissions reduction targets and climate adaptation to make our future agriculture resilient to climate change. That is why we need to support this amendment.

Lord Inglewood Portrait Lord Inglewood (Non-Afl) [V]
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My Lords, in my capacity as chairman of the Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership and as a member of the Cumbria Leadership Board, I have recently been involved in debates about carbon in that county. One of the things that concerns me is the debate around emissions which, inevitably, is not quite as simple as one might expect at first blush.

It is clear, however, that any strategy has to begin with where we are now. It must also recognise that it is almost inevitable that those with some kind of an interest are inclined to engage in special pleading. In the case of agriculture, I know that farming contributes; I am a farmer, and I know that my farm does. However, farmers, including myself, have to react and deal with what may be the considerable and costly implications of the appropriate response. As has already been said by one of the Baroness Joneses, the first thing is to have agreed metrics, and then to use them impartially to map the journey into the future, based on the information they give us.

Business accounts are compiled with agreed metrics and standards to present a true picture of the underlying economic activity. The same must be true with carbon accounting. I fear I may sound like a cracked record but, once again, the economic implications and consequences of effecting change must not destroy the agricultural industry and other rural land uses. As the Financial Times pointed out last weekend, the economic future for much of the UK industries in these sectors looks pretty parlous.

In the case of rural land uses, a number of activities are natural carbon sinks and cleaners. Those responsible for the framework of the new world must give proper financial recognition for that. In many cases, what they are doing now is being done for nothing, both for the general benefit of the wider public and the financial advantage of the polluters. Were polluters to actually have to pay, it not only would be a major step towards reducing emissions elsewhere but would help underpin the rural economy, parts of which are pretty fragile and part of left-behind Britain. The short truth of the matter is that insolvent businesses cannot deliver a brave new world in rural Britain. Furthermore, if that happens, a great deal of what we have been considering over the past days and weeks will turn out to have been pure fantasy. It is as simple as that.

Agriculture Bill

Lord Krebs Excerpts
Consideration of Commons amendments & Ping Pong (Hansard) & Ping Pong (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 20th October 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 141-I Marshalled list of Motions for Consideration of Commons Reasons - (16 Oct 2020)
Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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My Lords, I will speak very briefly in support of Amendment 17B in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. She referred to the government response to the Climate Change Committee’s latest annual report, published earlier this month. I took a close look at it this morning to understand what the Government said about reducing emissions in agriculture. It comes in two parts. In the main body of the report there is helpful reference to various strategies and plans—for example the ELMs, the clean growth strategy, the 25-year environment plan, Henry Dimbleby’s national food strategy and the clean air strategy. That all looks very promising: plans are in place to tackle the problem of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. However, I am afraid that the annexe, containing the detail of Defra’s response on agriculture and greenhouse gas emissions, looks as though it was drafted by Sir Humphrey Appleby. Let me quote a few phrases. The Government are: “looking at ways”; “considering a broad range” of options; “investigating mechanisms”; and “establishing expert groups”.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said she hoped that the can was not being kicked down the road. The brief example I have just quoted from the Government’s response to the Climate Change Committee’s report highlights the danger that we will always be setting up groups and considering options. As far as I can see, the response does not give a single example of a concrete thing that the Government will do right now to meet the 2050 net-zero target, including the contribution from agriculture.

Lord Russell of Liverpool Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Russell of Liverpool) (CB)
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Does anyone else in the Chamber wish to speak? No? I call the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott.

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Moved by
Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs
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At end insert “but do propose Amendment 9B in lieu—

9B: Insert the following new Clause—
“National Food Strategy
Within 18 months of the day on which this Act is passed, the Secretary of State must publish a strategy that will set out proposals that will aim to ensure that the UK food system delivers healthy, sustainable and affordable food for all.””
Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction to this debate and for two very helpful meetings that we have had during the past few days. I also thank the Defra officials who attended along with the Minister and the Secretary of State, who was at one of the two meetings.

On this matter, I think that we are landing in a good place. My original amendment on Report, Amendment 58, which passed with a majority of 62, set out in detail what a national food strategy should include. The much shorter version which we are debating today simply sets out the key aims of the strategy, which are to ensure that, through the functioning of the UK food system, everyone in this country has access to a healthy, sustainable, affordable diet. The Minister has accepted these aims by repeating them in his introduction, so I am delighted with that and thank him for it.

Such a strategy, if implemented, will put an end to food poverty in this country, ensuring that the poorest people are able to eat healthily, which at the moment they are not. It will ensure that the shocking burden of dietary ill health, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity, is reduced or perhaps even eliminated. It will ensure that our food system is environmentally sustainable, so that we can enjoy our food knowing that its production has not silenced the song of the skylark, destroyed wildflower meadows, polluted rivers and heated the planet.

Of course, the devil will be in the detail. Will the food strategy really deliver the rosy vision that I have just painted? I do not expect the Minister at this stage to be able to commit to any detail, but I want to flag up three questions for him to consider. First, we already have a good idea about things that work and things that do not. We know, for instance, that healthy eating messages on their own are not enough. The 5 A Day campaign has not altered fruit and vegetable consumption one iota over the last decade. On the other hand, the soft drinks industry levy has had a dramatic effect on altering consumption of sugar in soft drinks. I hope that when the strategy is published it will learn from past failures and successes and not shy away from tough interventions where they are appropriate.

