House of Lords
Wednesday 14 December 2022
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Chelmsford.
To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the number of people affected by malnutrition or undernutrition in England.
NHS Digital reported that between 2021 and 2022 there were 896 admissions with a primary diagnosis of malnutrition, and 9,828 with a secondary diagnosis of malnutrition. Malnutrition is a clinical diagnosis most often associated with underlying disease and is not primarily a result of an inadequate diet. ONS data shows that the number of deaths where malnutrition is the underlying cause is low, but we continue to train health and care staff to spot early warning signs.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Age UK estimates that one in 10 people over the age of 65 is malnourished or at risk of malnutrition. The British Association for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition estimates that 3 million people are affected by malnutrition or undernutrition, and 1.3 million of these are over 65. Can the Minister explain which of the Government’s policies have created this dire situation?
I do not think that any of the policies have created this situation. As I was quite clear with the numbers—which I will happily repeat—the primary cause of people being admitted is actually the result of another underlying disease; they are not there as a result of malnutrition.
My Lords, one group who are undernourished are hungry children from struggling families who have not had breakfast; yet government funding for school breakfasts reaches— at best—only about a quarter of children in the most deprived schools in England, according to Magic Breakfast. In the interests of hungry children’s education and health, will the Government expand their support for free breakfasts, at a time when both family and school budgets are under great strain?
I think we all appreciate the value of the Healthy Start initiative and the school lunch programme. At the same time, data from the national child measurement programme shows that the proportion of underweight children in reception is 1.2% and 1.5% in year 6 children, considerably below the 2% level expected in a healthy population.
My Lords, we have a virtual contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton.
My Lords, Healthy Start vouchers worth £8.50 a week are available for the lowest-income families whose babies are under the age of one. However, charities including BPAS are reporting that the price of infant formula milk has surged by over 20% this year, meaning that the vouchers are no longer sufficient to pay for the cheapest formula needed to safely feed a young baby. Will the Government increase the value of the Healthy Start allowance to £10 a week for these infants, to ensure that these babies can have sufficient nutrition to give them a good start in life?
I thank the noble Baroness. Clearly, a good start to life in terms of nutrition is vital. That is something that I will take away. We want to make sure that we are always up to date and that everything is right. As I said, the overall position, fortunately, is that we have lower levels than you might expect from a healthy population, but that is not to say that we are complacent.
My Lords, the House has been consistent and united in wishing to see the eradication of food poverty. Will my noble friend the Minister confirm that one of the ways we can do that is to reduce tariff and non-tariff barriers on imported food? I hope the House will be similarly united in wanting to have ambitious trade deals with India, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the rest so as to remove tariffs that fall hardest on the people who are poorest.
Absolutely. Everything we can do to minimise the cost of food to make it affordable to the most people clearly will be welcomed.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that malnutrition is not just having too little food but eating the wrong food? A lot of the high-fat, high-sugar, high-salt and HBV food sold in our shops is really bad. Indeed, the Financial Times said the other day that 80% of a certain brand of chocolate’s products should not even be on the streets. One thing the Government could do is extend the take-up of free school meals by increasing the limit. At the moment, if you are on universal credit and you earn over £7,400 you are not allowed a free school meal; in Wales it is £14,000 and in Scotland they are free for primary schoolchildren. Could the Minister look at this as a matter of urgency?
The noble Baroness is correct. I learned something in this process, which is always good, which is that malnutrition can be undernutrition or overnutrition. Some of the debates we have had on obesity are absolutely part of this whole agenda. That is why I was pleased to see that the action we have taken to date has been very effective on obesity as well as in this field. At the same time, my understanding is that free school meals are at their highest level of take-up than they ever have been and they play a vital role in making sure that the diet of all our children is healthy.
My Lords, food banks across my diocese are reporting a huge increase in need and a huge decrease in the amount of food being donated, simply because of the cost of living crisis. One of the things that makes a difference for food banks is having enough capacity to freeze food. There is an urgent need to see whether we can help them with freezers. Is there anything the Government can do to work with food banks to help them increase their capacity for storing food when it is spare so that is available at other times?
I will need to look into that. I had the opportunity to speak to Sir Chris Whitty on this subject, given its importance. He related me back to an IFS study in 2008 that looked at the impact then of the economic crisis, in terms of what it meant for people and malnutrition. It found that it did not have an impact, so he is not expecting this cost of living crisis to have an impact on food poverty. That is not to say that we should not look at every measure that we can to make sure that there is plenty to go around.
My Lords, is something not missing from this debate, which is the same as the one we had yesterday about free school meals? It is any mention of family. At the end of the day, families have ultimate responsibility for their children. Without trying to undermine all the very good efforts the Government are making to help those families who need it, breakfast time can be not only nutritionally important but morally, spiritually and socially important for families. We must never forget the importance of supporting families to get on with that prime responsibility. Does my noble friend agree?
I totally agree with my noble friend. We all know that a good start to life is massively helped by families. At the same time, we appreciate that some families need a helping hand, and our Healthy Start programme and free school meals are all about supporting families where they need it.
My Lords, the spiralling cost of living is a major challenge to people being able to eat healthily. Evidence suggests that there is also a need to improve understanding of information about nutrition, as a borne out by the charity Bite Back 2030, which found that while 73% of young people think they are eating healthily, actually only 6% of them really are. What assessment have the Government made of the link between poor nutrition, misinformation and eating disorders among young people and how will they address this?
Clearly, education is a key part of this, and mental health is as well. As mentioned before, the root cause of people being undernourished is not their food intake but other things, such as mental health issues and eating disorders. I agree with the noble Baroness that education and the work we are doing in the mental health space are key.
My Lords, one reason for malnutrition in older people is the belief that weight loss is normal in older people. What are the Government doing to increase awareness that this is not the case and to ensure that weight loss is not taken for granted but is investigated further?
Local health and care providers are responsible for commissioning malnutrition services based on the guidelines to make sure that they can identify people who need help.
My Lords, given that the Government’s White Paper on food, published earlier this year, indicated that the Government have a central role to play in addressing health inequalities and a responsibility to provide a food environment that enables individuals to make healthier choices, will the Minister indicate what work, if any, is being done with the devolved nations and regions through the food data transparency partnership to reduce food inequalities and address malnutrition?
I am aware that we are working very closely with the devolved authorities. We worked with the devolved authorities on the regulations that we brought in recently, which were agreed by this House, about obesity and the placement of food in supermarkets. It is something we all take very seriously.
Clean Energy: Investment
To ask His Majesty’s Government how they are working across departmental boundaries to ensure that the effectiveness of investments in clean energy is being maximised.
Driving investment into UK clean energy is a priority for this Government to improve energy security, reduce emissions and boost jobs and growth across the country. We are backing our targets and ambitions with policy and targeted funding. Since March 2021, the Government have committed £30 billion of investment in domestic green policies. The policies are already expected to drive an unprecedented £100 billion of private investment and to support 480,000 jobs by 2030.
I thank the Minister for his response. There are a number of supplementary questions I could ask around the lack of joined-up government on clean energy investments, but the one on which I am keen to hear more is what we will do with excess clean electricity to have maximum effect for reaching our environmental goals. Specifically, how will we use excess electricity to create hydrogen for fertilisers? We talk a lot about hydrogen being used in the home for heating, which I do not think is a good idea, or hydrogen for transport, but hydrogen has a use in fertiliser production. If Defra and BEIS work together, we could become at the forefront of that industry of clean, green, fertiliser production at a time when prices are sky-high and we need alternatives.
The noble Baroness makes a very good point. One of the policy challenges we will have is how to use some of what she refers to as excess clean energy. With renewables being intermittent, there are times with large amounts of available spare electricity and other times when there is not enough. Hydrogen could clearly play a key role in that, and one of the uses of that excess electricity is to produce clean hydrogen.
My Lords, this year’s Climate Change Committee report to Parliament on climate adaptation found that planning for global warming levels of 2 degrees centigrade was not happening, and that the UK’s energy, water, digital and transport providers are struggling to take account of climate-related risks to connected infrastructure systems, which could cause cascading failures. When do the Government intend to act on the priorities identified by the Climate Change Committee, particularly in addressing risks to critical energy infrastructure?
Of course, we liaise very closely with the Climate Change Committee. There is a huge amount of investment going into energy infrastructure. I have referred in the House before to the amount of change that will happen in our energy infrastructure as we diversify the grid. My noble friend makes a good point.
Does the noble Lord agree that cleaning up energy is just as important as clean energy? As he knows, I have an interest in carbon capture and storage. So many times over the past few years has the investment community been marched up to the top of the hill and then disbanded. Does he agree with me that a strong signal needs to be given to that community that carbon capture, utilisation and storage is a key part, going forward, of clean energy?
Indeed, I agree with the noble Baroness, which is why we are supporting the deployment of CCUS with our £1 billion infrastructure fund.
My Lords, one of the main failures of departmental co-operation is the paucity of recharging points for EVs in rural areas. There are absolute wastelands. Is the Minister’s department, which is in charge of decarbonisation, really pushing the Department for Transport to makes sure that the distribution of charging points is effective, large and in rural areas?
As the noble Lord correctly says, the rolling out of charging points is the responsibility of the DfT, but I know that it has an extensive programme of grant support. Clearly some local authorities perform better than others but, if we are to continue the rollout of electric cars, an extensive network of charging points is vital.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. I ask the Minister to confirm that he agrees that clean energy includes nuclear energy, and that the failure of wind and solar power to make any real contribution in current extremely cold conditions strengthens the case to accelerate plans to bring forward commercial schemes to deploy SMR technologies, including Japan’s high-temperature gas-cooled reactor technology, whose demonstrator has been running safely for more than 10 years.
Without getting into supporting particular types of technology, I certainly agree with my noble friend that the rollout of nuclear is particularly important. It offers large-scale carbon-free electricity, which is why we recently announced our investment in Sizewell C.
My Lords, what assessment have the Government made of their ability to meet the 2030 offshore wind targets of 50 gigawatts? There are a number of challenges here: the change in macroeconomic conditions; higher interest rates; and competition in global supply chains.
The noble Lord makes a very good point. We have been particularly successful in rolling out offshore wind in this country. I have made the point before that we have by far the largest rollout in Europe. In fact, so successful have we been that the rest of Europe is now trying to copy us, which of course will challenge supply chains. But we are working very closely with all the suppliers, many of which are expanding their production in the UK to make sure that we can successfully meet our ambitious target.
My Lords, the Government announced earlier this year that their main form of renewable investment—contracts for difference—would move to more frequent allocation rounds, beginning next year. This is welcome, as we have said; but what consideration have the Government given to complementing this with the voluntary contracts for difference process for existing generators, which would grant generators longer-term revenue certainty and safeguard consumers from further price rises?
The noble Baroness is right that the contracts for difference scheme has been extremely successful. Many of the generators are now paying back into the system because the strike price is below the market price. We will roll out as many additional CfD schemes as we can in future years.
My Lords, there was talk of the Government planning to open a heat pump factory, which sounded like an extremely good idea because at the moment we import them all. I am curious if that is going to happen. Would that not have been a better plan than opening a coal mine that produces coking coal that no one in the UK is going to use and which we will probably have trouble selling anyway?
The noble Baroness knows how much I hate to disagree with her but as usual, of course, she is wrong. I am not going to get into the business of the Cumbria mine but of course there is a market for the coking coal; it is not for energy production. She is also wrong about heat pump manufacture. There are a number of heat pump manufacturers in the UK. There is a big ground-source manufacturer in Cornwall and air-source heat pump manufacturers in Scotland, but we need more of them. That is why we have an investment competition running whereby the Government will give grant aid to help more heat pump manufacturers to be installed into the UK.
My Lords, I am at it again, as I was yesterday, on tidal power. Does my noble friend agree that tidal power is totally predictable and entirely independent of the vagaries of the weather? Will he do his best to maximise both the development and the implementation of tidal power?
My noble friend is indeed passionate on this subject and raises it many times. It is an important contributor, as I said, in the latest CfD round that the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, referred to. For the first time ever, we allowed some CfD investments in tidal power.
My Lords, nuclear fusion has long been seen as the holy grail of clean energy technology. Given the breakthrough made in the United States this week, I ask what role the United Kingdom and its scientists have played in that. What hope does the Minister have for nuclear fusion in future?
The noble Lord makes a very good point. The breakthrough announced by the Lawrence Livermore laboratory was indeed ground-breaking. It is supported by many scientists here in the UK. We have our own advanced investments and systems in Oxfordshire. I am told by the BEIS scientific adviser that the UK is very much in the premier league when it comes to fusion research. Clearly it is at an early stage at the moment and it will take a number of years to commercialise the technology and roll it out. It is not going to be an immediate solution but it certainly has tremendous potential for the future.
My Lords, on Sunday when I was passing Torness on an LNER train—it was freezing cold and there was no wind to turn the turbines—I thought how lucky we are to have nuclear energy in Scotland at the moment. However, if things go the way that the SNP wants, we will not have any in the future. Where will the UK Government have the courage to say, “As far as we are concerned, energy is a reserved area and therefore we are going to insist that we have nuclear power in Scotland as well as in England”?
The noble Lord makes a good point about the importance of nuclear energy in the UK transmission mix. The irony of the SNP’s plans is that, given that it is almost certainly not possible to run an entire distribution system purely from wind power, as the SNP is planning, it will have the benefit of being able to call on English nuclear power to back up the Scottish people in future. As always, England will want to help the Scottish people as much as we possibly can and free them from the vagaries of silly SNP green policies.
To ask His Majesty’s Government when they plan to publish their biomass strategy; whether it will take into account the time it takes for trees to sequester the carbon released from burning wood pellets; and what are the emissions associated with land use change in deforested areas.
My Lords, the Government have committed to publishing a biomass strategy, due in quarter 2, 2023. The UK source of woody biomass for energy predominantly comes from managed forests, which are managed for conventional forestry products such as timber. Where biomass is sourced from forests, the land criteria include requirements around regeneration rates and sustainable harvesting in the sourcing regions, thereby ensuring that the carbon stock of the forest from which biomass is derived is not decreased.
I thank the Minister for the Answer. However, reports, most recently from “Panorama”, have concluded that the pellets we are burning are not exclusively from waste wood, so we are actually causing deforestation of virgin forests. Natural Resources Canada states that, in a best-case scenario, biomass is worse for atmospheric CO2 levels than coal for the first 85 years after use due to the time it takes to be recaptured by the trees. Therefore, biomass is not renewable in the timeframe we have to avert the worst consequences of climate change. I know that the Government are currently considering what to do post the subsidy agreements that run to 2027. Will they please remove the renewable classification biomass enjoys, and with it the billions of pounds in subsidies it receives from the taxpayer?
As the noble Baroness is aware, the UK supports only biomass that complies with very strict sustainability criteria. Following the programme to which she refers, government officials engaged extensively with forestry experts and Canadian officials, and we are confident that wood pellet production in the region is sustainable and does not lead to destruction of forests in those regions.
