English Horticultural Sector (Horticultural Sector Committee Report)

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Excerpts
Friday 19th April 2024

(1 month ago)

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Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB)
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My Lords, it is a delight to follow the noble Lord, Lord Colgrain. Let me also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, for his very competent leadership in chairing this committee, and to fellow members for their friendship and camaraderie throughout the process, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, who sponsored the study. I also thank the staff team, who were brilliant and worked incredibly hard.

I hope that the Minister does not take these comments personally, but the response from his department was very disappointing. There is a common theme here. In my view, it fails to acknowledge the huge amount of work involved in the research and drafting of the report and therefore the importance of the horticultural sector. I am sure the Minister will try to reassure us that this is not the case. As has been referred to earlier, the Government announced in the 2022 food strategy that it would produce a horticultural strategy, then changed their mind and so rejected our recommendation, too. This means that the sector feels undervalued and let down. This is a big mistake and Defra should urgently review this decision.

As we have heard, horticulture is one of the most exciting sectors there is, with huge potential. It is exciting in terms of innovation, with new technologies, robotics and automation, and exciting in terms of career opportunities. I was very pleased that the Government recognised the role of TIAH in their response to some of our recommendations.

The Government’s commitment to try to maintain 60% self-sufficiency in domestic food production will never be achieved or maintained without a thriving horticultural sector. There is massive scope to increase production and reduce our heavy dependence on imports, particularly from water-deficient parts of the world that are severely impacted by climate change. As we state in the report, horticulture can also contribute much more to impact on the nation’s health challenges, including obesity, than any other sector. More fruit and vegetable consumption is essential if we are to improve the nation’s health. I am sorry to say that none of that comes across in the Government’s response.

I have a few specific topics that I would like to address. The Government’s response defers numerous times to the labour market review carried out by John Shropshire. When are we likely to get a response to that review?

Secondly, the Government have already committed to and are in the process of establishing an adjudicator for the dairy sector to address fair dealings in the milk supply chain. The Minister led the process in the Chamber very recently. In view of the extremely challenging trading conditions in the horticultural sector over the past couple of years or so, and very slim margins, a similar approach to horticulture is urgently needed; it is recommendation 11 in our report. Can the Minister confirm when this might take place?

Thirdly, an area of real concern, referenced in recommendation 56, is the inability of smaller businesses—SMEs—to access grants to improve productivity and invest in robotics, for example, due to a lack of capital to provide the matched funding required. The consequence is that the larger businesses will get larger and the SMEs will fail. All large businesses started life as an SME. It is vital that the Government look again at this issue, so that innovative small businesses have a chance.

Finally, an area of deep concern during our consultation, and which has been referred to already, was the funding of science. The noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, mentioned this. The bidding process for research projects needs to be reviewed. This is covered in recommendations 78 and 79. Despite an attempt by Defra in its response to reassure us that all is well, that is not the message we received loud and clear on our travels. We no longer have sufficient scientific capacity to pitch one scientist against another in a bidding process. When asked what he did for a living, a scientist friend of mine replied, “I delete emails and I write failed bids”. Too much valuable scientific resource is being spent writing failed bids. We need a much more collaborative process, which encourages institutions to work together where there are great centres of excellence. Short-term funding is discouraging to the scientific community and is impacting our productivity. Will the department please review this?

I could say much more, but time does not allow. I hope the Minister can reassure us this afternoon that he has taken these issues seriously.

Fair Dealing Obligations (Milk) Regulations 2024

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Monday 25th March 2024

(2 months ago)

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Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, I warmly congratulate my noble friend on bringing forward these regulations. They plug a gap which has long been open, as most farmers do not supply supermarkets directly and so are not covered by the Groceries Code Adjudicator.

When I chaired the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in the other place, I took a small delegation to Denmark to learn about the effectiveness of its milk and other co-operatives. Does my noble friend see this as an opportunity to encourage more co-operatives and producer organisations than we have seen in the past?

