Committee (2nd Day) (Continued)
Debate on Amendment 26 resumed.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, after that interruption. I thank her for seconding my amendment that Clause 42 not stand part of the Bill.
I find myself seeking new metaphors. We have all been through Henry VIII on steroids. I cannot remember which Bill I was talking about when I referred to Henry VIII on steroids with rockets strapped to his boots. Here, we now have Henry VIII on steroids with rockets strapped to his boots and placed in a catapult, because this is an utterly extreme Henry VIII clause. I fear that noble Lords will feel we are having déjà vu all over again. In the last group of amendments, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, quoted many of the reflections of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s report. It is worth looking at paragraph 4, which states:
“The Bill contains 28 delegated powers in just 48 clauses.”
It is not really surprising, therefore, that we are going to be hearing a lot of speeches which sound pretty similar.
I want to make a particular case for the removal of Clause 42. Subsection (1) states:
“Regulations may make supplementary, incidental or consequential provision in connection with any provision of or made under this Act.”
Essentially, anything goes. I am not a lawyer, although I have learned quite a bit about law in the last three years. As I understand it, this clause says that the Minister can do whatever they like.
It may be said that Clause 42(3) states that this is under the affirmative procedure. I refer noble Lords to what happened yesterday with voter ID. It demonstrated just how effectively this House is or is not able to scrutinise secondary legislation. We do not have an effective power of scrutiny. This is the reality. We could just say that we could pass this Bill and then regulations could change anything we like—supplementary, incidental or consequential. If this is so, there is simply no way that Clause 42 should stay part of this Bill.
My Lords, I did not mean to speak on this group, but it deals with delegated powers and the powers the Government take upon themselves in relation to other bodies—in this case the national Parliament.
Since we met on Monday, there has been a development concerning the state of the Bill in the country more broadly about which I wanted to ask the Minister, and I think this is the best place to do it. Since Monday, when the Minister referred to the ongoing discussions with Scotland, Scotland has tabled a memorandum to withhold consent to this Bill when it becomes an Act. Although it has only so far been tabled, clearly, with the SNP in a majority in the Scottish Parliament, it will pass. The Minister talked about ongoing discussions. Can he tell the Committee what the Government’s strategy is with regard to Scotland? Do they intend to try to reach consensus through the common framework, or to force the Bill through using the internal market Act?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, for tabling her amendments in this group. They all seek to upgrade certain regulation-making powers in the Bill from the negative procedure to the affirmative. I am also grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, for bringing forward her concerns about the Henry VIII powers which could be used in this Bill and to which other noble Lords have referred during our discussions.
The main thing for us to raise here is that, once again, we are concerned about the sheer amount of work being left for the months and years after the Bill makes it on to the statute book, and the lack of parliamentary involvement when these instruments are eventually brought forward. During Monday’s debate, the Minister made it clear that it would take years to put the core regulatory structures in place and extend the regime beyond its original focus on crop plants. During this time, there could be significant changes such as new scientific analysis, changes in market conditions, developments in other jurisdictions and shifts in public perception.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, talked about the use of the negative procedure. The question then is, would making certain regulations subject to the affirmative procedure guard against all possibilities? It would not, but it would at least provide MPs and Peers with regular opportunities to share their views.
We have already had discussions about the welfare advisory body, including the form it may take and the functions it will fulfil. We know that colleagues across the Committee are understandably anxious about getting this right, yet the proposal is for the Secretary of State to designate key animal welfare responsibilities to an as yet unidentified committee or body through a negative SI.
I will listen to the Minister’s response to these amendments with great interest and hope that, at the very least, we can have more information about this ahead of Report. The power to make consequential provision is a standard inclusion in legislation, but we also accept that drafting often makes the power appear unnecessarily broad. It would be helpful if the Minister could provide any examples of what would or would not be permitted.
My Lords, I am grateful to those who have tabled these amendments. Before I reply to them, may I clarify a point I made earlier, as the noble Lord, Lord Winston, is in his place? When referring to CRISPR-Cas9, I was trying to respond to a point the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, made. That technology is fundamental to this Bill, and he was referring to where it took place. Of course, I meant to say that CRISPR will not be used on the farm. It is important to this Bill and will be used in laboratories that will have to be licensed under this mechanism.
Turning to the amendments tabled concerning changes to the parliamentary procedure for making regulations under certain powers in this Bill, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, for them, and I reassure her that these powers are administrative in nature and therefore do not require an increased level of parliamentary scrutiny.
Taking Amendment 26 first, the intended purpose of the power in Clause 4 is to prescribe details which are administrative in nature—for example, the types of persons who can be specified in a release notice, or the form such a notice needs to be given in. This is an important function as it will allow the Bill to operate as intended. Unnecessary scrutiny being applied to these administrative regulations through an affirmative procedure could delay the implementation of the Bill and reduce our ability to move quickly towards gaining the significant benefits the Bill has to offer. It would also make it more cumbersome for us to make technical adjustments to the requirements as to the form and content of the release notice and any accompanying information, to reflect developments in technology and industry practice. We do not believe that debating such technical and administrative details would be a beneficial use of parliamentary time.
Turning to Amendment 33, Clause 11 is clear that an application will be required to include
“a declaration that the notifier does not expect the health or welfare of the relevant animal or its qualifying progeny to be adversely affected … by any precision bred trait”.
It is also clear in this clause that the application will have to be accompanied by
“an assessment of the risks to the health or welfare of the relevant animal or its qualifying progeny”
and an explanation of the steps taken to identify these risks. These key requirements are set out on the face of the Bill. The delegated powers merely allow Ministers to prescribe further details in relation to these applications, which will be more administrative or technical in nature.
Regarding the amendment to Clause 18, I reassure the noble Baroness that a list of matters which could be included on the register is set out in the Bill. This list includes, but is not limited to, information relating to the release and marketing notices, reports from the advisory committees and enforcement notices.
This clause therefore enables information on a wide range of matters relating to precision-bred organisms to be made public, in the interest of transparency and public reassurance. Specific details of the information to be entered in the register are an administrative matter.
The power in Section 122 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, which enables the Secretary of State to prescribe particulars to be entered in the GM register, is similarly subject to the negative procedure. While it would, of course, be open to us to take a different approach to the register of precision-bred organisms, I do not believe we need a greater level of scrutiny in relation to the information to be entered on the public register regarding PBOs than we have for GMOs.
I will further reassure the noble Baroness that the provisions in Clause 22(3), which enable the Secretary of State to designate a committee or other public body to fulfil the role of the welfare advisory body, are also administrative in nature and therefore warrant the negative procedure.
I want to address a point that was made on Monday and again this evening. It relates to the personnel on the relevant committee. The appointments to this advisory body would be made according to the principles in the Governance Code on Public Appointments. Appointments would be made on merit from a strong, diverse field of high-quality candidates, whose skills, experiences and qualities have been judged to meet the needs of the welfare advisory body. It is misleading to give the impression that somehow there are conflicts of interest when we choose under very prescribed rules of government that have been widely accepted as being fair and open. The rules will be laid clear in the measures that we apply; the Nolan principles and suchlike.
I would not want to restrict people who have had experience in industry and who have current experience in industry—as long as we are open about it. It is important that the people who know about this and can advise government in the best possible way are on this advisory body, but of course there must be transparency as to their connections. I hope we have nailed the point that there is some means in the legislation that would allow for unfair access to policy and the governance of these measures.
As noble Lords will know, we intend to bring the provisions of the Bill concerning precision-bred animals into force once the regulatory system to safeguard animal welfare is established. The power in Clause 22(3) ensures that we can designate to the role of welfare advisory body the committee or other public body that is most suited to this role, come that time.
The designation of the welfare advisory body itself is a straightforward administrative matter and therefore it is appropriate for the regulations to be subject to the negative procedure. By making the designation in regulations, we will ensure that it is made in a public and transparent way, and noble Lords and Members of the other place will have the opportunity to review the regulations and to enter a prayer if they wish to debate them. I hope that has clarified the position, because it is a really important part of our deliberations tonight.
Finally, I shall move on to the question of whether Clause 42 should stand part of the Bill. The policy set out in this Bill will need to be reflected in other legislation that is not amended by it, particularly secondary legislation. Precision-bred organisms are currently regulated by numerous legislative instruments relating to GMOs that will need amending to reflect the changes made by and under this Bill. There are also references to genetically modified organisms in numerous legislative instruments that will need adjusting, for the same reason.
This power enables the Government to make these reasonable adjustments. The power cannot be used to make stand-alone substantive legislative changes. This power is needed to ensure that the provisions made by the Bill, and regulations made under it, fit effectively within the existing legal framework at the time when those provisions are brought into force, or those regulations are made, as the case may be. In the main, this will either be to remove precision-bred organisms from the scope of that legislation in England, such as genetically modified food and feed legislation, or to maintain the current position by updating references to GMOs and GMO legislation that covers both GMO and precision-bred organisms. While the power here is broad, it is one that is commonly found in Bills and can be used only for limited purposes.
To address the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, about Scotland, we will of course continue to engage via the common framework. We have regular official-level engagement and there is ministerial engagement through the interministerial group. Of course, it is for the Scottish Parliament to decide what it wishes to do in relation to this legislation. I am sure it will be listening to a lot of stakeholders, such as the Roslin Institute, James Hutton and NFU Scotland, as it makes its deliberations. So I can absolutely assure her that engagement, from my department and from the Government, will continue at all levels. I hope that I have reassured noble Lords on these points.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett and Lady Hayman of Ullock, and my noble friend Lady Parminter, who have taken part in this short debate, and I thank the Minister for his response.
While I was not expecting a rollover, I was hoping for some understanding that the use of the negative procedure for aspects of the Bill is not that appropriate. I understand that some of the clauses are technical and that some are to protect the health and welfare of animals, but I am not entirely convinced that that will happen under the Bill as it is currently set out.
On Amendment 46, if the register is open, why can it not be taken under the affirmative measure? I am slightly concerned about the personnel on the advisory committee; I understand that they will be appointed on merit and will have a strong skill set, and that some will have industry experience, but great care will need to be taken in considering whether there are conflicts of interest. Sometimes it is not always apparent what that conflict of interest is likely to be.
I also have to say that my heart sank when the Minister referred to the “numerous” statutory instruments that would have to come in order to allow the Bill to become law. Regulation is a really important part of this, and for the final say to be having to pray against something in order to get it debated is a retrograde step.
A number of NGOs and charities are concerned about the Bill, and that is significant. One way to reassure them is to make sure that negative instruments are kept to a minimum and that sections of concern are dealt with under affirmative instruments. Perhaps the Minister can reflect on these issues and come back with some movement by Report. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 26 withdrawn.
Clause 4 agreed.
Clause 5: Restrictions on marketing of precision bred organism in England
Amendments 27 to 29 not moved.
Clause 5 agreed.
Clause 6: Application for precision bred confirmation
Amendment 30 not moved.
Clause 6 agreed.
Clause 7: Report by advisory committee
Amendment 31 not moved.
Clause 7 agreed.
Clause 8 agreed.
Clause 9: Revocation of precision bred confirmation
Amendment 32 not moved.
Clause 9 agreed.
Clause 10 agreed.
Clause 11: Application for precision bred animal marketing authorisation
Amendment 33 not moved.
Clause 11 agreed.
Clause 12: Report by welfare advisory body
Amendments 34 to 38 not moved.
Clause 12 agreed.
Clause 13: Issue of precision bred animal marketing authorisation
Amendment 39 not moved.
Clause 13 agreed.
Clause 14: Precision bred animal marketing authorisations: reporting obligations
Amendment 40 not moved.
Clause 14 agreed.
Clause 15 agreed.
Clause 16: Reviews and appeals relating to Part 2
Amendment 41 not moved.
Clause 16 agreed.
Clause 17: Restrictions on importation and acquisition of precision bred organisms in England
42: Clause 17, page 11, line 35, leave out “may” and insert “must”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment is to ensure the Secretary of State is required to make regulations in line with similar provision on risk assessments in section 108 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
My Lords, I will again use the 19th report of the Delegated Powers Committee. Paragraphs 15, 16 and 17 relate to Amendment 42.
Clause 17 concerns the power to
“make provision for requiring a person to carry out an environmental risk assessment before they import or otherwise acquire”
a precision-bred organism. Clause 17(1) gives the Secretary of State the power to make a negative procedure regulation that requires those who wish to import or otherwise to carry out an environmental risk assessment of damage to the environment as a result of importing. Paragraph 16 of the committee’s report makes clear that the delegated powers memorandum provided by the Government said that this power
“allows the Secretary of State to make equivalent provision for such environmental risk assessments as is currently provided for under section 108(1)(a) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 in respect of the import or acquisition of genetically modified organisms”.
