Debates between Deidre Brock and Daniel Zeichner during the 2019 Parliament

Thu 10th Feb 2022
Thu 26th Nov 2020
Environment Bill (Twenty Second sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 22nd sitting & Committee Debate: 22nd sitting: House of Commons
Tue 10th Nov 2020
Environment Bill (Twelfth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 12th sitting & Committee Debate: 12th sitting: House of Commons
Thu 5th Mar 2020
Agriculture Bill (Twelfth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 12th sitting & Committee Debate: 12th sitting: House of Commons
Tue 3rd Mar 2020
Agriculture Bill (Tenth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 10th sitting & Committee Debate: 10th sitting: House of Commons

Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill (Eighth sitting)

Debate between Deidre Brock and Daniel Zeichner
Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Our amendments to this clause follow a similar line of reasoning as the previous ones. They continue the discussion around whether the provisions must be introduced or simply might be.

Clause 27 is about the food and feed marketing authorisations register. Extensive reference has been made to that register throughout the passage of the Bill and during the evidence sessions. The Bill would confer a delegated power on the Government to make provision to require the Food Standards Agency to establish and maintain a public register containing information regarding information concerning food and feed marketing authorisations. I have already said many times why I think access to information is important, and will help give confidence to consumers and those farming in ways that require separation from those using gene edited organisms.

We also think the register could be helpful in tackling some of the devolution issues that were referred to in the evidence sessions. The central provisions of the Bill apply to England only, but the Welsh and Scottish Governments were consulted at very late stages. Both Governments have raised concerns that the mutual recognition principle of the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 will mean that it will be possible to legally place precision bred food on the Welsh and Scottish markets even if the Welsh and Scottish Governments choose not to adopt the changes contained in the Bill, which obviously presents a challenge. It is for the Government to resolve that challenge, but I would have certainly liked to have seen them consult the devolved Administrations earlier and in a more constructive manner.

However, in the absence of a solution to that problem, while precision bred products will be able to be legally placed on the market in Scotland and Wales, I imagine that some supermarkets and shops may decide that they want to operate within the spirit of Scottish and Welsh legislation and not stock precision bred products on their shelves, as is their right. The register of foods authorised for sale may help companies address that conundrum—certainly, without it, it is hard to see how they could do so without setting up very expensive parallel production systems, which might simply not be practical in many cases. In other words, a chain of unintended consequences might follow, which I do not think anyone would wish to see.

As I said on Second Reading, in the modern world, consumers increasingly want more information about the products they are buying. We can see that reflected in the market, such as the rise of environmental information on product labels. We will discuss labelling later when we debate one of our new clauses, but as I anticipate that that new clause might not be adopted by the Government, the register will be the only source of information for consumers and businesses looking to gain information on these products. As such, it is a pretty key provision of the Bill.

In our evidence sessions, Professor May of the Food Standards Agency said:

“The idea behind the register is to have a public awareness of the products that are going through this pathway and are ultimately out on the market, in a similar way to the public registration of foods at the moment…My view as a scientist is that this should be the same for precision breeding. We should have a register that says, ‘Here is a product that has been considered. We have looked at it; it hasn’t rocked up without any kind of due diligence around it.’ It is there in the public domain for people to see what process it has gone through and be reassured that those products have had some level of scrutiny.”[Official Report, Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Public Bill Committee, 28 June 2022; c. 24, Q40.]

That is absolutely right. He continued,

“there will be some consumers who have strong views on this, and they may or may not wish to purchase something accordingly. It is important that the information is available for them, so that they can pause if they want to and find out. Even if most people do not, it is available, should they wish to do so.”[Official Report, Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Public Bill Committee, 28 June 2022; c. 24-25, Q41.]

Again, that seems absolutely right to me.

The FSA clearly thinks there is a strong basis for establishing the register, as borne out by the evidence it has seen. Despite that, clause 27 only makes the register a possibility, rather than a certainty; it is a provision that the Government may take up, but not one that they must take up. As we go around this perpetual loop again—I have forgotten how many Bills have given rise to this discussion—perhaps the Minister can explain exactly why she thinks the wording should only be “may”, rather than “must”. With the number of key provisions that are being put not only into secondary legislation, but into secondary legislation that the Government are not even bound to introduce, there is a risk that some people looking at the Bill could say that there is a gap between the safeguards that are being promised and the reality that is being delivered.

I am sure the Minister will be affronted by such a suggestion, but as ever, salvation is at hand. Amendments 23, 24 and 25 would amend each subsection of clause 27 so that the Government must engage the provisions contained therein, rather than may. We think the register is a key element of the Bill, especially considering the Government’s stance on labelling, and so there must be a strong commitment within the Bill itself.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
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This will be a short contribution. The hon. Gentleman referred to the Scottish and Welsh Governments’ views on the situation. He will be aware that clause 27 just talks about the Food Standards Agency and the Secretary of State, and does not cover Food Standards Scotland, Scottish Ministers or indeed Welsh Ministers. With that in mind, I hope he will look carefully at new clause 9 and my amendment 37, which is coming up, because they will neatly address the problems he referred to.

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Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
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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.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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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.

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Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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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.

New Clause 1

Labelling

“(1) A person must not—

(a) market a precision bred organism, or

(b) place food and feed produced from precision bred organisms on the market

unless labelled in accordance with regulations made by the Secretary of State under this section.

(2) Regulations under this section must ensure that the labelling referred to in subsection (1) provides sufficient information to support informed consumer choice, having regard in particular to—

(a) nutritional content,

(b) the potential presence of allergens or other substances which may cause adverse human health impacts, and

(c) the environmental impact of the product.