I grew up in the hills of the north of England, where I could see how fiercely independent hill farmers and others were. There is often a certain resistance to working together. I hope that the regulations my noble friend has presented this evening will lend themselves to producing such co-operation in future.

The NFU has long argued for fairer, more transparent supply chains. I hope that its pleas will be rewarded in the regulations before us. Can my noble friend assure the House that the Government will lend their support to the development of representational structures, such as the producer organisations and co-operatives to which he alluded? This will ensure that the dairy sector can work collaboratively and effectively with improved trust and greater collaboration across the supply chain.

I warmly welcome these regulations.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB)
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My Lords, I too warmly welcome these regulations. It is interesting and rather ironic that the farmers are protesting in Parliament Square while we are addressing this topic. When I saw the tractors outside, I felt rather envious. I wished I had brought my own tractor from Northumberland, although it might have taken most of the weekend.

This has been an issue for a very long time. I have been involved in trying to encourage better relationships within the dairy and other sectors for at least 25, if not 30, years. This is an important development. I welcomed it when the then Agriculture Bill came into the House. It was a big step forward for the Government to bring this in as part of that Bill.

I have two questions for the Minister. First, did the Government seriously consider whether to extend the existing GSCOP and Groceries Code Adjudicator to include the elements contained in that Bill? There have been at least two reviews of the scope of GSCOP during the years. Many of us have been keen that that scope should be extended down the supply chain to provide greater protection and support for primary producers.

Secondly, if the answer to that is, “Yes, we have considered it but have decided to go it alone and establish our own adjudicator within the dairy sector”, are the Government likely to extend that scope to other sectors? Many of the issues dogging the dairy sector dog other sectors too. Relationships within supply chains are nothing like as good as they should be and, in many cases, degenerate into confrontational relationships. In my view, it is important to look at other sectors. When the adjudicator is appointed, it should be made clear that—if it is government policy—the remit is likely to be extended to include other sectors.

Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explanation to the House today. This is an incredibly important measure to help resolve deep-seated problems at the producer end of the milk supply chain.

I declare my interests and experiences from being involved in a supply chain, as I have owned a dairy farm and received payments for over 40 years. I supplied milk in the beginning to Milk Marque and subsequently to several other processors, as well as chairing a producer group and the milk co-op Dairy Farmers of Britain. I was also a shadow Agriculture Minister in the Lords during the passage of what became the Agriculture Act, opposite the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner. I thank him for committing Section 29 into the Act.

The milk industry is extremely competitive. It has evolved with the rise and consolidation of supermarkets. Their dominance in the grocery trade has migrated milk away from doorstep deliveries. The consolidation of the top, supermarket end of the supply chain has driven consolidation in the processing sector. I liken it to the challenge of playing musical chairs, whereby the number of processors is successively reduced by the expanding supermarkets, which channel the supply chain towards expanding processors. An example of this business is the Co-op, which, at that time, expanded by acquisition. It reduced its milk suppliers from two to one, whereby the Co-op’s amalgamation costs of £6 million were, in effect, paid for by the dairy supply chain competing to be the one supplier of milk, without much regard to fair dealing.

By contrast, the service sector can be equally unstable and volatile, supplying milk to outlets such as Starbucks and others. In the other place, the debate mentioned the possibility of waste. I agree with the Minister in the other place, Mark Spencer, that there is virtually no waste in the milk chain. The recent example of so-called waste, when Covid shut down such outlets, resulted from those dairy suppliers being suddenly told that there would be no collection of their milk for the foreseeable future, and they faced the problem of safe dispersal immediately, with full tanks and cows needing to be milked again. I pay tribute to Dairy UK and Defra, led at that time by the Secretary of State George Eustice, for rectifying the situation.

