All 3 Baroness Parminter contributions to the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act 2023

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Mon 12th Dec 2022
Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage & Committee stage: Part 1

Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill

Baroness Parminter Excerpts
Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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My Lords, I rise to speak from the Lib Dem Benches. Sadly, my noble friend Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville is in hospital today, but she hopes to be back fighting the good fight in Committee.

These Benches are not anti-science. Although the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, is not in his place, I was surprised but delighted that he knows so much about Lib Dem policy to confirm that we are not against gene editing. We are not anti-science, and we see that there are benefits to gene editing. We accept that it is happening now and that there are clear benefits. However, the point of a regulatory process is to manage those benefits and risks in an appropriate way. That is the starting point of good regulation. While we can say that where we were 20 years ago is no longer appropriate, in this House we need to make sure that this new piece of legislation does the job of managing risks and benefits appropriately.

My starting point was to look at the Explanatory Notes to understand the Government’s thinking and why they are doing this. The overview of the Bill boldly and simply states:

“This Bill intends to reduce the regulatory burden and financial barriers in place for researchers and commercial breeders using precision breeding technologies.”

There is nothing about the best system to manage the risks and benefits. If one was to be unkind, one could say that it was driven by a deregulation agenda and nothing more. However, our concern on these Benches is that we have a process to manage those risks and benefits.

We have heard a lot about the benefits, which I accept. We have heard less about the risks, but they are out there. From the environmental side, the speed with which organisms can be bred means that they could be out of sync with other environmental factors, and indeed the landscape and the soils in which they live. However, it is particularly among animals where those off-target mutations—in the phrase the noble Lord, Lord Winston, used—are most common. Indeed, the Government’s own advisory committee, ACRE, says that the unintended DNA introductions are found predominantly among animals. That is the area of particular risk where I have concerns that this proposed regulation does not go far enough.

Let me start where the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, did: with the issue of consumer choice and ensuring that they are involved in this process. Whatever we think about gene editing, it will have profound societal and environmental system changes. As a liberal, I believe that the public should be consulted and should have their say on changes that concern the food that they eat and the environment in which they live and work and which they enjoy. I think it would be fair to argue that, so far, the Government have been sleeping on the job when it comes to involving the public and having the conversation about what gene editing will mean for their food and environment. The noble Earl, Lord Devon, referred to the SI that was introduced last year, and he rightly identified that the majority of people and businesses were overwhelmingly opposed: 88% were opposed to changing the regulation of gene editing from what it is at the moment, which is analogous with GMOs. So, the public have not been persuaded, and the Government, to my mind, have not done a good enough job of making the case.

Equally, as others have said, the FSA did a piece of research which showed overwhelmingly that the public wanted this produce to be labelled, yet its response is that it will be on a register. I feel sorry for the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, who faced such opprobrium many years ago when he was in charge. If there is any opprobrium out there, it should be for coming up with the idea of a register when the debate about where we are with our food and society has moved on to such a degree that Defra itself is looking at introducing a labelling system next year that will look at a whole raft of issues of concern to the public. However, we are not accepting that, in this instance, labelling is absolutely fundamental to giving the products credibility and giving people the confidence in them that they need. As other Members around the House have said, if there are benefits—and there are benefits to gene editing—there should be no worry about putting labels on the products. The fact that the Government are removing that traceability and labelling from the current regulations is one of our fundamental concerns with what is being proposed.

Secondly, as a number of noble Lords around the House raised, we do not want to deregulate the system in such a way that allows the further suffering of our farm animals from further intensification. We need to make sure that that does not happen. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, referred to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and its very clear position that we should not allow a regulatory process which bakes that in. As the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, said, the way to overcome that is to have a really strong animal welfare advisory body, which is clear about who is on it and what its remit is. At the moment, we do not know who is going to be on it—that has been left to secondary regulation—and its remit is very narrow. All it can do is ensure that the developers have taken what they argue are the necessary steps to identify the welfare traits. That is absolutely not strong enough; we need much greater clarity on the face of the Bill around the animal welfare advisory body. That will give us some of the assurances we need that the Bill will not bake in further unnecessary suffering in terms of animal welfare.

Another really important point that the noble Lord, Lord Winston, raised was about reporting and monitoring. The analogous piece of legislation, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, identifies the reporting mechanisms there are for people to say what the adverse traits of these activities might be, both for the individual animals and their future progeny—it is included in the Act. I think that is analogous and that we should be arguing for something similar in the Bill. Indeed, the British Veterinary Association—I am very grateful for its briefing on this—are particularly concerned about the need for clear reporting and monitoring and the fact that it is not in the Bill. That is certainly something that we will be seeking to amend in Committee.