My Lords, how can it possibly be in the interests of the environment to cut down trees in North America, then use energy to turn them into pellets, then put them on a ship powered by diesel to transfer them across the Atlantic, then land them on the west coast of this country and then transport them in a refrigerated container to Drax, and for the taxpayer and the consumer to pay for all this in the name of saving the planet?
My noble friend has a direct way of putting these things, as always. As I said, there are very strict sustainability criteria that production is monitored against. What I would say in defence of this system is that they are not virgin trees; it is by-product from commercial harvesting. The wood, of course, is used for normal wood processes and the pellets are produced from the waste products associated with that.
Could the Minister say whether there is a difference with coppicing as opposed to pellets? I recall that back in 1999, when I was a MAFF Minister, I opened a school in Herefordshire where the fuelling system was a contract with, I think, eight local farmers who would coppice wood to fuel the boilers. What is the difference in the biomass rules for that, as opposed to the wood pellets?
They are two different systems, but the noble Lord is essentially correct. As I said earlier, the UK supports only biomass which complies with strict sustainability criteria. Where that biomass is sourced from forests, the land criteria include requirements around regeneration rates and sustainable harvesting to ensure that the carbon stock of the forest from which the biomass is derived is not decreased.
My Lords, will my noble friend look again at the question of growing crops to produce artificial fuel? That creates CO2 all the way through the process, and when it is burned at the end. Surely, we should have an assessment of the amount of CO2 that is used up doing this, compared with other fuels.
My noble friend makes a good point and there is clearly sometimes a difference between crops that are used for fuel and those that could be used for food, and we always have to make sure that we get the sustainability balance right.
My Lords, when the Energy Prices Act was introduced, the Government said that dispatchable low-carbon technologies such as biomass were being considered as part of a policy designed to reduce the impact of higher gas prices on the energy market, but that higher input costs were the main drawback. Is there a timeline for this consideration and has any progress been made since this was said in October this year?
I cannot give the noble Lord a precise timescale, but, of course, we always keep these matters under review and we will look at it very closely.
My Lords, all biocrops are low-density forms of energy and we are missing this point here. As a result, they have a significant land utilisation demand and impacts that are much wider than just the crops themselves. Can the Minister confirm that, in growing biomass for fuel, there will be no ancillary loss or impact on other natural capitals, in particular biodiversity, water and healthy soils?
Most of the forests from which these supplies come are of course commercial forests. They are established for the purposes of growing wood for construction and other methods, and the pellets that are then produced are from waste products. But the noble Baroness is ultimately correct: we need to make sure that diversity is guaranteed, as well as the sustainability criteria.
My Lords, one of the objectives of the Government under the Environment Act was to rationalise local government collection of waste, part of which is food waste. We have a real opportunity to collect that food waste and put it into anaerobic digestion, thereby having positive environmental biomass production of renewables. Where have the Government got on that? It seems that there is a complete pause and no action.
I am afraid the noble Lord is completely wrong; we are acting on that. There are already food waste collections from many local authorities around the country. We have the green gas support scheme, which is rolling out support across the country for anaerobic digesters, many of which are using waste food. We await with interest the food waste strategy coming from Defra—I spoke to a Defra Minister about it the other day—which should be out early next year, to ensure that all local authorities are rolling out food waste collection. On his ultimate point, the noble Lord is correct that anaerobic digesters offer a fantastic opportunity for the production of green gas—but many already exist and are being rolled out in this country as we speak.
My Lords, having heard my noble friend talking about where these wood pellets come from, if it was found that wood was being taken from primary forests rich in biodiversity to make those pellets, would he join me in condemning that practice?
“Yes” is the short answer to my noble friend’s question. We want to make sure that it comes not from proper indigenous forests but comes as a by-product from commercially managed forests. We need to be sure that it is environmentally sustainable and we have strict criteria that are monitored to ensure that that is the case.
My Lords, following the earlier question from the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, does the Government’s assessment take into account the travel costs and the cost of bringing those materials to the UK?
These are factors that are taken into consideration when the overall sustainability of the procedure is looked at. They are monitored by Ofgem to make sure that all the pellets that are sustained, both from UK forests for use in biomass boilers and so on in the UK and those that are imported, all have the same sustainability criteria.
Does my noble friend agree that it is more environmentally friendly and helpful to British farmers if we encourage the growth of fast-growing willow coppice and miscanthus to feed into biomass production?
That is one potential source for biomass production; my noble friend is right in that respect. But, as I said, there is also the ultimate decision that we need to make about what we wish to use available agricultural land for. Should it be for food production, biofuel production or biomass? These are all things that will be taken into account in the strategy.
Does the noble Lord recognise, in the context of his last answer, that the recently published report from the land use Select Committee says that we need a land-use framework for England in order to make decisions about where the most appropriate siting of different crops and energy generation materials should be? If that was in existence, it would become abundantly clear that biomass is probably not one of the best uses of our scarce land resource.
I have not seen the report the noble Baroness refers to, but I will make sure to have a look at it.
Is the Minister concerned about the development of so-called “carbon capitalism”, whereby investment trusts and UK and overseas corporates are buying up land to take advantage of commercial opportunities in the carbon credit space? I cite as an example that the price of land in Scotland has now risen by over 30%, and that a third of those sales are taking place off market.
I am not aware of the factors that the noble Lord is referring to. It is the first time I have heard of “carbon capitalism”, but I look forward to reading more about it.
NHS: Agency Doctors and Nurses
To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the reasons why this year’s NHS spending on short-notice agency doctors and nurses is 20 per cent higher than the previous year.
My Lords, demand for temporary staff supplied through staff banks and external agencies has increased. This is largely due to the increase in activity involved in our service recovery plans. Even taking account of recent increases, agency spend is still lower than in 2015-16 as a result of measures introduced to control spend. When adjusted for inflation, last year’s agency spend reflects a 25% reduction compared to 2015-16.
My Lords, the shortage of NHS staff is unsustainable, as is the NHS paying up to £5,200 for a single doctor shift. This year, in addition to the £3 billion paid to agencies providing doctors and nurses at short notice, a further £6 billion was spent on bank staff when NHS staff were paid to do temporary shifts. What cost-benefit analysis has there been of this expenditure, compared with investing in recruitment, training and retention of the workforce? Does the Minister agree that it would have been much better if we had had, and actioned, the long-awaited and costed NHS and social care workforce plan?
I totally agree with the noble Baroness: it is always better to invest in recruitment and retention, and that is what we are doing. There is no cap on the number of nurse graduates, and we have more than 70,000 in training right now. During the last three years, we have increased the number of nurses by 32,000—well towards our target of 50,000—and the number of doctors has increased by 4,000 in the last year alone. At the same time, I welcome the long-term workforce plan. It is a crucial tool going forward.
My Lords, I have asked the Minister before about the NHS’s plans to retain its clinical personnel. He has acknowledged the importance of the issue but there seems to be no real urgency attached to it. There is absolutely no good will among NHS personnel towards the NHS as an institution—those are not my words but the words of NHS staff. When is this crisis to be addressed with the urgency which is so clearly required?
I believe the urgency is there. This has been demonstrated more than anything by the measures in the Autumn Statement and by the long- term workforce plan, which will be reporting early in the new year and is what we all want. Commitments are being made to prioritise well-being, health, culture and leadership, and to operationalise this as per the 2020 NHS People Plan. Do we need to do more? Clearly. Is it a high priority? Yes.
My Lords, the increase in agency staffing costs reflects the Government’s failure to invest sufficiently in staff training and recruitment over the years. To what extent does the Minister believe that the change of course he has indicated—a staffing plan and increased investment—will reduce agency costs in 2023?
I think all of us in this House agree that these are long-term plans. Part of the increase in agency costs is also because we are trying to get more output and more activity. I am delighted that there are 70,000-plus nurses in training, but it takes a while for this to come through the pipeline. We are focused on making sure that we continue to invest in this pipeline. There is no cap on graduate or undergraduate places for nurses, and we will continue to invest.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a member of the GMC. The Minister has referred to the forthcoming workforce plan. Can he assure me that it will actually put numbers on the future training of different professional staff, together with a commitment to funding these places?
Again, I will check, but my understanding is that fundamental to any plan is the number of new places needed and recruitment, both internally, through graduate schemes, and externally. Apprenticeships also provide an opportunity. I know we are not taking up all our apprenticeship value; we refund some of it back to the Treasury. There is clearly an opportunity here to get more people on the pathway to becoming a nurse, so that anyone from any walk of life can get on it.
My Lords, have the Government made any assessment of sickness absence rates among NHS staff and how that might be contributing to increased agency costs?
My noble friend is correct to bring this up; it has been an issue. I am glad to say that sickness absences at the moment are much closer to pre-pandemic levels, so I think we are coming down the other side of the curve, so to speak. But undoubtedly it has been an issue over the past year, when Covid has still been an issue, which has caused more absenteeism and so the use of more bank and agency staff.
My Lords, the Government have changed the pension rules for doctors, creating an incentive for them to retire earlier. The Government are committed to looking at that issue, but they do not seem to be doing anything. When can we expect a change in that policy so we can retain our doctors?
The noble Lord is completely correct; we need to make sure that this is one of the key retention elements. There is also the issue of the hours doctors work: we know that, beyond a certain level, they find it uneconomic. A high priority is looking at what we can do on pension rules, or simply paying doctors the equivalent amounts as a straight salary, to make sure that we solve that problem.
My Lords, the Opposition target the abolition of a particular tax to raise funds to put into the NHS, but does my noble friend believe that is the silver bullet they purport it to be?
I thank my noble friend. I do not pretend to be an expert on tax, but my understanding is that the so-called non-dom tax does not end up increasing the revenue raised and would therefore have a detrimental impact on the economy.
My Lords, the Minister is putting a lot on the success of the new workforce plan. Is part of the problem of gaps in staffing numbers that, until recently, the Government refused repeated requests for an NHS workforce plan?
I do not know, is the honest answer. All I can say is that we are doing it now, and I think we all welcome it as a good thing. That has not stopped us investing in new places, and we have increased the number of nurses by 32,000. So it is not as if we were not heavily involved in recruiting and retaining staff in the meantime, but it is great that we are now going to get it.
My Lords, does the Minister think that he might have had a better chance of recruiting more nurses if there had not been a 20% drop in real-term wages over the past 10 years?
Clearly, salary is a very important part of all this, which is why we have always followed the recommendations of the independent pay review body, as Governments of all colours have done since 1984. Clearly, it is that body’s job to look into all such issues. Going forward, I am sure that we will continue to support its findings and invest on the back of that.
My Lords, a report from this House’s Public Services Committee has suggested that demand will outstrip supply in the workforce due to the demographics of this country. It suggests that the Government should work closely with civil society and the private sector to make sure that we are delivering public services. One problem is that, often, the NHS does not work as well as it should with civil society and private partners. Can my noble friend go back to his department and find out what it and the NHS are doing to make sure they work in tandem with civil society and private providers, and can he comment on that today?
I thank my noble friend and agree that, in looking to recruit so many people, we need to consider every possible source. I mentioned the private sector earlier, and there are also apprenticeships. Noble Lords will remember that years ago, there were two nurse entry levels, one for graduates and the SEN scheme, which my mum was able to join, with a lower bar and training on the job. We need that sort of modular training approach, so that people can build up their qualifications as they go through the system, and we need to welcome people who are not graduates into the service. Those are all vital ways to get the numbers we need into the workforce.
My Lords, although we all acknowledge the acute shortage of nurses right across the services, there are particular issues with children’s palliative care services. How do the Government intend to address this urgent priority?
We are trying to address every area. As I mentioned, in the past year alone there has been an increase of 9,000 in the number of nurses. We have to make sure that that increase goes to every area where it is needed, including children’s palliative care.
Parliamentary Works Sponsor Body (Abolition) Regulations 2022
Motion to Approve
That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 22 November be approved.
Relevant document: 21st Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 13 December.
Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill
Committee (2nd Day)
Relevant documents: 8th Report from the Constitution Committee and 19th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
Clause 3: Restrictions on release of precision bred organism in England
20: Clause 3, page 3, line 35, at end insert—
“and unless the organism appears to be phenotypically healthy and has no defect likely to cause suffering.”
My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 20, 22 and 23 in this group, with reference to Amendment 21. I am afraid that, much as I dislike it, I have a difference of opinion with the Minister. I want to make it clear at the start that this is not in any case an attack on his probity. I think he is completely honourable and honest, and is trying to do the same job that I am: to protect the environment and make certain that we do not release organisms that might be harmful to the environment.
Noble Lords will remember that, when we finished on Monday night—it seems so long ago—unfortunately the Minister had to rush through a statement rather hurriedly and we did not complete our discussion of that statement. Since then, I have had a chance to go through the literature that I am concerned about.
The first thing to say very clearly is that, in spite of the assertions in the advice that the Minister has been given, those assertions are not correct. In fact, there is a serious issue around the introduction of foreign DNA into an organism using gene-editing technology, particularly CRISPR and particularly CRISPR-Cas9, which is the commonest one that has been used in plants.
Let me make it very clear that I do not in any way hold shame or blame toward the noble Lord, Lord Benyon. He is doing his absolute best in a very difficult area. As someone who has been practising genetics for over 40 years and doing modification of genes in various animal species, I find some of these concepts still complex myself. But from the publications on CRISPR technology—I will table a number of recently published papers, many of them not from Britain admittedly but from across the world—we can very clearly see that CRISPR leaves the organism vulnerable to the introduction of foreign technology. This has been particularly shown not only in the sort of animals I deal with, which are laboratory animals, but in the animals that we are most interested in in the Bill—farm animals, which are livestock.
There are a number of publications that I could quote from, but noble Lords will have to forgive me because, although my notes are written in large print, I had an injection in my eye today so I cannot really see what I am doing. However, I can see with pleasure the Minister across the Chamber, smiling at me. I am smiling at him too, because it is not sensible to have an aggressive argument on this; this is something that we have to come to agreement on because we both agree that this whole business is for the public good. There were relevant publications from Crispo et al. in 2015, Kim et al. in 2015, Tsai et al. in 2015, Wang X et al. in 2015, Carey in 2019, Zou in 2019, Musser in 2020, and Zuccaro in the last year or so. Zuccaro is particularly interesting, having been working in a field that I am interested in, the human embryo, but this is a model for all mammalian embryos. There is no fundamental difference between those embryos and what we are saying about humans.
Previous studies have found thousands of off-target mutations in gene-edited cells, embryos and animals. They raise the importance of investigating in-depth the gene-editing process and what it leaves behind. As the Bill stands at the present time, we would be at risk of releasing into the environment animals with changes in their genes which might be fundamentally different and in some ways damaging. For example—and this may sound ridiculous but I do not think it is at all—for the last two or three years, humans have been threatened by one of the most difficult viruses that we have come across: the coronavirus. We know that the virus was transmitted through animals—pangolins, probably, through the bat. Having been transferred through animals, it then changed significantly and damaged human health. This is a genuine and understated serious threat to human health. I do not think that it is likely, but it is possible and, at the very least, we must consider this very seriously and do everything that we can concerning the risks involved with the technology.