Paragraph 17 then says:
“However, section 108(1) of the 1990 Act imposes on those who wish to import or acquire genetically modified organisms a requirement to carry out an environmental risk assessment.”
The previous paragraph said that it makes equivalent provision. It does not, because the provision in Section 108 is a requirement to carry out an environmental risk assessment. Clause 17 gives Ministers the discretion on whether to make the regulations that require an assessment to be carried out. There is no explanation in the memorandum for this, so it is not correct, as the memorandum given to the committee said, that it makes equivalent provision—it does no such thing.
The other two amendments in this group, Amendments 65 and 66, relate to Clause 32, on the power to make regulations that provide for enforcement measures in relation to failures to comply with requirements under Parts 2 and 3. Clause 32(1) gives the Secretary of State the power to make regulations that provide for a “compliance notice”, a “stop notice” or a “monetary penalty notice”. However, as the committee says at paragraph 41:
“We are surprised that clause 32(1) does not require the Secretary of State to make regulations that provide for such enforcement measures but … leaves it to the Secretary of State’s discretion.”
Again, the memorandum supplies no information or explanation for this. It is left to Ministers whether to enforce the provisions. That cannot be right. In a previous paragraph the memorandum said that it is the “equivalent provision”. It is not.
It cannot be right for Parliament to abrogate the power. These Bills are drafted by parliamentary counsel. My conclusion from the debates we had earlier this year in January, and will have again next January on Government by Diktat, is that parliamentary counsel should be renamed “government counsel”. They are government employees located in the Treasury. They actually act against Parliament, because they constantly draft Bills, following instructions from Ministers, that remove powers from Parliament—not this House but Parliament—and give them to the Executive. That is what they are paid to do. It should be “government counsel”, not parliamentary counsel. This is a classic example, with Ministers being given the power as to whether they enforce the provisions in the enforcement part of the Bill. That cannot be right.
The concluding paragraph of the report says that this “merits explanation”, and that
“unless the Minister can provide the House with a convincing justification for this approach, the power in clause 32(1) is inappropriate in its current form and should instead require regulations to be made to ensure that the enforcement measures in question are put into place.”
On this one, the Minister can say now, in Committee, “Yes, we’ll do it.”
My Lords, it is wonderful to see my noble friend Lord Rooker when he is angry. When he is really angry he is even more frightening than this, as he was years ago, as I reminded him just now, over bees, when he was in the department.
Amendment 47 is very straightforward; I suggest that we replace the word “may” with “must”. The reason for this is very straightforward; it will not take a moment or two. My noble friend Lord Rooker reminded me of what happened when this was looked at by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and by the Constitution Committee. Again and again, they found the memorandum associated with the Bill and the Bill itself to be quite imperfect. This is a very good example. My noble friend has addressed that so I will not do any more. However, the question of inspection of premises is not one of “may” but one of “must”. This is something we clearly could regard now. If the Minister feels diffident about it then no doubt we will bring this matter back again when we discuss the Bill on Report.
This follows perfectly normal practice. For example, it is interesting that the idea of Home Office inspectors, which the noble Lord mentioned during his speech earlier—or maybe it was on Monday; I forget now—is not in the Bill, but it probably ought to be, because this is clearly a very different area of regulation but for the same purposes. The Home Office generally is looking only at experimental stuff. This is interesting because the Bill covers experimental stuff, but it is seen as a livestock or farming issue in the main.
That is one of the problems that we have: there are certain things that are not in the Bill but should be, such as, as the Minister pointed out, the fact that there is no intention of using farmyards to do this research. That is fine. It is nice to have that said by the Minister but it really should be in the Bill. It is not something we can leave off. We will come to an amendment on it in due course.
It is vitally important that your premises are inspected, because so many minor things can make a very big difference to the work. That brings me to the sort of situation that I am in as a licence holder with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. I had my inspection about 10 days ago to look at my embryo lab; the requirement is that it can be used only for embryos because of the risk of contamination. It wanted to look, for example, at the detailed reports that I have on every single experiment that we have done there, as is proper. That is a mandatory requirement made by law, just as it should be in this Bill as well— because it is the same problem.
We have to say very clearly that inspections on this matter should not be a matter of discretion for the Secretary of State but “must” be seen to happen, and those reports should go back to the Secretary of State and be available. Certainly, in my own case with embryos—and this would apply to my animal work, for example, although the noble Lord may not know this, because it came up under a previous amendment—if we modify a mouse, for example, in its genome, we are required to notify the modification to the Home Office after we have done it as part of our report. It is clear that those sorts of things are already well established in law, in laboratories of this kind, and the laboratories being suggested by the Bill would clearly be required to follow the same kind of process in law. I hope that that can be sorted out on Report, but for the moment I shall not pursue the amendment.
My Lords, I do not know whether the rules of the House allow me to intervene briefly to say that I congratulate the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee on having identified this discrepancy, and I commend my noble friend Lord Rooker for having brought it to the Committee’s attention. We are discussing this in the context of this particular Bill, but if we allow discrepancies like this through, it will have effects on other Bills—and for that reason I strongly recommend my noble friend’s amendment. We may not divide on it today, but it is an issue that the House should consider later.
My Lords, I do not intend to detain the Committee for long on this group of amendments, except to say that we support the noble Lords, Lord Rooker and Lord Winston, in their arguments, and the DPRRC has flagged up these issues. This is a vital Bill which could make a significant difference to the resilience of crops and plants; it is therefore necessary for it to be effectively and transparently regulated. Leaving some of these decisions to the whim of the Secretary of State is unwise; the Secretary of State “may” do as the Bill indicates, but they also may not. If they do not, what recourse will Parliament have to call them to account and ask about what advice or information they received not to implement the clauses under discussion? The Minister earlier referred to praying against regulations, but that is a fairly catastrophic step for anybody to take.
This is not to say that there is no trust in the ability of the Secretary of State to make the right decisions; it is more about having the reassurance in the Bill that the considerations “must” be carried out, not “may” be. Again, ensuring that farmers, producers and the public have confidence in precision-engineering products is vital, and these amendments help that to happen.
My Lords, I am grateful once again to my noble friends Lord Rooker and Lord Winston for their amendments and their useful introductions to them. While I would not want to incur the wrath of my noble friend Lord Rooker, I inform him and the Committee that, when I was leader of Newport City Council, we made Newport a bee-friendly city, which continues to have positive consequences for the bee population in the area.
We understand that, in practice, the use of “may” in relation to exercising delegated powers often means “must”. At least, that is what Ministers tell us when they resist these amendments. However, in these specific areas, we understand the concerns raised by colleagues. We are putting a lot of faith in Ministers to follow through on commitments given from the Dispatch Box. As my noble friend Lady Hayman said on Monday, we trust the Minister’s word, but this political year—a year like no other in my adult life—has highlighted the fact that both personnel and political priorities can change at short notice. Forty-four days is indeed a long time in politics for some participants at Westminster.
The Minister has not been able to give specific timetables for the SIs that will follow this Bill, but is he able to give some kind of indication on these regulations? That may provide the reassurance that colleagues seek. Given the travel woes faced by the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, on Monday, I wonder whether the Minister can comment on his Amendment 18, which was not moved, when responding to Amendment 65 because we remain slightly in the dark about how this new regime will be enforced.
Once again, many of these questions would not be necessary if the Government were able to bring forward more detailed legislation rather than relying on future processes and not allowing your Lordships’ House to do what it does best—a detailed, line-by-line analysis of proposed government legislation in order to improve it.
My Lords, I hesitate to speak immediately before the Minister, but I am rather moved by a nostalgic memory of times past when I was sitting on the Bench opposite and the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, was sitting here as Minister for Agriculture. I wonder whether he is also aware that occasionally we had arguments over “may” or “must”. It is very nostalgic to be talking about “may” or “must” because it occurs in almost every argument about a Bill. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, was advised when dealing with a Bill written by the same parliamentary counsel whom he is now chiding about being unsuitably impartial to the needs of Parliament. Of course, all legislation has to start somewhere, and the parliamentary counsel starts where we want to end up. So I listened to the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, with a great deal of amusement and a certain amount of the nostalgia for the past, but I hope we can get past these things. This is a really good piece of legislation hoping to achieve a really important development in agricultural technology.
The difference is that, when I came into this House, I went to the Home Office. I had four departments, and two of them specifically said to me when I joined them, “Minister, we generally accept the conclusions and recommendations of the Delegated Powers Committee.” I was told that that was the policy of the Government. I know we might have had the odd argument about “may” and “must”, but the policy has completely and utterly changed since 2010.
I think “must” is clearly in line with every other sort of legislation in this respect. Indeed, with regard to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, there have been occasions where people have been inspected on a standard inspection and have had their licence removed in consequence because they have not been providing the basic information that is required in the Bill. It is as simple as that. I do not think there should be an argument about it.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for raising an issue with Clause 17 because it gives me an opportunity to clarify its purpose and, I hope, to reassure him and other noble Lords that its intended application is limited. I am able to get passionate about certain subjects from time to time, and in future I will try to channel my inner Rooker when dealing with such matters because it is quite powerful when it happens.
As the noble Lord observed, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, on which he serves, also raised this clause in its report. I thank him and other members of the committee for their report. As I have already said, we will publish a full response in the usual way ahead of Report.
Part VI of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 already regulates the deliberate release of genetically modified and precision-bred organisms into the environment. It also contains provisions relevant to the use of genetically modified and precision-bred organisms in laboratories and other contained-use facilities.
The current regulatory regime on the use of GMOs and precision-bred organisms in contained-use facilities works well and we have no intention of changing it via the Bill. The focus of the Bill is to remove precision-bred plants and animals from requirements which currently apply to GMOs that are deliberately released into the environment and to use more proportionate regulatory measures in England.
Clause 17 provides powers that will enable us to replicate the requirements from Part VI of the Environmental Protection Act in relation to precision-bred organisms imported or acquired for use in contained facilities through regulations that would complement the Genetically Modified Organisms (Contained Use) Regulations 2014 and maintain the status quo.
As precision-bred plants and animals pose no greater risk than their traditionally bred counterparts, the requirements under the current contained-use regulations are appropriate. Our intention is that any regulations brought in under Clause 17 will be used only to maintain this situation, and therefore I submit that it is not necessary to amend this clause.
Additionally, I will respond to the noble Lord’s Amendments 65 and 66. I assure the Committee that any obligation created by the Bill and regulations to be made under it will be backed by proportionate enforcement measures. Indeed, throughout Part 4 of this Bill the enforcement policy is described in significant detail, which I trust your Lordships will agree is a reliable indication that the power in Clause 32(1) will indeed be exercised.
These clauses already contain mandatory provisions in relation to each type of enforcement power, including safeguards such as requirements to provide for review and appeal of any such enforcement decision. I trust that this provides your Lordships with the information and assurance they need as to what each sanction will entail.
Furthermore, regulations under these powers are subject to the affirmative procedure, providing Parliament with the opportunity to further scrutinise the enforcement regime. The Government therefore feel that the provisions on enforcement in the Bill strike an appropriate balance between the need for flexibility on the one hand and certainty and accountability on the other.
Amendment 47 would place a duty on the Secretary of State to appoint inspectors. The Government want to empower the inspectorate which currently enforces the regulatory regime for GMOs to inspect premises and collect evidence where inspectors have a reasonable suspicion that these requirements and restrictions have not been complied with. This is the GM Inspectorate, which is part of the Animal and Plant Health Agency, an executive agency of Defra.
If inspectors find evidence of non-compliance, our intention is that they will be able to make use of a range of appropriate enforcement powers. They will be able to issue compliance notices requiring the relevant persons to comply with the appropriate requirements within a specified period. Inspectors will also be able to issue stop notices—for instance, to prevent marketing —if they reasonably believe that a precision-bred plant is being, or is likely to be, marketed without the requisite confirmation, until such confirmation has been obtained. Inspectors will also be able to issue fines.
Experts in other subject matters may need to be present at some inspections—for example, vets where an inspection relates to animals. Therefore, inspectors can be accompanied by such experts when the inspectors consider that necessary. These experts might need to have certain formal qualifications—for example, a veterinary qualification.
The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, asked about the timing and I hope I can give her an indication. It is expected that the statutory instruments laying down the technical details for the regulatory framework for precision-bred plants, as well as the substantive provisions of the Bill so far as they relate to precision-bred plants, will be brought into force within the next couple of years, and we are aiming to do it by 2024. We will not be introducing changes to the regulation of precision-bred animals until the framework to safeguard animal welfare in the Bill is developed and in place.
I hope that provides the noble Lord with the information and assurance he needs to withdraw his amendment.