(3) Before making regulations under this section, the Secretary of State must—

(a) consult representatives of—

(i) consumers,

(ii) food producers,

(iii) suppliers,

(iv) retailers,

(v) growers and farmers,

(vi) the organic sector,

(vii) other persons likely to be affected by the regulations, and

(viii) any other persons the Secretary of State considers appropriate; and

(b) seek the advice of the Food Standards Agency on the information to be required to be provided on labelling.

(4) Section 30 (Interpretation of Part 3) has effect for the purposes of this section as it has effect for the purposes of Part 3.” —(Daniel Zeichner.)

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to make regulations about the labelling of precision bred organisms and food and feed products made from them.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
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I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill (Sixth sitting)

Debate between Deidre Brock and Daniel Zeichner
Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This part of the Bill deals with risk assessments and the restriction of importation and acquisition of precision bred organisms in England. I am interested to hear what the Minister has to say. Given our debate on the very concept of the category and the fact that there are other, similar categories, some interesting questions are raised about who will determine it and how it will work with the other categories established in other jurisdictions. In itself, that is an interesting question.

For the purpose of the amendments, we note that the clause states that regulations “may” make provision to require a person to carry out environmental risk assessments. This is for veterans of the Environment Bill discussions, who will know that we had many “may” or “must” amendments, and long discussion as to whether that was reasonable. The clause, quite reasonably, gives the Government discretion on whether regulations happen at all, sooner or later. I understand why Government might want that discretion, but it poses the question why the provision is here and, if it is important, why it is not being implemented quickly. I will seek the Minister’s guidance on thinking behind it.

We can see why that matters, so one of our amendments is to turn “may” into “must”, and the other—guess what—is on the issue of the negative or the affirmative procedure. We think that is important too. It raises all the questions of what we think is reasonable for people here to do and for people elsewhere to do, and the relationship between them, while not putting our own people at a disadvantage. It is familiar ground in some ways for the wider arguments. We want to see it settled more precisely in the Bill and to have the opportunity to consider it again when the Government feel the time is right to bring a provision forward. I will listen closely to the Minister’s observations.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
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I seek clarification from the Minister on a point arising from the clause. It is about whether the passing of the Bill will open the UK to gene edited organisms from other countries that have adopted such practices to a greater extent than has been the case up to now or, indeed, to the extent that there has been a case up to now. I am interested to hear the Minister.

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Jo Churchill Portrait Jo Churchill
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Through scientific research.

In amendment 16, the hon. Member for Cambridge proposes to provide for further parliamentary scrutiny of the provisions on environmental risk assessments that may be required before importing a precision bred organisation into England, or acquiring a precision bred organism that is in England. The amendment is not needed because, in the case of clause 17, the affirmative procedure would not be meaningful. I want to reassure all hon. Members that this power does not signal a change in policy, but we think it appropriate to set out the relevant obligations in regulations. The corresponding provision in the Environmental Protection Act 1990 allows for the details of risk assessment to be set out in regulations, together with the exemption provisions. The regulations will be concerned primarily with the details of the nature of the risk assessment to be carried out, which makes them appropriate to be subject to the negative procedure. I urge the hon. Gentleman not to press his amendments.

On whether clause 17 should stand part of the Bill, I remind the Committee of the evidence we heard last week that precision bred plants and animals do not present a greater risk to human health or the environment than their conventional counterparts. As such, the Government do not intend to introduce additional risk assessment requirements for organisms of this type that are imported or acquired when they are released into the environment. Our approach is to maintain the proportionate science-based approach to regulation that has enable the UK’s research community to carry out world-leading science under contained-use conditions, such as in laboratories. I think we all agree that we are exceptionally lucky to have such individuals across the UK. The powers in the clause will enable the Government to make regulations to maintain the risk assessment requirements that currently apply to precision bred organisms imported or acquired for contained use under the genetically modified organism legislation, from which they will be removed.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
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How interesting. Once again, it seems to me that the Minister’s explanation says a lot more than is in the Bill. The hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith raised a good point. As I read the clause, it does not seem to me to say what the Minister has just explained.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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Having looked at the clause again, I am struggling to see where it specifies that it applies only to the importation of organisms that will be used in scientific research, or are the products of scientific research, and purely that and not for commercial use.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
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Absolutely. I suspect that the answer will probably come later in secondary legislation, which will clarify the matter. That is the ongoing problem that we have, because it is very hard to discern the answers from the Bill. There seems to be a logical problem in saying that the current situation will continue when we are introducing the notion of a precision bred organism. We can hardly be carrying forward the current framework when we are introducing something new. I understand the intention, as explained by the Minister, but it seems a long way from how the Bill is drafted. I still think that creates a logical problem in terms of who defines a precision bred organism from another jurisdiction, given that those other jurisdictions do not recognise the term and use a different one.

Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill (Third sitting)

Debate between Deidre Brock and Daniel Zeichner
Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
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That is helpful. I am sure you are aware that there are other views on that. Thank you, Chair.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
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Q You spoke about discussions with the devolved Administrations about this. I heard this morning that the discussions around this did not go through the common framework procedure. Are you able to tell me why that was?

Professor Henderson: I am afraid I am not. As a chief scientific adviser I am here to talk about the science. I spoke to my scientific counterparts and officials in the devolved Administrations who have a scientific interest, but I am not aware of the process you are talking about.

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Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
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I understand that point. Thank you.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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Q Professor Whitelaw, I hope to visit you soon at the Roslin Institute, along with your local MP, who has spoken glowingly of you for some time. The Scottish Government want to wait for the EU consultation in this area to be complete before approaching gene editing in the way that the UK Government are. That presents potential problems if the EU decides to stay where it is or just moves marginally, or has a different approach from the UK Government’s approach. If that happens, how do you see that affecting trade with the EU and our export trade there? This is the big concern for the Government. What is your answer to that?