As I described on Monday, there is no doubt that we might have problems with regard to making a herd that seems immune to one disease but, in consequence, is susceptible to another. That is seen very clearly in human health. For example, we know that, in places such as Sardinia and Cyprus, blood dyscrasia causes massive numbers of children to die, usually in their teens, from beta thalassemia. We could probably control this by gene therapy: we could change that gene to make people immune but, if we did so, they would then be vulnerable to another disease, malaria, which is likely to hit Sardinia with climate change and which kills over a million people a year.
There is a real issue around how, if we change the balance of nature with these gene-edited animals, we might do things which we cannot calculate with any proper basis. I suggest that I table those papers for the Minister to look at, but I will refer to one particularly significant paper, Improvements in Gene Editing Technology: Boost Its Applications in Livestock. It is entirely on his side. I have chosen it because it is by authors who, like the Minister—and me, to some extent—favour this sort of work in livestock.
I can leave this paper on the table, but I know I am not allowed to wave it—that is out of order in the House of Lords, but I am waving it anyway, because nobody is shouting “Order!” This paper is from a group of authors who are in favour of this technology, like we are, but who are also very concerned about the risks. They argue that more research needs to be done before we start to implement this, particularly in animals, in my case—I have insufficient knowledge about plant biology; I think I did S-level botany at school, but I was not a great botanist. I do not pretend to be a botanist, but I know more about animals, having worked with them for so long. I know that this is clearly something we can see in the mouse model we use, but also in another animal. I have chosen the pig, because it is one animal whose genes I have tried to change, using more conventional methods, and I know how unreliable that is. The same problems arise again and again.
Let me try to explain the difficulty biologically. One of the problems is that CRISPR-Cas9 and various other technologies, in order to make the genome or animal more vulnerable to change, have to cause a double-stranded split in the DNA—a so-called DSB. That is how we insert or change the DNA that then becomes attached. That was one of the reasons why, on Monday, I asked the Minister whether he was concerned about the use of radiation and CRISPR together. One of the ways that mutations occur in humans, as we know from examples such as Hiroshima, is that X-radiation and gamma radiation cause these cuts in the DNA, which later cause cancer and other genetic abnormalities. It improves the chances of CRISPR working, but it may also result in making not only the advantages but also the disadvantages more likely to occur.
I am saying with these amendments, in simple terms, that as responsible humans, politicians, scientists and revisers, we have to argue the delay of this technology until we have more data. This group of amendments clearly suggest to the Government that we would be derelict in our duty if we did not make certain that the animals we are releasing into the environment have the genome that we think they have but which we have not checked. My argument is that, to do this, we have to go through the laborious process of sequencing the genome of these animals before they are introduced. We also have to look at their phenotype. Of course, their phenotype may look normal, but underneath there might be things that are seriously threatening to the planet. That is our responsibility.
The noble Lord is absolutely right—and I am grateful to him for saying this—that this is one area that we really understand in Britain. After all, we were ahead of the game when it came to sequencing the human genome and on the structure of genes. For example, Watson and Crick were at Cambridge. We have to recognise that this is a long tradition in our science. We can go on talking about Argentina, and the Argentinians have a very good reason for wanting to do this, as the noble Lord implied; not unreasonably, they want the commercial advantages. Correct me if I am wrong; there have certainly been some Nobel Prize winners from Argentina, but none in this field of molecular biology, unlike Watson and Crick, which is applicable. We have to recognise that this is something we work on very seriously in British universities, in a way that is not easily done in many other places. There is a great deal of expertise here.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Winston, for giving way. I also thank him for sending me a paper by Claire Robinson which makes many of the points he has just alluded to. I would like to ask the noble Lord a question. I offered the suggestion on Monday evening that the criterion for describing an organism as precision bred in terms of the Bill should not be that any exogenous DNA—which is what the noble Lord is talking about—should not code for a protein. That is what the Bill says in Clause 1(6). I offered an alternative, more stringent, criterion: that it should not have any effect on the phenotype. That is more stringent than saying that it should not code for protein because exogenous DNA could work on the phenotype in ways other than coding protein; for example, I mentioned gene suppression.
I think the noble Lord suggested a third criterion: that the whole genome of any organism should be sequenced before it is then released into the environment as a precision-bred organism. That, to me, also carries a difficulty because there could have been spontaneous mutations during the process of precision breeding which have nothing to do with precision breeding per se; it is just the way the nucleic acid changes. Therefore, one has to ask with whole genome sequencing: what would you actually be looking for? What would be your reference genome? I am just wondering whether my proposition, of no visible effect on the phenotype, would be a suitable halfway house.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. As he knows, I have genuine respect for him, and rightly so; he is very distinguished in biology, and no one doubts that for a moment. His contribution has been, and continues to be, particularly important, as is his interest in the environment and its protection.
But the phenotype can mean many things. The animals might be, apparently, phenotypically normal. However, for example, plants might turn out to produce as a result of gene editing some allergen—or possibly some toxin—that is completely unexpected but occurs in plants. Both of these could be damaging to human health even though the phenotype of that organism is normal. That is essentially the problem. It still means that that we have to be looking, as far as we can, for data. This is the key thing that we both want to see—I know that the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, is in favour of this because we have talked many times in different environments, particularly in the Science and Technology Select Committee, about how important it is.
We have the ability to amass that data. The advantage of these amendments would be that this country would be supreme in doing this really well. We would be able to build up a databank of extraordinary importance. I do not think that answers his question in any way as, of course, there may be bits of DNA we miss. If you are doing CRISPR in a laboratory on a farm and are not using stringent precautions as we try to do in a human laboratory—in laboratory conditions under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, for example, with a licence for the premises and person—you run a risk. For example, somebody coughing 30 metres away from a dish where CRISPR is being done could introduce human DNA. That human DNA would be completely random—off the skin or off the cough. It is a real issue which has happened. It happened when we were trying to do our original work deciding whether somebody had a fatal genetic defect way back in 1988. Therefore, we had to be very scrupulous.
Again, the same problem arises; you could pick up those markers and see not what you would expect to see in a genome. I do not think it fundamentally changes the risk of introducing either organisms or bits—we talked about plasmids and other bits as well—of DNA which might arise. They are not simple; some of these are quite big chunks which can go in. Once you have taken the double-stranded break—which is what happens during CRISPR—the DNA is vulnerable to the introduction of foreign DNA that you do not expect or want and might express. That is one of the problems.
Off-target mutations are another issue entirely, which is very clear from the literature. I spent a long time reading last night before going to bed to make certain I was sure of this. There are dozens of publications looking at mammalian DNA which show that off-target mutations, which are unwanted and may cover abnormal effects, would result in a fairly normal looking animal producing something we would not expect.
That brings me to the next part of these amendments. I am afraid this is difficult with farm animals, because we are looking at long gestation periods. It is not like mice. With mice, we can do this within a month; in two months, we get two generations; in three months, we probably get three, more or less, because they have to get to sexual maturity. With mouse work, you can have several generations and you can get the same results. Actually, what we have to see is whether what happens with mice happens with farm animals, which seems highly probable. Their progeny, of course, are what is key to the success of this technology, ultimately—whether or not you can safely produce a herd. That is a fundamental difficulty with the Bill as it stands.
This is not necessarily a bad Bill. I hope that we can help. In fact the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and I have discussed this privately. Neither of us wants to delay useful technology that might help at a critical stage in our development as nations when we are looking at a big threat to the planet, but we could actually make that threat worse if we got this wrong. That is why I tabled Amendments 20, 22 and 23. I beg to move.
My Lords, I rise with some trepidation to follow such an expert, but there is a reason why I am speaking on this: I have six amendments in the group. Three of them deal with one issue that follows on quite neatly from what the noble Lord, Lord Winston, has just been talking about: to ensure that the Bill deals with the necessity of data banks, storing the necessary information about the clinical outcomes for both the animals used in the gene editing and their progeny. I will therefore speak first to my Amendments 24, 44 and 45, which all deal—probably in quite a clumsy way, but nevertheless a way to put this on the face of the Bill—with a requirement for a continuing record of clinical outcomes for the adverse and other effects on both the animals used by gene editing and their progeny. I am grateful for the support that I have had in tabling this amendment from the British Veterinary Association, particularly Professor Madeleine Campbell, who has been invaluable.
I draw noble Lords’ attention to the parallel piece of legislation, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, in which there is a requirement for the surrender of ongoing records containing the information about the impacts—both positive and adverse outcomes—on those individuals used under the terms of that Act. Indeed, there are stringent requirements in the Bill, subsequently set out in regulations, that make it clear that those have to be ongoing records for 50 years, because of the potential length of impacts on the progeny of the people involved in those medical interventions.
Given the importance of this new field of gene editing, we should ask for a similar requirement—certainly mentioning on the face of the Bill that an application to undertake gene editing must include plans to submit to the Secretary of State a continuing record of those outcomes. In the case that I just mentioned, the Secretary of State can make that information available for medical research. I argue that there needs to be a similar requirement for the Secretary of State to do so in this case. That is why, in my Amendment 24, I use the words,
“supply such records and other required information to the Secretary of State”.
This is specifically on that point, so that the information can be made available publicly for further medical research by veterinarians and others, to ensure that we get the benefits for the welfare of future animals.
I do not want to say too much more at this stage, because I have a number of other amendments, but I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for supporting me on this. Sadly, the noble Lord, Lord Trees, is not able to be here today, but he has indicated to me that he is supportive of such an amendment, and if I were to bring it back on Report he would indeed support it.
I therefore move on swiftly, so as not to detain the Committee too long, to my Amendment 50, which deals with the equally critical issue of the animal welfare advisory body. This is somewhat scantily referred to in Clause 22, which gives the Government the power under the negative procedure to say through regulations what this advisory body will do. This is a fundamentally important body, particularly for those of us concerned about the use of animals in gene editing. I seek to set out in this amendment some clarity about the role and membership of the body. I have tried to include experts beyond just those who have expertise in gene editing, to ensure that it is transparent and has some purchase with the general public with the inclusion of a lay member, and to ensure that it has sufficient budget and resources to do its job.
I was pleased that the Constitution Committee raised significant concerns about the scantiness of the information available about the animal welfare body and the need for greater transparency on this front. During the passage of the then Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, there was a similar degree of scantiness—I think that is the right word—about the committee that was meant to oversee that area. This House was able to persuade the Government of the case for putting more information about the sentience committee in that Bill. There is a parallel case for doing so here. It would give Members of this House, and, more importantly, the general public, far greater confidence about this important body. Again, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for supporting me with this issue.
I move swiftly to my remaining two amendments, which follow on. Amendment 36 deals with the scope of the welfare advisory body. At the moment, the scope seems to suggest that this body can focus only on issues that have been raised by the notifier on the potential impacts on the welfare of the animals, not that it can go beyond those parameters to look at the wider risks that might reasonably be expected to be possible issues that might come up for the animals and their future progeny. With Amendment 36, I seek to say that the scope of the welfare advisory body’s concern should be broadened so that it can focus on issues that would “reasonably be expected”, rather than just on the issues that the notifier has given.
I am sorry for detaining the Committee for so long. As a follow-on to that amendment, my final amendment again picks up the point about the issues that ought reasonably to be thought about in terms of their effect on animals. I have noted those areas that ought to be in the Bill for the Secretary of State to think about, given that they are commonly adverse effects from selective breeding. It is therefore a reasonable expectation that this would be the case in gene editing as well. However, I make it clear that I am not proposing that the amendment should limit the scope of the factors; they are just some of the ones that should be included. It does not preclude the Secretary of State’s right to go broader than that. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee was critical of this issue—how loose Clause 25 was in leaving matters to regulation that should be in the Bill. With that, I will sit down and be quiet.
I have a number of amendments about the animal welfare advisory body, so it probably makes sense if I introduce mine next, if noble Lords are happy with that. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, for that introduction. I was very pleased to support her amendments.
I have a number of amendments in this group relating to Clause 12, which lays out details on the reports that the welfare advisory body will be required to make in its consideration of an application for a precision-bred animal marketing authorisation. It states that the welfare advisory body will have to determine whether the notifier, in its animal welfare declaration, has paid regard to the risks to an animal due to a precision-bred trait and whether the notifier has taken “reasonable steps” to assess those risks. That is fine, but our concern is that it does not have enough detail. That is why I tabled my amendments.
We are trying to set out some of the processes and frameworks that we think the Government should be setting out in the Bill. My Amendment 34 would require the welfare advisory body to undertake its own assessment of the potential impact of a precision-bred trait on the health and welfare of an animal and its qualifying progeny. Part of the problem here is that without knowing much about what the body will be and what resources are going to be available to it, there is a concern that all it is doing is taking a proposal written by the applicant and making a judgment on the basis of what it has just been told. So perhaps we should be checking some of the evidence that has been presented to it, rather than just taking it in good faith. Our concern is that some people, understandably, will want to get their application through, so it is going to be presented in the best possible light; we believe that the new body should be able to interrogate that thoroughly and properly. We have to ask whether we can be entirely sure that any evidence presented to the committee can be taken at face value. If we did want to interrogate it more thoroughly, how do we do that? The Bill does not answer that question, so it is important that we draw attention to that.
My Amendment 37 requires the advisory body to assess the welfare impact on animals where a precision-bred trait is developed with the aim of achieving fast growth, high yields or other increases in productivity. We have heard in previous debates in this Committee about traditional selective breeding producing animals that are highly efficient and effective in terms of food production, but there have been concerns about the welfare characteristics of some animals resulting from this. So the question is, if we can take this further, how far do we go? We think it reasonable that the body be able to assess welfare impacts as well, and it is not clear in the Bill how this would be part of the process. I am sure the Minister will reassure your Lordships that safeguards are in place that will allow that to happen, but we think it would be better if that was clear in the Bill itself. Amendments 36 and 38 add to that by requiring the welfare advisory body to consider welfare impacts on breeding stock.
Through these amendments we are trying to draw attention to any potentially unforeseen and possibly unintended consequences, which we think need to be addressed properly through the way the body is set up. The welfare advisory body should be able to consider direct and indirect, and intended and unintended impacts in all circumstances. Compassion in World Farming produced a very good briefing on this issue which I am sure noble Lords have seen; we should take its concerns very seriously. It highlighted that the Bill considers the impacts on the health and welfare of only the precision-bred animal and its progeny, arguing that the experience of selective breeding shows that altering an animal’s traits might have an unexpected impact on the health and welfare of the breeding stocks that produce future generations. In its view, we should be looking at how we safeguard those too.
In addition, many of the effects of selective breeding have been unintended. We have heard about this previously so I will not go into any detail, but what we are saying, as has been borne out by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, is that the system we have created through traditional selective breeding poses a range of problems and challenges. This technology could exacerbate those issues and therefore needs to be looked at extremely carefully.