I will make another point about animals. We may have views about how appropriate it is to use gene editing to fashion our animals and various other things. I would prefer the Bill to be limited to farm animals because I am extremely worried about some of the impacts for wild animals, including highly mobile fish and insects. I feel that it would be far better for us to concentrate on farm animals, as the Minister knows. He very kindly gave a briefing to a number of groups, during which I asked him who had actually asked for any extension beyond farm animals in the scope of the Bill. He confirmed that nobody had asked for it, but that—as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said—this is about future-proofing. That is not good enough; you cannot just future-proof when there is such uncertainty around this use of animals. So, at the very least, we should be constraining this back to agricultural animals.

The third issue—which I will discuss briefly to limit my speech to 10 minutes—is on trade. A number of other noble Lords have mentioned this: our biggest number of exports are to Europe. While the Europeans are of course looking at this issue, my fairly sure understanding is that the French and the Germans are still opposed at the moment, so we are not there yet with them. But, even if they were to move forward, there will be two issues. First, as the noble Lord, Lord Curry, said, they may not have exactly the same situation or one that is analogous, so how can we ensure that we do not put barriers for our trade in advance by having a system which is out of step with what Europe is doing? We might come to an agreement within the next year; it is possible. The second point, which nobody has raised, is that the Europeans are not looking at animals at all; it is off the table. Therefore, all the people producing British meat, dairy, yoghurt and eggs will face friction in their trade, delivered to them by this Government, because Europe is not going to allow it. So a Government who have prided themselves on cutting red tape—I applaud them for the sentiment—if they go ahead with allowing gene editing for farm animals, are not going to be able to sell into Europe in a frictionless way. This is because the Europeans are not looking to change their proposals around gene-edited animals.

Equally, on the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Stair, the devolved Administrations are really uncomfortable with this proposal, to put it mildly. Therefore, labelling, in addition to being an answer for consumers, is an answer for trade, because that gives traceability and certainty for producers, both to our major export markets and across the devolved nations.

I said that I would stick to 10 minutes, so I will conclude by saying that we are not against gene editing, but we need a system which balances the benefits and the risks. This is going too far: it is too light-touch, it does not have the reassurances for consumers, animal welfare or trade, and it needs to be amended by this House or it will be repented at leisure.

Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill

Baroness Parminter Excerpts
Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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My Lords, from these Benches we have heard the arguments made by those who argue for the exclusion of all animals with great sympathy. We think that both noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, made good points. Their arguments around the concerns that the public have are extremely well made. I merely add one other reason why their case is strong, which has not been referred to, which is the evidence that was produced from ACRE, which the Minister referred to. What he did not make clear in his remarks was that ACRE said that in terms of unintended consequences, and DNA being retained in organisms used through this process, the likelihood of that happening is far higher with animals than it is with plants. That is another strong argument for a slower approach to proceeding with gene editing. I do not think anybody is saying that gene editing does not have any benefits, but we should be taking that slower approach, both because of how the public have shown their concern over animals and because of the advice from ACRE that that argument has merit.

I understand where the Government are coming from and therefore I have proposed four amendments in this group that would limit gene editing to just farmed animals. I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, may have concerns over the wording I chose. My wording was chosen merely because that was the defined use in a previous piece of legislation, so we would not have to argue about what the term meant. I think it is useful in Committee to be probing the Government on excluding farmed animals for a number of reasons. First, as a number of colleagues have said, when we look at other particular areas, such as companion animals, it is not just the welfare treatment of companion animals, it is the actual characteristics that are being bred. Let us think about cropped ears or short muzzles for dogs. Those are not the sorts of things the public would like to see this legislation being used to introduce.

Equally, in the area that the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, mentioned, there is the potential for an enormous number of unintended consequences if this technique is used for wild animals, not only for the animals themselves but for the biodiversity and ecosystems around them. There is a real worry at this stage, which causes me to feel that, if animals are to be included, it would be sensible to restrict editing to farmed animals. There are two other reasons why I think it is important. The first is that it is all the public have been asked about. The Minister talked about how the FSA and the department have been consulting the public; they have consulted with the public only on farm animals, not on the use of animals more broadly. The public have had no say in that at all, so I do not think it is right or proper that we should proceed with a piece of legislation with such huge implications for animals, given public concern that could threaten the capacity of this technology, which does have benefits, to be accepted by the public. They have had no say on companion animals or wild animals. Yes, they have had some say on farmed animals, but not more broadly. That is one concern I have.