Farming: Net Zero

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Excerpts
Wednesday 20th September 2023

(8 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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There has been a great increase in machinery rings, whereby farmers work together to share equipment. That has reduced their fixed costs and assisted with their working capital. Defra is assisting farmers through our £270 million Farm Innovation Fund, including £15 million to assist farmers in putting solar panels on their barns. However, there is much more we can do to help innovation. Earlier my noble friend made a point about encouraging younger people into farming, who understand the technologies that are available and embrace them. They need to feel that they are assisted by government and the agricultural education sector, and that there are grants available to help them work together to use innovations that reduce their carbon footprint but also help with their bottom line.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB)
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My Lords, I want to ask a specific question of detail on carbon. I am increasingly receiving messages of concern about the lack of a national standard in the calculation of carbon. Different farming systems and different models are producing different results. The industry is crying out for clarity. We need a national standard for the calculation of carbon on different livestock systems but also for the calculation of soil carbon. What is the department doing to try to resolve this dynamic?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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The noble Lord has great experience in this field. He is right that there are a great many tools available for use by farmers and their advisers to support on-farm calculations and audits. The Government and I share his concern because a number of those tools differ widely in their complexity and underlying methodology. We are therefore working at pace to find the most credible and consistent on-farm tools to assist farmers to understand their baselines and thereby to prove additionality, so that they can actively seek carbon credits and biodiversity credits, which will help them to hit net zero and their income accounts.

Horticultural Peat

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Excerpts
Tuesday 9th May 2023

(1 year ago)

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Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB)
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My Lords, banning peat is something we obviously all support and want to achieve as soon as possible, but, as the Minister has highlighted, the supply of peat is a complex issue. Can he reassure the House that the department has carried out an environmental impact assessment of the alternatives to peat to make sure that we are not jumping out of the frying pan into the fire?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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The noble Lord makes a very good point: in every policy area, there is an unintended consequence unless we fully consider it. In producing alternative media, there is sometimes a cost to the environment. If we are buying coir from abroad, what impact is that having on some very vulnerable parts of the world? There are many other growing media with which we have to ensure that, in our determination to protect our remaining peatlands, we are not exporting the problem and causing problems further afield. It is a very difficult issue, as the noble Lord rightly raises, and I assure him that we are all across this subject.

Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill

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Lord Winston Portrait Lord Winston (Lab)
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I do not want to argue with the noble Lord about this too much but, actually, I have to say that there is good evidence. For example, with gene editing and the operation called i-GONAD where you can change embryos, most of those animals look perfectly normal and would pass without their gene being changed, but it turns out, of course, that they do not actually fulfil the requirements that you eventually have for the gene. That is one of the problems. That is a serious issue because you change other genes; not as a result of editing them, but by having those other genes edited. That is a big problem.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB)
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My Lords, I will briefly respond to the noble Lord, Lord Winston, on that point. It is a fair question, which we do need to respond to: what happens if we narrow the gene pool and expose animals to genetic risk? There has been evidence in the past that by narrowing the gene pool in dairy cows, we have had lameness problems; there has been an issue in other species. That is because we have not properly understood; indeed, random breeding, as the noble Lord, Lord Trees, has said, has resulted in that kind of action. Through better understanding of the genes, and through ensuring that we retain as wide a gene pool as possible from which to choose, but being selective and more careful and intelligent about the use of those genes, we should avoid that consequence.

Lord Benyon Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Benyon) (Con)
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My Lords, I start by reminding noble Lords of my entry in the register. This has been a fascinating opener for this afternoon’s proceedings. I know that this is an area of great importance to this House. I want to take account of the concerns raised in the debate and more clearly show our intention on this issue. Perhaps I should start by saying that, having been in, then out and now back in Defra over about a decade or more—and not being a scientist—I absolutely do take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. I try never to use the words that the noble Lord, Lord Winston, attributed to me, which was that I was following the science. The science is imprecise, and what we have to do as policy- makers is take a view, listen to reputable people who advise us and organisations both here and around the world, and hope we get it right.

