Clause 13 - Issue of precision bred animal marketing authorisation

Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill – in the House of Commons at 8:30 pm on 31st October 2022.

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Votes in this debate

Amendment proposed: 4, page 9, line 20, at end insert—

“(za) that the precision bred traits will not have a direct or indirect adverse effect on the health or welfare of the relevant animal or its qualifying progeny,

(zb) that the relevant animal and its qualifying progeny are not likely to experience pain, suffering or lasting harm arising from or connected with fast growth, high yields or any other increase in productivity,

(zc) that the precision bred traits will not facilitate the keeping of the relevant animal or its qualifying progeny in conditions that are crowded, stressful or otherwise likely to have an adverse effect on animal welfare,

(zd) that the objective of the precision bred traits could not reasonably have been achieved by means that do not involve modification of the genome of the animal.”—(Daniel Zeichner.)

The amendment requires a range of factors to be taken into account by the Secretary of State when deciding whether to issue a precision bred animal marketing authorisation.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division number 84 Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill — Clause 13 - Issue of precision bred animal marketing authorisation

Aye: 140 MPs

No: 271 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Abstained: 1 MP

Abstaineds: A-Z by last name

The House divided: Ayes 141, Noes 275.

Question accordingly negatived.

Third Reading

King’s consent signified.

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 9:25 pm, 31st October 2022

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I put on record my sincere thanks to the fantastic officials in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who assisted with the drafting and delivery of the Bill. I also thank previous Secretaries of State: my right hon. Friend George Eustice, who put an enormous amount of work into the Bill, and my right hon. Friend Mr Jayawardena. I pay tribute to a series of Ministers who assisted at various stages of the Bill: my hon. Friends the Members for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), and for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), who are present; my hon. Friend Gareth Johnson, who assisted with the Bill when he was a Whip; and of course my hon. Friend Fay Jones, the Whip who is assisting today.

The Bill is a fantastic example of the opportunities we now have outside the EU. I am delighted that we have got to Third Reading. I wholly commend the Bill to the House, and I look forward to its progress in the other place.

Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 9:26 pm, 31st October 2022

I welcome the new Secretary of State back to her Department, as well as her team, some of whom are new, and some of whom are recycled; obviously, in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, that is a good thing. I am grateful for the opportunity to say a few words as this important Bill completes its passage through this House.

We are pleased that the Bill is finally before us. The continual leadership crisis in the Tory party has meant that environmental and animal welfare legislation has been pulled, delayed and ignored, and we learned on Friday that the Government have missed today’s legal deadline to set clean air targets. The lawbreaking just goes on. This Bill was an opportunity to tackle one of the great issues of our time, but instead of rising to that challenge, I am afraid that the Government have flunked it. We may have got a new Prime Minister last week, but it is the same old Tories.

Labour Members are pro-science and pro-innovation, as my hon. Friend Daniel Zeichner stated. We want to find ways to maintain and improve the efficiency, security and safety of our food system, and address the environmental and health damage that the modern food system has caused. Our United Kingdom has the opportunity to create a world-leading regulatory framework that others will follow. That is what we would do in government. The public need assurance that new technologies are being used for the public good, not narrow commercial advantage.

Labour is the party of food safety; we established the Food Standards Agency. Different approaches to food production must be respected, and there must be proper safeguards for organic production. The issues covered by the Bill require us to take a long-term view, and to have an understanding and appreciation of the wider public good, but this Government stagger on from day to day, focused only on how they can get to the end of next week without yet another change at the top.

Labour Members have no doubt about the possible benefits of gene editing. We understand the pressure that it puts on farmers when we rightly say that they cannot use neonicotinoids because of the harm they cause to pollinators, but there are so many questions still unanswered as the Bill travels on its journey. Do we want to use gene editing to modify an animal to allow it to tolerate more cramped conditions? No. We want a regulatory system that ensures that technologies are used for the right purposes. We fully understand that the laws designed 30 years ago for genetically modified products do not reflect advances in understanding and technology, and many countries recognise that gene editing needs to be treated differently. Labour Members want our scientists to succeed and use their skills for good here in the UK. Over the years, traditional crop development and innovation has brought us all significant gains.