As I have already apologised for being a pest in the past, I will do this probably for the last time for some time—at least until Report. The Minister referred at some point today to Section 21, I think, of the Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, in which there is a licensing procedure which he kind of implied would apply to the scientific procedures with regard to these animals. If so, presumably that would cover this amendment; in fact, the amendment that I have proposed would be irrelevant because, if the Home Office is involved in offering to somebody a personal project licence, which presumably would have to be used in this sense, then I think there is no disagreement between the Minister and myself about Amendment 47. It would be covered, would it not? It is simply a question to ask the Minister.
I hear what the noble Lord says and will reflect on it. This comes under a number of issues which I would like to engage noble Lords on before Report to see whether any changes are necessary. I would certainly be happy to have further discussions with him.
I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 42 withdrawn.
Clause 17 agreed.
Clause 18: Precision breeding register
Amendments 43 to 46 not moved.
Clause 18 agreed.
Clause 19: Inspectors
Amendment 47 not moved.
Clause 19 agreed.
Clause 20: Monitoring and inspection of Part 2 obligations
Amendment 48 not moved.
Clause 20 agreed.
Clause 21: Meaning of “Part 2 obligation”
49: Clause 21, page 14, line 38, leave out “relevant” and insert “Part 2”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment makes clear that the reference to a relevant obligation in Clause 21(3)(a) is to a Part 2 obligation.
My Lords, I will speak now to the minor and technical amendments to the Bill that the Government have tabled.
Amendment 49 replaces the reference to a “relevant” obligation in Clause 21(3)(a) with a reference to a “Part 2” obligation as defined in that clause. Amendment 64 similarly replaces the reference to a “relevant” obligation in Clause 29(4)(a) with a reference to a “Part 3” obligation as defined in that clause. These amendments aim to improve the clarity of this legislation.
Amendment 81 aims to make it clear in the provision on interpretation that references to the term “notifier”, which is defined in Clause 6(1), may in certain circumstances be modified by regulations under Clause 11(9). This amendment aims to help breeders to navigate their way through this legislation. I hope noble Lords are confident in accepting these amendments.
We are grateful to the noble Lord for bringing forward these three straightforward amendments, which provide greater clarity to the clauses concerned. Diolch yn fawr a da iawn. The first step is often the hardest, and after my earlier critique I am happy to record some positivity—and it is not just because the noble Lord, Lord Harlech, is Welsh.
It is good that the Minister has amended the Bill at this early stage, as that paves the way for plenty more changes to be made between now and Report. We appreciate that ultimately he will not be able to move in all the areas we have discussed, or even all those where he may personally wish to give ground. That is politics: a question of priorities determined by our different political views. However, there are several areas where technical changes to the Bill would be useful and I urge him and the Bill team to look at again after Committee. We are happy to work with him and his officials, if that would be helpful. We hope that he will be open to such discussions once we have returned following the Winter Recess.
Amendment 49 agreed.
Clause 21, as amended, agreed.
Clause 22: Advisory bodies
Amendments 50 to 52 not moved.
Clause 22 agreed.
Clause 23: Advisory bodies: time limits etc
Amendment 53 not moved.
Clause 23 agreed.
Clause 24 agreed.
Clause 25: Precision bred animal marketing authorisation: adverse effects
Amendments 54 and 55 not moved.
Clause 25 agreed.
56: After Clause 25, insert the following new Clause—
“Release and marketing of precision bred animalsA person may not give a release notice to the Secretary of State in relation to the release of a precision bred animal (see section 4(1)(a)), and no precision bred animal marketing authorisation may be issued (see section 13(1)), until—(a) 12 months have passed since the date of the establishment of the Animal Sentience Committee under section 1 of the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022, and(b) 6 months have passed since the date on which the Animal Sentience Committee has made to the Secretary of State a report on the provisions of this Act.”Member's explanatory statement
This new Clause would delay the release of precision bred animals for at least 12 months after the Animal Sentience Committee established under the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022 has been established and at least 6 months after the Committee has reported on the impact of the Act on animal welfare.
My Lords, I have two amendments that make up this group. First, I will look at Amendment 56. Clause 10 defines a relevant animal as a vertebrate for the purposes of the welfare protection measures in Clauses 11 to 15. This is in line with the definition of an animal in the Animal Welfare Act 2006. With Amendment 56, I am interested in looking at the relationship between the Bill and the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022, which some of us were involved with. I thank my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch for her support in this. That Act defines an animal as
“any vertebrate other than homo sapiens … any cephalopod mollusc, and … any decapod crustacean.”
Noble Lords may remember that during the passage of that Act, we debated the definition, particularly regarding the scientific evidence for the sentience of cephalopod molluscs and decapod crustaceans, and eventually they were included in that definition. Our concern is that, despite that, Clause 10 continues to define animals only as vertebrates. We also note that the clause does not exclude Homo sapiens explicitly: my noble friend Lord Winston has previously made that point. Basically, what we are trying to achieve here is to align the definitions in the Bill with the most recent piece of relevant legislation that has gone through the House.
The clause also makes provision for the Bill’s definition to be extended to include invertebrates if the Animal Welfare Act 2006 is extended to include them. Therefore, we have a rather confusing situation where we have two different definitions of animal in law, one from the 2006 legislation and one from the very recent legislation. As an aside, given that the Government’s aim with the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act is to recognise the sentience of animals in law, it is kind of surprising that the Animal Welfare Act has not been extended to reflect the Government’s latest position on this. Regardless of that, we think that the Bill should use the most up-to-date definitions and allow for any new legislation to be properly established in this area.
My noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch mentioned at an earlier date the situation regarding the animal sentience committee. The Minister confirmed that it does have a chair, but it is not yet fully established, and the Minister did not adequately answer the question as to when we are likely to see it up and running. What is the point in having a chair if you have no committee?
I also acknowledge that the Minister has said that the elements of the Bill regarding animals are going to take at least two to three years to be developed, even though there is nothing in the Bill to ensure that this happens. My question to the Minister, therefore, is: why did the Government not wait for the animal sentience committee to be established and have time to report on the Bill before introducing it? If they really wanted to recognise the sentience of animals, they would prioritise the committee’s establishment before pressing ahead with legislation that would have a real and significant impact.
That is why we have tabled Amendment 56, which would delay the release and sale of precision-bred animals until at least
“12 months have passed since the date of the establishment of the Animal Sentience Committee under section 1 of the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022, and … 6 months have passed since the date on which the Animal Sentience Committee has made to the Secretary of State a report on the provisions of this Act.”
The Minister again said that it did not matter because it was going to be two to three years, but it would be extremely helpful if it was actually on the face of the Bill so that we could have security about that.
Amendment 79 would insert additional subsections into Clause 43 with regard to the environmental principles of the Environment Act 2021 and the non-regression principle laid out in the 2020 trade and co-operation agreement between the UK and the European Union. This is important because it is about upholding the standards that we have committed to in both domestic legislation and international agreements. Basically, it is about upholding the promises that we have made.
The first of these relates to the Environment Act, specifically the Government’s obligations under Sections 17 to 19. Section 17 states:
“The Secretary of State must prepare a policy statement on environmental principles”
to be interpreted and applied in the making of government policy. Section 17(5) lays out a definition of environmental principles. This includes:
“the principle that environmental protection should be integrated into the making of policies … the principle of preventative action to avert environmental damage … the precautionary principle, so far as relating to the environment … the principle that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source, and … the polluter pays principle.”
We had extensive discussions during the passage of the Environment Act on these issues.
Section 18 details the timeframe for the policy statement, and Section 19 details the obligations that Ministers are under once the statement is finalised. Section 19(1) states, for example:
“A Minister of the Crown must, when making policy, have due regard to the policy statement on environmental principles currently in effect.”
The problem is, as far as I am aware—the Minister may be able to tell me otherwise—that the Government are yet to finalise the statement. A draft was published in May this year, and we debated it by virtue of a take-note Motion tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. The Government then confirmed that there would be an implementation period once the final version had been laid, to allow government departments to prepare for this new duty. However, I cannot find anything that suggests that a final statement has been published. What progress has been made since our debate before the summer?
Our Amendment 79 would ensure that regulations under the Bill were made in accordance with those environmental principles. It would ensure that no regulations may be made under the Bill unless the policy statement has been finalised and laid before Parliament. Ministers are then under an obligation to pay due regard to it.
The second element of this amendment concerns Article 391 of the trade and co-operation agreement between the UK and the EU. Chapter 7 covers environment and climate. It defines environment levels of protection as
“the levels of protection provided overall in a Party’s law”—
that refers to the parties to the agreement—
“which have the purpose of protecting the environment, including the prevention of a danger to human life or health from environmental impacts”.
The TCA then lists some specific examples, some of which would concern the Bill. These include,
“the protection and preservation of the aquatic environment”,
“the management of impacts on the environment from agriculture or food production”.
Each party in the agreement—the EU and the UK—is committed to
“the principle that environmental protection should be integrated into the making of policies”
as well as to the precautionary approach and the principle
“that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source”.
Article 391 sets out the rules on non-regression. It allows each party
“to determine the environmental levels of protection and climate level of protection it deems appropriate and to adopt or modify its law and policies in a manner consistent with each Party’s international commitments”.
However, it also aims to prevent either party weakening environmental legislation below the levels in place at the end of the transition period.
What concerns us is that the non-regression rules allow the UK to argue that it is allowed to change its regulation on precision breeding to create the new category that we are discussing, that it can do so safely and that there is an environmental case for doing so. However, we could argue that doing so poses environmental risks. Although the Bill attempts to manage those, and we broadly agree they could be managed, we also believe that the safeguards need to be strengthened, because there are potential grounds for disagreement.
It also seems that the EU could make a determination on how the UK has moved, carry out an assessment itself on the balance of risks and benefits and make a judgment on whether we have adhered to the non-regression rule. Given that we trade with the EU extensively, and this element of the TCA explicitly references impacts on trade, I hope the Minister will be able to explain the Government’s assessment of how the Bill will interact with the TCA, whether parity is maintained, and whether there will be any trade repercussions as a result.
I rise to support both amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. She asked the Minister two excellent questions: first, we have a chair for the animal welfare sentience committee, but when are we going to get the rest of the members? Will it be before Christmas? Her second excellent question was: when are we going to see the environmental principles policy statement, because we still have not got it? When the Secretary of State came before my committee a couple of weeks ago, there was the usual—how should one put it?—open-ended commitment to when it might come.
This is becoming a major issue in this House. It is not just an issue for this Bill, where there is a direct correlation between the duties that Ministers would have to follow if the environmental principles policy statement was in place, but for every other piece of legislation that we are looking at. I see the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, in his place. We have been debating the issue of the Procurement Bill. Billions of pounds of government money is spent every year on procurement and, as it stands at the moment, there is no obligation on Ministers to take into account the targets that this Government say they want to deliver, because the EPPS is not in its place.
The reason I particularly want to pick up on this, rather than just to have a rant, is to say that it is not just a question of when the EPPS is laid. What is the Government’s thinking about the delay that they then wish to put in place between that and when the Ministers have to have due regard to it? They have said consistently that, once it is laid, the Government will allow a time for Ministers to prepare themselves to undertake these requirements to have regard to the environmental principles. So when are we going to get the draft EPPS? Are we going to get it before Christmas?
Secondly, have the Government come to a fixed view about the delay between once it is laid and when it will be binding on Ministers? If it is going to be more than a year before it is binding on Ministers, it is not just this Bill, the Procurement Bill and others, but a host of other Bills where the Government say they are committed to their environmental principles but there is no binding commitment on Ministers to have to account for that.
My Lords, I want to follow up very briefly on the two noble Baronesses’ excellent contributions. I have a simple question, which goes back to the earlier amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, about what the role of the animal welfare committee might be. At that time, the Minister who replied said, “Well, it could be a new committee or an existing committee”. My question now is: have we decided whether it is going to be the animal sentience committee? All the discussion seems to be around that, but we have no certainty. It could be a completely different committee, so we might be chasing a rabbit here that is going in the wrong direction because the Government have something else in mind. It would be helpful if the Minister could clarify what committee it will be, and when we will know.
My Lords, the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, is similar to amendments put forward during Committee and Report in the other place. As the Government explained then, the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act received Royal Assent this April and we are actively working to establish the animal sentience committee. As my noble friend the Minister said, the chair, Michael Seals, has already been appointed and further appointments will be announced shortly. It will be for the committee to agree its workplan and timescales; this will be its priority.
We expect it will be some years before precision-bred animals are brought to market so, de facto, the animal sentience committee will be established more than 12 months prior to the first precision-bred animals coming to market. The Government were also clear during the passage of the sentience legislation that we would not dictate the animal sentience committee’s workplan. It will be for the committee, once established, to decide which policy decisions it wants to scrutinise, and its expert members will be best placed to know where they can add value.
In response to Amendment 79, in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Hayman, the Government have a strong record of commitment to the environment and with this Bill we are continuing to uphold that tradition. The provisions in it do not have the effect of weakening or reducing environmental protections; in fact, quite the opposite. Section 19 of the Environment Act 2021 provides that Ministers must
“have due regard to the policy statement on environmental principles”.