My second concern is one that I raised at Second Reading, when I asked the Minister who else in the industry, in the scientific community, in the academic community and in the veterinary community had asked for anything other than farmed animals. The response was, no one. This is about the Government, in their terms, future proofing the legislation, but I do not believe it is appropriate to go beyond what people have been asked about, be it the public, the academics, the veterinarians, the scientists, business organisations, Rothamsted or anyone. No one has been making a case for anything beyond farmed animals, so I ask the Minister to address that in his summing up. On these Benches, we would prefer animals to be excluded in their entirety and to proceed more slowly. But, if that is not the case, we think there is an extremely strong case at the moment to limit it to farm animals. We are looking for a rather better response from the Minister than he gave at Second Reading as to why he thinks it is appropriate that anything beyond farmed animals should be included in this legislation.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I have a number of amendments in this group, but many of them are consequential, so I will not go through them one by one. I have also added my name to Amendment 3, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and I have supported other amendments in this group, such as the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. The reason for this is that, whether we agree that animals should be included or not, there is a wider debate as to when they should be included, how quickly they should be included, and whether all animals should be included or just some. That is why I put down a lot of amendments in this group. It is an area on which we really need to have proper debate and consideration, because it fundamentally changes much of what the Bill is trying to achieve if you have not just animals but all animals within the Bill, and without any timescales as to when these are going to be included.

I draw noble Lords’ attention to the amendment from my noble friend Lord Winston, because this is slightly different from any other discussion that we have had. It states that the legislation should not apply to equines or rhesus monkeys, for example. He also stressed that he was very cautious about including animals right at the start of the Bill. We will be very interested in the Minister’s response to my noble friend, because it is a different area that he has raised.

I mentioned at Second Reading that I was concerned about the introduction of animals and how they have been included in the Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, raised an important point as to what was discussed with the public in the earlier stages that led up to the legislation in front of us. All the secondary legislation that preceded the Bill was really about plants, not animals; likewise, much of the Government’s language and discussion focused on plants, not animals. As the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, said, the consultation that was held by Defra referenced animals, but they did not seem to be the main focus of attention. Moreover, references to animals focused completely on farm animals. Many stakeholder groups were not expecting the Government to include animals in the Bill, which is partly why many are quite taken aback and have raised concerns.

If you look at the Bill, you will also see evidence of the lack of concrete provisions around timeframes: many of them are vague and noncommittal. Much of the preparation that we believe is necessary for a regulatory framework for animals has not yet been properly carried out. In many aspects, the Bill is a framework Bill, with little detail on actual intentions or provisions on its face. It also delegates a broad set of sweeping powers to Ministers, not only to bring in an awful lot of secondary legislation but to amend primary legislation with a Henry VIII clause, which I am sure that, at some point, we will get on to debate.

No one disputes that it would be a wonderful thing to be able to tackle avian flu or PRRS. Of course, if we can find a solution to these kinds of diseases, it would be hugely beneficial—not just in a financial sense, with much of the Bill focused on marketing, but also in terms of welfare.

The noble Lord, Lord Trees, talked about the fact that he strongly supports animals in the Bill. I believe that that is because he is looking at the welfare aspects of this. However, I am concerned that he may be a little gung-ho about how quickly we need to move forward on this. I agree with him that we need to strengthen animal welfare laws. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, talked about the importance of breeding to remove disease and produce resistance to disease. I completely understand those arguments, but I am concerned that we may be moving too quickly without the regulatory framework that needs to be in place and without the considerations that we need to have around the inclusion of animals.

The other thing I want to draw the Committee’s attention to is the fact that the European Union timetable also indicates plants, not animals. Have the Government considered the implications of the EU moving ahead just with plants at this stage if we have animals as well? A large number of animal welfare organisations have expressed concerns; I ought to declare my interest as president of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, which is one of the groups that has said it is concerned about this Bill.

The RSPCA, which has already been mentioned, produced a particularly good briefing as to what these concerns are. Its thoughts are that, ideally, the Bill should not cover any animals but, if it does, it should be limited to farm animals only. We have heard a lot of arguments today as to why that should be. It also mentions, as one would expect the RSPCA to do, the impact of conventional breeding, particularly on dogs; a number of noble Lords have talked about that. It also says that gene editing in wild animals is done with the express purpose of altering ecosystems, with potentially unpredictable impacts, and that this should always be controlled by the GMO regulations; I would be interested to hear the Minister’s response to that particular comment by the RSPCA. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, also expressed concerns about wild animals.

