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First, exactly what do the Government intend to do with the report? Will they respond in writing to it, and when will they do so? I hope that the House will then have an opportunity to debate that response. One great advantage of this House is that we can find time to highlight such significant anticipatory work as has been adumbrated in this report, and continue to press the Government not only to take the report seriously but to act upon it. Secondly, are the Government aware of whether this report will be considered and discussed by the United Nations and-as the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, who was a distinguished Agriculture Minister, suggested-by the European Union? Are the Government taking an active role internationally through the Foreign Office to highlight the report and canvass for international co-operation in reaching solutions?
The noble Lord, Lord Rees, is correct when he says in the foreword to the report that government support is crucial. Governments of the world can learn from science, which sets an enviable example of international co-operation in the sharing of learning, research and
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UK agriculture and our farmers are the most innovative and enterprising. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, reminded the House of the altruistic work carried out by groups of farmers in the United Kingdom. I am aware of several such initiatives and schemes. Great credit goes to our farmers, who make considerable sacrifices directly to improve the lives of individuals in emerging countries. What steps is Defra taking to join the UK agriculture industry in this important work, and what is it doing to connect our farmers to these innovations? This point was rightly stressed by my noble friend Lord Livsey, who has considerable knowledge and experience in this field.
The report graphically illustrates that, however important our national priorities may be, we live in a small world and are utterly interdependent. We can and must work together as one world, acknowledging and embracing our common humanity.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, I declare my interest as a farmer and a grower. We are members of LEAF, the organisation that links farming and the environment, and of which my noble friend Lady Byford has spoken as its president. I have for a long time, like other noble Lords, been involved with organisations connected to the industry, and have maintained my involvement with many of them.
I thank my noble friend Lady Byford, as have many noble Lords, for introducing this important debate. Noble Lords' contributions have set a very high standard. They have been authoritative and have covered the wide range of the subject area. They also reflect the authority of the Royal Society's report, Reaping the Benefits. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Rees of Ludlow, who unfortunately is not in his place, and Sir David Baulcombe, the chairman of the committee that produced this great and seminal work. It crowns the 350-year existence of the society with a work in an area of immense importance. Together with the concept of the perfect storm from John Beddington, the Government's chief scientist, it sets the agenda of feeding the world against a background of climate change, soil degradation, water shortage and population growth. Food security is a topic of our time. There is a moral imperative on British agriculture to seek to address it.
Only today in the Metro newspaper, which many noble Lords will have picked up on their way here, there is talk of 100 million people starving as a result
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The theme of this report is the international nature of agricultural research and science. It is of global relevance. We heard very evocative speeches from my noble friend the Duke of Montrose, my noble friend Lord Caithness and the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, about the ways in which British science and what we do in the United Kingdom can support, and is vital for, continents such as Africa and others where food security is an even greater threat than it is to this country.
There is strong consensus across the Chamber on this matter. Earlier today I spoke at a Lantra conference where I reminded the delegates of the importance of agricultural skills. I said that I did not think the Minister would be greatly out of sympathy with the views expressed by noble Lords, and I expect that will be so. However, it has not always been the case. It is only a relatively short time since the former Secretary of State, Margaret Beckett, suggested that it would be possible for the United Kingdom to feed itself in a world market, for it was perceived that there was a world market of plenty. Those days and those perceptions are gone for good, but their consequences are serious. My noble friend Lady Byford gave the relevant figures. A reduction in self-sufficiency of 1 per cent per annum over the past 10 years is a serious loss to the resources of this country. University faculties have been run down, as have research institutes. I was a trustee of the Glasshouse Crops Research Institute, which has gone. My local experimental horticultural station became part of the Institute of Horticultural Research at Kirton in Lincolnshire, which has gone. Indeed, the Institute of Horticultural Research at Wellesbourne is under threat-I spoke to Professor Stuart Palmer only the other day-as a consequence of lack of funding. Lack of funding is causing stress on research facilities.