Defra has already published and laid a draft version of this statement before Parliament for a debate.
We have considered the feedback from parliamentary scrutiny of the draft policy statement that concluded in June. We hope to agree the final policy statement in the coming weeks and to publish it in early 2023. Once the final policy statement is laid before Parliament and published, there will be an implementation period to allow departments to prepare for the duty before it comes into force. As we are making good progress in this regard, the amendment proposed will not be needed by the time that regulations under the Bill come into force.
In line with the requirements in Section 20 of the Environment Act 2021, we have reviewed whether the Bill reduces current environmental protections. As part of this process, we have considered scientific advice provided by independent scientific experts such as ACRE, the Royal Society of Biology and the Roslin Institute. They concluded that plants and animals developed through precision breeding pose no greater threat to the environment compared with those developed through traditional breeding, so long as the traits they possess are in line with those that could arise naturally. This is in line with the key scientific principle that it is the overall genotype and phenotype of an organism that describe risk, not the method by which it was produced. Based on this assessment, we have concluded that the Bill does not reduce current environmental protections. This also aligns the Bill with our non-regression commitment to the EU on environmental protection.
ACRE will be conducting case-by-case assessments of any precision-bred organism before it enters the market to ensure that any genetic changes made could have occurred through natural breeding or natural transformation. Provided the plant or animal passes this assessment, the risk is considered the same as if it were produced using traditional processes. As I have mentioned, in countries that have already taken a more proportionate approach, a wider range of different traits have been developed. Many of these could have positive impacts on the environment.
I emphasise that the EU itself intends to reform its own regulatory system for plants to make it more proportionate, as early as 2023. The initial results are telling, as
“four out of five (1732; 79%) participants in the consultation found that the existing provisions of the GMO legislation are not adequate”.
I hope I have provided some clarity to enable the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
Before the noble Lord sits down, he very kindly responded to our question about when the EPPS should be laid before Parliament, which is early 2023. However, he did not give any detail on the implementation period, which is expected to allow Ministers to prepare for that. Effectively, the early 2023 date is meaningless, because there could be an implementation period of one or two years. Is the noble Lord expecting the implementation phase for Ministers to take account of the EPPS to be a couple of months, six months or a year?
All I can say at this stage is that it will be as soon as possible.
I thank the noble Lord for ploughing through that. I want to make the same kind of point the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, made. All the while we do not have anything published and we do not know about implementation periods, the whole thing is a bit pointless. How can you have “due regard” to something you do not have in front of you, and if you do not know the timescales? It is quite frustrating. The sooner we can get all of this sorted and the Minister can give us some more timescales and dates, so we know what is going on, the better. I am sure we will be returning to these issues on Report, but in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 56 withdrawn.
Clause 26: Regulation of food and feed produced from precision bred organisms
57: Clause 26, page 16, line 31, leave out “may” and insert “must”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment would require the Secretary of State to regulate the placing on the market in England of food and feed produced from precision bred organisms.
My Lords, I will also speak to Amendments 58 and 59, which are also in my name, and very briefly to the others in this group. I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Hayman of Ullock, for offering their support for Amendments 57 and 58.
Regarding the other amendments in this group, we have not heard their introductions yet, but I look forward to hearing from all the noble Lords who have tabled them. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, has identified the need for the FSA to have adequate resources, which is something we often butt up against in this House as we see the Government failing to deliver on their legal requirements. The Minister’s answer regarding the food and feed register in the probing amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, will be very interesting. We also owe a special vote of thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who I understand is doing sterling Sherpa work for the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee.
In some ways, my three amendments overlap with the next group, in that they address being able to regulate to ensure that we can trace and identify so-called precision-bred organisms and products from them. This and labelling very much go together.
It is interesting to look at some of the public views on this. The Food Standards Agency study, Consumer perceptions of genome edited food, published in July 2021, found that 77% of those questioned said that it would be “very important” when buying a food item to know that it has been precision bred. It was very important to have this knowledge before purchase. We cannot label such items unless we can trace them. Here, we have the question of giving the public certainty. If those who wish to promote this technology and its release are going to get public acceptance, there has to be traceability. Thinking about what has happened with so many issues in our food system—the horsemeat scandal, for example—if there is not traceability, people do not have the trust. People now expect that traceability.
It is also worth pointing out, as does the Soil Association’s briefing on the Bill, that not mandating traceability or labelling risks creating a major barrier to UK trade. The Government have said that they expect the EU to update accordingly but, of course, we do not know what will happen; the EU may well adopt a more restrictive scientific approach to defining which organisms might not be considered GMOs. This would be disastrous for exports. As the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, said earlier when discussing the internal market and relations between the nations, if there are no mechanisms in place to ensure traceability and separation, organic businesses in particular are likely to suffer severe disruption, or even complete refusal from EU countries and other countries to import products. I am aware that noble Lords may think that, when they walk into a UK supermarket, they do not see that much organic produce. In many continental countries, if they walk into a supermarket they will of course find vastly more organic products. That is an increasingly determined part of the market. This is a really key issue. Some of the farmers who are taking many of the most innovative and exciting agroecological steps are our organic farmers.
We have three amendments here, the first two being part of the perhaps slightly dreaded debate on “may” versus “must”. The first amendment says that there must be regulation; it is clear that there is public desire for that, and also a strong argument if you want only to argue for money. The second refers to “may”, “must” and “is”; there must be marketing authorisation and the securing of traceability. Then, in Amendment 59, we essentially come back to risk assessments. This revives the debates that we have already had, so it is perhaps not worth going back over them at great length, but the issue of risk was raised very clearly and stressed in the first contribution today from the noble Lord, Lord Winston.
Following on to a degree from the previous question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, I refer to Amendment 59. Where has the precautionary principle gone? I would very much like the Minister to set out where the Government now place the precautionary principle; it would be interesting to know. I beg to move.
My Lords, Amendment 60 in this group is in my name; I will speak to it relatively briefly.
First, I thank the chair of the FSA, Professor Susan Jebb, for her helpful meeting with Peers about this Bill last week. We covered a number of issues including labelling, safety and enforceability. I listened carefully to her advice, which was extremely helpful.
However, this amendment raises concerns about the resources and capacity of the FSA to take on the additional functions envisaged in the Bill. It is a probing amendment. I would welcome some reassurance from the Minister that the FSA is in a good position to meet the demands set out in this Bill in a meticulous and timely fashion. I raise this because we know that, like many public bodies, the FSA is not in a great position financially. At its last meeting, the CEO reported that, although the budget for next year would not be cut, there would be no extra money for inflation; as we know, that is in effect a cut in income. She also reported that staff are feeling overwhelmed by the relentless pace of and increase in different demands.
As a result, the FSA has already identified key areas of its existing work to be reduced, paused or stopped. My own union, UNISON, is already reporting that the FSA is removing many daily meat inspections in abattoirs, for example. The sector is facing huge food safety challenges, for example from the fall in the number of inspections of food businesses and the ongoing delay in establishing proper import controls for high-risk food and feed from the EU. These are all pressures with which the FSA is already grappling. Incidentally, it is also having to divert resources to assess 150 pieces of EU legislation before the retained EU law deadline of December 2023.
My question for the Minister is a genuine one: in the light of all these diverse pressures and the fact that there does not seem to be any more money around, can he assure us that the FSA has sufficient resources and in-house expertise to take on another complex regulatory role when it already faces so many challenges? I look forward to his response.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for allowing me to ask a brief question. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, asked an important question about resources for the Food Standards Agency. The noble Lord and I are both former chairs, so we know a bit about how it operates. I will add a little twist to the question. If the FSA will not be given additional resources to fulfil these duties which we envisage in relation to this Bill, can the Minister tell us which activities the FSA will have to stop to re-divert resources for precision breeding?
I thoroughly endorse that question. This is probably not the night to go into that area, but the fact of the matter is that, to the best of my knowledge, the meat industry remains subsidised by the taxpayer. We have never got full cost recovery. It is a huge industry—£6 billion—so we are not talking about a few little abattoirs. The industry has been subsidised for years, with a free management service provided by the Food Standards Agency. However, that is not my purpose.
Regarding the clause stand part notices in this group, it is always good to be learning new things: I did not know that you could not put an amendment down to take out a part of the Bill—it is not something that I had ever tried to do in the past—but you cannot do it, so you need to list the clauses. The reason for doing so is given in the19th report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, paragraph 30 of which suggests that Part 3 of the Bill is quite unusual because it
“provides for the regulation of food and feed produced from PBOs. It consists of skeleton clauses: the provision on the face of the Bill is so insubstantial that the real operation of Part 3 would be entirely by the regulations made under it.”
I will not go through the whole report at this time of night—there is no need—but I will highlight a couple of paragraphs from the committee’s report. The memorandum supplied by the department is referred to, which justified these clauses which are so insubstantial. Paragraph 35 of the committee’s report says:
“We find these justifications far from convincing.”
It points out that the Guidance for Departments on the Role and Requirements of the Committee states:
“Skeleton legislation should only be used in the most exceptional circumstances. Where the government decide that such exceptional circumstances apply, the delegated powers memorandum should make an explicit declaration (‘a skeleton legislation declaration’) that the bill is a skeleton bill or clauses within a bill are skeleton clauses. Such a declaration should be accompanied by a full justification for adopting that approach, including why no other approach was reasonable to adopt and how the scope of the skeleton provision is constrained.”
That is paragraph 9 of the guidance to departments—something that Defra has clearly decided to ignore in this case.
The committee’s report says that the delegated powers memorandum
“states that clauses 26 and 28 cover subject-matters ‘of great interest to Parliament’—and it acknowledges the interest that Parliament is likely to have in regulations made under clause 27 —but it fails to include a skeleton legislation declaration or a full justification for the skeleton provision in those clauses.”
The conclusion of the Delegated Powers Committee is that it considers that
“the Government have failed to justify the inclusion of skeleton clauses in Part 3 of the Bill that leave it entirely to ministerial regulations to determine the substance of the regulatory regime that is to govern the placing on the market of food and feed produced from precision bred organisms”.
The Minister has to justify the placing on the market of that food and feed. Feed never gets the pressure that food does—it is not politically sexy—yet one-third of the crops we grow are for animal feed.
In the past, we have had lots of problems of misusing feed. We are waiting for another crisis—and then of course people will take an interest. The reason why the FSA was set up is that there was a crisis that was not dealt with because the department was too involved in providing benefits to the producers and forgetting the consumers. In this case, consumers are entitled to know and trust that the food and feed produced from precision-bred organisms is safe, but how can they if we are just dealing with skeleton clauses and we have government by diktat? Of course, that was the title of a report last year and it is what we have—Government by Diktat. Could the Minister explain to us why they have decided to introduce skeleton clauses but not admit in the delegated powers memorandum that those clauses are in the Bill?
My Lords, much has been said during our debates about the strength of the food and public health measures in the Bill but also about the fact that the Food Standards Agency is going to have a role to play in ensuring that any precision-bred organisms that reach our supermarket shelves are adequately regulated.
Our concern is about the wording as it currently stands because, although it confers on the Government the option to create a provision for regulating the placing on the market of food and feed produced from precision-bred organisms, it does not make that mandatory. In other words, although the Bill makes the regulation of precision-bred food and feed a possibility, it leaves it open to the Government not to take up that power should they not desire to do so.
That is why I have added my name to Amendment 57, of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, which would change that subsection’s language from “may” to “must” so that the Government would be mandated to take up the power; it would not be an option—and likewise with her Amendment 58. I thank her for her thorough introduction to her amendments.
We also support Amendment 60, in the name of my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch. This part of the Bill proposes to introduce powers that will empower the FSA to create a proportionate framework for regulating precision-bred organisms. If approved, the framework will form the basis upon which precision-bred food and feed products are to be authorised and placed on the market in England. That is one reason why I tabled Amendment 63; I felt it was important that we understand what preparatory work has been undertaken on the planned food and feed register and whether there is likely to be any further consultation on it.
As my noble friend Lady Jones has said, the FSA is already under financial and resource pressures. The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, asked an important question: what happens, what are the implications, if there are no new resources for the FSA? My noble friend Lord Rooker raised some serious and important points and questions that need to be answered. I will be interested to hear the Minister’s response to those points.
I am grateful to noble Lords and I will start by answering some of the points that were raised. First, I make it clear to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and all noble Lords—I think we are all interested in this—that the precautionary principle is at the heart of the Environment Act and our desire to reverse the decline in biodiversity and the tragic loss of species, with no net loss by 2030, and our provisions in the 25-year environment plan. I am not sure that the precautionary principle in recent decades has been particularly well used in relation to what it was originally defined as, and we want to get back to making sure that we are committed to a proportionate, science- based regulation that protects people, animals and the environment.