I shall say just two things at this stage of the proceedings on what my involvement in the Bill is not about. First, to tackle what the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, said—that this is somehow to satisfy the demands of the global agricultural corporations—no, it is not that. As far as I know, we have had no lobbying from any of those organisations, and this is about something else which I shall come to. Secondly, it is not about taking back control. For me, it is about looking at crops that I see frying in heatwaves that we never had when I was younger. It is about talking to farmers who have Belgian Blue cattle that can give birth to calves only by Caesarean section because they have been bred through traditional breeding methods in a way that makes natural calving impossible. It is about correcting some of those aberrations that have existed, as well pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Trees. We can tie ourselves down with negativity about this, but the opportunities for this legislation, what it offers for animal welfare and for tackling issues such as climate change, are immense.

On the amendment to remove animals from the Bill completely, as was highlighted in Committee and in today’s debate, I say that it is vital that animals remain part of the Bill. We focused on farmed animals in debate because there is already research in the UK and abroad showing the exciting potential of precision breeding to help tackle some of the most pressing challenges to our food system, the environment and animal welfare. These challenges are significant, and while these technologies are not a silver bullet, they can work alongside other approaches to help us to improve animal health and welfare, enhance the sustainability of farming, and strengthen food security and resilience. It is vital that we create an enabling regulatory environment to translate the research that we have already highlighted in debates into practical, tangible benefits.

It is equally vital that these technologies are used responsibly. That is why we have included specific measures in the Bill to safeguard animal welfare. These go beyond what is required for traditional breeding and under current GMO requirements. We therefore do not see this legislation as a route to lowering welfare standards. Instead, we see it as a real opportunity to improve animal welfare and our food system.

The debate about outliers was fascinating. As a policymaker, I quite like challenging Defra scientists and those who advise us by pushing an outlying piece of science, something that may not even be peer-reviewed. It is one of my criticisms of the scientific lobby that, to get peer-reviewed papers, you have to be in the centre. In this case, I have looked at the broad range of views in the scientific community. I entirely endorse the sentiments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. However, I understand concerns raised in the debate about the use of precision-breeding technologies in certain groups of animals, such as companion animals, and I recognise and agree with noble Lords on the importance of building confidence in the regulatory system.

There is a case for prioritising where there is the greatest research interest and where there are greatest potential benefits for animal welfare in our food system. That is why I want to make a commitment on the Floor of this House that we will adopt a phased approach to commencing the measures in the Bill in relation to animals. In other words, we will commence the measures in the Bill for only a select group of animal species in the first instance before commencing them in relation to other species. For example, in the first phase it is likely to be animals typically used in agriculture or aquaculture.

As indicated during Committee, we intend to use the commencement powers within the Bill to achieve that. These powers allow us to bring the provisions in the Bill into force in relation to a specific list of species or group of animals; for example, we can apply the provisions to cattle by stating the species name as Bos taurus—domestic cows. That means that until the relevant commencement regulations applicable to them are made, some species or groups of animals, such as companion animals, will not be affected by changes in the Bill. Likewise, GMO rules would continue to apply to them if they are produced using precision-breeding technology. Taking this approach allows us to limit the practical effect of the Bill for a time, while retaining the flexibility and durability needed to capture the potential benefits in other species in the future.

Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Excerpts
Lord Cameron of Dillington Portrait Lord Cameron of Dillington (CB)
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My Lords, I realise that these are mostly probing amendments and, as ever, we await the Minister’s remarks with bated breath. But I cannot let the proposal to exclude all animals pass without comment because, like my noble friend Lord Trees, I believe that if we were to exclude all animals from the Bill, it would be an opportunity wasted to enable us to remove a lot of suffering on their behalf. My noble friend and I both mentioned the disease PRRS in pigs at Second Reading. It is a devastating disease for any herd, outdoors or indoors, organic or whatever. As a farmer, you just have to cull drastically to eliminate as much suffering as possible, and killing your herd is not a very pleasant thing to have to do. Breeding resistance to the disease is therefore a much more humane approach.

