Clause 11 - Application for precision bred animal marketing authorisation

Part of Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 5th July 2022.

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Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 3:00 pm, 5th July 2022

We have had an excellent discussion of the issues and, as always, I find myself in agreement with much of what my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East has said, not least because she has agreed with me.

There was a lot in the Minister’s opening remarks, and I will go away and study them closely. Part of the problem is that a lot of the what the Minister said is not in the Bill, and this has been a problem throughout. She said that clauses 11 and 12 were crucial because they set up the new regulatory framework, but that that was not expected to be done quickly, because time would be spent on it. That is good and welcome, but, frankly, in the awful situation where another Minister potentially was in place, there is nothing in the Bill to ensure that that original assurance would hold good. As far as I can see, that framework could be established rather quickly if we pass the Bill as it is written.

When we discuss matters when considering secondary legislation, it may be that many of the things that we have raised will be covered, but there are no guarantees, which is why we have tabled the amendments. That is the problem, and why it is our responsibility to lay down some thoughts as to what the framework should be. Perhaps we will help to set some of thinking going forward, and if that is the case, even though I do not anticipate that the amendments will be agreed to, they may help to contribute to setting out the type of framework that we would like.

I very much agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East that the proposed framework still looks rather weak. The Minister spoke of the advisory body being able to request further information, and that is good and proper, but I think it may need to be able to do more than that. If we have the opportunity to discuss the matter further, I suspect this type of question will come up: what are the actual powers available to the body? I do not think I have yet heard anybody talk about the composition of the animal welfare body, but that it is quite important, because it could be quite a narrow group of experts. There is nothing wrong with that but, as I have said before, people drawn from the same set of people almost inevitably tend to end up thinking the same kind of things. I think the public would quite like some other voices involved in the decisions.

I agree that, ultimately, matters must go to the Secretary of State for decision, so that there is a chain of accountability, but we all know that in reality the earlier processes are quite significant. We will come to our suggestions about how matters should be considered when we discuss the new clauses. People have suggested that the other models should be followed, such as that of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. My understanding is that at times the latter has had a wider membership and remit than originally set. Such a possibility would give people confidence about the work of the animal welfare body as we go into a brave new world, because it is just that: we have fantastic opportunities.

The Minister said that some of our comments suggested that we see the Bill as a negative; we do not. We see it as offering huge opportunities, if done in the right way and with the right safeguards, so that people have confidence that any application is made for the right purpose. We are not that far apart, but it is quite hard to work out from the Bill how everything will look a few years down the line. The worry is that if the Bill is approved unamended, there will nothing to stop matters proceeding rather quickly without the appropriate safeguards. The Opposition would be irresponsible were we not to make that point and to challenge, and that is what we will continue to do.

We have quite a complicated set of clauses and amendments ahead of us, and perhaps we will take them one by one, if that is all right with you, Ms McVey.