I was taken to task by the Minister in another place, Mr Jim Fitzpatrick, for saying that the Government had failed to support research and development. However, Defra funding has declined dramatically, as the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, indicated. Much of the funding lies with DBIS and is difficult to trace and sometimes difficult to use. Levy boards, now combined with the AHDB, are looking at ways in which they can joint fund, with the Technology Strategy Board, projects across the range of agriculture and horticulture. However, their levies are considered to be a proto-fiscal tax and therefore joint funding with government funding is not allowed under competition laws, so there is no possibility of a partnership between the growers of this country and the Technology Strategy Board. That money which the Government are setting great store by cannot be used in the most effective manner unless they solve this problem. It must be a nonsense.
Returning to Lantra, I should say that skills play a key part in making the most of farming as a resource. In this matter, the Principal Secretary of State, the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, has decided that there should be only six skills groups, rather than the industry-based groups, as at present. There may be room for
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While on funding, I heard this morning from a very authoritative source that, under yesterday's Pre-Budget Report, £81 million has been taken back into the Treasury from the Rural Development Programme for England, whose funds are important for training and knowledge transfer. I should be grateful if the Minister could advise me whether that assertion is correct. I certainly hope that it is not, as this is an important element in technology transfer-getting the work from the scientists to farmers and our horticultural growers.
We have talked about technology transfer, because it is important to understand that science on its own is not sufficient. It needs to be applied on farms and taken up by growers. In the ideal solution, science should work alongside farmers and growers. My noble friends Lord Selborne and Lord Plumb pointed out that this is very important to any way of increasing the productivity of British agriculture.
Farmers should be confident of their role as feeders of the nation-and they should be proud of it-because this is good for science, good for the industry and good for consumers and the country. We should seek to build more competitive, efficient and productive agriculture in this country, within a sustainable environment.
I conclude by thanking the Royal Society for providing, through its report, the catalyst for change. I should thank it for pointing out the imperative of doing something about the issue and outlining the opportunities for which a future Government must prepare.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Davies of Oldham): My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, on introducing a debate of great importance. It has produced a series of speeches that have addressed some of the most significant issues that our country and our society have to face.
It is clear that more and more food will be needed to feed global population growth. The most recent figures from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations suggest that global food production will need to increase by more than 40 per cent by 2030, and 70 per cent by 2050, compared with average 2005-07 levels. Those are demanding targets indeed. They bring forth not only a range of questions but some potential solutions whereby we can address the issues.
Farmers are crucial not only to the production of food but to the protection of our countryside and natural resources. They make a huge contribution to the rural economy and our way of life. We have a growing understanding of the extent to which agriculture is at the centre of the two great global challenges that we face-food security and global warming. The extent to which those two themes have intertwined in almost every contribution that has been made in this debate has been interesting.
Finding ways to produce more food but have less of an impact on the environment is a huge challenge. We will do so only by having a thriving farming industry that is competitive, profitable and innovative and that makes the most of new technologies and techniques. We must communicate these developments to others who need to benefit from them, too. That is why I greatly welcome the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, on this dimension. It might be thought that this part of the debate would be best addressed by a DfID Minister, but we know that the relationship between my department, Defra, and DfID is absolutely critical to producing a strategy for addressing the issues which the noble Lord identifies.
There were several comments about the problems in Africa. I do not have the research figures which the noble Lord, Lord Burnett, asked me to provide on the disaster in Zimbabwe. We may not know about it in a statistical sense, but we know how a country that looked as though it could develop into the food basket of a great deal of Africa has been reduced to importing food and desperately coping with hungry citizens. That is a measure of how things have gone catastrophically wrong. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, indicated that that is not the only failed state. We look forward to Zimbabwe recovering and improving, but it has had more than a decade of those disastrous circumstances.