Professor Whitelaw: I am not sure I can comment on export trade. It is not an area that I am knowledgeable about, but maybe I can comment more generally. One of the benefits of the Bill is to give momentum to investment in this area. I do not mean just money, but talent coming into the field, into the universities, and students knocking on my door and saying, “I want to do a PhD on genome-edited animals.” I see that increasing and I see that as a huge benefit for the UK and for Scotland. To me as a researcher, that is one of the major drivers—to see that investment opening up. Yes, it will happen in the commercial world. We have seen how other countries that brought in legislation on genome editing have seen a proliferation of small and medium-sized enterprises and innovative ideas coming through. That is what I want to see come out of the Bill. That is the bit that drives me. I am really not knowledgeable about the impact on exports.

Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill (Fourth sitting)

Debate between Deidre Brock and Daniel Zeichner
Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
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Q What would be needed in the Bill to safeguard against the issues that you have just raised?

Penny Hawkins: Well, I was listening to the representations this morning and I can only echo what everybody was saying about the welfare advisory body. At present it is there to report to the Secretary of State on whether the notifier has had regard to the risks to the health and welfare of the animal and their progeny. There does appear to be some provision in clause 15 on the suspension and revocation of marketing authorisation. That provides for the Secretary of State to receive information on the health and welfare of the progeny of those animals, but that is dependent on clause 14 on reporting obligations, which states only that:

“Regulations may make provision for requiring the notifier…to provide the Secretary of State with…information”

about their progeny

“during periods…prescribed by the regulations”.

All those elements that relate to long-term surveillance really need to be tightened up, and they need to be “musts” instead of “mays”. Many of those are subject to the affirmative procedure, which I know is normal for statutory instruments, but that again does not reassure people who are concerned about the long-term welfare effects that an adequate mechanism is in place for picking these up.

Similarly, it is not at all clear what qualifications the inspectors who are going to be active under the Bill need to have, so it would be good to see some reassurance as to how they are going to be qualified and to see it explicitly said that they will have the right to access and inspect animals.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
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Q Thank you for coming along to speak to us this afternoon. The RSPCA has raised concerns about the safety of gene editing, stating:

“There is no history of safe and reliable use”.

What else could that cover? What are your concerns? Can you expand on that, please?

Penny Hawkins: Just to clarify, when we talk about safety we are talking about the safety of animals. There are two kinds of concerns about gene editing: one from the consumer point of view and one from an animal welfare point of view, and we are talking about the animal welfare point of view. I listened particularly to Professor Henderson when he spoke to you, and I noted that he said there will have to be a two to three-year process of gathering and analysing scientific evidence around both on-farm and off-farm welfare

“before the secondary legislation can be enacted.”––[Official Report, Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Public Bill Committee, 28 June 2022; c. 17-18, Q24.]

He said that the process for that was laid out in the Bill, but I have looked at the Bill really carefully and I cannot see any such process either in the Bill or the explanatory notes.

This morning Professor Henderson said that more thinking needed to be done regarding animal welfare advisory bodies and advice on the Bill. Coming from the DEFRA chief scientific adviser, I do not think that that is very reassuring. All of the concerns that I expressed previously about the longitudinal reporting and monitoring of health and welfare also apply here. I am particularly thinking about clause 9, which explains what happens from the bureaucratic aspect if an animal is no longer deemed to be precision bred. Presumably if an animal is no longer deemed to be precision bred, it will either be because they have not been characterised or phenotyped properly or because the genome is no longer stable.

As you heard from the Royal Society of Biology, genes can have effects in multiple tissues, so in these cases there must be a much clearer mechanism for identifying and tracing these animals, and that is also lacking in the Bill. From an animal safety and welfare perspective, there really are some issues that need to be addressed.

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Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
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Q Following on from that, do you see anything in the Bill that limits the scope for herbicide-resistant edits in plants, or, for instance, pesticide-resistant bees, which I have been reading about? Those are both possibilities that raise some wider issues.

Pat Thomas: They certainly do raise wider issues. Within the scope of this Bill, as my colleague pointed out, there does not appear to be any type of genetic engineering that is truly exempted. If a plant or animal breeder can make a case—that case is not checked, it is simply made; it is a notification, not an assessment—that their plant is herbicide tolerant and that there somewhere exists a plant that is also herbicide tolerant, that plant becomes exempted under these provisions.

Lawrence Woodward: If I may just add to that, I had rather lazily gone along to some extent with the claim that gene editing technology will reduce the amount of herbicides and pesticides being used. I was therefore somewhat upset and surprised to see that Cibus, one of the major gene editing developers, put out its annual report the other day with a press release praising efforts around the world and in the UK to deregulate genome editing, because it saw the possibility of increasing herbicide-tolerant traits for sale, thereby increasing the use of herbicides in agriculture. It saw a way in which genome editing technology could increase the effectiveness of putting in herbicide-tolerant traits. That is an example of the complex nature of this area. The question of utility, sustainability, reduction of herbicides and so on, which people talk about, is really not a given.

Pat Thomas: I just want to add a brief point: within the scope of the Bill, the concept of risk is being used interchangeably with sustainability. Risk assessment and sustainability assessment are two entirely different things. A sustainability assessment will look more across the board at the sorts of effects that we are talking about here. We should not take for granted that risk or safety can be used as a proxy for sustainability.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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Q May I return you, Ms Thomas, to the points that you were making about Norway? I think the Norwegians introduced a gene technologies Act fairly recently. When I read about the approach that they took to the issue, it seemed to involve a lot more public consultation and discussion. Will you expand a little on the approach they have taken to this issue? What can we learn from it? What would you like to see included in this Bill?