One of the great positives of the Bill is that if you alter the genes of one animal, say, to make them resistant to a particular disease, and succeed in making this a hereditary and stable characteristic—not always a given—you can get huge benefits for animals and even humans, because you will be taking more antibiotics out of our environment. Breeding resistance into future generations is so much more sensible than the ongoing use of antibiotics, medicines and even vaccines as a way to help animals live pain-free and disease-free lives.

The key to making the Bill work fairly and humanely for animals is to ensure that we continue to have the strictest monitoring and regulation every step of the way: in the laboratory and on the farm, and for plants and particularly with animals. We will obviously come to the tightening of some of these regulations later in our deliberations.

On the companion animal debate, I fear I disagree with my noble friend Lord Krebs, who I very rarely disagree with. I realise that they seem to present a slightly more unregulated environment than that of farm animals; people keeping pets are not subject to the strict regulations that exist on our farms—regulations that are, in theory, enforced by a variety of inspectors, not least those who come from the supermarkets, on which the farmers depend for their livelihoods. However, we are not debating how the pets are being kept: it is the ability of breeders to get the relevant licence and approval from the Home Office, and now from the welfare advisory body. If we had some form of guarantee that the welfare advisory body will have a remit—nay, a duty—to investigate in the home and on the farm the future quality of life of any relevant animal and its progeny, along the lines of my later amendments, I do not see it as necessary to exclude companion animals in total from this Bill.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB)
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My Lords, at the risk of appearing to be part of a Cross-Bench cabal, I would like to support the comments of my colleagues on the Cross Benches and include animals in the Bill.

This is a very minor point, but I would like to respond to the comment of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, on productivity. This is not, in my view, about ever-increasing yields of crops, the growth of animals, the yields of dairy cows or the growth of chickens, but about improving what is real productivity, which is reducing the cost per unit of production, and improving the welfare and well-being of the animals by reducing their susceptibility to disease. It is the cost of producing the unit of production that is the true measurement of productivity, not ever-increasing yields. I believe that to be able to use these techniques to do that will be of huge benefit to both the animals themselves and to those who farm them.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB)
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My Lords, sadly the noble Earl, Lord Leicester, was delayed in his transport arrangements and arrived in the Chamber 16 minutes late. He is with us now but was scratched from the speakers’ list. It was his great task to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Roborough, to this Chamber—so I will read out the first part of his speech instead of him. I also draw your Lordships’ attention to the noble Earl’s interests.

“It is a rare honour, indeed my first, to follow a dear friend as he makes his maiden speech. We have a new Member of intellect, integrity and good judgment, and what an excellent speech it was”—


I am sure we all agree with that.

“I am sure the whole House will join me in welcoming him to these Benches. I am also grateful to him for clearing up one or two issues regarding his antecedents. With the name of Lopes, I now understand his Portuguese roots. For the last three decades, I had harboured the romantic notion that his family had been brigands or buccaneers who had been shipwrecked on the south Devon and Cornish coastline.

After completing a degree in politics at Durham University, he embarked upon a career in the City, about which you have been briefed. My noble friend is being modest. He worked at Goldman Sachs and more recently rose to become No. 2 to Crispin Odey at Odey Asset Management. Perhaps the most exciting part of his career is that which he has recently embarked upon: co-founding a global trading platform for carbon trading and all aspects of natural capital. The carbon markets are currently like the wild west”—


they are indeed—

“so Circular Algorithmic and Data Systems Ltd is a welcome and trusted entrant into this market, and I am sure will have a large and responsible part to play. Finally, I cannot emphasise enough what a thoroughly nice and decent man my noble friend Lord Roborough is. There is not a bad bone in his body.”