As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, mentioned, the other issue is that we need to take the public with us. If we are not careful about how we legislate around the animal aspect, we will lose them. It is terribly important that we are very careful about how we bring in and implement any animal aspects of this Bill, if at all. The Nuffield Council also raised concerns about bringing animal welfare in, stating:

“The welfare of animals is not a characteristic, like growth rate or milk yield, but a consequence of the interaction of biological and environmental factors.”

That is a really important thing to take home with us as we look at how we can move the Bill forward. It also said:

“There is a risk that the focus placed on individual traits in the Bill could distract from this broader consideration of welfare.”

It is terribly important that that concern is built into the Bill.

In our debate on a later group, we will debate the welfare advisory body in the Bill; now is not the time to do so but the question of whether that group is adequate will be a really important part of the Bill, particularly in terms of whether we should amend it to support that concern. Compassion in World Farming also raised concerns about this issue; I will not go into the detail as we discussed this at Second Reading.

I am slightly concerned that it has been suggested that ethical concerns should not be part of the broader debate. I would say that, where animal welfare is concerned, they should be. We must not forget those ethical concerns either.

I mentioned Professor Henderson, the chief scientific adviser at Defra, earlier. I am going to mention him again, because I thought his evidence was particularly interesting in the Commons Committee debate. He said:

“The passage of this Bill has pointed to those problems in animal welfare and made them clearer, and made it necessary to deal with them quite explicitly before we can enact legislation about precision breeding for animals.”

He also said that the process of considering the evidence on animal welfare

“will have to take place before secondary legislation can be enacted. The process for that is laid out in the Bill, and the timescale will be”—

as referenced by my noble friend Lady Jones—

“something like two to three years where scientific input will feed in.”—[Official Report, Commons, Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill Committee, 28/6/22; col. 18.]

Where in the Bill is that set out, so that we have that guarantee of two to three years? Neither the process nor the timescales are laid out in the Bill. If we need more time to get the provisions right, why are we not focusing on doing that rather than asking noble Lords, essentially, to allow them to pass and then ask all these questions and put in this detail afterwards? That, to me, is not good legislation. These are big decisions we are making.

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Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, for introducing this amendment so eloquently. I have added my name to it. In fact, I felt that the amendment was almost unnecessary because, earlier this evening, the Minister referred to precision breeding as being used to create public good—I think I am right in saying that. The amendment tries to flesh that out and ask what is meant by “public good”.

It goes without saying that one objective of farming is to produce food or other farm products. Precision breeding will be used to increase the efficiency, and maybe the productivity, of farming in this country. My noble friend Lord Curry of Kirkharle, who is not in his place, made a useful comment earlier about what is meant by productivity in farming.

It goes without saying that one objective is to increase efficiency and productivity: that is the “more” bit of “more with less”. Equally important, and what the amendment is about, is enshrining the “less”: less harm to the environment and to people. We have been through many times the kind of harms to the environment that intensive agriculture has delivered, and we hope that precision breeding will be used to reverse those harms rather than augment them.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, also raised the important point of how bits of the jigsaw fit together. She referred to Henry Dimbleby’s national food strategy. I would be interested in knowing from the Minister whether some of the recommendations that Henry Dimbleby made will be implementable or, indeed, supported by the Bill if it goes through—as I hope it will, possibly with some modifications.

In a way, this is almost uncontroversial. We all accept that there have to be public goods that are supported by precision breeding; that has to be balanced with increasing productivity and efficiency of agriculture; and what we are trying to do here is spell out what those public goods are and should look like. I very much look forward to the Minister’s response.

Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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My Lords, I want to say how much I support this amendment, which has been introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, that it was a very eloquent introduction. It should indeed be uncontroversial, for two reasons.

This Government have committed themselves to a number of welcome targets on climate change. We have not quite got there yet on the environmental targets, but the Secretary of State says that we will perhaps have them by next week. We also have the food strategy. If not set targets, we have a clear direction of travel. If the Government are committed to those targets, be it in the social, environmental or climate sphere, then they have to will the means to deliver it. Whether we are talking about a procurement Bill or this Bill, the Government have all these levers to pull to deliver the outcomes.

It would be almost a dereliction of duty not to will the means in a Bill like this to deliver the environmental, climate and food targets which the Government have so welcomely committed themselves to on the record in other places. If the Government were to miss the golden opportunity to embed this commitment to a public benefit in this Bill, I feel it would leave Members around the Committee worried that some of those commitments were perhaps not as deep as we all were hoping.