On the question of the Food Standards Agency and its resourcing, I have had regular meetings with the chair of the FSA and other senior officials as we have progressed this Bill through both Houses, and I have been assured that precision breeding will remain an important area of work now and in future and, as such, the need to meet continuing resource requirements to support that work will be taken fully into account in future spending review bids.
On the point that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, raised about a skeleton Bill, I fear that I may excite him again, but I shall say what I believe to be the case. The delegated powers are quite specific and technical in how they are intended to be used, so I would say that this is not a skeleton Bill. It has powers to supplement the principal policy measures that are set out in the Bill. I have some experience in the other place, and in my short time here, of legislation and how it can be Christmas-treed by MPs and others. I want to make sure that this is a precise piece of legislation, with as much in the Bill as can be, and that the powers that lie within it are technical and administrative.
I turn, first, to Amendment 57. As it stands, the Bill grants the necessary power to put in place a new regulatory framework for food and feed produced from precision-bred plants and animals. This will allow the FSA to continue to ensure that the food that we eat is food that we can trust. Until this new regulatory framework is in place, food and feed produced from precision-bred plants and animals will continue to be regulated under the regulatory regime for GM food and feed. So I can assure noble Lords there would not be a regulatory gap in relation to these products as a result of this Bill.
The FSA has published key papers over the past few months, giving details of its proposals on how food and feed produced from precision-bred organisms will be regulated. Noble Lords will also be aware of the support from the FSA board for this Bill and the letters we have received from the chair of the FSA board on this matter. The FSA has commissioned independent scientific advice from the Advisory Committee for Novel Foods and Processes, the FSA’s independent scientific advisory committee, to determine the appropriate means of regulating precision-bred food and feed to ensure that measures are in place to safeguard consumers’ safety in relation to food that they eat. The advice will recommend the criteria for determining how food and feed produced from precision-bred organisms will be assessed. In addition, scientific advice will be provided on the technical information that developers will need to provide to enable assessment under the new framework by the FSA. The Bill should not pre-empt this advice or unduly restrict our ability to implement the most suitable regulatory framework for these products.
Regulations setting up the regime developed by the FSA will also be subject to the affirmative procedure and would therefore need to be debated and approved by both Houses of Parliament. The FSA is committed to food safety and to developing a system that would be put in place by the Secretary of State, using these powers in a proportionate way that both supports innovation and protects consumers. This will deliver a proportionate regulatory framework.
I turn to Amendment 58 and reassure noble Lords that there are already well-established provisions in existing general food law that secure the traceability of all food and feed throughout the supply chain and assist with its recall or withdrawal from the market when it may be proved unsafe. Businesses producing or marketing food and feed produced from precision-bred organisms will need to comply with this existing law. The Bill gives Ministers the option to impose, by regulations, specific requirements to enhance traceability of food and feed produced from precision-bred organisms beyond existing traceability requirements. This provides flexibility to make adjustments to meet any future needs that are not covered by general food law. The FSA will advise Ministers in this regard and ensure that proposals are subject to a public consultation before any such measures are implemented.
I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, for Amendment 59. The primary policy objective of the Bill is to ensure that plants and animals developed using precision breeding, and food and feed produced from them, are regulated proportionately to risk. To do this, the Bill and the regulations to be made under it would remove precision-bred plants and animals, and food and feed produced from them, from the regulatory requirements applicable to genetically modified organisms. However, I take on board the noble Baroness’s concerns around thorough risk assessment and reassure her that any risk-assessment framework will be based on robust scientific advice provided by the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes.
The provisions in Part 3 of the Bill will allow the FSA to design a framework that adequately responds to the risk profile of precision-bred organisms and provide consumers with food they can trust, based on independent scientific advice. Detailed proposals for the future framework will be subject to full public consultation, as is required under food law, and the detailed scrutiny of Parliament through the affirmative process.
I turn now to the additional amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones—Amendment 60. Following the UK’s exit from the EU, the FSA has expanded the expertise of its independent scientific advisory committees to assist with considering the range of possible food safety risks posed by new and existing technologies. This is reflected in the composition of the ACNFP and a new subgroup of that committee, which was formed to consider these issues. This committee can bring in wider experience where specific issues arise.
The FSA is committed to food safety. We have two former chairs of it in this Chamber and they can assert this. It has been active in bolstering the resources of its scientific advisory committees and I am satisfied that they have sufficient resources and expertise to fulfil their intended functions in relation to regulating the placing on the market of food and feed produced from precision-bred organisms, including undertaking risk assessments of food and feed produced by precision-breeding technologies.
I am reluctant to intervene, but there is something I want to ask. Would the Minister agree to provide, by Report, an analysis of the unsung heroes of food safety in this country—the environmental protection people in local government? The FSA works through local government. It audits the activities of food safety in local government. That is the Achilles heel, simply because of the cuts in local government. By Report, could the Minister give us details or produce a factsheet of the latest assessment of the performance of local government food and feed inspection—they tend to forget feed—so we can look at it?
I have something to add to that, very briefly. I hear the Minister when he says that there is a scientific committee overseeing this, but we are talking about the scientists who will do the day-to-day work. Every time a request comes in, it is they who will have to do the graft of research and analysis. There might be people to give an overview but are there the people on the ground to do the work?
The noble Baroness is absolutely right. I was referring to the capacity of the FSA to have the right information to feed through to precisely the people she is talking about. I am assured that it has the resources necessary to do this.
The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, is also right. The unsung heroes are very often the sometimes underappreciated food safety and trading standards officers in our local authorities. I am wondering—I might have to have a discussion with the noble Lord before Report—whether they would have an application here for precision bred-food. That lies at the heart of what the FSA does and there is a question around whether it goes through to what happens in local authorities. We will come on to talk about labelling in a moment, but I think this traceability element is covered by the FSA. I am not sure how much more work we are going to require of local authorities in order to deliver this, but I am happy to have further discussions with the noble Lord.
I want to follow up on that point. We will come to it in a moment when we discuss labelling, because I will mention it again then, but the pressure on local authorities will be more through trading standards than through environmental health. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, raised a point about traceability and authenticity, and that is really the job of trading standards and public analysts, with their analytical methods of determining the authenticity of food. That might be where the pressure applies in local authorities, rather than with EHOs.
I was uncertain about the point that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, was making, but I take the noble Lord’s point seriously. In our discussions with the FSA, I will make sure that all actors in this field are engaged and understand their responsibilities.
Lastly, in relation to the amendments to Part 3 of the Bill, I will discuss Amendment 63. The FSA is fully committed to establishing and maintaining a register of food and feed produced from precision-bred organisms in the best possible way. The FSA already maintains similar registers for other regulated products that communicate to stakeholders the decisions made by the Secretary of State to authorise regulated products, including feed additives, smoke flavourings, and GMOs for food and feed uses. The register relating to food and feed from precision-bred organisms will be incorporated into this framework. It will give a comprehensive record of precision-bred organisms authorised for use in food and feed in England.
As I have already laid out, detailed proposals for the register will be included in the new framework for precision-bred organisms. This will be subject to a full public consultation. The consultation findings will be presented to Parliament as part of the full scrutiny process of the affirmative resolution for the resulting draft regulations.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for the opportunity to debate whether Clauses 26, 27, 28 and 29 should stand part of the Bill. We recognise noble Lords’ concerns in these areas. I hope that my words regarding the crucial role and important work that the FSA has and will continue to undertake have provided some reassurance about the importance of these clauses standing part of the Bill. We will of course provide a detailed response to the DPRRC report, having heard the views of noble Lords and having taken into account the valuable detail provided in that report. With that, I hope that I have reassured noble Lords.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response and everyone who has taken part, in what is getting to be a fairly late night, for their detailed and forensic examination of this part of the Bill and the proposed amendments.
I do not think that I can add to the debate on Amendment 60 on the resources of the FSA, except to say that we could not possibly have had a better team of people who commented on that. Their concerns should be heard and listened to.
On what the Minister said about the precautionary principle, it is possible that the word “proportionate” in the description is carrying a lot of weight. The question is whether we are talking about proportionate to risk or to the impact on potential profits. None the less, I thank the Minister for his reassurance about the precautionary principle. I should warn him in advance that I suspect that I might quote those words back to him in the future.
I will start with my Amendment 58 on traceability. As the Minister was speaking, I was thinking about a small, independent baker I happen to know, who is based in Nottingham. She is very innovative and doing amazing, exciting work. I do not know this for a fact because I have not discussed it with her, but I think that I can take a reasonable guess that she will be very keen to ensure that she does not end up with any gene-edited crops in her products. She will want to make sure that that is the case so that she can keep a check on these things. We need the traceability, because if things start to go wrong we need to be able to trace where they are going wrong. Traceability is crucial.
It is rather late, and this is something we will come back to. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, is far more expert on the whole issue of skeleton Bills than I am so I will not attempt to respond, except to note that he is of course reacting to a highly respected independent committee of your Lordships’ House.
I suspect, particularly with Amendments 57 and 58, that these are issues we might well come back to, but in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 57.
Amendment 57 withdrawn.
Amendments 58 to 60 not moved.
Clause 26 agreed.
61: After Clause 26, insert the following new Clause—
“Labelling of food or feed produced from precision bred organisms(1) Food or feed produced from a precision bred organism or its progeny that is placed on the market must be labelled to inform prospective purchasers that it has been produced from a precision bred organism or its progeny.(2) The labelling required under subsection (1) must be in easily visible and clearly legible type and, where packaging is used, it must be placed on the front outer surface of the packaging.(3) Regulations must lay down the labelling terms to be used to meet the requirements of subsection (1).(4) Before making regulations under this section, the Secretary of State must—(a) consult representatives of—(i) consumers,(ii) citizens and civil society,(iii) food producers,(iv) suppliers,(v) retailers,(vi) growers and farmers,(vii) the organic sector,(viii) other persons likely to be affected by the regulations, and (ix) any other persons the Secretary of State considers appropriate; and(b) seek the advice of the Food Standards Agency on the information to be required to be provided on labelling.(5) Regulations under this section are subject to the affirmative procedure.”Member's explanatory statement
This new Clause would require the Secretary of State to make regulations about the labelling of precision bred organisms and food and feed products made from them and to consult with named stakeholders before doing so.
My Lords, Amendment 61 is in my name and those of the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Parminter. I thank them for their support. Both the amendments in this group take on the issue of labelling. Traceability and labelling very much fit together. I will quote one sentence from the Soil Association’s briefing on the Bill, which makes a really important point:
“The objectives of the Bill could be achieved with the inclusion of labelling and traceability.”
It is crucial to say that these are amendments that, much as I might not like it, accept many other parts of the Bill but say that the public and industries have to be able to see what is going on.
I already referred to the FSA’s study of July 2021. To quote another of its findings:
“Most consumers felt labelling should always inform the consumer of the presence GE ingredients”.
I also note that the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, BBSRC and Sciencewise’s Public Dialogue on Genome Editing in Farmed Animals found that consumers
“wanted products from genome edited animals to be labelled as such.”
We have before us two amendments that are similar but slightly different; the second one, Amendment 62, being in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman of Ullock and Lady Bakewell. Either amendment would very much do the job. My Amendment 61 aims to be really clear and simple. It would give consumers information at the point of purchase, and although I fully understand the desire of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, to add further information about nutritional content, allergens and environmental impact, I suspect that we should be seeing that kind of labelling on all food, rather than specifically precision-bred food.
We can imagine what a so-called precision-breeding label might look like: a sticker that says “PB” in large writing with a little explanation underneath. Keeping that separate from the nutrition and environmental impact labelling in the interests of simplicity is an argument. Plus, saying that this should be added specifically to precision-bred food items but not to others does not quite add up, as far as I can see. However, I am not hugely wedded to that position, and I will interested to hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has to say in this regard.
If we were to do a survey on the public’s concerns about this Bill, labelling is probably the issue about which we would find the most concern, as is backed up by the research I have already quoted. It is very clear and understandable, and people just want to know what they are eating. That has always been true and is increasingly true, given, as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said, some of the many scandals, problems and issues we have had with our food supply over the years. I beg to move.
My Lords, I think it would be helpful for me to introduce my Amendment 62 at this point. We know that the Bill is going to create a new type of food product on supermarket shelves, the precision-bred organism, and is also clear that there is a trend among consumers to want more information about their food, what it contains, where it comes from and its environmental impact. All these things are important, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, talked about traceability as well, so it is important that we have a discussion about how we achieve this, what we label, how it needs to be labelled and the impact of precision-bred organisms on future labelling.
Our Amendment 62—I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, for her support—would require the Government to introduce regulations to ensure that precision-bred food and feed is labelled to provide sufficient information in certain areas. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, has already said, that includes nutritional content, the potential presence of allergens and the environmental impact of the product, but it would also require the Secretary of State to consult stakeholder groups before pursuing that and to seek the advice of the Food Standards Agency. The Government have already said that they support nutritional labelling to inform consumers of any allergens or if the nutritional content of the food has been changed from its natural state. This is something we need to address in the Bill.