Secondly—and the Minister referred to this—the strategy will require co-ordination across many government departments. Past experience indicates that this will work only if led by a high-level ministerial group. The Minister said that the cross-departmental group would be led by a director-general from Defra, who I am sure will be an outstanding individual who will do his or her very best, but the Government should recognise that, if this is really going to happen and if there really is to be cross-departmental collaboration to deliver a national food strategy, it needs a ministerial lead.

My third and final point for the Minister’s consideration is on how we are to scrutinise and assess progress in delivering the national food strategy. I think that we would all agree that the Government should not simply mark their own homework, so they should in due course lay out exactly how we will be able to judge whether the food strategy is doing what it claims to do to deliver healthy, environmentally sustainable, affordable food for everyone. One possibility, for example, would be for the Government to produce an annual report debated in Parliament; another might be to give the job of scrutiny, assessment and making recommendations to an independent body as does the Committee on Climate Change in relation to the Climate Change Act. With those thoughts for the Minister to ponder on, I beg to move.

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Baroness Pitkeathley Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Pitkeathley) (Lab)
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I have received no requests to speak after the Minister so I call the noble Lord, Lord Krebs.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his helpful response in summing up. I thank all noble Lords who contributed to this short debate. I will be brief; I want to make a small number of points.

First, I apologise for putting 18 months in the amendment; clearly everybody thought that I was being too generous. This arose because the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, said on Report that 12 months was too short. I thought that I would give him a bit of extra time but clearly I was wrong, so I apologise for that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, spoke about Henry Dimbleby’s report. As everybody has said in this debate, the amendment builds on the fantastic work that Henry Dimbleby is doing. As the noble Baroness does, I hope that today’s debate and the Minister’s response have ensured that Henry Dimbleby’s final report will not gather dust in a filing cabinet, as so many reports of this kind have done. Now we have a firm commitment from the Government to develop a food strategy based on Dimbleby’s work.

On leadership, referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and my noble friend Lady Boycott, I was very pleased to hear the Minister say that although the DG in Defra is leading the preparatory work, the Government and the Minister recognise that this will need ministerial oomph to get the thing done and deliver results.

Finally, on the review, the news that after 12 months Henry Dimbleby will mark the Government’s homework on his exam, so to speak, is very welcome. However, I hope that the review process will carry on beyond 12 months because rethinking our national food system will not be completed by then. I hope that we will see early signs and green shoots of something new coming up, but I hope also that the Government will think seriously about how they can ensure that, on a long-term and regular basis, those of us who are concerned about the food system—not just people in the Chamber and Members taking part remotely but a large proportion of the population—can repeat the review process and have transparency on the progress being made.

With those comments, I thank the Minister and the noble Lords who took part in the debate, and I beg leave to withdraw.

Motion B1 withdrawn.

Agriculture Bill

Lord Krebs Excerpts
Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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I congratulate the Government on tabling Amendments 18C and 18D in response to the earlier Lords amendment from my noble friend Lord Curry. It is very welcome that the Government have listened to the arguments in your Lordships’ House about trade and standards of food and have accepted the principles debated here. However, I also recognise the importance of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. I very much hope that the Minister will respond to those points; they are important and I support them.

It may seem churlish to keep banging on about food standards after the Government have made such a major concession. The transparency that will be introduced by requiring the Secretary of State to explain whether and to what extent new trade agreements ensure that we do not import food produced to lower safety, welfare and environment standards is very welcome. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, said, it does not guarantee that lower-standard food will not be imported; it simply guarantees that there will be a report.

I do not want to go on at length because we have discussed these things so many times, but I want to reiterate one point that I made earlier in the debates on this matter. It concerns the practicalities. Let us assume that we are committed to not importing food of a lower standard with regard to the environment, welfare and food safety. Who is going to ensure that? The Minister has repeatedly said that we have advice from the Food Standards Agency, Food Standards Scotland, the Animal and Plant Health Agency and the Veterinary Medicines Directorate. That is fine but there will also be a role for local authorities which, through their environmental health officers and trading standards officers, will be checking the food in restaurants and shops. My concern is that we may have high hopes of ensuring that these standards are maintained but then not have the resources, either in the national bodies, such as the Food Standards Agency, or the local bodies, to ensure that these promises are delivered on the ground.

This question of resources has been highlighted already—without the additional responsibilities of new trade deals—by the chief executive of the Food Standards Agency, Emily Miles. On 22 October, she told the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health:

“I want to be clear to the relevant parts of government that there simply isn’t enough funding available for local authorities to carry out their duties on food safety”.


The question of practicality is still unresolved. I very much hope that the Minister will comment on this and reassure the House in his summing up.

My close colleague, the late Lord May of Oxford, used to quote to me the refrain from an Australian country and western song: only the hard yards get you home. We are now on the way home and these last few hard yards are ones that we have debated. I very much look forward to the Minister’s response in finally bringing this home.