Moreover, in the way that the Agriculture Act did, there is an opportunity to shape the market by saying that we will rightly give farmers funding to produce the public goods that we want. The mirror approach here is saying that we will provide this new regulatory framework to regulate the benefits and risks of this new procedure. We will allow companies the investment and growth opportunities if it is clear that they are delivering public goods. It is about shaping the market in a way that delivers those public goods.

Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill

Baroness Parminter Excerpts
I say to all of us in this House, because I really feel it, that I certainly support the amendments we have heard about so far. I do not think that they are ideal but they are perhaps the best we can achieve in the time available to us. We must understand that, when we vote, we have a grave responsibility to understand that we could do great harm. The question then is this: what is the good of what we are doing? We are not going to change the feeding of the world’s population with genetically modified crops; actually, that could have been done already had we had the sense to look at how to protect cereals, for example, so many of which are destroyed during storage for all sorts of reasons. One of our responsibilities is to look at how and why these measures are needed. Unfortunately, at the moment, there is a risk that this could be something that is of commercial value for a time but is not necessary for human, planetary, animal or plant value.
Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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My Lords, I hope the Minister will see that these amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, are helpful because they give expression to what he said in Committee: that the Government will move forward on a step-by-step basis.

Why do I think that is important? First, again in Committee, the Minister made it absolutely clear that there were no institutions or research bodies—nobody—making a claim that they wanted to do any form of gene editing on anything other than farm animals, and that the only reason why animals beyond farm animals were in the Bill was, to quote the Minister, to “future-proof the Bill”. That is fine, but let us give expression to that future-proofing by ensuring that there is a degree of phasing.

Secondly—this is the point that the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, touched on—the consultation that the Government did on the statutory instrument in advance of this Bill indicated that there was no support from either consumers or retailers for the sale of animal products into the market. The public appetite is therefore limited. Those of you in this Chamber who are strong proponents of gene editing could very well argue that this phasing amendment would allow time to bring the public along with us.

The third argument, as I think the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, mentioned, is that while Europe is looking at gene editing, it is not looking at animals at all, and it is a major trading partner. The Welsh have opposed this legislation and, if my timing is correct, the Scottish are voting at this very moment to turn it down as well. Therefore, key partners of ours are moving at a slower pace than ours and therefore there is a strong argument for moving at a measured pace.

However, the strongest argument, which I think will find favour with the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and others, is for doing this based on the evidence of the science. Yes, we need a proportionate regulatory framework, but we must ensure that we are learning the lessons at every stage and monitoring the adverse effects. We will come to an amendment about this later. Then, going forward, animal welfare is guaranteed, and public benefits are maintained. An argument that allows this in a phased way is the right regulatory approach. If the noble Baroness takes this to a vote, she will have the support of these Benches.

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Moved by
22: Leave out Clause 14 and insert the following new Clause—
“Precision bred animal marketing authorisations: reporting obligations(1) Before issuing a precision bred marketing authorisation for the first time, the Secretary of State must establish a monitoring system for the reporting of potential adverse effects on the health or welfare of such animals or their progeny which must enable—(a) the voluntary reporting to the Secretary of State by keepers of animals, animal health and veterinary professionals, or others, of adverse effects,(b) the mandatory reporting to the Secretary of State by the marketing authorisation holder of adverse effects, and(c) relevant information to be available to support future research.(2) Regulations under subsection (1) may—(a) define what is meant by adverse effects on health and welfare,(b) prescribe information to be required from the notifier for reporting adverse effects to the Secretary of State,(c) make provision for requiring the recipient of marketing authorisation to take prescribed steps, in connection with supplying such an animal to another person, to secure that prescribed information about the subsequent health and welfare of that animal or its progeny, is provided by, or can be collected from that other person, and(d) determine the period after marketing authorisation that such reporting of adverse effects on the health and welfare of animals or their progeny of a given precision bred technique is to be required.(3) Regulations under this section are subject to the affirmative procedure.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment requires that, before precision bred animals are marketed, there be mechanisms established for reporting possible adverse effects on the animals’ health and welfare or that of their progeny. Regulations shall define adverse effects, details of the information required, and the time period over which it is required for any given precision breeding technique and application.
Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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My Lords, Amendments 22 and 23 are in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Trees. My name is at the head, but they are really joint amendments, and we grateful for the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on the Labour Front Bench and my noble friend Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville from the Liberal Democrats. The aim of the amendments is to ensure that a very clear monitoring system is set up in advance of when gene-edited animals are marketed. This is to ensure that the lessons can be learned about any adverse, or indeed positive, effects on animal welfare so that, throughout the process, we can make those learnings available to others so that animals can benefit in the future.