We are aware of the issues of coexistence with other production systems, supply chain tracing and how the legislation might have an impact on the organic sector. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, has talked about the organic sector, and I am not sure we have had sufficient discussion in Committee so far about the potential impacts on that sector.
We also believe it important to consult on this issue, so that whatever labelling regime the Government decide to introduce allows for different types of food production to coexist. In the impact assessment the Government state that they oppose labelling in this instance, based particularly, I think, on the costs it would incur for businesses. I am sure the Minister can confirm those points. The impact assessment has not calculated the costs or benefits of labelling, so it would be helpful if the Minister could let your Lordships know how that judgment was reached.
I would like to draw attention to a couple of points in the impact assessment. In paragraph 114, the Government note that
“maintaining a labelling and tracing system could also have wider benefits, most notably, improved consumer confidence in food products potentially adding value across the food supply chain.”
We spoke at Second Reading and earlier in Committee about the importance of consumer confidence. The impact assessment also states:
“Given uncertainties … we have not monetised the estimated annual cost of a labelling and tracing system to business.”
This was also identified by the Regulatory Policy Committee, which stated in its report:
“The traceability and labelling costs, the primary benefit for the preferred option and which differentiates the two regulatory options considered, is not quantified. As this is the main difference between the two regulatory options, the Department needs to provide some quantification of the scale of the potential impact from this change.”
I would be very grateful if the Minister could comment on this assessment. Further to that, in its written evidence to the committee, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics noted that the Government’s present stance on labelling
“runs contrary to the findings of many public engagement initiatives that have broached this question ... in this context, not labelling amounts to the withholding of information about consumer preferences”.
The question I would ask the Minister and the Committee more broadly is: where do we go with this? How do we best provide the information consumers want in order to produce confidence in the system? It is not an easy question; there are no easy answers. But I do think we need to make progress.
My Lords, after much thought, I am afraid I am a reluctant opposer of these amendments. I understand the need for transparency with the consumer—and the answer to the noble Baroness’s last question is very important—but I feel labelling will not work in this case.
Everybody supports the proposal to have a register of PBOs, and no one is trying to hide anything. If anyone really wants to know, they can find out, but not necessarily in 20 seconds—which, I gather, is the time it takes an average shopper to decide on a product. Secondly, we do not currently require people to label that a crop has been produced using an F1 hybrid technique or bombarded with radiation, or that it has undergone polyploidy induction or somatic hybridisation, or that a chemical such as colchicine has been involved. But if you asked people in the street whether they wanted such techniques to be labelled, they would almost certainly say yes, which is why they answered “yes” to the labelling of gene-edited products. Of course they did. But we need to be led by the science on whether these products are actually different if we are going to put a statutory labelling requirement in place, and the product is the same as in traditional breeding.
For instance, if I devised and produced a particular potato by editing its genes, and someone else, because they had been working on it for 20 years or so, produced a similar potato by traditional means, what would be the difference? It would be scientifically impossible to tell the two apart. ACRE would grant them both a licence and the FSA would pass them both as perfectly safe to eat. So, a label that distinguishes one from the other could be misleading and would not do our labelling system any favours. Incidentally, that view is shared internationally. Canada, the US and Japan do not require labelling for precision-bred products.
I believe it is the product that matters, not the technology used to produce it, provided that all the safeguards and breeding processes are strictly adhered to—and we are obviously going through these regulations very carefully, covering the breeding process for both crops and animals. They are already amazingly strict. As someone said in the Commons, do we label or license everything produced by 3D printing, just because someone could make an unlicensed gun with it? No—let us license the gun and not the 3D printing process.
It might be helpful to have some breeding details here—and I apologise as I am slightly retreading ground that I touched on on Monday. The point is that any wheat used to make bread is going to be several generations away from any gene editing, and obviously, ACRE and FSA get involved long before a seed reaches the marketplace. But, as I said on Monday, if a company edited a wheat to improve its milling quality, it would then have in-house testing for off-target characteristics, which would take about three or four generations—three or four years. Then, there would be a further two generations—two years—of statutory testing. Then, the variety gets recommended listing, and there would probably be another one or two years of multiplying up the seed for the farmers’ marketplace. It is a very long process, and I am not sure that the final crop of wheat could be called genetically edited as such. It is six or seven generations down the line.
Very few flour producers, especially the smaller ones who make for specialist local bakers, will have the capacity to separate this new variety. So what about your local high-quality village baker, who probably does not even have a wrapping for their bread and puts it straight onto a shelf? You can tell I am talking about my own local baker here, because that is exactly what she does. She will probably have to put up a general notice above the door of her shop, saying that the products sold in that shop may contain flour that is remotely descended from a gene-edited plant.
Incidentally, on Monday, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, mentioned Jabal, which is a new drought-resistant durum wheat which has just been produced by ICARDA, one of the UN CGIAR centres. She rightly indicated that it had been produced by scientists and farmers, and had been developed between 2017 and 2021. It is true that it was produced by ICARDA—with INRA, incidentally, which is the Moroccan agricultural research organisation—in 2017, and that between 2017 and 2021 it, and four or five other varieties which were produced at the same time, were tested with local farmers. The scientists, I may say, did not actually favour Jabal. They favoured another one which had better drought resistance, but it was a short-strawed variety and the farmers preferred the long-strawed variety because that is what they feed to their animals. For once, the scientists listened to the farmers: it does not always happen, I may say.
Anyway, the farmers chose Jabal and soon, I gather, in two or three years’ time, when it has undergone all its public tests, it will be released for farmers to grow; in other words, some six or seven years after they first started trialling it. But the time we should really be focusing on in connection with this Bill, of course, is the pre-2017 period, when the various seeds were actually being developed. I do not know whether your Lordships have ever been to a plant breeding centre. A few years back I went to the James Hutton Institute in Dundee, where they breed barley, which is very important for the Scottish economy—for whisky. They have 700 varieties of barley, all lined up, in their greenhouse, and maintain those 700 different varieties each and every year, because they do not want to lose any of them. Then they hybridise each of them. I am not a statistician, but I cannot quite imagine the number of crosses you can make from 700 different varieties of barley: it is going to be huge, probably in the millions. But they do this. Say you are looking for a particular characteristic, such as drought resistance: you hybridise it and look at it, breed more hybrids with another hybrid and so on, and go on through the procedure, and then, probably some 10 to 15 years later, you will find you arrive at something that is a leap forward. Then, of course, you have to go through all the tests.
So ICARDA has been working for maybe up to 15 years to produce this Jabal wheat and its four or five contemporaries before you get to 2017. If there are 700 barleys, there are over a thousand wheats. But the whole point of the Bill is that the advantage of gene editing is that you can do that process in possibly two or three years, not the 10 to 15 years it would normally take. It is complicated, and not actually very easy. Do not forget that the wheat genome is actually much bigger than the human genome. I believe the human genome contains 3 billion DNA letters, while bread wheat has 16 billion. That is a big difference. But—and this is the key point—whether it is gene edited or not, they all have to go through the testing period of five or six years and five or six generations before they can be released.
When it comes to animals, as I explained on Monday, with the intergenerational gap of, say, two years and nine months with a cow, or four years with a salmon, even if you have some miracle breed on the stocks ready to go the moment this Bill becomes an Act, it is still, with all the necessary testing, going to be the mid-2030s before such a product turns up in a shop. Breeding improvements in a species is a very long-term process, even with gene editing.
On the traceability front, I can do no better than to quote the evidence given to the House of Commons committee by Professor Whitelaw, who works for Roslin. He said:
“When it comes to traceability … genome-editing technology generates the equivalent of what is naturally found. Every animal born carries 40 de novo mutations—
that was a new one on me—
“and genome editing adds another one to that list. Without having an audit trail of individual animals, you will not be able to identify one genetic change from another. It is impossible to categorically say, ‘That is caused by genome-editing technology rather than a natural mutation.’ Therefore, the audit trail of an animal or product will not be based on the molecular analysis of that animal; it must be based on something else.”
Another witness, Dr Craig Lewis, told the committee that
“if we look at the pig industry in the UK, it is more done on a … lot basis. For example, normal practice … is to use pulled semen at a commercial level for a terminal sire, so—
and this is an important point—
“even within a litter, you might have three … sires represented … so individual animal traceability in the UK pig industry … does not really exist.”
How can one label a sausage produced in one of those litters as gene edited with any degree of confidence? I do not think one can and, as I say, we could be bringing the whole labelling system into disrepute. I completely understand the desire for transparency, and it is only after much thought and research that I have arrived at my conclusions. I just do not think labelling would be valid or, for that matter, achievable with any degree of certainty. Furthermore, I do not actually believe it is necessary. I support the view taken, as I say, by Canada, the US and Japan to not require labelling for precision-bred products.
My Lords, I can assure noble Lords that this is not some sort of Cross-Bench conspiracy, but I am afraid to say that, although I can see the arguments, I too do not support the idea of labelling precision-bred products.
I have three principal arguments, some of which have been touched on, but I will nevertheless repeat them. The first is to do with enforceability. As we have heard, and indeed my noble friend Lord Cameron said a few moments ago, there is no chemical test that can distinguish between a precision-bred organism, whether it is a plant or an animal, and one that is produced by conventional breeding. So trading standards officers or public analysts would not be able to do what they would normally expect to do: take a product off the shelf and subject it to a chemical test to justify or assess its authenticity.
We have heard quite a bit about traceability and my noble friend Lord Cameron pointed to some of the difficulties with traceability in the livestock industry. But also, it is important to remember that in the food industry traceability works on a one up, one down principle. That is to say, you are buying a raw material to put in a product and you check that the person who is selling you the raw material claims that it is what it is on the tin. But that chain can often be very long. You are buying grain that has been produced in Argentina and there is a long supply chain from the farmer to the transport to the dock to the transport in the ship to Liverpool; the cargo is unloaded in Liverpool and then it is transferred through many stages before it finally ends up in the Warburtons bread factory. The one up, one down system is by no means fool-proof—which is why to really check what something is, you need to have an analytical test to back it up. A regulation that is unenforceable is a bad regulation.
Secondly, what are consumers supposed to do with the information? Of course, if you ask consumers whether they want to have precision breeding on the label, they will say yes. I know from my time at the Food Standards Agency that almost whatever you ask people about they will say “Yes, we’d love to have it on the label”. But you also have to remember that other surveys show that only between one-quarter and one-third of consumers ever read the label. So many people who say they want it on the label do not actually look at it. If it is supposed to allow people who are worried about technology to avoid PBOs, as my noble friend Lord Cameron has said, why not label products which have been produced as a result of mutagenesis with ionising radiation or chemical toxins?
I can, however—and perhaps this speaks to the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock raised—have reason to label the effects of a PBO. For example, if precision-breeding were used to create tomatoes with more lycopene, if no fungicides were used in growing potatoes, or broccoli had more omega-3, there would be a reason to label those, because it would affect the way in which the consumer might wish to use the product. But those benefits do not need mandatory labelling because producers and retailers will do it anyway. You can buy eggs in the supermarket labelled as containing enhanced omega-3. Similarly, standards such as organic foods, Freedom Foods and Rainforest Alliance foods are labelled without the need for regulation because there is a marketing advantage.
Labels are already overcomplex. Although, as I say, people will always ask for more, cluttering up labels with more information will make it more difficult for those who have to read the labels for crucial information —for example, to avoid allergens. If you add extra labelling, you are just making it more difficult for people to read the crucial things.
The US Food and Drug Administration has the principle that information should be mandatory on a label only when it affects how the consumer wants to use the product. Since labelling a PBO, as my noble friend Lord Cameron said, does not affect the nature of the final product, it is hard to see how it can affect the way in which the consumer uses it.
My third and final point is about the practicality of labelling unpackaged fruit and vegetables. If the label has to be on the package, how would one label potatoes sold loose? To take another example from the plant side, equivalent to that referred to by my noble friend Lord Cameron, let us say a tomato sauce is made from raw materials from many sources; what does the label say? Some of the sources may be precision-bred tomatoes, but the majority may not. Is it another case of “may contain”, which is not a very helpful label?
So, although I can see the arguments, I am afraid I do not support these amendments and I do not think they are practical—and, incidentally, I do not think the Food Standards Agency supports them either.
I do not want this to become one side versus the other, but I am happy to follow the two noble Lords, because I disagree with their position. There is a very strong case, with practical arguments that I hope to make, in support of labelling. I am not going to repeat the well-made arguments about why the public want it, and it is not just because everyone will say they agree with a survey. By the way, if you say the FSA is such a great organisation that it can come up with the prosect of a register, you cannot then say that it cannot come up with a decent questionnaire to which the public do not know the answer. Noble Lords must accept that, if the FSA can do a register, it can do a decent questionnaire.
