Clause 48 - Short title and commencement

Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 7th July 2022.

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Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 2:45 pm, 7th July 2022

I beg to move amendment 3, in clause 48, page 30, line 18, at end insert—

“(3A) Regulations under subsection (3)(b) may not appoint a day on which any of sections 11 to 15 is to come into force unless the welfare advisory body has advised the Secretary of State that it is satisfied that regulations made under Part 2 establish a proper process to ensure that the health and welfare of animals, and their qualifying progeny, in respect of which a precision bred animal marketing authorisation is made will not be adversely affected by any precision bred trait.”

This amendment would prevent regulations being made on precision bred animals until the welfare advisory body is satisfied that animal health and welfare will be ensured.

I would like to speak briefly on this amendment, which concerns the extent and application of the sea areas. On Second Reading, I raised the fact that there are legitimately held and differing views within the different Administrations in the UK. It is fair to say that the devolved Administrations were not happy with the way this had been handled so far; I suggested that

“the Government should tread carefully.”—[Official Report, 15 June 2022; Vol. 716, c. 382.]

As I have said today, the regulation of genetically edited organisms is a devolved matter. The central divisions of the Bill apply to England only, but the Welsh and Scottish Governments were consulted at a late stage. Based on evidence I heard in this Committee, it is clear that the frustrations with the Government’s approach to co-operation with the devolved Administrations are ongoing. I am disappointed that the Government did not consult the Welsh and Scottish Governments earlier, as I said before, and that they have not laid out more detail, in either the explanatory notes or the impact assessment accompanying the Bill, as to the precise impact it will have on Wales and Scotland and any proposed mechanisms moving forward.

The Opposition have tabled a new clause on labelling, and we have already raised a point about how some of the information-sharing provisions in the Bill could be strengthened to facilitate supply chain tracking and coexistence. I hope that the Minister will say more about the Government’s discussions with the devolved Administrations and the plans they have.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 3:00 pm, 7th July 2022

Are we speaking only to amendment 3? I thank the hon. Gentleman for tabling the amendment. I can assure him that the Government are committed to appointing a welfare advisory body that will provide expert scientific advice to the Secretary of State, as set out in clause 22. We want to ensure that the body will be functionally independent and that it will provide scientific advice. We are committed to appointing a body with the most suitable expertise for the role. We will work closely with existing animal welfare experts, such as the Animal Welfare Committee, to ensure that there is a rigorous and proportionate system to safeguard animal welfare.

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

In responding to the Minister’s excellent contribution, I should explain that what I said previously relates to clause 47 and so can be ignored—I managed to speak to completely the wrong clause, which of course happens late in the day.

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

I am not surprised. I will try to find my way back to the right clause.

Amendment 3 is relatively straightforward. It would prevent regulations being made on precision bred animals until the welfare advisory body is satisfied that animal health and welfare will be ensured. I have previously cited evidence in which DEFRA itself admits that the elements of the Bill relating to animals that are delegated to secondary legislation are not yet fully investigated or prepared. Sadly, we have been unsuccessful in removing the animals from the scope of the Bill. In the absence of that, we have tabled a series of amendments that would provide a check and balance on any secondary legislation, especially given that some of it will be subject to the negative procedure.

The Government have emphasised that the welfare advisory body provided for in the Bill will be composed of experts in their field. The Opposition think that it seems sensible for the body also to play a role in determining the effectiveness of the Government’s proposal on animals, and that is what the amendment seeks to achieve.

I am conscious that I am responding to the Minister. I heard what she said. I do not entirely agree, but given that I have not explained it very well, we will let this one pass. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I beg to move amendment 37, in clause 48, page 30, line 20, at end insert—

“(5A) Regulations may not be made under or by virtue of this section unless a common framework agreement relating to the release and marketing of, and risk assessments relating to, precision bred plants and animals, and the marketing of food and feed produced from such plants and animals, has been agreed between a Minister of the Crown, the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government.

(5B) “Common framework agreement” has the meaning given by section 10(4) of the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020.”

This amendment would prevent the operative parts of this Bill coming into force until a common framework agreement on the regulation of precision breeding had been agreed between the UK Government and the Scottish and Welsh Governments.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 9— Power of the Scottish Parliament to legislate on the marketing of precision bred organisms—

‘(1) Schedule 1 of the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 is amended as follows.