That is not the only situation in Africa, but let us draw hope from the fact that Africa has vast potential. It will be part of our task in driving towards meeting those world targets to ensure that Africa, and indeed other parts of the world, significantly increase their productivity. We can help, encourage and develop through the expertise that we have. As noble Lords have indicated in the debate, the situation in Africa also shows how enormously important it is that we maintain our own research functions and recognise that the increase in food production will depend quite critically on applied science. That is why the noble Lord, Lord Rees, and the Royal Society have, quite appropriately, addressed in this 350th anniversary year the critical issue of the relationship between science and food. We need science to address itself to food production. Indeed, that is the basis of today's debate, which, as I have already indicated, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, for introducing for us.
In August, we produced a detailed assessment of how we would address our issues of food security. The assessment shows that Britain enjoys a high level of food security as a developed, stable economy that is integrated into Europe and that has a diverse supply base, but that does not mean that we can be complacent in any way, shape or form. Given the many challenges that the food system will face, the Government have been developing a vision for a sustainable and secure food system. Our aim is to bring together the various aspects of food policy into one coherent strategy for a healthy, sustainable and secure food system. The strategy will define what an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable food system will look like in 20 years' time, and will then describe how businesses and consumers can contribute to it. We are aware; Defra has the necessity of addressing itself to that fundamental issue up front, and Defra and DfID are
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Given the strength of noble Lords' representations in the debate, I indicate that in general terms we are fully seized of the importance of the issues and have already begun to address them in significant ways. However, there are specific challenges. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, asked about translation of research into practice on farms. That is an important consideration. Collaborative projects with industry will continue to be important in the new sustainable agriculture and food innovation platform. The Technology Strategy Board also funds knowledge-transfer partnerships and networks, which work in close liaison with the other programmes supported.
I agree with the noble Baroness-several other noble Lords drew attention to it-that the issue is also about skills, and ensuring that our future farmers are equipped to cope with a change of environment. There is not much point in applying research to agriculture if the practitioners are not sufficiently aware of the processes in which they are involved to apply them intelligently and get the most from them. We all foresee a rapidly changing world so far as agricultural production is concerned. Our skills base is probably inadequate and needs attention. The issue is known throughout the industry. For instance, we all know the rather unfortunate fact that the average farmer is in his mid-60s. If we are to get rapid change in agriculture, and to get commitment, we will need young people who are equipped to cope with the challenges of the future. The Government have an important role to play with regard to the skills agenda.
I have been asked on all sides whether the Government take the Royal Society's report on board. Indeed we do. It has an authority and substance that adds enormous weight to the issue and will succeed in communicating the priorities wider in the nation. We have been and are committed to addressing those priorities.
The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, expressed the view that there might be a decreased spend on research and development. I am not sure that I agree entirely. Of course I accept his statistics on certain facilities being withdrawn; there is no gainsaying that. I have emphasised the skills agenda at present, but I am all too mindful that several agricultural colleges have closed over the past decade and we need to address ourselves to the others to make sure that they are sufficiently productive. Defra's research priorities have expanded over recent years, leading to a reduction in farming and food research expenditure. That has been compensated for by increasing expenditure from other funders, and overall government investment in farming and food R&D has remained constant. We have been able to draw other resources into the area.
As has been emphasised in several contributions to the debate, it is not as though significant research in agricultural production is not going on. A dimension
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Collaborative projects with industry will of course continue to be very important in the new sustainable agriculture and food innovation platform. I assure the noble Baroness that our response to that is positive.
Inevitably, if one talks about research, there is bound to be some reference to GM foods and crops. Of course GM is not a technological panacea for meeting the complex challenge of ensuring global food security, but alongside other developments, it could help to make crop production more efficient and sustainable. However, the Government regard safety as a top priority on this issue; we will continue to be led by the scientific evidence and will therefore proceed with some care.