So, on this occasion, I have trust in the FSA, but, more broadly, I have trust in the public. We know the public want labelling on animal welfare issues. I started my life at the RSPCA and was responsible, with others, for the creation of the Freedom Food label. I have known all my life that people want more information about these sorts of issues. The evidence is out there, not just from this one survey last year but from the direction of travel over decades. You do not need me, or the FSA or the RSPCA, to say that. Just look at what Governments are doing. Our Government, to their credit, are looking next year at a new, broader labelling scheme for food products that will include carbon emissions. It is not easy, but they are looking at doing it because they know that is the direction of travel for the public.
This is not just in the UK. Both noble Lords mentioned the USA, which is not labelling gene-edited products at the moment. That is correct. However, what they did this year in America, for the first time, was introduce a new federal law on labelling GMOs. All GMO products have to be labelled “bioengineered” or “made by bioengineering”. They have made a massive shift. They may not be labelling gene editing at the moment, but the country that is the most open to GMOs in the whole world is now labelling all GMOs, by federal law. The direction of travel, the traceability issues and the claims from organic farmers all mean that products must have labels on—very simple labels, with “made by bioengineering” or “bioengineered”. This is not rocket science; it is the direction of travel for Governments.
My second point has not been addressed by the arguments of the two noble Lords opposite. If you do not label, even if you are prepared to put to one side arguments about the public, how do you address the issue that Europe may not go down the same route as us on gene editing? The EU is not going down the route of gene editing for animals at all; it is not even in the consultation. The Minister might shake his head, but it is not in the consultation. We all know how slowly the EU operates and the consultation in the EU is only on plants.
If we do not label products, how will our exporters be able to export without extra regulations, paperwork and cost—unless they can, on the pack, say it is okay because it is labelled as such? That will affect not only those who are gene editing but those who are not gene editing; they will all be stuffed up with extra regulations and legislation because of Brexit, because we are not putting labels on packets.
Then there is the point made earlier, to which I referred, about Scotland and Wales, both of which are opposing this legislation. The Government say that they are talking with the Scottish Government, but I hope that they are listening as well. Surely, one thing that the Scottish Government would say is, “Well, if you were prepared to label, we could then make an informed choice on what comes over our border. We could say, ‘We don’t want that, but we’ll take that’—we don’t need to worry”.
It is very rare for me to dare to disagree with not just one but two leading Cross-Benchers in this field. I hear their arguments—but on the grounds of the impacts on trade and my experience, such as it is, and understanding of what the public want on labelling, this is an area where the Government have to make some concessions.
I will speak very briefly. I have added my name to Amendment 62 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, and my noble friend Lady Parminter has spoken to Amendment 61. Both noble Baronesses have made very powerful points.
Both amendments deal with labelling, a critical component of ensuring the acceptance of precision-engineered food by the public. It is the public at the end of the day that will make the decision about this. The Food Standards Agency in its recent briefing felt that labelling was not necessary, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has said, as the food produced by natural processes would be completely indistinguishable from that which has been precision engineered, and the labelling would be cumbersome and the labels too cluttered. Obviously, I disagree with that.
The consumer has become used to reading labels to see what the allergen content is, what the calories are and how much salt and fat are contained in the product—so why not whether the product contains precision-bred ingredients? We heard earlier from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, that the FSA is under pressure and underfunded. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, set out her amendment clearly, and it is obvious what the rationale is. At some stage, the Government will carry out a review of how the actions permitted in this Bill are progressing, and what the advantages and disadvantages have been. I hope that it will all be positive. However, if there is no clear labelling, the process of review will be deeply flawed, if not impossible to carry out.
The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, referred to loose potatoes being labelled and that being very difficult—and I have to say that it will be exactly the same as they are at the moment. In the shops, it will say, perhaps, “Arran Pilot” or “Estima”, and underneath it may say, “Contains genetically modified organisms”. It is not difficult for loose produce to be labelled. All precision-bred organisms and food and feed, and the progeny from those organisms, should be labelled from the start of the process, not at some later date in future.
My Lords, I know that labelling was raised as a concern at Second Reading, and I would like to address those points and discuss our approach to transparency within the Bill.
As I have said before, the Bill is being led by the science. As the noble Lords, Lord Cameron and Lord Krebs, highlighted, there is currently no method that can categorically determine whether genetic changes to an organism of the kind covered by this Bill have arisen conventionally, or through the application of a precision-breeding method such as genome editing. Precision breeding is another method in our breeding toolbox. To be clear, products from precision-bred plants or animals will contain only genetic changes that could also occur through traditional breeding or naturally. We do not currently label for other breeding methods such as chemical mutagenesis, and we do not label novel foods as novel. If I went out into the street now and asked people whether they would like food that was created by chemical mutagenesis, as noble Lords have said, they would probably say yes—but we have to be absolutely clear what we are talking about here.
The FSA is establishing a separate authorisation process for food and feed derived from precision-bred plants and animals. Through this process the FSA will ensure that all products placed on the market for consumption will be safe. We are not alone in taking this approach on labelling, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, so eloquently said, we are aligning with many of our partners across the world, such as Canada, Japan, Argentina and others, that do not require precision-bred organisms, or food and feed derived from them, to be labelled as such.
For these reasons, we do not think it would be appropriate to require labelling to indicate the use of precision breeding. We understand the importance of transparency and, as I have mentioned, the Bill enables regulations to establish public registers. This will ensure that information about precision-bred plants and animals, and the food and feed produced from them, which can be marketed in England, is in the public domain and can be accessed freely by consumers and food businesses. The intention is that the development of the register of food and feed from precision-bred organisms, and associated information requirements, will be subject to consultation, so there will be further opportunity for stakeholders to feed into this work.
The industry also recognises the importance of transparency. The British Society of Plant Breeders has recently committed to maintaining a public register of all registered plant varieties that have been developed through precision breeding; the society’s registers provide the basis for traceability of agricultural crops.
The issue of allergens was mentioned earlier and was also raised at Second Reading. I understand that consumers will want to know of any compositional changes that may affect them. I want to reassure your Lordships that regulation on the provision of food information to consumers already adequately covers both nutritional and allergen labelling for food products, thus ensuring that consumers have access to the information they need about these matters.
Existing requirements of food law mean that food business operators must have systems and procedures in place to identify businesses they have supplied. This ensures that food can be traced, and any unsafe products recalled. There are also provisions in the Bill that would enable more specific requirements on traceability to be made in relation to food and feed produced from precision-bred organisms through secondary legislation.
Through the Bill we want to create a more proportionate and science-based regulatory regime to encourage greater innovation and industry investment in precision-breeding technologies. I understand the different opinions that may exist on this, but if we are being honest with the public, we have to listen to what the noble Lords, Lord Cameron and Lord Krebs, said about what we are saying on any label. It would be impossible to differentiate between two food stuffs—one that was produced by traditional means and one that had been produced as a PBO. I hope this has reassured noble Lords on these points.
Contrary to the implication that I made at Second Reading, I am with the noble Lords, Lord Krebs and Lord Cameron, here. If you cannot check it, you cannot label it.
There is a fundamental point here—and I quoted the late Professor Burke. I know from experience the very reason the FSA was set up, and the Minister needs to send an edict round his colleagues: we do not want any Minister to ever claim that gene-edited food is safe, because the public will not believe them. That is the reason the FSA is there. It is a pity, because we have some Members of this House who have personal experience of this. They could destroy the food industry. The public will believe the scientists and the officials from the regulatory authorities; there is abundant evidence for that over the last 20 years.
If the Minister wanted to wreck gene editing and the food industry, he would give the nod to Ministers to say, “We’ve got this new policy—it will go down well with the public, and there are a few votes in it. You get down there and tell your local people”. It is fine for Ministers to do what the Minister is doing now—legislating—but they should have no role whatever in promoting and explaining. Legally they have no role, because legally the responsibility is with the Food Standards Agency, but you have to spell that out to Health Ministers—you had to spell it out even to Labour Health Ministers that they had no role. They do not like it, because there are no levers to pull, but it is just one of those things.
However, in terms of confidence for the food industry, which has been restored in the past 20 years after some rocky incidents, it is fundamental that the Minister gets across to his colleagues that Ministers should not pontificate on safety and the other aspects of food. They are going to have to pay for this, by the way, because resources are needed for both the FSA and the other regulators, including the scientific committees, to explain things to the public and defend the situation in a way that the public will believe. They will not believe Ministers; I can tell you that from my own experience. I kept out of it in the horsemeat scandal. I left it to the officials and the scientists. No one was going to believe a hack politician who was previously a Minister. It is true that it was a very difficult situation, but the public will not believe Ministers. It is as simple as that.
I can assure noble Lords that I always trust experts over politicians. I was in Defra at the time of the horsemeat scandal; I entirely endorse what the noble Lord says. As on so many occasions, if you get people who are real experts in their field, they are often able to convey the opinion much more effectively than Ministers. With due humility, I accept the noble Lord’s advice.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response and all the noble Lords who have contributed to this absolutely crucial debate—in particular, the noble Lords opposite who put so much into it. Given the hour, I will park the debate about Jabal wheat for the moment; perhaps we can have that debate over the Long Table sometime and continue the discussion.
I want to say something very serious and, I must say, concerning. The Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, both said that it is impossible to identify whether something has been gene edited. I have no doubt that the Minister is operating on the advice that he has received, but I am afraid that that is simply untrue. It is a great pity that the noble Lord, Lord Winston, is not in his place; I will attempt to channel him because he would undoubtedly say this better than I am going to.
As an example, I refer to a 2020 article in Theoretical and Applied Genetics by Biswas, Rong et al. Its title is “Effective identification of CRISPR/Cas9-induced and naturally occurred mutations in rice using a multiplex ligation-dependent probe amplification-based method”. Let me translate that into English. This article shows how you can identify both the intended and unintended impacts of the use of CRISPR-Cas9, as well as any other mutations that occur independently of the use of CRISPR—in rice, for example.
That is just one example from 2020. Let us look at another example: a commercial practice called the real-time PCR method. I think we have all become familiar with PCR tests during Covid. I have no reason to disbelieve it so I cite what the commercial company says: that this method detects
“what is probably the most challenging class of gene edits—a modification of just a single letter in the genetic blueprint”.
This is the simplest change possible and it is detectable through a PCR test—something with which we are all highly familiar.
Does the company claim that it can tell whether that single base pair change was produced by genome editing or by mutation? If so, how?
I am sorry; I cannot speak for that company. What I can refer to, because I was just talking about it, is the rice article to which I referred. As I said, the article refers to—we need the noble Lord, Lord Winston—the multiplex ligation-dependent probe amplification-based method. I would be happy to provide a reference to both the noble Lord and the Minister. The article says that this method can definitely determine whether the impacts of CRISPR-Cas9 are intentional or unintentional, or whether it is something that has happened independently but at the same time. So there is at least one method here, in a respected peer-reviewed journal, that sets out how this can be identified.
Further, I point out that the US Government this year announced a collaboration to develop
“an initial set of computational tools that assists trained analysts to identify genetic engineering in a next generation sequencing data set. It makes it possible for scientists to detect engineered DNA at scale”.
That is a US Government project happening this year. Any claim that this is all impossibly difficult and cannot be done simply does not stack up. If the noble Lord, Lord Winston, was here, I am sure he could cite many more cases, but the evidence, I think, is clearly there.
I want to pick up some of the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Krebs and Lord Cameron of Dillington. First, the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said that we cannot have extra labelling: there is not enough space, and it is too confusing. If we pick up an average packet of something in the supermarket—say, a packet of pasta—it will have some very large branding on it and a small space dedicated to nutrition and other information. Possibly, we need less space for the branding. Very little packaging has insufficient space for extra information of the kind that consumers want.
The noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, made some points about random mutagenesis techniques and other techniques that he used, and said that they are not labelled. There may be an argument that they should be labelled, but putting that to one side, the fact is that comparing genome editing to those kinds of techniques is comparing apples and pears. Basically, gene editing can access and amend parts of the genome that are protected from naturally occurring or induced mutations. This is something that perhaps we have not brought out in previous debates, and we might want to explore it further on Report. There is a difference between the parts of the genome that can be accessed by these different techniques.
I have dealt with a lot and am aware of the hour. It is clear there is a strong demand from many sides of the House for this labelling and a strong demand from the public. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment, but I have little doubt that we will return to this on Report.
Amendment 61 withdrawn.
Amendment 62 not moved.
Clause 27: Food and feed marketing authorisations: register
Amendment 63 not moved.
Clause 27 agreed.
Clause 28 agreed.