The provisions in Clause 14, which we are proposing this amendment as a replacement for, say that the Government “may” do this—but this is a fundamental issue about whether or not we are ensuring that a proper surveillance and monitoring system is in place right from the beginning. We would certainly concede that it is appropriate that the regulations to implement such a provision were in secondary legislation, but that is not what Clause 14 says: it basically says that the principle of undertaking a monitoring system is only a “may”, not a “must”. As was referred to earlier this evening, in comparable legislation—the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act—the principle of having a surveillance and monitoring system in the Act and the regulations for how to deliver it are in secondary legislation. This seems to be a reasonable position.

The Minister talked on a number of occasions this evening about the research project with a Scottish university on how these regulations might work in practice. If you have the provisions on how they will be delivered in secondary legislation, that seems to be appropriate. But our amendment would put in the Bill a provision that the Government will introduce a surveillance and monitoring system and that the information will be recorded and available to inform decisions in the future to guarantee animal welfare— which is a common theme that we have covered this evening.

I am grateful to the Minister and the Bill team for their meetings with me, the noble Lord, Lord Trees, and others on this matter between Committee and Report. I do not wish to put words into the Minister’s mouth, but I can guess what he will say in response to our amendment, given the email that the noble Lord, Lord Trees, and I received from the Bill team on 13 January. The objections were that what was in the Bill was proportionate and what we were asking for was not a proportionate form of regulation. The exact words were that our amendment

“could be seen as being too burdensome a requirement for industry and would remove our ability to scale back reporting requirements in the future if we have a scientific basis for doing so”.

To be clear, our amendment is about putting in the Bill a requirement that there is scientific monitoring; we are not saying that the regulations need to go in the Bill. But the Bill team basically says that making it effectively something that the Government must do— putting it in the Bill—is too “burdensome” a requirement for industry. That does not seem a proportionate approach to a regulatory process, where you are balancing the rightful requirements of people going into this new industry against public benefit and animal welfare. This gets the scales wrong.

This is compounded when the email goes on to say:

“Introducing a requirement on the face of the bill to require and publish data from clinical outcomes from research would also curtail our flexibility and could lead to issues with commercial sensitivity”.

Again, it is not beyond the wit of man for Governments to produce regulations in secondary legislation that ensure that legitimate issues of commercial sensitivity are handled—but that should not preclude the duty on companies to supply that information so that lessons can be learned for the benefit of both animal welfare and public confidence, which is an issue that I think the noble Lord, Lord Trees, will address in some detail.

So I look forward to what other noble Lords will say and how the Minister will respond to both our amendments. I reserve our position on moving to a vote. But we think that this is a really important way of doing what the Government say they want to do: move ahead with this in a step-by-step way, while ensuring that the evidence is retained from the relevant companies and available to inform future research.

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I hope that, in the light of these points, I can persuade the noble Baroness and the noble Lord to consider not pressing their amendments.
Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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I thank the Minister for that reply. Sadly, it is quite clear, in the almost immortal words of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, this evening, that we have not yet managed to make a dent in the Government’s protective carapace on this Bill—it is a great phrase—which is a disappointment, as a number of other amendments earlier in the evening led up to this amendment.

I do not want to spend much time. I just want to make two points to the Minister. He did not answer the fundamental question that Clause 14 says only that regulations “may” make provision. There is absolutely nothing to stop a future Government—and I do not wish to impugn the Minister’s character or motives—not doing anything at all. It is not about the regulations in future; they do not need to introduce a surveillance monitoring system in the future because all that is in the Bill is that regulations “may” make provision. If it was regulations “must” make provision, that might have made a difference, but the Minster was not prepared to concede that.

Secondly, we have a difference of opinion on the issue of commercial sensitivity. I referred to other legislation in comparable fields of human research where this issue has been overcome, and the noble Lord, Lord Trees, outlined other legislation in the veterinary field where this commercial sensitivity issue has been addressed with wording in legislation to that effect.

So I am not content with what the Minister has said. I have seen where we have been heading this evening, but I think it is a matter of principle. For those of us who feel strongly about this, this was a solid amendment seeking to do a good job to help this Bill from both sides of the House, and I wish to press it to a vote.