Clause 13 deals with precision-bred animal marketing authorisation. We believe the Bill could be amended to tidy that up, so we have tabled Amendment 39, which specifies that a Secretary of State can issue precision-bred marketing authorisation only if they are satisfied that there will be no adverse health or welfare impacts on the animal.
Finally, I hope the Minister has listened very carefully to my noble friend Lord Winston, and that he and his officials will take the time to look at the concerns he has raised.
My Lords, my Amendments 35 and 40 follow on neatly from the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. As I mentioned at Second Reading, there is no doubt that the gene editing of animals will allow us to do some real good in the animal kingdom, in a way that would otherwise take decades of trial and error, through random mutations and with hundreds of field experiments having to be eliminated. Equally, it is just possible that some breeders might see this as an opportunity to breed animals that can better tolerate the cheap and inhumane conditions these breeders might see as a shortcut to greater profit. In my view, it goes without saying that no real farmers think like this.
There is no reason to suppose that gene editing should lead to bad breeding more than the random mutations that have gone before. However, as I said at Second Reading, if we are making it easier to make changes in breeding practices, let us take this opportunity to ensure that we promote only the best traits and that our animals and their progeny do not suffer in any way as a result of either them or their descendants being bred to survive poor husbandry.
The same applies to companion animals. We do not, for example, have a very good record on what we have done to the wolf: breeding ever smaller dogs; dogs that can hardly breathe because of their squashed noses; dogs whose eyes sometimes fall out of their sockets; and dogs who are bred for their bad tempers and fighting ability. All are not good examples, which, to my mind, we can well do without.
So we want to make sure that this welfare advisory body, whoever it may be, has specific responsibilities to examine the future quality of life of any relevant animal and its future progeny in the long term—both in the home and on the farm—and not to issue a licence if there is any risk at all that the genetic changes being proposed could result in future discomfort or distress to the relevant animal or its progeny. I hope that my two amendments, ensuring the broadening of the remit of the welfare advisory body on the face of the Bill, will be sufficient to prevent the possibility of a blinkered approach by this so-called welfare advisory body.
While I am on my feet, I want to touch on Amendment 50 in the name of the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Jones. It very much goes along with my thinking, because it seems to me that the clauses relating to the treatment and breeding of animals do not aspire to be effective legislation. The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, used the word “scanty” or “scantiness”; “wishy-washy” was the adjective that came to my mind. In particular, the make-up and role of this welfare advisory body leave a lot to be desired. There are no real details as to who might be on it, what its budget might be or the full extent of its powers.
In thanking the noble Baronesses, I hope that, even if he does not like the details of this amendment, the Minister will agree to meet a few of us before Report to thrash out some sort of government commitment to getting more detail about this welfare advisory body in the Bill.
Before the noble Lord sits down after his useful contribution on animal health, I want to ask him this: does he agree that one of the problems with many animals is that, in the same species, you often have some animals that are docile and happy with their environment and some that are quite aggressive and difficult to manage? That is one of the problems with simply having regard to the pheno- type of the animal—how it looks and so on. These things are sometimes quite difficult to gauge. It seems probable to me—this is almost certainly true in human genetics—that the temperament of an animal is part of what the noble Lord is talking about and is therefore one of the issues we must take into account when considering the effects of the Bill. I do not know whether the noble Lord wishes to comment on that.
The comment I would make is that I am asking for long-term surveillance of the results of gene editing, in the same way that we should have had long-term surveillance of the random mutations in the ordinary, traditional basic breeding that goes on at the moment.
To pick up on what the noble Lord seemed to be hinting at a few minutes ago in some of his remarks, I do not think anyone is suggesting that any gene editing goes on in any farming environment. No gene editing is going to go on except in a laboratory under really strict conditions, as I see it. If you talk to the gene editors and breeders who are already doing this sort of science, they will tell you that no animal is released from a laboratory or from laboratory conditions for at least two or three generations down the line before it goes on a farm. I noted what the noble Lord said about that, and I do not think there is a danger of someone coughing 50 yards away, as he mentioned, on a farm—but maybe that happens in a laboratory as well.
I wish that were true of human in vitro fertilisation sometimes—although of course the HFEA as a regulatory authority has done a great deal to improve that. Early on, there were people who used to boast about being able to do in vitro fertilisation in a broom cupboard. That is quite an interesting issue.
My Lords, I shall say a few words about Amendment 54 in my name. Basically, all the amendments in my name are a result of the report on the Bill from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. Amendment 54 relates to the fact that in Clause 25(1), there is a power to
“prescribe circumstances in which the health or welfare of a relevant animal … is … to be regarded … as being adversely affected by any precision bred trait.”
The amendment questions what “adversely affected” is all about, because the Bill is not clear. Clauses 11 and 15 use this phrase when the applicant is applying to the Secretary of State and the Secretary of State can make the decisions.
The report on the Bill from the Delegated Powers Committee accepts that the affirmative procedure is involved and the memorandum provides the justification for the power of the Secretary of State to decide whether an animal is
“adversely affected by any precision bred trait.”
But the committee called the memorandum
“vague and inadequate. Where the Government propose that an important term used in a Bill is not to be defined in the Bill itself but is instead to be defined subsequently in ministerial regulations, we expect a convincing justification for this. In our view, what is meant by the health or welfare of an animal being ‘adversely affected by precision bred traits’ for the purposes of the Bill is not a ‘technical issue’—and the Government themselves acknowledge this in the Memorandum.”
In short, the committee’s report states in paragraph 29 that
“defining the circumstances in which the health or welfare of an animal is to be regarded as ‘adversely affected by any precision bred trait’ for the purposes of the Bill is significant in policy terms and is a matter of public interest; it is therefore important that any such definition is subject to an appropriate level of parliamentary scrutiny; leaving the definition entirely to ministerial regulations (albeit subject to the affirmative procedure) therefore demands a convincing justification; the Government have failed to provide this; and accordingly, unless the Minister can provide the House with a convincing justification for it, the power in clause 25(1) is inappropriate.”
This amendment gives the Minister an opportunity to tell us what is meant by
“adversely affected by any precision bred trait.”
It must not be kept a secret. It has got to be open and transparent so that people understand it.
My Lords, I will rise very briefly because I have added my name to Amendments 50 and 87. I very much support the comments that have already been made by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and my noble friend Lady Hayman, in proposing those amendments. I do think that—this has been a bit of a running theme, really—the lack of information about the composition and functions of the welfare advisory committee, which was flagged up at Second Reading and has again been flagged up quite widely today, is important. It is also important for us to really understand how the functions of that body will relate to other committees that are already in existence or envisaged in other bits of legislation. They will not stand alone in isolation: we need to know how they will interrelate.
We have made it clear that the measures relating to the animal welfare elements of the Bill are simply not well developed. As we heard in the previous debate on Monday, a number of us felt that on that basis they should be taken out of the Bill altogether until more detail was available. But, moving on from that finite position, we are now trying to make more constructive proposals about alternative ways of addressing this.
Amendment 50, which is in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, focuses on the composition of the welfare advisory body itself. As the Bill stands, given that there is very little information, the functions of the welfare advisory committee could go to any number of existing welfare bodies, or indeed to one set up for this purpose. There is a proposal that the functions could be absorbed by the Animal Sentience Committee. In the Commons debate in July, the Minister reported:
“Applications to the committee have now closed … We very much hope to have the committee up and running by the end of this year.”—[Official Report, Commons, 7/7/22; cols. 261-62.]
So I am genuinely interested to know from the Minister whether he could update us on this. Is this committee in existence now, and is it being prepared to take on these duties? Six months have passed, so presumably the Government’s thinking has become more advanced on that.
So far, we have had very little reassurance about the expertise or competence of those that the Secretary of State is thinking of appointing to this role. But if they are there, and are people that we trust, we may take a different view. The amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, makes it clear that we expect members of the committee to have a broad range of backgrounds and knowledge, which would enable them to come to a full and rounded view of the welfare implications of their decision. It also, as she said, provides for a lay member. I do think that that is important, because a lot of this discussion, as we have said before, is about public reassurance, and having a lay member there will provide some of that reassurance. It will also reassure the public that any decisions are not based on a narrow set of interests.
I only say this in relation to the other committee that we have referenced several times now—the ACRE committee. That committee is, I fully acknowledge, made up of people with a particular scientific expertise in their field, but six out of the seven scientists on the board of ACRE have links to commercial companies as well, and three of them quote Syngenta as an interest. My point is that we do not want to replicate this, or have a different body where there are those potential conflicts of interest that could cause members of the public to perhaps not have as much confidence in the committee’s decision-making as they should. I am sure that those people mean well and that they have scientific knowledge, but they also have to operate on an independent basis.
I think that my noble friend Lady Hayman has made the case very well for Amendment 87. It just makes it clear that the commencement date should not be enacted until we do understand more about the welfare advisory committee. As she says, it needs to have a remit which goes beyond the specifics and is able to deal with the direct and indirect impacts, and also unforeseen consequences —so, again, her arguments and the amendment are well made.
Finally, I will pick up on the masterclass from my noble friend Lord Winston. I would not even begin to try and argue with him; I sit in awe of everything that he is saying. I do hope that the Minister will meet him and talk some of these things through, because I do think that he has genuine expertise that he can share which will improve the substance of the Bill. I hope that the Minister will work with him on that basis.
I will pick up on the discussion about whether the research was taking place in a farmyard or a broom cupboard. I did note that Amendment 72A, the latest amendment from my noble friend Lord Winston, puts a specific requirement on participants in the research to have the appropriate scientific qualifications before they go anywhere near a petri dish. It would be reassuring to know that those people will have that expertise. I thought that was a helpful amendment as well.
My Lords, we have already had a full, detailed and rich explanation of this rather large and very important group. I will make a couple of short points.
I would not presume to seek to add anything to the master class we had from the noble Lord, Lord Winston, covering his early amendments in this group. All I would suggest is to cross-reference; this is a debate we started on Monday, and I think it would be useful if we looked at the two debates together, because they address different parts of the Bill but the same crucial issue of exogenous DNA.
As for the broom cupboard or farmyard question, just because a technology is widely available—and the reality is that a lot of this technology is now becoming widely available and relatively cheap—does not mean it should be used widely and by people in broom cupboards, for example.
The amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, about appropriate records is crucial. As the noble Baroness was speaking, I was thinking about the recent, grave concern about large amounts of peer-reviewed research, for which a condition of publication from the journals is that the data and the raw data have to be deposited in places where people have access to it. The data is there, but when people go and look for it, they find it is not available. If people cannot get access to that raw data, there are immediately grave concerns about the final conclusion being presented without that data. So it is crucial that it is available.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, spoke about the animal welfare advisory body. The amendment here says that the body should rely not just on the evidence presented to it but think independently about what other problems might arise. In other contexts, we have been talking about the green revolution and the problems it has caused, and the state of our soils, water and health now. We have seen what happens when commercial interests are able to set the direction in which our agriculture and science go. It has got us to the point we are at today. That critical, independent assessment is crucial.
My Lords, I am grateful for what has been a fascinating debate. I am conscious that there is in this Room a fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, who is also a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and others who are fellows of the Royal Society and winners of the Frink Medal—and that is just two of them—and that my attempt at a biology A-level sits me down at the other end of the spectrum. I will endeavour to answer the points that were raised.
The noble Lord, Lord Winston, made an important contribution to this debate. First, I say to him that the references to CRISPR Cas-9 are not relevant to this legislation. I know that he knows this, but he makes an analogy to that. Important though it is, it is specifically outside this legislation.
Independent scientific advice from ACRE, the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment, is that precision-bred organisms pose no greater risk to the environment and health than traditionally bred organisms. That advice is supported by the Royal Society, the Royal Society of Biology and the Roslin Institute. Professor Lovell-Badge from the Crick Institute reminded us that:
“Generally, on the risk of a random mutation versus a genome-edited one, you are actually better off with a genome-edited one because you know what you are doing.”—[Official Report, Commons, Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill Committee, 28/6/22; col. 37.]
This was supported by Professor Houston, director of innovation at Benchmark Genetics, who told us that it is now getting very good data from research experiments showing that off-target effects are very rare. In summary, our advice has been that there is no increased risk to health and the environment.
My commitment today is absolutely to study the papers that the noble Lord mentioned and to assure the Committee, including the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, who made a very important intervention, that we would be happy to meet. I repeat that invitation; some noble Lords have already met me, the Bill team and others who are advising us to make sure that we are addressing their concerns and that we reflect that in any changes that we want to see to make sure that this works.
In my response to the amendments in group 8 I will cover our thinking on the provisions for release into the environment and the marketing of precision-bred animals, including animal marketing authorisations. I will start with the amendments on the interplay between this Bill and the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, commonly known as ASPA.
I reassure noble Lords that ASPA will apply during the first stages of developing a breeding line using precision-breeding techniques in animals. ASPA rightly places rigorous requirements on the use of animals in scientific procedures, including precision breeding. ASPA requires that animals may be used in science only where there are no alternatives, where the number of animals used is the minimum needed to achieve the scientific benefit, and where the potential harm to animals is limited to that needed to achieve that benefit. I know that they are the values and priorities that the noble Lord, Lord Winston, will have operated under through many decades of research.
We will of course continue to work closely with the Home Office, which regulates these matters, as we develop guidance on this issue. As I said on Monday, we have also commissioned Scotland’s Rural College to carry out research which will provide further information on how breeding lines are developed using precision breeding, including the stages which would be covered by ASPA and this legislation. This research is due to complete next summer and will be important in helping us produce guidance outlining when and how these two pieces of legislation will apply in the process of placing a precision-bred animal on the market. I reiterate what I said on Monday: our priority is to develop these new technologies in plants first and then, as we get the structure, framework and architecture right, we can proceed with animals.
In relation to Amendments 23 and 72A, I reiterate that ASPA licences will be needed for scientific procedures for precision breeding in animals, as defined in ASPA. Under ASPA, three licences are required: a personal licence for each person carrying out procedures on animals, a project licence for the programme of work, and an establishment licence for the place at which the work is carried out. I hope that addresses the concerns about broom cupboards—we want to make sure that this is taking place in registered, agreed, regulated premises.
Furthermore, the Bill will not make changes to the way precision-bred animals are regulated under the existing Genetically Modified Organisms (Contained Use) Regulations. This means, among other things, that facilities where precision breeding takes place must be registered with the Health and Safety Executive and comply with the requirements to apply appropriate containment and control measures. Both of these regimes work effectively to ensure precision breeding is conducted in a known premises or laboratory, under suitably regulated conditions.
I turn now to Amendments 20 and 22. Clause 3 applies to the release of plants and animals which will be primarily for research purposes. The ASPA regime already works effectively to protect animals used in science and research, so although I understand the intention, I do not think it would be appropriate to insert this further requirement here. Furthermore, developers will already be required to submit a release notice to Defra confirming that the “founder” organism they intend to release for research trials meets the criteria set out in the Bill. They will have generated genomic data in order to confirm that this is the case. However, requiring the information set out in the amendment, including epigenetic data, would be disproportionate.
