Debates between Lord Curry of Kirkharle and Lord Benyon during the 2019 Parliament

Farming: Net Zero

Debate between Lord Curry of Kirkharle and Lord Benyon
Wednesday 20th September 2023

(8 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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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

Debate between Lord Curry of Kirkharle and Lord Benyon
Tuesday 9th May 2023

(1 year ago)

Lords Chamber
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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

Debate between Lord Curry of Kirkharle and Lord Benyon
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.

Food: Imports and Security

Debate between Lord Curry of Kirkharle and Lord Benyon
Monday 24th October 2022

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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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?

Farmers

Debate between Lord Curry of Kirkharle and Lord Benyon
Wednesday 8th June 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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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?

Ukraine War: UK Food Security

Debate between Lord Curry of Kirkharle and Lord Benyon
Tuesday 26th April 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I do not have time to go through the long list of the many measures we are taking to support families at this time. For example, we are providing £35 million to support schools in disadvantaged areas to provide breakfast, and Healthy Start food vouchers are increasing from £3.10 to £4.25. The reasons why people have to access food banks are many and varied. The issue requires a cross-government approach, looking at all sectors of expenditure; we are working across government to do that.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB)
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My Lords, I too pay tribute to Lord Plumb, who was a father figure to many of us who are involved in agriculture today. I have a very simple question for the Minister. During the passage of the Environment Bill, the Government refused to accept that food security was a public good. In the light of the global crisis and inflation, can the Minister confirm that food security is now regarded as a public good?

National Food Strategy Report

Debate between Lord Curry of Kirkharle and Lord Benyon
Wednesday 17th November 2021

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I entirely understand the points the noble Baroness makes. These are matters for other departments in government. We are working with them as part of our response to this important piece of work by Henry Dimbleby in the development of the food strategy. It will not just be something produced by my department; it will draw in all those issues from across government.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB)
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My Lords, a key recommendation of the Dimbleby report was that meaningful standards should be applied to imported food, consistent with our own domestic standards. Can the Minister confirm that the Government will support that recommendation? If so, how will it be applied retrospectively to the free trade deals with Australia and New Zealand?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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My Lords, the UK Government have made a clear commitment that, in all our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards. All agricultural products imported into the UK, including under free trade agreements, must continue to comply with our existing import requirements.