(2) After paragraph 11 insert—

“Marketing of precision bred organisms

11A The United Kingdom market access principles do not apply to (and sections 2(3) and 5(3) do not affect the operation of) any Act of the Scottish Parliament, or any subordinate legislation made under or by virtue of such an Act, relating to the marketing of—

(a) precision bred organisms, or

(b) food or feed produced from precision bred organisms.”’

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

As has been stated, this is English legislation. As I said on Second Reading, the regulation of genetically modified organisms is a devolved matter—no ifs, no buts. That has been clear from the responses from the Welsh and Scottish Governments. The Scottish Government have been clear in their opposition to the UK Government’s moves on this. They do not presently intend to amend the GMO regulatory regime in Scotland to remove categories of products currently regulated as GMOs while they sensibly await the outcome of the EU’s consultation on whether some gene-edited organisms will be excluded from the GM definition. No one in Scotland wants to see further barriers to trade with our largest trading partner, but as the hon. Member for Cambridge mentioned, there are clear indications in the impact statement that that is a very likely outcome of having different approaches. It should be further noted—we have not really discussed this to any great extent—that the EU is currently considering only plant-based GEOs, not animals.

The potential impact of the Bill on Scotland through the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020, as referred to by the Minister, must be recognised. If the Scottish Parliament did not ultimately decide to allow gene edited organisms to be sold, Scotland would still be prevented under the Act from stopping those products being sold in our shops. That, of course, is exactly the kind of scenario that the Scottish National party warned against when the legislation was forced through this place.

As the UK Government’s own impact assessment for the Bill acknowledges, removing gene edited products from England’s regulatory regime for GMOs would mean divergence from the current EU approach. As such, it would have implications for compliance, costs and future trade. New trade barriers could also come in the form of checks and certification requirements on UK food exports entering the EU’s single market, which could affect not only products exported to the EU that contain precision bred plant material, but those in the same product categories that do not—something that, again, emphasises the importance of labelling and traceability, which I will address a little later.

The Scottish Government have made it clear that they intend to stay aligned with EU regulation as far as possible and practicable. The UK Government’s refusal to commit to dynamic alignment with the EU has already led to significant trade impacts and costs for Scottish businesses. For example, Scottish businesses have written to the UK Government on numerous occasions regarding the losses to the multimillion-pound Scottish seed potato industry from being unable to access the EU export market, yet there has been very little progress in re-establishing that trade. There are many other examples I could mention. We do not want to erect further barriers to our largest market, so we are waiting to see the position as the EU progresses its review, including its consultation.

If the EU retains its current opposition to gene editing, there are concerns about, for example, the export of Scottish salmon—a huge export product to Europe, and particularly to France. It has been suggested that products might be considered on a product-by-product basis, but there is little detail for us to scrutinise that and to examine potential costs and logistics challenges. In the meantime, the SNP Scottish Government, and indeed the Welsh Government, simply insist that the devolution settlement is respected.

Photo of Andrew Bowie Andrew Bowie Conservative, West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine

Nobody disputes that it is within the devolved competencies for the Scottish Government to determine genetic modification in Scotland, but if the European Union did change—we heard in evidence that it is considering doing so, and one of the worries of some of the people who gave evidence was that the UK would be left behind if we did not remove the legislation now—would the SNP be prepared to consider accepting the Bill and working with the UK Government, so that we stick together?

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

That is exactly why the Scottish Government intend to wait for the outcome of the consultation, and why we would like to see the UK Government doing similarly. I would point to the New Zealand Government, who undertook a really extensive consultation with stakeholders, consumers and citizens generally. Ultimately, they chose to continue to include gene edited organisms within their definitions of genetically modified organisms. The outcomes are by no means guaranteed, and I think the precautionary principle should be applied here as well.

New clause 9 would amend the United Kingdom Internal Market Act to ensure that the Scottish Parliament’s authority to legislate in the marketing of precision bred organisms is upheld. Similarly, amendment 37 would prevent the operative parts of the Bill coming into force until a common framework agreement on precision breeding has been agreed between the UK Government and the Scottish and Welsh Governments.