Pat Thomas: I think we can learn the value of citizen views. I have been a little disturbed, in the first session and this one, by the vague disdain for citizens—“Citizens must not understand the science, therefore they must not have a view.” Citizens are major stakeholders in the food system.

What that board does is to have a high percentage of civil society groups in particular, who are used as a proxy for citizens, but it also seeks out citizen views. What we have learned from citizen engagement in our work and in sharing the work of others is that citizens tend to ask a much wider range of questions of the food system. When they are not asking those questions, it is because some aspect of the food system has been hidden from them. For example, until we understood about battery hens, people did not ask questions about that, but they ask them now. When people began to worry about pesticides in their food, they began to ask questions about organic food.

A concern for me about the Bill and citizen engagement is that the term “precision bred” is not well known. It is in fact a way of sneaking genetically engineered foods into the food system. I can envisage a case in which—even if there was a turnaround on labelling—to label something “precision bred”, for example, is not useful information to people who do not understand what that term means.

To circle back to your question, the importance of including citizens in these kinds of assessments is that we get a much more well-rounded assessment, and something that takes into account questions such as, “Why are we doing this?”, “Is there an alternative?” and, “If there is an alternative, why are we doing this?” Those questions are very important.

Lawrence Woodward: May I add to that? The Norwegian law is one thing. People always think, “Okay, it’s in Scandinavia, they don’t do much GM anyway,” but I remind you that in 2015 the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee—of which I believe you were a member, Chair—recommended in its inquiry into agricultural technology the establishment of a permanent citizens panel to work alongside ACRE in assessing all these other aspects of gene technology, such as its application, its commercial roll-out and so on. That is embedded in the House of Commons proceedings. It did not get very far, obviously. The other point about that is that although that provision did not go into detail as to what would constitute a permanent citizens’ panel, the Norwegian one does, in terms of balance of citizen representation and stakeholder representation.

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Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
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That is a very sobering prospect. Thank you; that was helpful.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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Q Thank you to both our witnesses for your evidence so far. I would like to hear your views on the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 and the implications for the future. Scotland and Wales in particular have objected to these measures—until such time that we, in Scotland’s case, have heard from the EU about its consultation on this.

Dr Edenborough: My views will be limited to the legal aspects. The simple consequence is that something may, for example, occur in England that may not be permissible in Scotland. But there is uncertainty with respect to whether, if you grow something in England, you could sell the product in Scotland. That is unclear. I think that is probably as far as I can go legally.

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Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
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Q You may or may not have heard the evidence from our previous witness from the Agricultural Industries Confederation, who expressed concern—pretty much using the language that you have just used—that we are out of kilter with other places, particularly Europe, and that that could have a dampening effect on these developments. Do you share that view?

Paul Temple: I very much share the view that if you are out of kilter, as a net importer, you risk causing yourself problems. Again, it is about following the science. I have been to America a number of times and I have sat with the USDA in Washington. Those guys have huge quantities of experience of managing a rapidly moving area of science. To my mind, they are the people with the most experience in this field. You should speak to them and ask them how they manage something that is actually being put out into fields now. You should go to the people with experience of managing it.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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Q Mr Temple, you said that you do not want farmers to be out of kilter with the rest of the world, but as we have heard today, and as I have read—this is one of the Scottish Government’s concerns—we may be out of kilter with Europe’s approach to GM and gene edited foods. Does that concern you? Some of the farmers that you come into contact with must export their goods to Europe. We have heard that there is the possibility for products to get through on a product-by-product basis, but that sounds kind of costly and would take up a lot of time. Are you not concerned about that?

Paul Temple: I have always been concerned about the approach that Europe has taken. However, there seems to be a more conciliatory approach on the necessity of enabling the technology. We will see, but there does seem to be some element of progress. What I find really interesting is the gene edited wheat that has been put out in Argentina. It is in fields in New Zealand and Australia, and the US pretty much accepts it. That facilitates trade. When countries like Argentina, which are massive net exporters, are willing to adopt this technology and look at its safety, there is a huge amount we can learn from that.

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Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
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Q That is fine. I am certainly not laying it on you; it is down to us to come up with the answer to that one.

Ross Houston: Yes, but my practical point would be—this is the way we think about it—that we are aiming to ensure that there would be sterility of the farmed strains, and at least awareness of that potential risk of genetic introgression with wild strains, and essentially to eliminate that.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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Q You will be aware, of course, that the Scottish Government want to wait until the EU’s consultation on gene edited products is complete, because they wish to retain regulatory alignment with the EU and there are concerns about the export of salmon, which is a huge sector for Scotland—and for the UK, for that matter—to Europe, and to France in particular. Given that you are in the sector and close to it, can you tell us about your concerns about that potential impact? If the EU retains its current opposition to gene editing, what would be the impact on UK products trying to get into the EU?

Ross Houston: As I said, it is welcome that we are having this discussion, but of course most of the aquaculture in the UK is salmon farming, and most salmon farming occurs in Scotland. So from our point of view it is disappointing that we are not having similar science-based and open debates about the risks and benefits of these approaches in Scotland. The Scottish Government are also, via the Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre, funding research that is looking to use CRISPR precision breeding technologies to tackle some of the sustainability concerns of the industry, such as resistance to sea lice and viral disease. Therefore, I think it would be welcome if we could have a similar discussion in Scotland.

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Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
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Not in yours, but possibly in others who are less public spirited.

