Clause 14 - Precision bred animal marketing authorisations: reporting obligations

Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 5th July 2022.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Conservative, Tatton

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 14, in clause 15, page 10, line 42, leave out “negative” and insert “affirmative”.

Clause 15 stand part.

Photo of Jo Churchill Jo Churchill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Clause 14 sets out the reporting obligations that will apply once a precision bred animal marketing authorisation has been issued. Although the provisions in the Bill are intended to prevent adverse welfare outcomes in precision bred animals, we consider it prudent to have a monitoring function in place during the early stages of the marketing of precision bred animals in England. The Bill will provide for the ability to place a time-limited and proportionate duty on breeders and developers to monitor animals and their offspring for any significant adverse health and welfare outcomes that can be linked to the new trait, and to report any such outcome to DEFRA.

The clause sets out that regulations may make provision to require the notifier, or any other specified person, to provide information to the Secretary of State about the welfare of the relevant animal and its qualifying progeny. If the relevant animal is supplied to another person, the notifier may be required to take steps to collect health and welfare information, or enable it to be collected from the other person. Regulations may set requirements on the information that must be collected, including, for example, specific time periods for reporting, and technical requirements for the types of information to be provided.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

We are now getting to the Bill’s more administrative details, about which we have fewer concerns.

Clause 14 concerns the reporting obligations for precision bred animal marketing authorisations. Clause 15 concerns the suspension and revocation of precision bred animal marketing authorisations. In many ways, what I am about to say is similar to what I have said before about those things. I am glad that reporting obligations are included in the Bill, especially those that relate to animal welfare and to potential unintended consequences. It is right that those processes be monitored and reported on.

The suspension and revocation of authorisations concerning animals appears to be an area where greater scrutiny of secondary legislation would be beneficial. The clause confers powers on the Government to introduce secondary legislation, with provisions to suspend or revoke precision bred animal marketing authorisations where the Secretary of State receives information regarding the health and welfare of the animal concerned, and where they believe the health or welfare of an animal is likely to be adversely affected. It also contains provisions for those decisions to be publicly announced and shared. That raises the question of who is doing the monitoring and how, and it would be helpful if the Minister said a little more about that.

At the risk of being endlessly repetitive, it would be better for the secondary legislation to be subject to the affirmative procedure, rather than the negative. That is the force of amendment 14. As we have said frequently, the House should be able to scrutinise the Government’s proposals, especially as they have been decidedly vague so far. These things do matter, because they concern the potential pain and suffering of sentient beings.

Photo of Jo Churchill Jo Churchill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I thank the hon. Member for tabling the amendment. Clause 15 allows for provision to be made in regulation for the circumstances in which a precision bred animal marketing authorisation may be revoked or suspended, and to set out the procedure to follow in such cases. The affirmative procedure would not be a meaningful use of parliamentary time. The power to make regulations for the circumstances in which an authorisation may be revoked or suspended is, in effect, a power to specify more details of those circumstances, but the circumstances are already set out in the Bill and cannot be changed. Given the content of the regulations made under clause 15, the negative procedure is a better fit.

We, like the Opposition, are committed to animal welfare and want the Bill’s provisions to be backed by proportionate and workable measures to safeguard animal welfare. Clause 15 enables the Secretary of State to make regulations, using the negative procedure, to suspend or revoke a precision bred animal marketing authorisation in certain circumstances. The requirement to provide a welfare declaration before an animal welfare marketing authorisation is granted will ensure the proper evaluation of known risks. The clause provides further reassurance that Government will have the power to act should there be adverse effects.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I hear the Minister and in some ways I am comforted, but clause 15(3) states:

“Regulations under this section may confer a function on the welfare advisory body.”

What on earth does “may confer a function” mean? That seems extraordinarily wide, and it is not unreasonable that something so wide should come back to this place for a discussion.

Photo of Jo Churchill Jo Churchill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

It is important that the Animal Welfare Committee has the space to look at such things. The clause covers scenarios in which new information shows that animal welfare may be affected contrary to the assessment conducted when the authorisation was issued. In such cases, the welfare declaration no longer holds, so it may be appropriate that the Secretary of State revokes an authorisation in the interests of animal welfare. If the Secretary of State receives new information on animal health or welfare, he may consider it appropriate to suspend the marketing authorisation while information is properly considered. If the Secretary of State has not received the health and welfare information that he needs because the developer has failed to report it under clause 14, it may be appropriate that he suspend the authorisation pending investigation, or revoke it if there are concerns. In both scenarios, we set out to protect animal welfare as strongly as we can.

Clause 15 also sets out that the regulations may allow bespoke reporting requirements in particular cases. That flexibility is essential to ensure that any obligations placed on businesses are minimised proportionately to risk. Good practice indicates that breeders and developers will already carry out health and welfare monitoring as part of their breeding programmes. We want to work with stakeholders to ensure that that element of the new measures works in practice and is proportionate before it is introduced.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 14 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.