Clause 29: Meaning of “Part 3 obligation”
64: Clause 29, page 20, line 6, leave out “relevant” and insert “Part 3”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment makes clear that the reference to a relevant obligation in Clause 29(4)(a) is to a Part 3 obligation.
Amendment 64 agreed.
Clause 29, as amended, agreed.
Clauses 30 and 31 agreed.
Clause 32: Enforcement
Amendments 65 and 66 not moved.
Clause 32 agreed.
Clauses 33 to 38 agreed.
67: After Clause 38, insert the following new Clause—
“The Genetic Technology Authority(1) There is to be a body corporate called the Genetic Technology Authority.(2) The Authority is to consist of—(a) a chair and deputy chair, and(b) such number of other members as the Secretary of State appoints.(3) The Schedule deals with the membership of the Authority, etc.”
My Lords, I am very conscious that I am in the graveyard slot, but I hope that noble Lords who remain here will bear with me, because the amendments I have tabled are fundamental to where the Bill has lost its way and would produce a useful solution. I also welcome the very helpful Amendment 68 from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett.
Amendments 67, 69, 70, 71, 72 and 90 are in my name. All of them, although it is a lot of paperwork, have quite a simple intent: to establish a separate body to oversee the wider ethical and regulatory challenges which the fast pace of genetic, scientific progress is throwing up. This proposal was initially floated by my colleague Daniel Zeichner in the Commons. I have tabled it again because I did not feel it had sufficient attention in the Commons. I continue to believe that it raises an important principle and an important way forward which I hope the Government might consider embracing.
As Daniel explained in the Commons, it is modelled on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which has managed to maintain a hugely respected and authoritative voice in the field of human genetics. Its inclusion in this Bill meets the call from many of the respected scientific bodies which gave evidence to the Commons, calling for a body to oversee the implications of wider trends in research, rather than looking at each case in isolation. It would therefore be able to make recommendations for broader policy changes. Organisations such as the Royal Society and the Nuffield Council on Bioethics made that point.
These amendments also address an important point made by several noble Lords at Second Reading. It is important that the regulators look at outcomes and not processes. What we have here is process driven. We need to look at the end result of all the proposed changes. We believe that an authority with a wider remit, as set out in these amendments, would do just that. Such a body could also provide a forum for a wider review of genetic technology, which could include GMOs, the regulation of which is increasingly out of step with the provisions in this Bill.
I have a fundamental concern about the processes set out in this Bill, because they create an enormous paper trail of notifications between the Secretary of State, the advisory committee and the welfare advisory committee—not to mention the Food Standards Agency and potentially the Home Office, as we have been hearing today—without anybody taking a strategic overview of the risks and impacts taking place. All of these organisations, including Defra itself, are facing real-terms cuts in budgets. I am not convinced they will have the capacity to follow the bureaucracy being created with any real rigour. The Minister in an earlier debate referred to his flow chart; he waved it at us very proudly. I counted 12 touchpoints on that flow of contacts where information was being received and passed on. We are in danger of dropping the ball and missing a hugely risky scientific intervention getting buried in that paper trail.
The inclusion of animals in this Bill has made the case for such a body far more stark because, as we have been debating, public attitudes to animal welfare are changing over time. We are, for example, much more determined to ensure that farmed animals have a good life, as far as that is able to be delivered. Genetic engineering impacts need to be measured against changing public perceptions—not just the welfare issues at the time but future public perceptions of what a good life is for a farmed animal.
We also need to take a long-term view of those impacts, which are sometimes unforeseen, as we were debating earlier; they do not show up immediately. On other occasions, the cumulative effect of mutations might result in welfare or environmental harms that are not easily measured at the time of an individual approval. Under the current arrangements, who is taking the longer view? How can we be sure that our policies continue to match the science?
Our organisation and new authority could also give advice on how research information could be shared to ensure that there is a level playing field in knowledge acquisition among public and private bodies.
However, there are other advantages to a genetic technology authority. Such a body could develop a more risk-based and proportionate regime for research. Where there are widely accepted benefits, it could mean that we do not necessarily have to go through all the hoops. Trusted researchers could get approval much more quickly through a fast-track system once they have proven their case, rather than every single variation having to go back through the system again. An organisation with a proper overview of this could make a real difference.
My amendments would establish the authority’s functions and duties to review, evaluate and publicise the research. It would remain independent of government, it would be led by individuals independent of the research establishment, and it would operate in the public domain.
Finally, the great advantage of creating an authoritative independent body to give oversight is that it would help to cement public acceptance of and public trust in the research—something that we have touched on time and time again this evening. I therefore hope that noble Lords and the Minister will see the sense of this proposal and I beg to move.
Amendment 68 (to Amendment 67)
68: After subsection (2), insert—
“(2A) Members of the Authority must have expertise in the areas of environment, sustainability, ethics, social sciences, consumer protection, civil society, social justice, and various methods of organic and non-organic farming and food growing.”
My Lords, I apologise very sincerely apologise. I am well aware that amendments to amendments are far from popular and often create great confusion. I am attempting to remember to keep the order right, having not done this for a while.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for acknowledging this as a helpful point to add to her crucial proposals. The genetic technology authority, as proposed by the noble Baroness, is a crucial resource. However, on and off through Committee we have discussed concerns about the composition of ACRE and the narrow nature of the advice that the Minister and his department are receiving.
Amendment 68 provides a list of expertise. I am very happy to debate the details if the Government want to come up with their own list or work with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for the next stage. I have listed environment, sustainability, ethics, social science, consumer protection, civil society, social justice, and organic and non-organic farming and food growing. That is an attempt to capture all the kinds of issues and expertise that our debate in Committee has come across and that the broader debate in the community has drawn on. The idea that these are all purely scientific questions has been profoundly dispelled by the nature of our discussions in Committee.
At the start of the day, which now feels a very long time ago, I spoke about the British Society for Anti- microbial Chemotherapy. At its Infection 2022 winter conference, I spoke about the need for scientists and the frustration among many scientists who feel that they are making discoveries and creating new understandings that are not getting into policy and getting through to the public. There is a need for a blending of social science and physical and biological sciences, to bring understandings together and to build a comprehensive picture—a systems-thinking approach. I hope the Minister agrees that, if we are going to deliver the sustainable development goals, a systems-thinking approach underpins that whole idea: thinking about the societal impact of decisions, how they can be acceptable to society, and the final outcomes.
Aware of the hour, I will stop there, but I hope that the Committee sees the argument for drawing on the widest possible range of expertise to ensure that decisions in and around this Bill are made well.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, has tabled this group of amendments to set up a genetic technology authority. The amendments are detailed and intended to ensure that the GTA operates effectively and transparently, and brings some measurement of results to the Bill. The noble Baroness spoke very eloquently and in depth to this group and to its purpose. For the ethos of the Bill to operate effectively, it will need a robust genetic technology authority to see it through. We have not heard just where the animal sentience committee fits in with the welfare advisory body or with ACRE. Are they to be dovetailed together or completely separate? There is a need for a properly constructed body to ensure safety and progress in outcomes.
There is little that I can add which will bring anything additional to this debate. We support the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, in these excellent amendments. Should the Minister not give a favourable response, we would be prepared to support her again on Report, should she so wish.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch for introducing these amendments. We fully support these proposals.
I would also like to comment on the amendment to Amendment 67, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. What she has done with her Amendment 68 is to aid our discussion and broaden it out. That is an important thing and we should consider it, but, as my noble friend said in her introduction, her amendments would be pretty fundamental to how we move forward with the Bill if the Minister were to accept them. It also brings forward an important way in which the Bill could be improved, and the implementation of the new technologies managed and overseen.
We know that, as my noble friend said, the genetic technology authority that she proposes is modelled on the legislation introduced to establish the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. We heard earlier from my noble friend Lord Winston how successful that has been, so we should consider this extremely seriously. We know that a number of organisations in this field have either argued for or alluded to the need for the establishment of such a body. They include the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, the Royal Society of Biology and the Royal Society, as well as Doctor Madeleine Campbell of the British Veterinary Association.
There is no need for me to go into the details of why such a body is important, or how it could be set up and operated, as my noble friend has clearly and persuasively laid that out. I say to the Minister that this really seems to be a sensible, proportionate approach that would genuinely strengthen the Bill. I urge him to give it serious consideration and discuss it with his colleagues in the department as we move towards Report on the Bill.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for her considered and detailed proposal. As she says, this was raised by her colleague Daniel Zeichner in the other place. I would like to go over some of the key points on why we do not think that a new independent body should be established in the Bill.
We set out our plans for wider reform of genetic technologies regulation in last year’s public consultation and in the subsequent government response. We are taking a stepwise approach to developing a more proportionate governance framework in this area. As part of this, we intend to review how we regulate a wider range of genetic technologies and applications. This wider review is a more appropriate context for discussions on an overarching body, such as a genetic technologies authority. It is also consistent with a recommendation made by the Regulatory Horizons Council.
The Bill has a narrower but important ambition, which is to address the pressing issue of introducing more proportionate regulations for PBOs, which are currently regulated as GMOs. Science is already at the heart of this policy and the Bill rightly requires the Secretary of State to make decisions based on the advice of expert committees. ACRE, the committee that will advise the Secretary of State on whether they should confirm the status of a PBO, is also the committee that currently advises on genetically modified organisms. ACRE has considerable scientific expertise on precision-breeding technologies; indeed, it first advised on these techniques in 2013. This formed the basis for our intervention in a pivotal European Court of Justice case in 2018, and for the consultation that we held on the regulation of genetic technologies last year.
More recently, ACRE published technical guidance on the distinction between genetic changes that could have occurred naturally, or through the use of traditional breeding methods, and those that could not. This was warmly received by its target audience—that is, those planning to carry out field trials with plants developed using these technologies.
The guidance supported an SI that came into force in April. This was the first step to making regulations in this area more proportionate. This guidance and the scientific rationale behind it will be directly relevant to the advice required by the Secretary of State to confirm the precision-bred status of an organism before it can be marketed in England as laid out in the Bill.
We anticipate that ACRE may need to appoint or co-opt new members to fulfil its additional responsibilities. However, it is already populated by many scientific experts in the relevant fields. The chair of ACRE, Professor Dunwell, works closely with Defra and with the devolved Administrations to ensure that the committee has the necessary expertise to deliver the highest quality advice and guidance. Noble Lords will also see in ACRE’s framework document that many of the criteria listed in the proposed new schedule are included in it. These include publishing annual reports, advice and guidance.
I thank noble Lords for their detailed considerations on this topic, but I hope I have convincingly set out that it is not appropriate to establish a new independent body in the Bill. I hope I have reassured the noble Baroness. I thank noble Lords for their persistence and the calibre of the debate we have had on these two days. I hope I can convince the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
I am not going to make a substantive contribution at this point. I echo the Minister and say that this has been a rich debate. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment, and hand over to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones.
Amendment 68 (to Amendment 67) withdrawn.
I thank the Minister. I will read his comments in Hansard in detail, but I have to say that he did not address the fundamental concerns that I have flagged up about the process issues. We have created a huge conglomerate of different organisations with different responsibilities. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, said, it is not at all clear how they will all ultimately relate to each other, so questions remain about that.
The Minister talked about the wider review. He said there was a recommendation from, I think, the Regulatory Horizons Council and that this was one of the proposals that it had put forward. I would be interested to hear more about that, especially if the Minister can say that this proposal will therefore be dealt with in another forum, not necessarily in the Bill. I would be interested to know—not necessarily today, because I am sure we all want to wrap up, but at some point—whether those recommendations are going to be taken on board.
There is not a meeting of minds here. I feel strongly that the amendment answers a lot of the concerns that we have been debating throughout the consideration of the Bill so far, so I intend to come back to this issue on Report. In the meantime, I thank noble Lords and the Minister. I agree with everyone that we have had a very worthwhile debate. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 67 withdrawn.
Amendments 69 to 72A not moved.
Clauses 39 and 40 agreed.
Amendments 73 to 75 not moved.
Clauses 41 and 42 agreed.
Clause 43: Regulations
Amendments 76 to 79 not moved.
Clause 43 agreed.
Clause 44: Interpretation
Amendment 80 not moved.
81: Clause 44, page 29, line 2, at end insert “(but see section 11(9))”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment inserts a reminder into the definition of “notifier” (which is defined in relation to a marketing notice) that where a different person applies for a precision bred animal marketing authorisation, the meaning can be modified by regulations under Clause 11(9) in relation to the application and the authorisation.
Amendment 81 agreed.
Amendments 82 to 85 not moved.
Clause 44, as amended, agreed.
Clauses 45 to 47 agreed.
Clause 48: Short title and commencement
Amendments 86 to 89 not moved.
Clause 48 agreed.
Amendment 90 not moved.
In the Title
Amendments 91 and 92 not moved.
Bill reported with amendments.
House adjourned at 9.47 pm.