Clause 19 - Inspectors

Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 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 consider the following:

Clause 20 stand part.

Clause 21 stand part.

Photo of Jo Churchill Jo Churchill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 4:00 pm, 5th July 2022

We come now to the clauses pertaining to monitoring and inspection. As no amendments have been tabled, I anticipate the Committee will assist me by passing this part of the Bill.

Clause 19 gives the Secretary of State the power to appoint inspectors to carry out enforcement of the obligations in part 2 of the Bill that relate to the release and marketing of precision bred organisms. The clause also contains the standard provision that protects inspectors from personal liability for actions taken in good faith in the purported exercise of their functions, while ensuring that the inspectorate remains accountable for its actions.

Under clause 20, the obligations created by the Bill will be backed by proportionate sanctions to encourage compliance. The Government want to provide inspectors with powers to inspect premises, gather evidence and to issue enforcement notices, stop notices and fines if they find evidence of non-compliance with the obligations imposed by the Bill and by delegated legislation made under the Bill.

The Government plan to use the same inspectorate that currently undertakes inspection and enforcement functions under part 6 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, the Genetic Modification Inspectorate, to undertake inspection and enforcement functions in relation to the regulatory regime for precision bred organisms. Experts in other subject matters may need to be present at some inspections—for example, vets, where there is an inspection that relates to animals. We want to allow for the inspectors to be accompanied by such experts when an inspector considers it necessary.

We believe that the clause provides for an effective and proportionate inspection regime, with appropriate safeguards. For instance, the power of entry would be exercisable in relation to private dwellings only with the occupier’s consent or a warrant. The inspectors will have powers to inspect and search premises, organisms and documents, to take photographs and copies and to take samples.

Clause 21 defines a “part 2 obligation”, a key term used in the Bill to describe obligations under part 2 that can be subject to enforcement through civil sanctions and to set the remits of inspectors’ powers under the Bill and secondary legislation made under it. That will help developers and stakeholders better to understand their obligations under part 2, which can be subject to inspection and enforcement. Further, the clause allows regulations to treat the provision of false information in an application as a failure to comply with a part 2 obligation. That would enable inspectors to check whether false information has been provided and to issue enforcement notices if the evidence shows that it has.

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

It is interesting to note that suddenly we have a wealth of detail, but it is not entirely clear how that fits with some of previous bodies we have discussed. Is the regulator part of some new organisation that sits next to ACRE? Is it part of the welfare body, or is it something separate, again? We have some difficulty understanding exactly how all this fits together. It is quite interesting to look at the impact assessment of the number of applications that the Department anticipates. The spectrum outlined starts at zero over the next few years, which rather makes this a pointless exercise, frankly. We hope that the applications are not at that end of the spectrum. We believe that they will range from a medium position up to an upper band of, I believe, 18. I anticipate that with the animal aspects coming forward, possibly one would expect to see more applications. I believe that it is more oriented towards animal welfare aspects than to crop protection, but who knows? That is the truth.

It is quite hard to comment on the clauses, other than to say that the monitoring regime is welcome, and that the inspection regime is welcome. It is still a bit of a puzzle to see how it all fits together. We have no amendments tabled and no objection to the clauses, but we would like a better account of how the system fits together, not least because if we did have that, it would be much easier to explain to the public why they should have confidence in it. It is quite hard to explain that as the system emerges through this rather curious process.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 19 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 20 and 21 ordered to stand part of the Bill.