Nigel Moore: I think the critical answer to the question is that public confidence and reassurance is at the heart of the Bill, in the definition of a precision bred organism as something that could occur in nature or by traditional breeding. There are many genome editing methods that can create additional changes. Absolutely the key step to generating public confidence and reassurance is the recognition that the techniques that can create those sorts of changes do not create additional risk. The ACRE guidance on qualifying higher plants that accompanies the Genetically Modified Organisms (Deliberate Release) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2002 gave an extremely good evidence-based approach to which types of techniques create changes that could occur in nature.

The question is about an imprecise definition. We need the additional information to say, “These are the techniques that we confirm as PBOs—they are fine.” Public reassurance is at the heart of this and we must make sure that we only put into this regulatory regime things that have the same risk profile as traditional breeding. What is clear from listening to the discussion today is how little information is known about what sorts of genetic changes happen in conventional breeding, or about the scale of those genetic changes.

I brought with me the AHDB recommended list. I will not go into it, but if we were to look at it, we would see that there are 38 varieties of wheat on the recommended list for the UK. They have many different characteristics, including resistances, yields, qualities for processing and vastly different protein contents—there is a range of about 30% of different protein contents. You can see null-lox barleys that have a different framing characteristic in beer making. You can see non-GN barleys that do not create carcinogens in whisky distilling. There are many food-safety single issues all in this vast range of genetic resources that have been created by traditional breeding. There is a wide range.

People should have confidence that all the food and all the breeding has delivered not risk, but improvement, safety and better environmental outcomes compared with old varieties. There is a big misunderstanding about the position of precision breeding. The public confidence question is about information, education and transparency. For me, that is at the heart of what we are doing here.

Public confidence should also be triggered by a recent study on the socioeconomic impact of plant breeding, run by HFFA Research, and which studied all of Europe. It showed that over the last 20 years in the UK alone, breeding development has saved 1.8 million hectares from agriculture and delivered about 16 million tonnes fewer CO2 emissions than the same production at the same level 20 years ago. That is with no more fertiliser, no more crop protection and no more land use, so there is a huge benefit to the public. Can we keep pace with climate change, and with pathogen development on stripe rusts in wheat and so on, without going faster? We must go faster. Without new technology and innovation, I do not feel very safe. The world gets warmer, we get hungrier and we need innovation—and we need to do it fast.

Professor Caccamo: I will be very brief. Labelling the technology would be a mistake. It would undermine the principle of the Bill, because these technologies should be indistinguishable from traditional breeding or something that would happen in nature. But it is also important to stress that these technologies are actually more precise, as the Bill says. Therefore, we are in a position whereby we can advance genetic benefits much faster. Trying to identify the technology through a labelling system would probably achieve the opposite with the public, because it would probably raise concerns about why we need to do that. I will leave it there.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

Q I absolutely agree with you, Mr Moore. Public confidence and transparency around all of this is vital, but we have heard criticisms today that the category of “precision bred organisms” is not recognised anywhere else in the world and is not based on scientific criteria, which could potentially present problems for trade in these goods. Do you know where the term “precision bred” came from?

Nigel Moore: I think we have developed it here, but the concept of things that could occur in nature or traditional breeding is exactly the same concept that is being discussed with the Commission. Health Canada has also come up with a similar concept. Does it have the same three-letter acronym? No, but that concept is the common concept.

Professor Caccamo: I believe we are dealing with an anomaly, because what we are doing here is removing genome edited crops from the definition of genetically modified organisms. Countries that have adopted the technology have done a proactive measurement from scratch, whereby they considered genome editing to be a new technology that could bring new crops. The European ruling brought us into a position whereby we need to make an exception. That is the result we see in the Bill, which I consider, as I said, an anomaly.

Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill (Second sitting)

Debate between Deidre Brock and Daniel Zeichner
Tuesday 28th June 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q That is a really important point. I may be wrong, but I do not see anything in the Bill enabling that.

Professor Lovell-Badge: Nor do I.

Alessandro Coatti: Under clause 11, when a marketing notice is given in relation to a precision bred animal, the Secretary of State reserves the right to get information from the notifier, over a specified period of time, about the health and welfare of the animal, so that is already covered in the Bill.

Professor Lovell-Badge: But how you do that is not clear.

Alessandro Coatti: No, and a lot will depend on very good guidance from DEFRA or ACRE about how to do that. But that power is in the Bill, at least.

Again, the need for post-marketing monitoring comes down to the trade that you are introducing, not whether you use a technique. It will be important for whoever advises the Secretary of State to be able to tell them, “This change warrants longer-term monitoring, but this other one does not, because we have seen it in the species over many years. This is just a better way of doing it, and it will not dramatically alter what we already know about the trait.”

Professor Lovell-Badge: Remember, many genes have effects in multiple tissues, so you may be focused on changing something—modifying CCR5 for HIV resistance, for example—but not realise that it may also be active and play some role in the brain. That is a clear example of where you may have an issue.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
- Hansard - -

Q The Regulatory Policy Committee brought out a report just a few days ago that concludes that the Government have not made a convincing business case for the deregulation of precision bred organisms in the food system, and it suggests that more narrative around

“competition, innovation, consumer and environmental impacts”

should be included in the Bill. Would you agree that there is insufficient detail on that in the Bill currently?

Professor Lovell-Badge: I think I would agree it is insufficient. You have to factor in everything: the environment, farming practice—how whatever you are doing, whether it is with plant or animal, is going to fit in with or change farming practices. I think there needs to be a lot more thought about those issues.

Alessandro Coatti: I am not entirely sure I agree. Could you tell me again—those people said that the Government have not made a case for deregulation of these organisms?

--- Later in debate ---
Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you, that’s helpful. May I turn to the two professors? On innovation in general, in essence, the argument is that innovation will happen because obstacles are being removed. Is that enough to foster the kind of innovation that you would hope to see, based on your passion and excitement for this technology?