I would be really grateful if the Minister—I appreciate that she is very new to her post—could offer an explanation for why common framework procedures prior to the Bill’s introduction were not followed before it was introduced. As the Minister will know, the Scottish and Welsh Governments repeatedly requested sight of the draft Bill, but it was introduced to Parliament before that happened. That is simply not the action of a Government who respect devolved Governments, and I would be grateful if the Minister also provided an explanation for that.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

On amendment 37, the regulation of GMOs is, as we have heard, a devolved matter. We have invited the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government to join us in bringing forward the Bill. If they took up our offer, it would provide confidence to investors who are looking to support Scottish and Welsh research into precision breeding.

A common framework covering GMO marketing and cultivation was within scope of the common frameworks programme, but all four Administrations agreed that a common framework was not required because the administration and co-ordination of this policy area was provided for through existing inter-governmental arrangements under the GMO concordat. If the DAs were in agreement, we would be willing to revisit that analysis and look again at whether the GMO concordat and the intergovernmental arrangements for which it provides are sufficient for intergovernmental working, and, where relevant, to manage divergence in the regulation of genetic technologies. I would be delighted to take that work further if it is of interest to the DAs.

In addition to engagement between DEFRA and DA genetic technology officials, it is worth noting that precision breeding policy interacts with four of the provisional common frameworks. Engagement among respective officials is also ongoing through the relevant framework fora in those four areas.

As the Committee heard from Professor Bruce Whitelaw of the Roslin Institute, and as has been presented to the Welsh Government and the Scottish Government by the National Farmers Union—I have read the evidence it gave—the provisions in the Bill apply substantively to England, but they have the potential to bring benefits across the UK.

We have introduced the Bill to ensure that we keep up to date with the latest science, and to remove the limitations placed on us by outdated regulation that has not kept pace with scientific development. Amendment 37 would put us at further risk of falling behind other countries, which the NFU was concerned about in the evidence sessions. We will continue to engage with the DAs to address the concerns that they have raised, but I encourage the hon. Lady to embrace the opportunity that the Bill presents to unlock the benefits of scientific research and development and ensure that the UK continues to invest in innovation in the agri-food industry and reap the wider potential benefits from it.

New clause 9 would exclude legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament relating to the marketing of precision bred organisms, and regulations made by the Scottish Government under that legislation, in scope of the UK Internet Market Act 2020 market access principles. There is an established process for considering exclusions to the application of the UKIM market access principles in the common framework areas. That process has been agreed by the UK Government, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive. The UK Government are fully committed to common frameworks and to taking forward discussions with the Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on the interaction between the proposals in the Bill and UKIM.

As we heard from Dr Ferrier of the NFU, it will be at least five years before products come on to the markets for farmers and growers. We hope that consumers across the whole of the UK will be able to benefit from the research into precision bred plants and animals that the Bill will enable. We therefore urge the hon. Lady to withdraw the amendment so as not to pre-empt the outcome of those discussions.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

It is kind of the UK Government to want to bring benefit to all of the devolved nations of the UK—a very benevolent approach that I am sure everyone appreciates—but this area is devolved and we should have full control over it.

Photo of David Duguid David Duguid Conservative, Banff and Buchan

I just want to clarify, should we be surprised that the United Kingdom Government are interested in the rural interests of every nation in the United Kingdom?

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 3:15 pm, 7th July 2022

I am actually very interested in rural interests, as the hon. Gentleman knows, and I am very concerned about the impact on trade with the EU, which is the UK’s largest trading partner, and the impact, potentially, on farmers. The Minister mentioned that it will be five years before commercial benefits can be felt—at least; we were hearing anywhere up to 11 years —so why the rush? Why push this through when we potentially could really impact our trade with Europe?

I do not wish to sound rude about it at all, because I respect the Minister hugely, and particularly the way she has stepped up this afternoon—excellent effort. Given that it sounds as if there is likely to be some movement in discussions on the GMO concordat, perhaps I could arrange a meeting with her, before Report, to discuss that further and get a clearer understanding of what is entailed within those discussions. I would appreciate that very much.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The Minister is nodding her head, so I assume that is acceptable. Given that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 48 ordered to stand part of the Bill.