Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill - Third Reading – in the House of Lords at 4:46 pm on 1 February 2023.

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Lord Benyon:

Moved by Lord Benyon

That the Bill do now pass.

Photo of Lord Benyon Lord Benyon The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

It is my privilege to move the Third Reading of the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill in this House today. As we have discussed in debate, it is essential that we forge ahead with the Bill now to help address the many challenges we are facing across our food system and environment.

During the Bill’s passage through the other place, we saw record-breaking heat and drought and now, as it nears the end of its journey, we are managing the impacts of winter flooding. Precision-breeding technology is one of the tools we can use to develop plants that are more productive, more resilient to extreme weather, and less reliant on fertilisers and pesticides. This technology will help support our farmers to grow and harvest better, improve the health and welfare of animals, and provide healthier and more nutritious foods for consumers.

We have some of the best scientists and research institutes in the world, and we want to encourage this exciting research and translate it into tangible benefits. I recently had the pleasure of visiting Professor Jane Langdale at the University of Oxford, where I learned about her cutting-edge work developing high-yielding rice varieties for smallholder farmers. I heard how you can precision breed drought-resistant varieties. That is exactly the kind of work we want to see. I know that this is happening across the country, including at the John Innes Centre at Rothamsted, the Roslin Institute and many more places. I left Oxford with the warm glow—no doubt some noble Lords might feel that it was naive but I felt it was genuine—one gets from the belief that we have actually done something good here, which will benefit people in not just this country but abroad.

By introducing a more proportionate and science-based regulatory framework, we want to encourage innovation and enable new breeds of plants and animals to be released for field trials and brought to market more easily. We want to encourage this innovation responsibly. Following the Bill’s passage, we will continue to work with experts and other stakeholders to develop measures to safeguard animal welfare before we bring the measures in the Bill into force in relation to animals.

I thank all those who have supported the Bill and those who put it through its paces to ensure it will deliver on its vision of proportionate and safe regulation of precision-breeding technologies. The specialist expertise that the noble Lords, Lord Krebs, Lord Trees, Lord Winston and Lord Cameron of Dillington, have brought to the debates has been invaluable. As we are all aware, this is a scientific policy area with which some of us do not always feel at ease. It was a truly extraordinary experience to hear the level of understanding and knowledge in some of the exchanges. I really thank many noble Lords for their wisdom and for ensuring the appropriate direction of debates.

I also thank noble Lords on the Front Benches for their invaluable contributions. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, has led well-considered scrutiny, and I thank her for her debate on this legislation. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, has provided extensive input to these debates, for which I am grateful. I thank other noble Lords from all sides of the House for their interest and engagement, which has undoubtedly improved the Bill. I know that we had some arguments and that not everyone will have been happy with precisely where we ended up, but it was an enormously beneficial experience to have the debates that we did.

Finally, I want to thank the Bill team, who were led by Fiona White, Emily Bowen, Elizabeth Bates and Elena Kimber, and the Bill policy team, parliamentary counsel and the Food Standards Agency, which worked so hard on the Bill. I thank noble Lords for their support and input into these important debates. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, I realise that the Chamber is filling up and getting ready for the next debate, which is very important, but I would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Benyon, for his good humour, patience and flexibility during the passage of the Bill. I also thank the Bill team for their help in answering our queries, along with the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman of Ullock and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and all those on the Labour Benches, including the noble Lord, Lord Winston, who made a very valuable contribution to the Bill.

As the Minister has said, the expertise of the noble Lords, Lord Krebs, Lord Trees and Lord Cameron of Dillington, was absolutely invaluable. I really enjoyed the exchanges across the Chamber on this very technical Bill. I cannot sit down without mentioning the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, who also brought a great deal of expertise to it. My noble friend Lady Parminter supported me brilliantly; we could not have got where we are without her, so I thank her for that.

There were excellent cross-party debates and we reached a reasonable conclusion. We did not get everything that we wanted but we got a satisfactory result and I thank the Minister for that.

Photo of Lord Benyon Lord Benyon The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

In adding to the noble Baroness’s thanks to noble Lords, I forgot to mention my noble friend Lord Harlech, without whom chaos would have ensued.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, for her comment and want briefly to pick up one point from the Minister on Report. He gave the assurance

“that I will be open to any suggestions” for

“a forum or fora for a wider conversation with the public”.—[Official Report, 25/1/23; col. 278.]

I hope the Minister will confirm that; I am hoping to outreach with him in the coming weeks to do that. The Minister did not refer to the fact that the Welsh and Scottish Governments have both rejected the legislative consent Motions for the Bill to apply to their countries. Can he provide any more information on where the Government are going forward with that?

Two things have happened since we finished Report. The European Patent Office has revoked an EU patent for heme proteins in plant-based meat alternatives, an issue which was also the subject of litigation in the US. In Committee, we talked a lot about patent issues. We did not go back to them on Report but that certainly raises lots of those issues from Committee. Finally, since our debate we have had a statement from the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes on so-called precision-bred organisms. Many people are reaching out to me to say that it does not resolve the issues of labelling and other regulatory issues, so I draw that response to the Minister’s attention.

Photo of Baroness Hayman of Ullock Baroness Hayman of Ullock Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, this was at times a very complex and sometimes challenging Bill, particularly for a non-scientist such as myself; I think both the Minister and I were on a steep learning curve. I thank everybody who provided detailed information and support during the course of this Bill. It really was invaluable as we moved through its progress.

I also thank all noble Lords who took part in the debate. A lot of people spent a lot of time going into detail and depth on this, which was really important when you consider its nature. In particular, I would like to thank: my noble friends Lord Winston and Lady Jones of Whitchurch; the noble Lords, Lord Krebs, Lord Trees and Lord Cameron; the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Parminter, with whom I worked closely, on the Opposition Benches; and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. There was a lot of very clear insight and knowledge that came through noble Lords’ contributions on this Bill, which is one of the reasons why this House is so good at improving legislation—I think this Bill really demonstrated that.

I would also like to thank the officials for their time and their patience with me and my many questions. It was very much appreciated from the Opposition Benches. Finally, I thank the Minister for his time and the constructive way he worked with those of us on the Opposition Benches. It is very much appreciated.

Photo of Lord Benyon Lord Benyon The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I thank the noble Baroness for her kind thanks.

To answer the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett—and I thank her for her challenge in this debate and this Bill—I am very keen to continue a conversation about how we raise people’s awareness about how this technology can help, or unravel some of the mystery that might surround people who are concerned about it at times. I assure her that will be the case.

On the question of Scotland and Wales, I hope in time they will see what we are doing and the direction in which the EU is moving on this. I hope they will listen to farmers and institutions like the Roslin Institute, Bangor and Aberystwyth universities, and the James Hutton Institute, and understand that this is an area where it is possible to develop technologies and where, if we all work together, Britain can be a leader. With that, I beg to move.

Bill passed and sent to the Commons.