What a tribute to the noble Lord. Had the noble Earl, Lord Leicester, been able to contribute, he would also have welcomed this Bill—and, by the way, the noble Earl owes me at least one gin and tonic for that. I also add my welcome to the noble Lord, Lord Roborough. I absolutely agree with the noble Earl’s assessment of his very impressive speech. I am sure he will be a great asset to this House and I welcome him.

I turn to my own contribution to this Second Reading. My interests are recorded in the register. I am no longer a practising farmer—but once a farmer, always a farmer. I welcome His Majesty’s Government’s progressive decision to introduce this Bill. It marks a key moment for agricultural science, which ought to be taken seriously if we are to attract investment in agri-food innovation and stimulate economic growth. Indeed, if we do not progress this Bill, we will find ourselves lagging behind other countries in the global food market which are willing to embrace this technology. The truth is that we are already lagging behind some of our global competitors in the application of science, for the reasons outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling.

I want to stress that I understand the concerns of those who have reservations about the Bill and the potential ramifications of precision breeding more broadly. I recognise that the debate requires a clear distinction between genetic modification and so-called precision-bred plants and animals, as we have already heard in contributions from other noble Lords. I am not a scientist, but I bow to the eminent scientific knowledge that exists in your Lordships’ House and look forward to the Minister’s response to the challenges from the noble Lords, Lord Winston, Lord Krebs and Lord Trees. What is clear is that the Bill has widespread support not just from the scientific community, which is understandable, but from a wide range of industry organisations which believe that precision-breeding techniques such as gene editing will be a time-efficient means of identifying important traits that lead to new varieties, compared to traditional breeding methods.

There is, of course, a need to ensure that breeding programmes have appropriate safeguards and standards embedded within them, as have been mentioned already, to ensure there are no negative consequences on animal welfare. I in turn welcome the Government’s step-by-step approach, which is set to create a regulatory system for plants first, followed by animals. Lots of questions have already been raised about the process, but I am encouraged by the positive comments of the noble Lord, Lord Trees, in this respect.

Precision breeding offers an opportunity to farmers in England to advance and improve their economic performance and productivity. Such breeding techniques have the potential to produce crops which are resistant to disease and with far fewer inputs, including fertilisers and pesticides. By removing allergens and preventing the formation of harmful compounds in food, precision breeding can create safer and healthier crops, with higher yields at a lower cost for farmers. Globally, 20% to 40% of all crops grown are lost to disease or pests; this is a huge waste. The genetic editing of crops may then become vital in securing future food security for an ever-growing global population which, as we have heard already, reached 8 billion last week.

I know that there are concerns about the risk of cross-contamination of neighbouring crops. There are also requests for traceability and separate labelling, but I need to be convinced of the need for that. I understand from the many scientists who have briefed me already that the risk to neighbouring crops is no greater from genetically edited crops when compared to those which are conventionally bred. For this reason, the benefits may far outweigh the potential risks.

As we seek to move towards net zero and need to reduce the use of chemicals, along with emissions of greenhouse gases from agriculture, the benefits of precision breeding are particularly significant. Gene editing will, I hope, help to produce crops that are resilient to the effects of the climate crisis, as has been said, and should reduce the environmental impacts of farming overall. This, in my view, is a huge prize.

However, I have two further issues that I would like reassurance on from the Minister. First, I too am concerned about the devolved nations, which are refusing to support this technology. As a separate point, there are important research institutions located in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland which are global leaders in plant and animal science. Their scientific contributions have proved invaluable in the past in the Government’s mission to make farming more sustainable. Can the Minister confirm what he is doing to try to overcome the current objections from the devolved nations to this Bill? Does he believe that the Bill will exclude those institutions located in devolved nations from participating in the Government’s programme?

Secondly, there is a possibility, as we know, that, having been opposed previously to this technology, the EU may well adopt a similar approach. If this happens and the green shoots appear, will the Minister reassure the House that his department will monitor developments closely, so that, if possible, our legislative frameworks are aligned?