I turn to Amendments 34, 35, 36, 38, 50 and 87, particularly on the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. These amendments are in relation to the welfare advisory body. I appreciate the concerns and reassure noble Lords that the powers in these clauses already allow the welfare advisory body to carry out proper assessment and report the results to the Secretary of State. Clause 12 sets out that the advisory body’s report must consider whether the notifier has taken reasonable steps to identify the animal’s precision-bred traits, and the risks to the health or welfare of the animal or its qualifying progeny that could reasonably be expected to result from those traits. The Bill enables the advisory body to request further information from the notifier.
Moreover, if the welfare advisory body considers that the notifier has not made an appropriate assessment, this would be reflected in its report to the Secretary of State, who can reject the application. We consider that this provides the right balance, ensuring that the Secretary of State has the necessary information to assess a marketing application without long delays and unnecessary duplication.
I will now speak to the form and function of the welfare advisory body. Clause 22 will ensure that we can designate the most suitable body to this vital role. 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) provides the flexibility to use whatever committee or other public body is most suited to the role when the time comes, or to create a new one if needed. I repeat: a new one may be created if needed. This gives future Governments the ability to reflect this area of fast-moving technological change.
Clause 22(4) establishes that the welfare advisory body will be a public body and therefore subject to the rules, principles and scrutiny which apply to public bodies generally. That addresses some of the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones; I will come on to some of her other concerns in a minute. The members of the welfare advisory body will have sufficient scientific experience on the health and welfare of animals to be able to assess whether the notifier has correctly identified the precision-bred traits and the health and welfare risks.
The amendment suggests placing an additional function on the welfare advisory body in the Bill. I think that goes substantially beyond its core role of providing independent scientific advice on individual animal welfare declarations, and would require it to take on a role in policy and regulation which properly belongs to the Secretary of State. The amendment would, in effect, give the welfare advisory body the power to require the Secretary of State to set aside regulations that the Secretary of State had already made and had been scrutinised by Parliament.
The Bill’s powers will enable the Secretary of State to appoint an existing committee to this new role or, as I say, to create a new one if needed. Defra already has access to independent expertise on animal welfare, principally through the Animal Welfare Committee. We have been engaging with that committee and other expert bodies as the Bill has developed. The Animal Welfare Committee is also represented on the Scotland’s Rural College project steering group.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asked about the sentience committee. As the Government explained when we took what is now the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act through—it received Royal Assent in April—it required us to get actively working to establish the animal sentience committee. I am pleased to say that the chair, Michael Seals, has already been appointed. He is well known to Defra and has proved himself to be a very good adviser. We expect it to be some years before precision-bred animals are brought to market, so de facto the animal sentience committee will be established for more than 12 months prior to the first precision-bred animals coming on to the market, which addresses points in other parts of our debates today.
I turn now to Amendments 37, 39, 40, 54 and 55, which noble Lords have tabled in relation to the technical details on which the animal welfare declaration should be based. The Bill is intended to work alongside the existing animal welfare legislation to enable responsible innovation and protect animal welfare. Let me reassure noble Lords that the Government share the public’s high regard for animal welfare. We have set out our ambitious reform agenda in the action plan for animal welfare. As part of our plans for future farming, we launched the animal health and welfare pathway this year and will push forward to support continued improvement in farm animal health and welfare.
I will address the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. While this Bill is not the place to address the conditions in which animals are kept, I remind noble Lords that animals in England are already protected by the Animal Welfare Act 2006, as well as by more specific requirements for farmed animals in the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007. Alongside these regulations, there are also statutory welfare codes for the main kept species. I raise this, more perhaps in response to some points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and others when we were talking about this on Monday, to address the fear that this might be some sort of Trojan horse to allow overstocking or densities of animals. Issues such as stocking densities of farmed livestock are, as I say, regulated in legislation and in regulation. These include detailed requirements for the use of enriched cages for laying hens, farrowing crates for pigs, and pens for calves. The Bill is very much intended to go alongside existing animal health and welfare legislation. Keepers of precision-bred animals will be subject to the same legislative requirements concerning protecting and promoting good welfare as those of traditionally bred animals.
Moving forward with this legislation, we recognise that it is important to balance innovation with ensuring the introduction of appropriate safeguards to protect the welfare of precision-bred animals and their qualifying progeny. To set out the parameters in more detail in the Bill would limit the scope of this development and could prevent the implementation of the most appropriate, detailed measures, as developed through collaborative work with technical experts. Further, the power in Clause 25 allows us to set out in regulations what constitutes an adverse effect on health or welfare, including any parameters needed for assessing this. This could include consideration of any known health and welfare issues in selectively bred animals.
As mentioned before, the research we have commissioned from Scotland’s Rural College will help us to develop the criteria for assessment and evidence that must support the notifier’s application, which the welfare advisory body will then assess and report on to the Secretary of State. These details will be set out in secondary legislation and guidance. I confirm that the welfare declaration process will require notifiers to submit health and welfare information in response to prescribed questions and metrics. I believe that our framework is already capable of adequately addressing concerns about any health and welfare risks to a precision-bred animal and its qualifying progeny from any precision-bred traits. Adding a requirement to provide a wider evaluation of the quality of life for future generations of a relevant animal will lead to considerable uncertainty as to the overall basis on which a notifier’s animal welfare declaration will be assessed. I hope that this addresses the point that the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, raised.
Clause 14 will provide for the ability to make regulations requiring the notifier or any other person to monitor for significant adverse health and welfare outcomes in precision-bred animals which are authorised for marketing under the Bill, and their qualifying progeny, and report such outcomes to the Secretary of State. This addresses the ongoing requirement which the noble Lord rightly raised for the monitoring of these animals in future. This requirement is intended to pick up on the health and welfare problems that might arise after a marketing authorisation has been granted and the animals are being commercially produced. It is linked to the powers under Clause 15, enabling the Secretary of State to make regulations covering the suspension or revocation of a precision-bred animal’s marketing authorisation, in cases where new information shows that the health or welfare of the animal or its qualifying progeny is adversely affected by precision-bred traits.
The marketing authorisation will consider the whole life of the animal, and its qualifying progeny, in assessing whether any health and welfare risks arise from any precision-bred traits. I reassure noble Lords that I am confident that the most effective and proportionate means of keeping the requirements relating to animal welfare up to date is to set them out in regulations to be approved by Parliament rather than requiring amendments to primary legislation.
I turn to Amendments 24, 44 and 45, which seek to ensure that the Bill provides sufficient transparency. Clause 18(1)(j) already allows for these regulations to prescribe additional matters relating to this legislation to be published on the register of precision-bred organisms. I hope that that addresses the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, raised. I can therefore assure noble Lords that including the specific details set out in this amendment is not necessary, and I hope that this gives them enough information for the amendment not to be pressed.
On Amendment 24, I recognise that the noble Baroness is seeking to ensure that the Bill provides sufficient reporting requirements on the health and welfare of precision-bred animals and their progeny. During the stage before marketing, we expect that researchers or breeders will be collecting data for the animal welfare assessment that must be passed before precision-bred animals can be marketed. We also expect that any research involving precision breeding in animals in England will be covered by the ASPA regime, which is already effective and robust. Therefore, we do not consider it necessary to apply additional requirements. However, I reassure the noble Baroness that the type of information suggested will need to be collected before the animal can be marketed.
Before an authorisation can be granted to market a precision-bred relevant animal, Clause 11 requires 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. Clause 11 also sets out that the application will have to be accompanied by an assessment of risks to the health and welfare of the relevant animal and its qualifying progeny that could reasonably be expected to result from a precision-bred trait, and an explanation of the steps required to identify these risks. We are trying to create a more proportionate regulatory system to enable research to take place, and much of the information will be collected as part of the marketing authorisation process.
With regard to Amendment 45, I reassure the noble Baroness that, in the interest of transparency and public reassurance, the Government are committed to maintaining a comprehensive, accurate and up-to-date register, because this information concerns a wide range of matters that she and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, rightly say that the public are very interested in. The register will be accessible by electronic means in real time on GOV.UK. Any interested parties are able to access the GMO register and can view all the applications for, and consents to release, GMOs, as well as notifications concerning release of qualifying higher plants. The precision-breeding register will follow the same regime.
I hope that my words have provided the assurance required for these amendments not to be pressed.
The Minister addressed the point about changing the traits of animals through gene editing to make them perhaps more tolerant of crowding and more able to cope with disease, filthier conditions and conditions that do not meet their behavioural needs. He said that in the UK there is the protection of all our animal welfare legislation. I will park to one side whether I think that is adequate or not. Does he acknowledge that, while the Government talk about developing a British biotechnology industry, so-called precision-bred animals produced under this legislation are very likely to be exported and then farmed in conditions that are not covered by UK welfare law—and, indeed, often under far worse welfare law and in far worse conditions?
Animals are bred in this country through traditional means, and some of those traits may make them more resilient to higher stocking rates than we would allow here. We have no sovereign ability to control what other countries do, but we can put pressure on them in a variety of different ways. I do not see any philosophical, moral difference between what the noble Baroness says and what exists today. We are talking about similar means of improving the quality of animals and plants as we are doing through traditional processes. So the noble Baroness’s point, although valid, is absolutely not one that we can consider in terms of legislation in this country. If I have understood her right, that is the situation in which we live.
Conversely, following on from what the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, has just said, what about imported animals? How will they be assessed in terms of the legislation before us?
Currently, the importing into this country of animals that are subject to this kind of technology has to be done through our GMO regulations and laws, and that is what we are seeking to change.
The other point is that we may be breeding things that will be of huge advantage to other countries. We may well be giving people in countries that are developing, and particularly vulnerable to climate change, the ability to survive and prosper in ways that they could not have done without the technologies that we will be giving them. So I think it is a glass-half-empty approach to look at it in terms of what other countries could do with animals that are improved because of what we do, rather than thinking of what the benefits could be for other communities around the world.
Well, it has been an interesting debate. As I promised on Monday, I will not have an exaggerated summing-up on this issue. One cannot deny from the literature that there is still a huge amount of unpredictability and uncertainty about some of the mutations, particularly the off-target ones, and the vulnerability of the CRISPR technique, which is still probably the best one that we have; TALENs and zinc finger nucleases are not as effective. However, that efficiency should not prevent us understanding that there are mistakes that occur during the technique. We need to discuss that and look at it in detail.
A difficulty that I have, and I think probably we all have, in this debate is that the rules of what we do in this House depend on the scope of the Bill. We have a very tricky issue here because, according to the Bill and how it is seen by many of the people running it, the scope of the Bill is the release of organisms. But, without looking at the science as well, what happens before the release of the organisms is critical to this. For that reason, I think both the Minister and I are at something of a disadvantage, because we cannot table sensible amendments that really cover that—and it is of course a Defra Bill.
I do not intend at this stage to discuss some of the points that the Minister has made in detail. I just think that there is enough uncertainty, as shown in so much of what I have said, that we need to have that discussion and work out who is advising us. He mentioned a number of authorities, such as some of the royal colleges—noble institutions, of which of course I am also a member—which argue that these positions are safe. I am not quite sure on what basis they are saying that or who advises the people who give out that information, because many of them will not necessarily be involved in this technology, which is so specialised. That is not to rubbish the people who are advising anybody, but I think it shows that there is a cloud around some of the issues that we are getting through.
What is undeniable is the wealth of publications that we have. For example, this publication by Carey, which incidentally seems to be funded and supported by the State of Virginia in the United States, is clearly in favour of trying to genetically modify pigs. One of the issues we always had with pigs when we did a bit of work on them in my laboratory was how difficult it was to manage a lot of the manipulations that we were doing. It is very clear that with pigs, for example, there is still considerable unpredictability in which part of which GMO is sometimes affected by the way the CRISPR is constructed. So we need to talk through a lot of issues to make this a sensible and safe procedure.
Nobody in this Chamber, unless they are very foolish, wants to try to strangle an important technology—people like me would not be working in it. Obviously, ultimately, we want to see it used in human science as well, not in modifying humans, but certainly in doing things in human medicine; not in the germ line, but certainly in the somatic cell line where you have much more control. There is clearly a very big difference there. We are not looking to make super-races, or anything like that, but it is an issue that needs to be looked at. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
I just reaffirm the point I made right at the beginning, which is that I would very much like to get the noble Lord, Lord Winston, and any other noble Lords together with the scientists and others who are advising us and to drill down on some of these issues before we get to Report. I have a Defra scientist’s voice in my head saying, “I see your scientific paper and raise you mine”. There are many coming from lots of different directions. Not all scientists agree, as noble Lords will know, but there has to be a body of opinion on which lay men like me—like most Ministers—have to take a balanced view. I assure him and others that there are no state secrets here. We need to make sure that we are working on this, and I make that offer.
Amendment 20 withdrawn.
Amendments 21 to 23 not moved.
Clause 3 agreed.
Clause 4: Release of precision bred organism: notification requirements
Amendment 24 not moved.
25: Clause 4, page 4, line 16, leave out subsection (3)
Member's explanatory statement
This subsection gives power to Ministers as to what the required information is to be.
My Lords, I shall take Amendments 25 and 30 together and also speak to Amendment 43. I am raising tonight only the issues in the 19th report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. I will not go into detail, but Clauses 4 and 6 give powers to prescribe information that must be provided to the Secretary of State by a person who wishes to release or market a precision-bred organism. Clauses 3 and 4 impose conditions restricting the release, including the requirement to give a release notice to the Secretary of State accompanied by any required information.
Paragraph 10 of the committee’s report states:
“The ‘form and content’ of release notices and marketing notices and the ‘required information’ that must accompany them is to be prescribed in regulations made by the Secretary of State”.
Paragraph 11 of the report states:
“By way of justification for these powers, the Memorandum simply asserts that each power ‘allows the Secretary of State to deal with administrative matters’”.
The committee said:
“We accept that the form that release notices and marketing notices are required to take might fairly be described as an ‘administrative matter’ but the same cannot be said about the content of such notices and the ‘required information’ that must be submitted with them.”
It went on to say in paragraph 13:
“Accordingly, we find it surprising that the Bill itself says nothing at all about what that information should comprise and instead leaves it entirely to ministers to decide—and in regulations subject only to the negative procedure.”
The conclusion of the committee was set out in paragraph 14:
“We consider that: the information that those who propose to release or market precision bred organisms are to be required to provide to the Secretary of State about this in a notice under clause 4 or 6 is a matter of significant public interest given that decisions about whether to permit such release or marketing will be based on that information”.
The committee felt that, so far,
“the Government have failed to justify the inclusion in those clauses of powers that leave it entirely to ministers to determine what that information must comprise—and by regulations subject only to the negative procedure”.
The committee is really asking the Minister to the provide this Committee with a convincing justification for the delegation of power in Clauses 4(3) and 6(2).