Professor Napier: I think it was mentioned earlier that with innovation, it probably needs to be developed as a public-private partnership, which sort of implies that there needs to be a market pull. Using the term “market” can be slightly perturbing because, in reality, the drivers for what we want to see translated are much bigger than the economics. They are things like global climate change, food security and all the global pandemics associated with malnutrition and overconsumption. Those are the challenges enshrined in sustainable development goals and things like that. Those are the things that we should be occupying ourselves with. We need to use everything we can to try to fix those challenges. Rothamsted and other places like that—in fact, everybody—should be working towards those goals and overcoming those challenges.

Listening to what Bill said about IP, I spend an enormous amount of time thinking about IP because it is an area that I have to think about a lot. The beauty about the UK is that we have a really strong research use exemption, which allows us to operate in a way that is not encumbered, at least at the research level, by IP. We are in a really good place. I think the bigger barrier to innovation is what I have already mentioned: it is not IP but the cost of regulatory approval. That is why I am so worried that in new legislation, if we start building in layers of costs associated with more regulation, we are just replicating what we had previously under the EU regulation. I think that would be an enormous missed opportunity if we go down that road. That is my personal view.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

Q I want to go back to Mr Angus’s comments about ownership or the licensing of genes and his concern about that. How would you address that, as people involved in this area? What measures should be taken? Clearly, people are concerned about the patenting of crops.

Professor Napier: You cannot patent a gene. There was a case in the US that made it quite clear that you cannot hold a patent on a gene. That legal precedent is quite clear, from the famous case of Myriad. I am not too worried about that. In reality, it is analogous to what you see in the pharmaceutical sector and relates exactly to your point about understanding the drivers for innovation. You need to couple it with economics.

All these things are moving parts, which you need to make the whole thing work. To pull it forward, you need to have an economic case and some form of protecting your invention—patents are a good way of doing that. The example I always give is that my mobile phone probably has 2,000 patents-worth of components in. Nobody gets upset about that. It is about understanding how you can best use this technology. I also do not want to sound like some sort of gung-ho free marketeer, because I am absolutely not. I work in a Government-supported institute. I do not work in the private sector. I probably want the best of both worlds.

Professor Halford: As public sector scientists, at times in our careers we have been told we should be patenting everything, and at times in our careers we have said, “Well, it's unethical to be patenting this stuff.” I think we have a pretty robust patents system. You cannot patent discoveries of genes; you have to patent an invention. That seems to have worked for mobile phones and it works with pharmaceuticals, many of which are biologicals. I do not see why it cannot work in crop high technology.

--- Later in debate ---
Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q How would you achieve that public interest test?

Joanna Lewis: I would really recommend that you look to Norway’s gene technology Act. I have not gone through it line by line, but it feels like a valuable precedent from a country that also sits outside the European Union and is looking at what governance can apply—to make sure we are not just presupposing the benefits. Commercial drivers are not given free rein, and if there is to be a relaxation of regulation, you can do it with the confidence that it is going in the direction of supporting more sustainable farming. I believe the test that it set is that something is of community benefit and supports sustainable development. I do not know whether that is fully adequate, but it is a precedent that is out there and merits some consideration.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

Q Clause 3 sets out the conditions under which a person can release a precision bred organism in England. Do you think the measures within that are sufficient? Probably not. I would be interested to hear where you think they might be strengthened.

Christopher Atkinson: You are right in supposing that we feel the measures are insufficient. We need a high degree of traceability and the ability for organic producers in particular to understand where crops are being grown and the risk of contamination.

Roger Kerr: The other aspect is that, as we have heard from previous speakers, there is not going to be a significant amount of investment in producing this material unless there is sufficient visibility over where it is, because of the likelihood that it will disappear into the food system and the businesses that have developed the technology will not be able to recover the costs. There is an issue in understanding the full and public visibility over where these crops are being grown, who is growing them and where they are going, so that there is the opportunity to see where that product has gone, so that people can recover their investment.

Steven Jacobs: The Bill says that the organism is

“a marketable precision bred organism”

and

“the qualifying progeny of a marketable precision bred organism”.

One of the issues is what will happen if there are—and we are assuming there will be—many precision bred events put into one product, whether that is livestock or crops. In crops, for instance, you can have stacked traits. The issue is around that crop being bred with something else and some of those traits being passed over, perhaps unknowingly.

We have seen incidents where herbicide resistance has gone out into the wilder environment and that has caused problems. For instance, there was a case on the Swiss-Italian border where herbicide-resistant oilseed rape that was not grown in Switzerland was found on the railway. It had leaked out of the railway carriages. That is a problem because they spray herbicide to keep the railway sidings—all the ballast—stabilised. Now, they have a situation where there is a herbicide-resistant weed in a location that would normally be sprayed in order to keep the railway safe. There are incidents where one would need to see some measure of traceability in order to evaluate. It is not just our need; I would suggest that there is a public and commercial need.

Roger Kerr: On livestock, take a genetically edited bull, for argument’s sake—I have picked cows because I like cows. He will have sired innumerable daughters that will go on to be crossed back. They may be crossed back with a non-GE sire. At what point do they become non-GE? Obviously, going back through their parentage, there will be GE material in there. From our point of view—from an organic standpoint—the question is: at what point is it no longer a genetically edited animal, if its forebears were genetically edited? There is a lot of concern around how we manage this issue, how those things are defined and who, ultimately, owns the genetic material within that animal, albeit it is the great-great-great-great-granddaughter of something. There are concerns there.