Food: Imports and Security

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Monday 24th October 2022

(1 year, 7 months ago)

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Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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The people who run food banks are some of the best people in our society, and any of us who have had anything to do with them are in awe of the work they do. Household income is a complex issue across many different sectors, and the Government’s job is to support households, as we are through our £37 billion investment. This includes £500 million to help with the cost of household essentials, including food, and brings the total funding and support to £1.5 billion. We certainly work with the food bank sector to make sure that for any problems it faces, if the Government can influence it, we ease those problems and help it do the work that it does.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB)
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One of the constraints on the production of home-produced fruit and vegetables has been the availability of labour. We have been receiving mixed messages from the Government on their attitude to seasonal workers. Can the Minister confirm what the current government policy is please?

Horticultural Sector

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Thursday 13th October 2022

(1 year, 7 months ago)

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Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB)
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My Lords, I apologise for failing to register my name for this important debate and thank noble Lords very much for the privilege to speak. I will be brief.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett and Lady Fookes, and the noble Lord already mentioned the potential for the horticultural sector. It is regarded by those in agriculture and horticulture as one of the most successful sectors in terms of its innovation and ability to very efficiently produce crops and the range of products already referred to. The scope is huge. It is almost irresponsible of us as a nation not to seek to encourage the further production of horticultural crops to fill the huge gap in our trade of horticultural products. If we were able to expand production here at home we would also contribute to the reduction of carbon and climate change, the use of water globally, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, said, and the carbon impact of global travel.

There are three key factors required. One is the labour/skills issue, which has been mentioned already; the second is science; the third is investment. As has been mentioned, I have been involved in the skills area through the establishment of TIAH; I am sure the Minister will refer to that. I chaired a really important meeting last week on careers in agriculture and horticulture in that regard.

Secondly, the need to invest in science is a constant process. We have fallen behind in our investment in science. A recent study that I have been involved in, which we will discuss in November at a breakfast, demonstrates that one of the reasons is the fragmented nature of the British science structure. It has led to a lack of communication and delivery of knowledge. We need to do something about that, and I believe that the Government have a responsibility for investing more in science.

The final bit of investment is that we on our farms and our horticultural production units need to continue to invest. The ability to use robotics is increasing all the time, but we are not there yet in terms of having robotic solutions to many of our harvesting challenges. I was in France on holiday in the Bordeaux area. Due to the shortage of labour—it is not just in Britain that there is a shortage of labour; there is a shortage of labour in harvesting crops right across Europe—many have now made enormous strides in harvesting grapes through robotics and new machinery. It is only in those vine-growing areas where selective harvesting is necessary because of the quality of the wine that they still use labour. We need to be able to do that ourselves in time; in the short term, we are heavily reliant on migrant labour. The Government need to address that issue.

Farmers

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Wednesday 8th June 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

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Asked by
Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking (1) to prepare farmers for the removal of direct support over the next decade, and (2) to equip farmers with the skills required to adapt to a competitive trading environment.

Lord Benyon Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Benyon) (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my farming interests as set out in the register. Our agricultural transition plan explains how we will prepare farmers for the phase-out of direct payments, using the money freed up to offer environmental land management schemes that will pay farmers for delivering environmental improvements. We are offering support to help farmers adapt to the transition, including through the future farming resilience fund. The Government are contributing towards the establishment of the institute for agriculture and horticulture—of which my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Curry, is the moving force—which will drive skills development in the industry.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB)
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My Lords, I cannot remember a time when a feeling of uncertainty permeated the farming industry more than it does right now: uncertainty over the impact of trade deals, over inflation and over the future of ELMS. When might the Government make announcements about ELMS so that farmers can begin to plan ahead with some confidence? Secondly, does the Minister agree that we should use the transitional period between now and the end of the decade to ensure that farmers come out of this process in better shape than they went in and better equipped to deal with net zero, the restoration of habitats and, importantly now, the production of healthy, wholesome food to feed the nation?