I will make a few brief points about Amendment 43, which relates to Clause 18(1) on the power to prescribe information that must be included in the precision-breeding register. The matters about which the register must contain information are release notices under Clause 4, marketing notices under Clause 6, reports provided to the Secretary of State by the advisory committee under Clause 7, reports provided to the Secretary of State by the welfare advisory body under Clause 12, notices given by the Secretary of State under Clauses 8 and 13, and enforcement notices. Paragraph 20 of the committee report states:
“However, the information that the register must contain about these matters is left to be prescribed by the Secretary of State by regulations subject to the negative procedure.”
The delegated powers memorandum supplied with the Bill by the Government attempts to provide some of the information but, at paragraph 22, the committee found
“this an unconvincing explanation for there being nothing at all on the face of the Bill about the information that the register must contain about the matters in question and for this instead to be left entirely to ministers”.
The committee therefore concluded that
“the substance of the obligation that is to be imposed on the Government to keep a public ‘precision breeding register’ as a means of delivering transparency … is an important matter of public interest; a key aspect of the substance of that obligation is the information that the register will be required to contain about the matters specified in clause 18; it is therefore important that provision prescribing that information is subject to an appropriate level of parliamentary scrutiny”.
The committee felt that
“leaving it entirely to ministers to prescribe that information by regulations therefore demands a convincing justification”.
“the Government have failed to provide this; and … unless the Minister can provide the House with a convincing justification for it, the power in clause 18(1) is inappropriate.”
That is basically the submission of the Delegated Powers Committee on these three points, which I am happy to put to the Committee and to the Minister.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, made a powerful speech far more eloquently than I could emulate. Unlike other contributors to the debate, I have inadequate experience in this field.
The public register is an important element of moving forward on genetic technology. Last time this was debated, there was wholesale opposition from the public and some local authorities. I remember the demonstrations in Somerset against GMO crops being grown in undisclosed locations and the fear that organic crops would be contaminated. Having a readily available public register of what licences have been granted and where they are is key to keeping the public on board.
The three amendments that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has spoken to would remove the following from the Bill: first, the provision on the form and content of the release notice on the prescribed information being set by the Secretary of State alone, an issue that has been raised by the DPRRC; secondly, objections to the regulations for a precision-bred confirmation being set entirely by the Secretary of State; and, lastly, in Clause 18, under the precision-breeding register, the noble Lord, speaking on behalf of the DPRCC, wants to delete subsection 1. The noble Lord believes, and I fully support him, that the Secretary of State alone should not have the power to make these decisions. They are key to the implementation of the Bill and are likely to have long-lasting effects into the future. The decisions should therefore be made under the affirmative procedure, so that Parliament may have an input and fulfil its scrutiny role. The register of licences should be public and easily accessible for everyone who wishes to see it. If the science is as advanced and safe as the Government and some NGOs claim, why are the Government reluctant to allow the decisions to be made more openly, instead of keeping it entirely to the Secretary of State?
My Lords, we are grateful to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee for its report on the proposed powers in the Bill, and to my noble friend Lord Rooker for tabling and introducing this first batch of amendments reflecting that committee’s concerns.
Almost every Bill brought forward by this Government appears to be framework legislation, with only the bare minimum included in primary legislation and almost all the detail left for an ever-increasing body of regulations. It is neither efficient nor practical, and could give rise to a crochet blanket of loopholes in our legislative framework. This House’s Constitution Committee and Delegated Powers Committee have been fighting the good fight for many years, pushing back on this practice, but Ministers unfortunately do not seem willing to listen or act upon wise counsel.
We understand that the Government wish to legislate in this area, ensuring that the UK remains competitive as other countries explore the development of these new technologies or regulate for their rollout. The Minister knows that we support the passage of the Bill, but that does not mean that we think it acceptable to leave so many parts of it essentially unfinished.
On Monday, the Minister sought to reassure colleagues that nothing will happen before we are in the right position to do it. Yet here we are, considering skeleton legislation that will require an unknown number of SIs, over an unspecified timescale. The powers flagged by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, would all be exercisable under the negative procedure, but if we are to ensure political consensus and public buy-in, should Parliament not have a formal role in approving the finer details of release and marketing notices? At the very least, is Defra able to publish additional information ahead of Report? This could be a more detailed policy statement, or indicative regulations reflecting the department’s current thinking. It would certainly give reassurance that the devil is indeed in the detail.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and other members of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, for their work on this report. I entirely support the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, in her assertion that we must, wherever possible, try to achieve political consensus and public buy-in, as she put it. I am grateful for the generally positive views across the Chamber on this Bill and our attempts to ensure that we are getting this right. I have listened very carefully to what noble Lords have said.
We are considering the committee’s recommendations. The Government are drafting a response to the DPRRC report, and we will publish our full response, in the usual way, way ahead of Report. In the meantime, I will take this opportunity to set out some more detail around taking these powers and how we intend to use them.
We expect that, when Clause 4 is brought substantively into force, the content and information required in a release notice would be the same as that in the Genetically Modified Organisms (Deliberate Release) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2022, which Parliament agreed under the affirmative procedure earlier this year. However, precision breeding is a rapidly developing area. Indeed, we hope that the Bill will stimulate domestic research and development in this field. It is therefore important that we can adjust our requirements for the form and content of the notice and any accompanying information. Any updates to requirements are likely to be technical or administrative and are needed, for instance, to keep pace with technological developments.
The regulations I mentioned, which enabled qualifying higher plants to be released provided the requisite notice has been given to the Secretary of State, have been in place since April 2022. Various research institutes have already taken advantage of this legislation to inform the Secretary of State of their qualifying higher plant releases. For the marketing of a precision-bred product, a different notification would be required, as this will need to contain detailed technical information that enables the advisory committee to provide a report to the Secretary of State on whether it considers the organism to be precision bred. The criteria for this assessment are already laid out in Part 1 of the Bill. For example, descriptions of any genetic features resulting from the application of modern biotechnology and their stability will need to be provided. As with the release notice, we will need to be able to make technical and administrative adjustments to reflect technological developments.
I turn now to the amendment to Clause 18. This amendment would remove the provision on setting up a register, so there would be no requirement for a public register of precision-bred organisms, as well as the delegated power to prescribe the information that must be published on such a register. I want to assure noble Lords 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 advisory committees and enforcement notices. In the interest of transparency and public reassurance, this clause enables information concerning a wide range of matters relating to precision-bred organisms to be made public. We consider that specific details of the information to be entered on to the register are an administrative matter, though we will reflect on the comments made in the DPRRC report on this clause and respond to the committee’s concerns in our full response in due course.
This clause is similar to the power in Section 122 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, which enables the Secretary of State to prescribe by regulations the information to be entered on to the GM register. Therefore, the level of scrutiny we have provided for in relation to the information to be entered on to the public register regarding precision-bred organisms would be comparable to the equivalent provision for GMOs. I hope this provides noble Lords with the assurance they need ahead of our written response to the DPRRC report.
Amendment 25 withdrawn.
26: Clause 4, page 4, line 24, leave out “negative” and insert “affirmative”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment would mean regulations made under Clause 4 are subject to the affirmative procedure.
My Lords, I have four amendments in this group, and I have added my name to the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle.
When I first read the Bill, I made a note of the number of affirmative and negative procedures listed; there were 15 affirmative and 13 negative. The first time the Agriculture Bill came forward, it was berated because of the number of negative procedures and Henry VIII powers it contained. As we all know, the original Bill was paused and then amended, before being resubmitted for debate. The second iteration had far fewer negative procedures and received a far warmer welcome as a result.
I have chosen carefully those negative instruments that I believe ought to be affirmative. The first is Amendment 26 to Clause 4, which is headed “Release of precision bred organism: notification requirements”. Although it is of course important that the Secretary of State decides on this, it is also vital that Parliament debates and understands the implications of what this considerable step forward—the release of gene-edited plants and crops—will be. This will be especially important if and when the science has progressed to such an extent that animals are included because, as the Bill stands, there is no mechanism for Parliament to be involved when this step does occur. As the noble Lords, Lord Winston and Lord Krebs, have demonstrated this afternoon, this is a fiendishly technical Bill that deserves close scrutiny.
Next is Amendment 33 to Clause 11, which would give the Secretary of State the ability to include animals in the authorisation process. On Monday, we debated the efficacy of including animals in the Bill. Although there were arguments on both sides for this to happen, it was clear from the Minister’s response that the Government are determined for this to happen. It is therefore vital that, when this happens and the Secretary of State is ready to sign his or her authorisation, Parliament should have the ability to debate this addition in the Chamber or, more likely, in Grand Committee.
Then there is Amendment 46 to Clause 18, on the precision breeding register. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has already detailed his objections to subsection (1) being included in the Bill. The clause gives extraordinary power to the Secretary of State. Although the Secretary of State must make the register accessible electronically, the public will have no say over how any of the subsections in the clause are implemented. As has already been stated, both on Monday and this afternoon, we are keen not to have a repeat of the previous GM abortive attempts to get legislation passed. This previous failure could be driving the Bill’s use of negative procedures for key elements. This is a mistake. You do not take the public or Parliament with you if you shut them out from the discussion and debate around decision-making. Moving to the affirmative procedure would ensure that Parliament had a say on the vital issue of the precision breeding register.
My last amendment in this group is Amendment 52 to Clause 22, on the advisory bodies. Again, the objection to this clause being implemented under the negative procedure by the Secretary of State is one of public confidence. The welfare advisory body will be the gatekeepers to whom the public will look for reassurance that all is well with the progress of precision-engineered crops and, later, animals. To have this body appointed by the Secretary of State and paid for by the taxpayer without any parliamentary scrutiny is definitely not going to foster confidence in Parliament, certainly not among the public.
Other noble Lords have referred to ACRE and the level of expertise of the people sitting on the welfare advisory body’s board. The interests of those appointed should be made available to the public and interested NGOs. Independence is vital.
I have added my name to the notice by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, about whether Clause 42 should stand part of the Bill. Again, this clause gives unlimited power to the Secretary of State to modify the Act in any way that he or she chooses without any scrutiny by Parliament. I support her on this amendment.
I feel passionately about the role of the negative procedure. It does have its place, but not in the amendments I have listed. I trust that the Minister will have encouraging words. I beg to move.
My Lords, I beg to move that the debate on this amendment be adjourned, to resume the House to take questions on an Oral Statement.
The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Tuesday 13 December.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on illegal migration. I hope that the whole House will agree that there is a complex moral dimension to illegal migration. The balancing of our duty to support people in dire need with the responsibility to have genuine control over our borders understandably provokes strong feelings. So it is my view that the basis for any solution should be not just what works but what is right.
The simplest moral framing for this issue, and one that I believe Members on both sides of the House believe in, is fairness. It is unfair that people come here illegally. It is unfair on those with a genuine case for asylum when our capacity to help is taken up by people coming through—and from—countries that are perfectly safe. It is unfair on those who migrate here legally when others come here by cheating the system. Above all, it is unfair on the British people, who play by the rules, when others come here illegally and benefit from breaking those rules. So people are right to be angry, because they see what I see, which is that this simply is not fair.
It is not cruel or unkind to want to break the stranglehold of criminal gangs who trade in human misery and who exploit our system and laws. Enough is enough. As currently constructed, the global asylum framework has become obsolete. Today, there are 100 million people displaced globally. Hostile states are using migration as a weapon on the very borders of Europe. As the world becomes more unstable, and the effects of climate change make more places uninhabitable, the numbers displaced will only grow.
We have a proud history of providing sanctuary to those most in need. Britain helped craft the 1951 refugee convention to protect those fleeing persecution. My right honourable friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) passed the world’s first Modern Slavery Act in 2015. In the last year, we have opened our hearts and our homes to people from Hong Kong, Afghanistan and Ukraine. Thousands of families will be setting extra places around the Christmas table this year. No one—no one—can doubt our generosity of spirit.
But today, far too many of the beneficiaries of that generosity are not those directly fleeing war zones or at risk of persecution, but people crossing the channel in small boats. Many originate from fundamentally safe countries. All travel through safe countries. Their journeys are not ad hoc, but co-ordinated by ruthless, organised criminals, and every single journey risks the lives of women, children and—we should be honest—mostly men at sea.
This is not what previous generations intended when they drafted our humanitarian laws; nor is it the purpose of the numerous international treaties to which the UK is a signatory. Unless we act now and decisively, this will only get worse. Already in just seven weeks since I became Prime Minister, we have delivered the largest ever small boats deal with France, with significantly more boots on the ground patrolling its beaches. For the first time, UK and French officers are embedded in their respective operations in Dover and northern France. We have re-established the Calais group of northern European nations to disrupt traffickers all along the migration route. Last week, the group set a long-term ambition for a UK-EU-wide agreement on migration. Of course, that is not a panacea, and we need to go much further. Over the last month, the Home Secretary and I have studied every aspect of this issue in detail, and we can now set out five new steps today.
First, our policing of the channel has been too fragmented, with different people doing different things being pulled in different directions. So we will establish a new, permanent, unified small boats operational command. This will bring together our military, our civilian capabilities and the National Crime Agency. It will co-ordinate our intelligence, interception, processing and enforcement, and use all available technology, including drones for reconnaissance and surveillance, to pick people up and identify and then prosecute more gang-led boat pilots. We are adding more than 700 new staff and also doubling the funding given to the NCA for tackling organised immigration crime in Europe.
Secondly, those extra resources will free up immigration officers to go back to enforcement, which will, in turn, allow us to increase raids on illegal working by 50%. It is frankly absurd that today illegal migrants can get bank accounts which help them live and work here. So we will restart data sharing to stop that.
Thirdly, it is unfair and appalling that we are spending £5.5 million every day on using hotels to house asylum seekers. We must end this. We will shortly bring forward a range of alternative sites, such as disused holiday parks, former student halls and surplus military sites. These sites will accommodate 10,000 people, and we are in active discussions to secure them and many more. Our aim is to add thousands of places through this type of accommodation in the coming months, at half the cost of hotels. At the same time, as we consulted on over the summer, the cheapest and fairest way to solve this problem is for all local authorities to take their fair share of asylum seekers in the private rental sector, and we will work to achieve this as quickly as possible.
Fourthly, we need to process claims in days or weeks, not months or years, so we will double the number of asylum caseworkers. We are radically re-engineering the end-to-end process, with shorter guidance, fewer interviews and less paperwork, and we are introducing specialist caseworkers by nationality. We will also remove the gold-plating in our modern slavery system, including by reducing the cooling-off period from 45 days to 30 days, the legal minimum set out in the Council of Europe convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. As a result of all these changes, we will triple the productivity of our caseworkers and we expect to abolish the backlog of initial asylum decisions by the end of next year.
Fifthly, and most significantly, a third of all those arriving in small boats this year, almost 13,000 people, are Albanian, yet Albania is a safe, prosperous European country. It is deemed safe for returns by Germany, France, Italy and Sweden. It is an EU accession country, a NATO ally and a member of the same convention against trafficking as the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister of Albania himself has said there is no reason why we cannot return Albanian asylum seekers immediately. Last year, Germany, France, Belgium and Sweden all rejected almost 100% of Albanian asylum claims, yet our rejection rate is just 45%. That must not continue, so today I can announce a new agreement with Albania and a new approach.