But as we enter new territory, we need a strong regulatory framework to get it right, and this Bill badly needs strengthening. Far too much is being left to secondary legislation. Although we understand that this is attractive to Ministers, it largely means “trust us”. That is increasingly difficult to do, because we all know that it means a blank cheque on an issue that requires trust and public acceptance, and that is not a good starting point. We needed much more detail on the face of the Bill.

That detail is necessary because the Bill covers both plants and animals. That makes the legislation much more complicated and difficult, and important too. The Government originally said that they would introduce new measures for animals only after looking at plants and after extensive consultation on the right regulatory frameworks for animals had been established. So far as we can see, there is nothing in the Bill to make that happen. Frankly, it is the wrong way round. We need to sort out the preferred regulatory framework first and then put it into law, not the other way round.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Am I wrong in thinking that Third Reading is about what is actually in the Bill, rather than what is not? The shadow Minister seems to be referring to what is not in the Bill. My understanding was that on Third Reading we are supposed to talk about what is actually in the Bill.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I thank the hon. Member for his point of order. I must say that the hon. Lady does seem to be making rather an extensive speech, but I am sure she will be coming to her point shortly.

Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker; yes, of course.

I want to acknowledge all the animal welfare organisations that have expressed their concern—indeed, the RSPCA says in its brief that it is “incredibly concerned”. I say to them and all those following the passage of the Bill, now that it is out of Committee, that we require stronger animal safeguards.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Daniel Zeichner for leading on the Bill and to the folks in his team—Milly, George and Jenna—who have worked on it. I thank Rob Wakely and Adam Jogee, who have worked to support me too. I also thank the officials in this House and in the Department for their work on this important Bill. As it now moves on, we on the Labour Benches wish it well and hope that it will be strengthened and given the detail that it so desperately needs.

Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government) 9:31 pm, 31st October 2022

Briefly—I promise—I thank the many, many Ministers who have helped to lead this Bill through Parliament. Let me say on behalf of farmers in Cumbria that we would be grateful if this Government did not take us for granted in the transition to the new payment system, which has been botched so badly, or any indeed in the trade deals that have thrown so many of my farmers underneath the bus.

Science has an important role in farming. That includes GM, and there is no doubt in my mind that the European Commission’s stifling position on GM was massively regrettable. It is good to have a debate on it in this place and to try to move forward with it. GM and science in agriculture can reduce harm to the environment, reduce the reliance on damaging and expensive pesticides and fertiliser, increase productivity and help to meet global food needs, but to achieve those advances the Bill would need to provide proper detail and regulation, to protect animals and consumers and to protect farmers from being sold out and their livelihoods placed at the mercy of multinational businesses. We must not replace the European Commission’s knee-jerk opposition to science with a reckless lack of detail. I fear that that is where we are.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit) 9:33 pm, 31st October 2022

I rise to support the Bill, which we will of course be voting for if there is a vote on Third Reading.

It is important in modern farming that we look for ways of increasing productivity and breeding out some of the imperfections and difficulties and, in doing that, improve animal welfare. As my hon. Friend Jim Shannon pointed out earlier in the debate, this is not something new. In fact, his granny practised it, with the splicing of beans and peas to improve their productivity, size, disease resistance and everything else. It is important that we find ways of applying science, especially as agriculture is such a big part of our economy.

Of course, one of the good things about being out of the European Union is that we have the opportunity to break away from some of the stifling rules that were imposed as a result of our being attached to the European Union.

I noticed that the Minister avoided responding to the point my hon. Friend the Member for Strangford made. Although farming is important in Northern Ireland, and although exports, and therefore competitiveness, are important to our farmers, when this legislation is passed and its fruits begin to be seen, they will not apply in Northern Ireland. The Minister pleaded with the Scots Nats, who appear to want to keep their economy in the stone age so they can have devolution and defend their devolution settlement—that is the price they are prepared to pay for independence and for safeguarding the role of the Scottish Parliament—not to be backward looking, but the Government, through refusing or being unable to remove the impact of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, will do exactly that in Northern Ireland.

I hope that there is some joined-up thinking in Government and that they recognise that as we change laws in the United Kingdom, that must not be seen to drive a wedge between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, constitutionally or economically. We will support the Bill, but I hope that events and developments will ensure that farmers in Northern Ireland benefit from it as much as farmers elsewhere.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.