Amendment 17

Part of Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill - Report – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 25 January 2023.

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Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 6:15, 25 January 2023

My Lords, I thank the Minister for tabling Amendments 17, 18 and 26. The Government have responded well to the concerns expressed in Committee about the number of negative procedures on some critical issues. Amendments 17 and 18 relate to Clause 11, “Application for precision bred animal marketing authorisation”, which is a key element of the Bill. Regulations under subsection (5) are moved to affirmative, and only subsection (9), which deals with regulations for precision-bred animal marketing authorisations for a relevant animal, are negative and reserved to the Secretary of State. While it would have been preferable for all that clause to be affirmative, we are pleased with this movement, as the change allows more debate on these issues in future.

I turn now to Amendments 19 and 20 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, to which I have added my name—she introduced them fully, as always. The Government have been trying for a long time to introduce gene editing of plants and animals. Changing the name of this process to “precision engineering” has somewhat helped their case. At the heart of previous and current objections which have been raised over time against precision engineering is animal welfare.

Whenever a man, woman or child is to undergo a surgical or medical procedure, numerous forms have to be completed, and a consent form signed; in the case of a child, a parent or guardian signs. Animals undergoing genetic change have no such individual guardian, and they certainly cannot speak for themselves. It is therefore necessary for those of us in this Chamber to ensure that safeguards and trust are in place which will be robust. This trust is placed in the welfare advisory body. The noble Lord, Lord Winston, referred to ethics in his comments on the first group of amendments, and the issue runs all through the Bill. The process is that the notifier applies to the Secretary of State for an authorisation in relation to an animal, and the Secretary of State then refers the application to the welfare advisory body, which in turn provides a report for the Secretary of State. Amendment 19 requires the welfare advisory body to ensure that the notifier has a record which provides the necessary reassurance that animal welfare will not be compromised in any way. Precision engineering can take place, but not at the expense of the animal’s suffering. Amendment 20 is consequential on Amendment 19.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, has also spoken to her Amendment 21, which proposes a new clause. This lists some additional factors which the welfare advisory body or the Secretary of State must consider before granting a marketing authorisation. The Minister has said that he does not feel that this is necessary, but such is the interest in the Bill and the consequences which flow from it that we believe a belt-and-braces approach is necessary.

We on these Benches do not wish to interrupt the passage of the Bill, but we support all efforts to ensure that animal safety and welfare are protected. This is not the stage of the Bill at which to relate cases of experimentation on animals which have gone horribly wrong and ended with considerable suffering to the animals concerned. Animal welfare is our prime concern, and I look forward to the Minister’s response, but if the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, is not satisfied with it and decides to divide the House, we will support her.