Amendment 17

Part of Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill - Report – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 25 January 2023.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Benyon Lord Benyon The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 6:00, 25 January 2023

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for her amendments, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, and—in the case of the first of the amendments—the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, have added their names.

The amendments require the animal welfare advisory body, when assessing precision-bred animal marketing authorisation applications, to also consider and report on the notifier’s history of compliance with relevant provisions of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and other legislation it deems relevant. However, the purpose of the animal welfare declaration process is not to vet notifiers themselves, but to assess their applications for marketing authorisations. The role of the welfare advisory body is to use its scientific expertise to evaluate the notifier’s animal welfare declaration. It would not be an appropriate body to assess compliance history.

We expect notifiers, as with any other keepers of animals, to ensure they are in full compliance with all applicable animal welfare laws. The Animal Welfare Act, as mentioned in the noble Baroness’s amendment, will continue to apply to all vertebrate animals subject to precision breeding. Under the Act, it is already an offence either to cause any captive animal unnecessary suffering or to fail to provide for the welfare needs of the animal. Persons found to have committed certain serious offences under the Animal Welfare Act may be disqualified from keeping animals. Such persons would therefore be unable to keep animals that have been precision-bred.

Similarly, other animal welfare legislation provides for appropriate sanctions for non-compliance. For example, notifiers may also be licence holders for research under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, known as ASPA. It is in the interest of such notifiers to ensure that any research involving animals carried out in the UK complies with the requirements of the ASPA licences relating to that research; these licences may be revoked or suspended if their conditions are not complied with.

Furthermore, the Bill provides powers under Clause 15 for regulations to enable the Secretary of State to suspend or revoke a precision-bred animal marketing authorisation if new information about the health or welfare of the animal or, crucially, its qualifying progeny comes to light, or if the notifier fails to comply with a legal requirement to report information about a relevant animal’s health and welfare under Clause 14. Regulations will describe the procedures to be followed when a marketing authorisation is suspended or revoked, and the consequences of such suspension or revocation.

Amendment 21 reflects ones put forward during previous stages, in this House and the other place. We intend to explore these matters further as we develop the technical details underpinning the animal welfare declaration process. The Government agree that safeguarding animal welfare is crucial, and I acknowledge the high level of interest in this topic. That is why, as I mentioned previously, we have commissioned an external research project to gather the evidence required to develop the health and welfare assessment that underpins the declaration process. This will enable us to set out, in regulations and guidance, the information that a notifier must provide to support their declaration that the health and welfare of a precision-bred vertebrate animal is not expected to be adversely affected.

Furthermore, Clause 13 already ensures that the Secretary of State will need to be satisfied with the animal welfare declaration before issuing a marketing authorisation. That is why we do not consider the amendment to be necessary. In addition, as I mentioned before, the power in Clause 25 allows us to set out in regulations what constitutes an adverse effect on health or welfare. This includes any parameters needed for assessing that and could include consideration of any known health and welfare issues in selectively bred animals.

Finally, the welfare declaration and the welfare advisory body’s assessment will be based on the principle that relevant precision-bred animals will need to be kept in conditions which satisfy existing requirements in the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and, where relevant, the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007. I fully understand the noble Baroness’s concerns. None the less, existing animal welfare legislation is in place and the Bill is intended to work alongside that to enable responsible innovation.

I will now address Amendments 17, 18 and 26 in my name. It is essential that the animal welfare protections under this Bill command strong public and stakeholder confidence. To that end, we have listened carefully to the points raised by the Opposition and stakeholders about the need for strong animal welfare protections. We understand that noble Lords feel that there should be more opportunity for parliamentary oversight of these vital elements of the legislation. Consequently, we are tabling these amendments so that regulations made under the powers in Clauses 11(5) and 22(3) will need to be debated and actively approved by both Houses of Parliament through the affirmative resolution procedure before they come into effect.

Amendment 17 relates to Clause 11(5). The amendment provides an increased opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny when powers are used to lay out the form and content of the animal welfare declaration and accompanying documents, and the information that must accompany the declaration.

Regulations under Clause 11(9) regarding provisions for an application for a precision-bred marketing authorisation to be made by a person other than the notifier are a technical and administrative matter and not of significant public interest. They will therefore remain subject to negative procedure.

Amendment 26 relates to Clause 22(3). This amendment will provide Parliament with an increased opportunity to scrutinise and debate the body which is to be designated as the animal welfare advisory body, while retaining the flexibility the Bill provides on how the advisory body can be established. We expect there to be strong public interest in the requirements set out in the animal welfare declarations, and we want to come to Parliament with a robust set of proposals informed by expert advice. Indeed, that is why we have already commissioned in Scotland’s Rural College to run an independent research project to set criteria for the animal welfare assessment and the evidence that will be required to accompany it.

The research will involve experts from the Animal Welfare Committee and a wide range of organisations with expertise in animal welfare, genetics and industry practice. This is a growing, innovative sector, and the regulatory system that oversees it is likely to need to evolve over time. Establishing the regulations in secondary legislation subject to the affirmative procedure will allow the Government to ensure that the regulatory system continues to achieve its goals in the long run, while maintaining proportionate parliamentary oversight of its design and future development. I hope noble Lords will be content to accept these amendments.