I was grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, who presented the case for why science matters for farming. I reassure him that we regard research and development as being at the very heart of agriculture in a way that perhaps it has not been to the same extent in the past. Given the demands of our new society, our new world and our new environment, that position is greatly reinforced. I was very grateful for his comments on these matters.
As I indicated, I was glad that the debate broadened beyond the United Kingdom scene. Our major priority-the responsibility that the Government and my department have-is for production in this country. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, began the debate in those terms but the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, followed it up very strongly in terms of the worldwide needs of Africa in particular. I emphasise that we will sustain the closest links with DfID.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, mentioned the "Horizon" programme last night on the relationship between food production and population growth. As we all know, certain aspects of population growth are quite unstoppable in the foreseeable future. The programme identified areas in which some restraint might be gradually introduced. It emphasised, for instance, that young women who stayed in education longer also had families later and fewer children. This is as true in India as it is in advanced democracies and an important lesson can be drawn from it. However, that does not alter the fact that over the next 40 years, in order to feed the inevitable growth in population that is bound to occur, we will have to address these issues of effective production, particularly in areas of the world where land is underused or there has not been sufficient investment in it and where they do not apply the techniques that we are used to in our own society, with our relatively high production levels, so that their production levels are so much lower.
I am not allowed under the rules of the House to comment directly on the contribution of the noble
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I was grateful to my noble friend Lady Quin. As the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, might have expected, she was bound to refer to the location of the Marine Management Organisation in Newcastle. You do not mix it with a former Member of the other place or of the European Parliament, as their territorial imperative relating to the places that they represented will always be extraordinarily strong. My noble friend Lady Quin was true to form in that respect. As the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, will confess, the decision on location was difficult because of a number of competing possibilities. However, I know that my noble friend rejoices in the fact that Newcastle was chosen. She also emphasised the need for us to be concerned about biodiversity, soil quality and water availability, as well as fish stocks, which she introduced into the debate as an important part of our natural resources.
I was grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, addressed the question of food insecurity and whether it is the case that our targets for renewable energy will mean that we lose capacity for producing food. There are of course competing uses. We all recognise that land devoted to biofuels is not producing food, and there is bound to be a trade-off in decisions on the effective use of land. I emphasise to the noble Lord that those dimensions will need to be balanced but he will know that there is bound to be some contradiction between the rate at which we address the targets for controlling climate change and reducing carbon in the atmosphere and the extent to which we are able to increase certain areas of production. However, with regard to carbon production, I accept that agriculture can make substantial steps forward without necessarily producing anything but good.
The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, raised some sticking problems to which I do not have direct answers. I do, however, have one answer: I do not think that the Scottish Crop Research Institute is eligible for funds from the Higher Education Funding Council. However, some higher education institutions are, and Defra, and indeed DfID, produces funding as part of contracts put to research institutes, and the institute to which he referred might well benefit from that.
My noble friend Lady Young emphasised, as we would expect, the relationship between production and the environment. I was grateful for her contribution. As she rightly said, these are the real demands of this debate that we all have to confront and meet.
I am not terribly happy about the phrase used by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor-the concept of the perfect storm-because I am not sure that storms, perfect or imperfect, ever bring benefits, whereas the challenge presented by the collision of these factors is one to which we all have to respond. I know that the noble Lord is thinking constructively about these matters and I know that our own research people, and John Beddington himself, I believe, talked in terms of the perfect storm. We face a difficult situation. However, I want to adopt a slightly more optimistic stance than I would if I were standing at the Dispatch Box in a perfect storm. I am a poor enough sailor in any
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I was grateful, too, to the noble Lord, Lord Burnett, for his contribution. He asked what the Government were doing about the report. We are already in action. We agreed with its broad analysis and will look at it in detail. However, I am not sure that I can provide a guarantee of a debate. I am always slightly wary of the usual channels when it comes to such matters, not least because I am occasionally a bit to close to them myself. We will consider the matter, but I reassure the noble Lord that the Government are taking the matter seriously.
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