First, we will embed Border Force officers in Tirana Airport for the first time ever, helping to disrupt organised crime and stop people coming here illegally. Secondly, we will issue new guidance for our caseworkers to make it crystal clear that Albania is a safe country. Thirdly, one of the reasons why we struggle to remove people is that they unfairly exploit our modern slavery system, so we will significantly raise the threshold someone must meet to be considered a modern slave. For the first time, we will require a caseworker to have objective evidence of modern slavery, rather than just a suspicion. Fourthly, we have sought and received formal assurances from Albania confirming that it will protect genuine victims and people at risk of re-trafficking, allowing us to detain and return people to Albania with confidence and in line with ECAT. As a result of these changes, the vast majority of claims from Albania can simply be declared clearly unfounded, and those individuals can be swiftly returned. Lastly, we will change how we process Albanian illegal migrants, with a new dedicated unit, staffed by 400 new specialists, expediting cases within weeks. Over the coming months, thousands of Albanians will be returned home, and we will keep going with weekly flights until all the Albanians in our backlog have been removed.
In addition to all these new steps, let the House be in no doubt that, when legal proceedings conclude on our migration and economic development partnership, we will restart the first flights to Rwanda, so that those who are here illegally and cannot be returned to their home country can build a new life there.
However, even with the huge progress that we will make with the changes I have announced today, there remains a fundamental question: how do we solve this problem once and for all? It is not just our asylum system that needs fundamental reform; our laws need reform too. We must be able to control our borders to ensure that the only people who come here come through safe and legal routes. However well intended, our legal frameworks are being manipulated by people who exploit our courts to frustrate their removal for months or years on end.
I said, ‘Enough is enough’, and I meant it. That means that I am prepared to do what must be done, so early next year we will introduce new legislation to make it unambiguously clear that, if you enter the UK illegally, you should not be able to remain here. Instead, you will be detained and swiftly returned either to your home country or to a safe country where your asylum claim will be considered. You will no longer be able to frustrate removal attempts with late or spurious claims or appeals, and once removed, you should have no right to re-entry, settlement or citizenship.
Furthermore, if our reforms on Albania are challenged in the courts, we will also put them on a statutory footing to ensure that the UK’s treatment of Albanian arrivals is no different from that of Germany or France. The only way to come to the UK for asylum will be through safe and legal routes and, as we get a grip on illegal migration, we will create more of those routes. We will work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to identify those who are most in need so that the UK remains a safe haven for the most vulnerable. We will also introduce an annual quota on numbers, set by Parliament in consultation with local authorities to determine our capacity, and amendable in the face of humanitarian emergencies.
That is the fair way to address this global challenge. Tackling this problem will not be quick; it will not be easy; but it is the right thing to do. We cannot persist with a system that was designed for a different era. We have to stop the boats, and this Government will do what must be done. We will be tough but fair, and where we lead, others will follow. I commend this Statement to the House.”
My Lords, I am grateful that the Government made an additional Statement in the other place on the truly dreadful incident in the channel in the early hours of this morning. It is tragic, but it is also an immensely distressing event and our thoughts are with those who have lost their lives, their families and their loved ones who have received that unimaginable news today, and with those who were rescued from the freezing conditions. Our immense thanks go to the first responders, the emergency services, who show enormous bravery in saving lives—not just this morning; they regularly take these risks. It is a painful reminder of the importance of tackling criminal gangs that make a profit from the misery and loss of life that we have seen this morning.
On Friday, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury led his annual debate on the UK’s asylum policy. It thoughtfully captured and reflected on the challenges faced. This is an area that requires honesty, responsible policy-making and, of course, compassion. We regret that the Government’s record so far has not lived up to those expectations. However, there are proposals in the Prime Minister’s Statement that we welcome. I have to say that we have heard so much of the rhetoric before. Today’s terrible news emphasises why this issue has to be tackled with urgency and why we need effective, workable and decent policies on immigration, asylum and refugees.
There has been a complete collapse in decision-making by the Home Office, with only 4% of people who made small boat crossings being processed last year, an ever-growing backlog of almost 150,000 cases, huge pressures on accommodation, rising costs, and people waiting in limbo, sometimes for years, for basic initial decisions to be taken. Staffing problems have been made worse by inadequate training and appalling attrition rates. In Home Office-provided accommodation, we have witnessed disease outbreaks and child safe- guarding failures. While these problems have grown, the backlog waiting for government action has increased by over 300%—I repeat, just in case Hansard thinks I have made a mistake, that it has increased by over 300%—in the past five years. We have had talk of wave machines, a public disagreement between the Home Office and the Navy about push-back of tiny vessels, and a costly £140 million Rwanda policy that Home Office officials were unable to sign off as being evidence-based or value for taxpayers’ money. Not one single person has been transported to Rwanda.
Last year, a previous Home Secretary promised that the Government’s new plan for immigration was the answer, but clearly it was not. We were promised that the then Nationality and Borders Bill was the answer, except the Prime Minister’s Statement admits that it was not either. In truth, that Act removes protections for victims of modern slavery while hardwiring extra delays into the asylum system. The Prime Minister is right now to notice the scale of the Home Office backlog and that initial decisions need to be made in days and weeks rather than taking years.
However, I hope the noble Lord, Lord True—the Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House—can help me. Just a few hours after the Prime Minister addressed Parliament yesterday with the promise to clear the backlog, that was downgraded to a promise to clear some of the backlog, with cases up to only June 2022 being in scope when the Nationality and Borders Act is commenced. Is the Lord Privy Seal able to tell the House today how many thousands of cases currently in the system the Government expect still to be waiting for an initial decision in a year’s time? Can he explain why it is harder to clear cases that have been handled under the new systems that were brought in by the Nationality and Borders Act? I fail to understand that.
We welcome proposals for fast-tracking claims, which we have been calling for and have been recommended for some time by the UNHCR. Many of our closest neighbours and allies already use such systems. We also welcome the additional caseworkers, who are badly needed to address the backlog. Could the noble Lord say something about whether that intention to double the number includes the 400 specialists for the dedicated Albanian scheme or whether that is additional? However, I am sure he will be aware that staffing issues are about not just numbers and recruitment but the quality of training and the current high staff turnover. What is being done to change the training and experience of staff to ensure confidence in the accuracy of decisions and that expertise is retained?
At the heart of everything we are discussing are the criminal gangs putting lives at risk and making profit from misery. We have long promised a major new unit in the National Crime Agency to tackle the criminal gangs and to work across borders to secure prosecutions. It will be funded by the £140 million the Government are currently spending on the failed Rwanda policy. The noble Lord the Leader will be aware of how these gangs advertise and, in effect, recruit their victims. Is he confident that the Government are doing enough work internationally—that is the only way to tackle this issue—to identify and close down these gangs, and to bring prosecutions wherever possible? Much of this is advertised on the internet. Surely it must be possible to do far more than is done at the moment.
Can the noble Lord also give more information on the proposed operational unit for small boats? How will this differ from what is in place already? How will that unit link into the wider work on cross-border immigration crime? If he can say something about the level of funding promised, that would be very helpful.
On accommodation, the Prime Minister said that alternative sites would be brought forward “shortly”. I know that is a bit like “in the fullness of time” and “when resources allow”, but can the noble Lord say something about the timescale? With Napier barracks and more recently at Manston we have seen the chaos and health risks inflicted on staff, local communities and those seeking asylum. It is not just about the provision of accommodation but about the wider system that it sits in.
A crucial point I would like the noble Lord to say something about is how safeguarding procedures are being changed to address some catastrophic failures of Home Office safeguarding that have led to children in Home Office care going missing and just disappearing from the system. We have sought an update on this for some time and we have not received satisfactory answers, so if he can find anything today or ensure that Ministers can write to us we would be very grateful.
The UK has a proud record of being at the forefront of tackling modern slavery. That is a result of years of cross-party working and a proud legacy of a former Conservative Prime Minister. The modern slavery system protects adults and children from being trafficked into the UK into unimaginable situations, and secures prosecutions of vile people traffickers. I recall a personal case of a constituent who was trafficked and the life she led before she was rescued from that situation. When the Prime Minister says, rather too casually, that he wants to remove what he called the “gold-plating” in our system, what exactly does he mean? Is there an assessment of the impact that will have on victims, particularly children, including on the ability to secure prosecutions? I would like some detail about what “gold-plating” means in practice.
Finally, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Dubs for his work on safe routes. Safe, managed, legal routes are the most effective way to prevent those seeking asylum—not economic migrants—making desperate, dangerous crossings, and to break the business model of people smugglers. The Home Office should, as a minimum, review family reunion routes and safe routes for unaccompanied children. The Prime Minister suggests that safe routes will be considered but not until other parts of the Statement are complete. I do not understand that. Surely it would be far more effective if this was part of a comprehensive, holistic approach.
When we talk about the numbers of those crossing the Channel, about asylum seekers and refugees, we should never forget that each is an individual with hopes and aspirations for their future, and that in so many cases they are being abused and conned by criminal gangs. If action to prevent such dangerous crossing is to be effective, there needs to be a whole package of measures, and it has to be a package of measures that understands why they take those risks.
My Lords, the tragic deaths of four migrants attempting to cross the channel in a small boat overnight are horrifying and heartbreaking. They underline the importance of sorting out not only the channel crossings but the immigration and asylum system as a whole.
There are a number of distinct but related questions covered by the Prime Minister’s Statement. First, how do we deal with the surging numbers of Albanians who are using this route, the vast majority of whom are straightforward economic migrants? The Government set out a five-point plan, including the deployment of Border Force officers in Tirana and the appointment of 400 staff dedicated to expediting Albanian cases. Time will tell whether these measures are effective, but I suspect it is unwise to suggest, as the Government do, that there are effectively no victims of modern slavery emanating from Albania. It is naive to think that the current reality of retrafficking will be eliminated, and it must be hoped that the new Home Office staff receive some better training than appears to have been the case with many recently appointed asylum and immigration caseworkers.
The second question is: how do we deter and deal with those crossing the channel who are not Albanian? The Government are going to improve policing in the channel by appointing 700 new staff and yet again tinkering with the management structure for the operation; they hope that this will disrupt the criminal gangs involved, and for those who do reach our shores, they are going to restart flights to Rwanda. Even in the unlikely event of these policies being effective, they are not going to deal with a large part of the underlying problem: they will not deal with the problem of genuine asylum seekers.
So far this year, some 40% of those making the crossings are from five countries: Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Sudan, and Iran, of whom the overwhelming majority will be granted asylum because they are genuine asylum seekers. To deter these people from boarding a dinghy, we need to establish safe and legal routes. The Prime Minister says that the Government will do this, but the law at present means that, with limited exceptions, it is simply not possible to enter the UK legally as an asylum seeker. So, exactly how are the Government going to establish safe and legal routes?
The third question is: how do we deal with the huge backlog of asylum and other immigration cases? In the short term, the Government are going to find cheaper places to accommodate asylum seekers by using, amongst other things, surplus military sites. Having seen the amateurish approach adopted by the Home Office in its plans to use the disused RAF base at Linton-on-Ouse as a reception centre—now thankfully abandoned—I have literally no confidence in Home Office officials to manage this process effectively. What additional management resources are now being deployed by the Home Office to ensure that these new facilities are properly chosen and managed?
In order to deal with the backlog itself, the Government are doubling the number of caseworkers; as long as these new officials are properly trained this is very welcome, but I fear that, even with them, it may be slightly hubristic to claim that the backlog will have been cleared within 12 months. In the meantime, the Government are showing no movement on allowing asylum seekers to work, this is wrong-headed in every respect. They want to work, the country is crying out for workers of all types, so why will the Government not let them work?
In terms of the overall approach, the Prime Minister says:
“No one—no one—can doubt our generosity of spirit.”
Given the “hostile environment” policy, the whole raft of blood-curdling Statements by current and former Home Secretaries and the shameful slowness to deal with some of the most vulnerable groups of asylum seekers, not least from Afghanistan, I am afraid I doubt the generosity of spirit shown consistently by this Government. Far from generosity of spirit, their whole approach has been mean-spirited and unwelcoming. Moreover, this alleged generosity is now to be tempered by having an annual cap on asylum seekers. The Prime Minister says that this is to be set by Parliament, but he means that it will be set by the Government—by this Home Secretary, with the Prime Minister’s blessing. This is not generosity of spirit; it is Scrooge at his worst.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord and the noble Baroness opposite for their comments. Amid all the criticisms and expressions of disappointment at things that have happened so far, there was a sort of implied acceptance, perhaps with a mild element of doubt from the noble Lord, Lord Newby, of the Government and, mostly notably, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, who, I can say from the closest possible quarters, from the moment he became Prime Minister has personally gripped this issue and gripped it in a way that is in line with his characteristic, compassionate, competent and clear-headed approach. I can say from the closest possible quarters.
It is easy to throw criticisms. I could say, perhaps, that the other parties have not been as supportive of some of the measures that Governments have tried to take in the past. However, what we need to do now—and, frankly, I think that the public expects this—is to address the abuses that are going on. The noble Baroness was quite right to stress the bestial nature of the organised crime involved in this. I am grateful for what she said about the terrible events in the channel last night, when, at three o’clock in the morning, authorities were alerted to an incident concerning a small boat in distress. After a co-ordinated search and rescue operation, as many noble Lords will know, led by HM Coastguard, it is a great regret that there have been four confirmed deaths so far. Investigations are ongoing, and we will provide further information in due course. I agree with the noble Baroness that this was a truly tragic incident, and our thoughts are with the friends and families of all those who have lost their lives. I join the noble Baroness in expressing our utmost sadness and heartfelt sympathy to them, as well as paying tribute to the agencies dedicated to saving lives at sea. Day in and day out, Coastguard, RNLI, Border Force—all those involved—work with unsung dedication, seeking to save the lives of people put in peril not by this Government or any other Government but by ruthless, organised criminality.
I was asked a large number of questions; I do not think I will be able to answer all of them in the time allowed, but clearly we will seek to respond in detail to anything that was not answered.
The noble Baroness was a bit disparaging about the Rwanda partnership, as was the noble Lord, Lord Newby. The Government’s intention is to make our migration and economic development partnership with Rwanda work, so that, yes, we can send people who make dangerous, illegal and unnecessary journeys to the UK to a safe third country. That will allow us to remove many people who travel to the UK illegally. We are continuing to plan for this policy, but of course there is pending ongoing litigation in the courts. We are expecting a judgment from the High Court shortly, and fully believe that the courts will find the policies legal, and that claimants can be removed to Rwanda without breaching our international treaties.
On numbers and clearing the backlog, I do not believe it right to say, as the noble Baroness did, that there was a sudden change in policy. It was perhaps not fully understood. It was made very clear in the briefing I have that, with regard to the pledge and intention to clear the backlog of those who came into the process before 28 June 2022, there was an absolute commitment to get it completed by the end of next year. That date is chosen because that is the point where we change the system through the Nationality and Borders Act to reform how we process cases. Obviously, work will continue on the continuing flow to see that it is cleared. It is true that, as of September, there were 117,000 outstanding initial asylum decisions.
I welcome the support for extra staff. I have the Home Office Minister sitting alongside me, and I am sure he will have heard what has been said about the need to provide proper and full training. The new small boats organisation will bring together military and civilian institutions in a single operation. We believe that will provide greater coherence, and work towards that is under way. I shall have to write to the noble Baroness about the particular issue on safeguarding children, although, again, my noble friend from the Home Office will have heard that.
On legislation, which the noble Baroness also asked about, as the Prime Minister said, the intention is to introduce legislation next year. The Prime Minister indicated some of the core objectives of that legislation, which would mean that those who entered this country illegally could not expect to remain. However, these matters are still under consideration and proposals will be laid before your Lordships, I hope at an early date. I am not giving any commitment as to when it will be, but there will be legislation, as the Prime Minister said yesterday.
I was asked about modern slavery by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Newby, who were both kind enough to refer to the fact that my right honourable friend Theresa May pioneered the action in this area. Modern slavery is a problem; it remains an issue, and the Government are determined to tackle it and deal with it. As for gold-plating, there are aspects of the decisions made in relation to modern slavery that will be considered, such as the evidential basis and points where there has been clear evidence of modern slavery. I may not be using the correct words, but the core process or structure of the legislation is not affected.
On safe routes, I agree profoundly with what the noble Baroness and the noble Lord said. The Prime Minister made it very clear that, while being firm on illegal immigration, we wish to maintain safe and legal routes. That is a matter of ongoing consideration. In fact, by cracking down on illegal immigration, we will be able to be more generous with those who really need our help, and we will introduce new safe and legal routes for those at risk of war and persecution to come and seek refuge and protection in the United Kingdom. We will consult on the cap or quota, which has been referred to, for those coming through our safe and legal routes, and on how the cap will be decided, incorporating lessons from what we have done in great community partnership through Homes for Ukraine.
We should not forget that the United Kingdom has been extraordinarily generous—the most generous in recent political history. We have a proud history of supporting those fleeing persecution. Since 2015, we have resettled 450,000 vulnerable people here, including 144,000 from Hong Kong, 20,000 from Syria, approximately 20,000 from Afghanistan and around 150,000 Ukrainians. We will continue that compassionate stance towards others.
I was asked about accommodation. This is obviously the subject of ongoing discussion. The Prime Minister gave some indication, and it was referred to, that we will look for different approaches and different methods of doing it. We are spending £5.6 million a day— £6.5 million if you include Afghan refugees—on accommodation. We are accommodating 112,000 people at the moment, and I think it reasonable that consideration be given to alternative sites, particularly for those under discussion in this Statement. That is what we will do and as we consult and decide, further information will be given to your Lordships.
Against the background of the generosity I have described, I do not think the hostile environment mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Newby, is correct. It is true that we have learned lessons from the Windrush scheme and what happened in relation to Windrush, but we believe it to be reasonable that bank data and other data should be used and considered to identify illegals.
I was obviously asked specifically about Albania, which has been the centre of discussion; indeed, it is very well known that large numbers of Albanians are coming in. I would like to say how grateful we are to the Government of Albania for their support; I think that is the fruit of our good diplomatic outreach on these matters. The deal gives us assurances that we will be able to return alleged victims of modern slavery safely to Albania. They will be provided with protection and support in accordance with obligations under ECAT.
There is a dedicated processing task force. We believe Albania is a safe country, and 100% of Albanian applications are rejected by those vicious nations Germany and Sweden. Germany and Sweden are liberal nations and reject 100%; we reject only 44.6%. I think it perfectly reasonable that, with the co-operation of the Albanian Government, we take action to address this problem, which, like many others involved, has grown, changed and morphed, and the Government are responding to it.
In his response to the Statement, the UNHCR made it clear that the designation of safe countries such as Albania must not lead to the blanket rejection of asylum applications because an assessment of the merits of individual claims is still required. Yesterday, my noble friend Lord Ponsonby asked specifically about protection for those fleeing domestic violence. The noble Lord, Lord Murray of Blidworth, did not reply to that part of my noble friend’s question. Will the noble Lord the Leader of the House do so now please and provide an assurance that there will be a proper assessment of risk and vulnerability in all cases?
My Lords, my noble friend is sitting alongside me and the easiest thing for me to do, rather than turning to him and asking him now, would be to ask him later. I regret if the reply has not been received. I am sure he has asked for guidance on the subject, and we will ensure we get a reply to the noble Baroness on that specific point.
My Lords, there are a number of aspects of this Statement which I welcome, not least that there are going to be increased numbers of people processing and that the aim is to process within weeks rather than months and get people through the system much more quickly. But there really has been quite a problem, not least at Manston, where at one stage 4,000 people were staying in a centre designed for 1,600. As they were being shipped out around the country, a whole lot were delivered into Luton, in my diocese, with no warning. Even the local authority was not able to help. So my question is: what lessons have been learned? Can we be sure that we are really communicating well with local authorities, so that we can work on this together, give people dignity and try and process them as quickly and effectively as we can?
The answer, I hope, is yes. I would say that, would I not, as a former leader of a local authority? I think that local authorities have a very important role to play here. I think that was very much part of the Statement that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister made. There will be mistakes and there have been mistakes; the Prime Minister was absolutely clear about that. There is no silver bullet either to these matters. Our collective duty is to toil to address what is a real problem—and is perceived to be a real problem by the majority of people in this country —but to do so in a humane and practical manner. That is what I would wish to be the sense that informed the Government of which I am a part, and that is how I perceive my right honourable friend.
I welcome what the right reverend Prelate said about the number of case workers; yes, we are seeking to double that number, so that we can clear the asylum backlog by the end of next year. I agree that we need to process claims in days or weeks, not months or years. That is not acceptable, which is why we are doubling the number of case workers to 2,500, and also radically simplifying the casework process, with shorter guidance, fewer interviews, less paperwork, and specialist casework by nationality, because the needs and responses by nationality are sometimes different. So I hope that we will go forward in that spirit, as the right reverend Prelate asks.
My Lords, I very much welcome this Statement. It shows that the Government are trying in a number of different areas to grasp this very difficult problem. Of course, the proof of the pudding will be in the delivery of these various policy objectives. I particularly welcome the speeding up of the initial decision-making, and the increased training and number of caseworkers. But I wonder whether the Leader of the House can help us with this: even once the initial decision has been made, there very often follows a long and tortuous process, with repeated appeals in the courts. I know that the Minister will not be able to give details of the legislation that is likely to follow next year, but can he help as to whether it is likely to bear on the question of repeated appeals, often using different grounds, to try to speed up the process so that the matter can be determined, one way or another, as quickly as possible?
I think that my noble friend, with his typical ingenuity, invites me to anticipate what will be in the legislation when it comes. What I would say, obviously, is that the labyrinthine nature of the process—which arises from a desire, let us not forget, to protect vulnerable individuals—is something that the Government and this House legitimately need to look at. I talked of change and the way that things have evolved: the original impact assessment for the Modern Slavery Act, which was a great reforming piece of legislation, anticipated 3,500 modern slavery victims a year. In the first three quarters of this year, there have been about 12,500. It is quantity, as well as the nature of the process, that means that claimants wait for a long time. The average now, which is not acceptable, is 531 days for a conclusive grounds decision: that is up from 68 days in 2014. So we do need to streamline the system in many ways.
The Prime Minister omitted from his Statement yesterday any sense of what Albania is getting from this agreement. Now, there is significantly greater detail in the joint communiqué between the UK and Albania, but could the Minister be clear that the UK has promised to invest more in the country, through civil society, education and direct foreign investment programmes, which are mentioned in the communiqué? How much has been pledged and is Albania expecting from the UK?
My Lords, I think the agreement with Albania was very welcome on both sides. I cannot give the House a specific number or figure, but I will take the noble Lord’s question away. Obviously, there has been a very positive joint communiqué, which has been published. We will be providing specific support to the Albanians to bolster their mechanisms to deal with these problems. We will provide investment in additional protection services. We will provide support to Albania on investigating trafficking, in accordance with the obligation under Article 4 of the ECHR. We will provide support for bolstering cyber and communications security to reinforce Albanian operations. We will also continue to co-operate with Albania, as is made clear in the communiqué, in promoting socio- economic development and creating skills and jobs for young people. These things are very important. We have reaffirmed our intention to do direct investment in strategic sectors in Albania. What I do not have is a specific overall figure, but I can assure noble Lords that the good intentions of both parties are there and I hope they will bear fruit in all those spheres—both in security and in the other parts of co-operation.
My Lords, perhaps I might follow the earlier remarks from the noble Lord, Lord Newby, who reminded us of the aborted attempt by the Government to accommodate asylum seekers at Linton-on-Ouse in north Yorkshire. Would the Minister accept that, with the Prime Minister saying that military bases will be used in future, almost all the military bases that might become available are likely to receive the same passionate local opposition as did the project at Linton-on-Ouse? Because there will, I guess, be that opposition, I wonder whether the Government might think of trying to accommodate these asylum seekers in cruise ships that have served their time and have recently been used for commercial tourism but are likely to be moved to scrapyards. They might well be suitable for a short time to accommodate asylum seekers, rather than military bases.
My Lords, I accept what my noble friend says about the challenge of finding accommodation and the challenge that sometimes our charity is dispersed rather than immediate in geographical terms. If we are to solve this issue, we do have to identify sustainable sites. We have already identified sites to accommodate 10,000 people, and we are in active discussion to secure these and more. Through these discussions, our aim is to add thousands of places through this type of accommodation in the coming months.
However, my noble friend has a point: it is important to work in partnership with local areas, but the Government are thinking flexibly. There has been reference to disused holiday parks and Ministry of Defence sites, such as he mentioned. The private rented sector could certainly have a significant part to play and, coming directly to his point on vessels, we are testing the feasibility of securing a suitable vessel or vessels as an alternative to hotel accommodation, building on the Scottish and Dutch examples of using cruise ships. But that is part of a potential programme of action; our first step is not starting there. We are looking at the other forms of accommodation that I mentioned, but I have to be honest with the House: the point my noble friend made is one which, among other things, is under consideration.
Can I ask the Minister about one sentence in the Statement? It is at the top of page 7, and says:
“It is frankly absurd that today illegal migrants can get bank accounts which help them live and work here”.
I have changed my mind since I was Immigration Minister at the Home Office—pragmatically, because we have lost 630,000 workers from this country in the last four years. I think anybody who is here for over three months should be allowed to work. The Home Office rightly points to the pull factors. It is easier to work illegally in this country than anywhere in Europe and there is no ID system, but the other point is this: what about the national insurance system?
When I was at the DSS, I sat in while that department’s staff were interviewing people who had come here about their national insurance number. I was introduced as a researcher, not a Minister, and I know the effort they go to. While the Prime Minister may say that we do not want them to have bank accounts to help them work here, as far as the public are concerned, they take the view that the more those who come here work, and pay tax and national insurance, the better. Maybe that would be while they are going through the system for a year. There would be less strain on public resources and it would be a positive assistance to this country—which has, as I say, lost 630,000 workers in the last four years, and nobody really knows why.
Obviously, the Government in their other policies would like to see people who are not economically active coming back into work. I must take issue with the noble Lord, who I often find myself in agreement with. Illegal working is not a victimless crime. It destabilises society and, although there are extensive controls in place, it remains, as he acknowledged, a primary pull factor for illegal migration. There is evidence that some of these criminal gangs are offering places to people whom they are trafficking, something which we need to stop. Businesses that employ workers illegally undercut their law-abiding competitors and may damage the local economy. There is tax fraud, carelessness about food standards and health and safety, and exploitation of the vulnerable, which we all detest. The fairness in protecting the public from that is important.
We are unrepentant that we intend to use instruments. We are increasing our ability to disrupt, investigate and prosecute the gangs. We will increase the number of investigators by 50%, which is 200 new people, and the number of illegal working raids led by Immigration Enforcement by a further 50%. We will look at data sharing with banks and building societies to stop illegal activity, as well as the issue of driving licences and illegal renting. The Government were considering and discussing how we can use these measures and entry points to economic activity to identify and catch unlawful migrants. In many cases, when we catch unlawful migrants in these activities we will catch the vicious traffickers who lie behind bringing them here illegally in the first place.
My Lords, the large number of claims of modern slavery, larger than those in the impact statement of 2015, is a sign of the success of that legislation, because it means more crimes are being uncovered and reported. My question is about the Prime Minister’s comment that, although he recognises that we need to talk to the UNHCR and the Red Cross—which have such an important front-line role in dealing with asylum seekers from conflict and dangerous areas—regarding safe and legal routes, that cannot be done until there is control of the border. Why is this sequential? Are not safe and legal routes part of the whole issue of controlling the border?
Both the Prime Minister and I have expressed the importance of safe and legal routes. We are seeking to take a range of actions at the same time. The Prime Minister was absolutely clear in his Statement that safe and legal routes are the other side of the coin to dealing with unsafe and illegal routes, which we are dealing with.
References have been made to the UNHCR statement, but I have read the whole statement and there was no sense of general condemnation of what the Government are doing. It commended and welcomed some things and it disagreed with others. Do not forget that the UNHCR has its own partnership with the Government of Rwanda to voluntarily relocate vulnerable migrants from Libya to Rwanda under the emergency transit mechanism. We must not think that this black and white, or good and bad; there are grey areas in this, and the UNHCR is using some of the mechanisms that have been criticised.
We are reforming modern slavery laws. They are important but they have been abused. When I referred to the numbers, I was indicating simply that there are larger numbers of people to process. We will seek to further tighten the modern slavery system by shortening the recovery and reflection period from 45 to 30 days, and we will clarify the reasonable grounds test. For example, as I said earlier, we will require a caseworker to have objective evidence of modern slavery, rather than mere suspicion. Our determination to secure protection generally for those who are victims of modern slavery did not begin with but is embedded in the unique Act that was introduced in this country by my right honourable friend Theresa May. That is something for which we will continue to strive and work.
My Lords, I ask the Minister to tell the House which part of this Statement the Government consider will be the most effective way to attack the criminal gangs who traffic in victims such as those who so tragically died at 3 am today.
My Lords, I hope it is every part of the whole package that has been put together—the Prime Minister announced it as a package, in a measured way—from internal policing to the creation of the small boat operation in the channel, to a range of checks and other measures. I have not been asked about it, but the Prime Minister attaches enormous importance to good diplomatic efforts and co-operation with other nations. Successful relations with President Macron have already led to good benefits, as has the re-creation of the Calais group. There is a very big operation under way, and I hope that it will all be brought to bear against the ruthless criminality to which the noble Viscount refers.
Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill
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.
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.