Joanna Lewis: It also feels that the solution in terms of implementing supply chain transparency, traceability and labelling is eminently achievable. It does not feel like a big barrier to bring that into the scope of the Bill in order to address those concerns and allow the legitimate needs of citizens who reserve the right to choose to reject this technology, and to preserve the integrity of organic systems. We are obviously at a point in time where the industry is buzzing with big data supply chain solutions and wanting a whole new resurgence in food labelling to show the citizen everything about the provenance, origin and production practices of their food. It should not be a big barrier to this Bill’s intent to include that requirement for full supply chain transparency and labelling.

--- Later in debate ---
Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Which begs the question of why you had to register. However, I think we could probably go round in circles on this. Chair, I am quite happy for us to move on to other questioners.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

Q Professor Oldroyd, you mentioned tight restrictions on validating the safety of gene-edited organisms. I just wondered whether it is possible to use field trials to assess sufficiently whether there are major impacts, or even minor impacts, on local ecologies once the crops are grown at a commercial scale. How do you take that into account?

Professor Oldroyd: Let me describe how we get to the point. For instance, I have some gene-edited material out in the field right now and we measure everything we can possibly measure in that material, from its effect. These are affecting plant microbial interactions, so we are particularly looking, for instance, at what is happening in the soil. We have the wild type and we have the gene-edited line, so we can precisely compare, to understand any differences in the local environment caused by the gene-edited type or the wild type. That is intrinsic to the research programme and we have to do those field trials before anything even gets close to commercialisation.

Therefore, intrinsic to working with this material is that we are already putting it out in the field. If I then hand it to breeder, they will then be doing breeding in their lines with that material and also doing extensive field trials, testing many factors, according to their performance relative to other lines. Ultimately, if it gets released as a variety, then NIAB, under the jurisdiction from the Government, tests and compares those lines relative to other lines on their performance in the field.

So there are many points along this track where we are actually testing the performance—as a researcher myself; as a breeding company; and then as NIAB, creating the recommended list. There are multiple factors all along the way that are already intrinsic to the process.

--- Later in debate ---
Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I will follow up on that, in that case. If there is that confidence, why the reluctance to allow consumers to know how their food is being produced? Polling from the Food Standards Agency suggests that consumers want that. Is there not a danger that it looks as if you are trying to hide something?

Sam Brooke: We are absolutely not against full transparency of breeding methods. Most breeders have already taken their own initiative to highlight, on their websites and social media platforms, how varieties are produced. I think it was back in March 2021 that we wrote to the Secretary of State, George Eustice, and said, “No, BSPB is absolutely up for transparency on the breeding process.” It is just that the best way of doing that is through the chain.

We have worked with DEFRA and looked at how we can easily bring that step into the national list process by highlighting what breeding process was used, because we already do, to a certain extent. For example, if it was a hybridised crop, we would have to highlight if it was cytoplasmic male sterility or a chemical-hybridising agent system, so we are already doing that. That, for me, would be another step forward and would support the public register, which is in the Bill and which we absolutely support.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

Q You just spoke of the UK’s considerable reputation for offering protections around the breeding processes and so on, making them very safe. Does that differ markedly from the protections that the EU offers? Is the UK leading in that respect?

Sam Brooke: Naturally, we have been following EU legislation and have been historically aligning, quite rightly, with EU legislation on this, where we have our nearest trading partners and the majority of plant breeders. Because it is such an expensive industry, the majority of plant breeders are breeding at least for Europe if not internationally, because varieties travel quite nicely, especially to our nearest countries in the EU. We align with that. The key difference is probably that we have a lot of expertise in the UK and we want to keep that, because plant breeders are based here and actively breeding here—they have labs and food trials here and we have this fantastic, world-leading research and development in the likes of NIAB, John Innes and Rothamsted.

--- Later in debate ---
Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q To follow up, I was thinking more of it the other way round. If there was a time lag or a different view was taken in Europe, would you have to have two different production systems—one using gene edited animals, and one not? What are the practicalities of that?

Dr Tinch: If the legislation puts in place a system whereby gene edited animals would need to be labelled, you would need to have parallel systems. My argument would be that gene editing is a means of creating genetic variation that is identical to the variation that would occur naturally. As a consequence of that, we are not seeing products that are different.

If I identified a gene for disease resistance in a group of animals in the population that I was farming and bred it into the population for supply into the food chain, or I gene-edited the animal with the same genetic change—the same mutation—those animals would be identical in their genetics and performance, but if we labelled them and identified them differently, we would be creating two levels of animals within the production system that are essentially different. That would cause more problems than required in terms of the science behind the technology and the proportionality of how we are dealing with that lack of genetic difference.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

Q Hello, Dr Tinch. It is good to see you. We have heard from folk who have been dealing with arable crops and so on, and there is a suggestion that the commercial benefits of this Bill would not be realised for anywhere between five and 11 years, but I wonder what the difference would be for aquaculture. Say the Bill becomes law, how quickly could we see commercial benefits for aquaculture farmers?

Dr Tinch: The key difference—let me know if I get too technical, as I do not want to drift away—is in the amount of time it takes to go from generation to generation. Some aquaculture species have a very short generation interval and can grow up and produce eggs quite quickly. For a lot of the warm water species that are farmed, and imported and exported around the world, we could move quite quickly because they have a short generation interval and they produce large numbers of eggs, so we could quickly be in a situation where we are producing animals with gene edits. That would be species like shrimp and tilapia. Shrimp are consumed at high levels in the UK. Tilapia are not, but they are still consumed at high rates around the world.

Atlantic salmon are much slower in terms of their growth and maturation. It takes at least three years—probably four years—to go through that cycle from egg to egg. From a practical point of view, we are not going to do it in one generation—it would be a couple of generations—so for Atlantic salmon we are talking at least four years, probably nearer eight years, until there were significant numbers of Atlantic salmon edited in the populations.

Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill (Second sitting)

Debate between Deidre Brock and Daniel Zeichner
Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q That is a really important point. I may be wrong, but I do not see anything in the Bill enabling that.

Professor Lovell-Badge: Nor do I.

Alessandro Coatti: Under clause 11, when a marketing notice is given in relation to a precision bred animal, the Secretary of State reserves the right to get information from the notifier, over a specified period of time, about the health and welfare of the animal, so that is already covered in the Bill.

Professor Lovell-Badge: But how you do that is not clear.

Alessandro Coatti: No, and a lot will depend on very good guidance from DEFRA or ACRE about how to do that. But that power is in the Bill, at least.

Again, the need for post-marketing monitoring comes down to the trade that you are introducing, not whether you use a technique. It will be important for whoever advises the Secretary of State to be able to tell them, “This change warrants longer-term monitoring, but this other one does not, because we have seen it in the species over many years. This is just a better way of doing it, and it will not dramatically alter what we already know about the trait.”

Professor Lovell-Badge: Remember, many genes have effects in multiple tissues, so you may be focused on changing something—modifying CCR5 for HIV resistance, for example—but not realise that it may also be active and play some role in the brain. That is a clear example of where you may have an issue.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
- Hansard - -

Q The Regulatory Policy Committee brought out a report just a few days ago that concludes that the Government have not made a convincing business case for the deregulation of precision bred organisms in the food system, and it suggests that more narrative around

“competition, innovation, consumer and environmental impacts”

should be included in the Bill. Would you agree that there is insufficient detail on that in the Bill currently?

Professor Lovell-Badge: I think I would agree it is insufficient. You have to factor in everything: the environment, farming practice—how whatever you are doing, whether it is with plant or animal, is going to fit in with or change farming practices. I think there needs to be a lot more thought about those issues.

Alessandro Coatti: I am not entirely sure I agree. Could you tell me again—those people said that the Government have not made a case for deregulation of these organisms?

--- Later in debate ---
Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you, that’s helpful. May I turn to the two professors? On innovation in general, in essence, the argument is that innovation will happen because obstacles are being removed. Is that enough to foster the kind of innovation that you would hope to see, based on your passion and excitement for this technology?

Professor Napier: I think it was mentioned earlier that with innovation, it probably needs to be developed as a public-private partnership, which sort of implies that there needs to be a market pull. Using the term “market” can be slightly perturbing because, in reality, the drivers for what we want to see translated are much bigger than the economics. They are things like global climate change, food security and all the global pandemics associated with malnutrition and overconsumption. Those are the challenges enshrined in sustainable development goals and things like that. Those are the things that we should be occupying ourselves with. We need to use everything we can to try to fix those challenges. Rothamsted and other places like that—in fact, everybody—should be working towards those goals and overcoming those challenges.

Listening to what Bill said about IP, I spend an enormous amount of time thinking about IP because it is an area that I have to think about a lot. The beauty about the UK is that we have a really strong research use exemption, which allows us to operate in a way that is not encumbered, at least at the research level, by IP. We are in a really good place. I think the bigger barrier to innovation is what I have already mentioned: it is not IP but the cost of regulatory approval. That is why I am so worried that in new legislation, if we start building in layers of costs associated with more regulation, we are just replicating what we had previously under the EU regulation. I think that would be an enormous missed opportunity if we go down that road. That is my personal view.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

Q I want to go back to Mr Angus’s comments about ownership or the licensing of genes and his concern about that. How would you address that, as people involved in this area? What measures should be taken? Clearly, people are concerned about the patenting of crops.

Professor Napier: You cannot patent a gene. There was a case in the US that made it quite clear that you cannot hold a patent on a gene. That legal precedent is quite clear, from the famous case of Myriad. I am not too worried about that. In reality, it is analogous to what you see in the pharmaceutical sector and relates exactly to your point about understanding the drivers for innovation. You need to couple it with economics.

All these things are moving parts, which you need to make the whole thing work. To pull it forward, you need to have an economic case and some form of protecting your invention—patents are a good way of doing that. The example I always give is that my mobile phone probably has 2,000 patents-worth of components in. Nobody gets upset about that. It is about understanding how you can best use this technology. I also do not want to sound like some sort of gung-ho free marketeer, because I am absolutely not. I work in a Government-supported institute. I do not work in the private sector. I probably want the best of both worlds.

Professor Halford: As public sector scientists, at times in our careers we have been told we should be patenting everything, and at times in our careers we have said, “Well, it's unethical to be patenting this stuff.” I think we have a pretty robust patents system. You cannot patent discoveries of genes; you have to patent an invention. That seems to have worked for mobile phones and it works with pharmaceuticals, many of which are biologicals. I do not see why it cannot work in crop high technology.

--- Later in debate ---
Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q How would you achieve that public interest test?

Joanna Lewis: I would really recommend that you look to Norway’s gene technology Act. I have not gone through it line by line, but it feels like a valuable precedent from a country that also sits outside the European Union and is looking at what governance can apply—to make sure we are not just presupposing the benefits. Commercial drivers are not given free rein, and if there is to be a relaxation of regulation, you can do it with the confidence that it is going in the direction of supporting more sustainable farming. I believe the test that it set is that something is of community benefit and supports sustainable development. I do not know whether that is fully adequate, but it is a precedent that is out there and merits some consideration.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

Q Clause 3 sets out the conditions under which a person can release a precision bred organism in England. Do you think the measures within that are sufficient? Probably not. I would be interested to hear where you think they might be strengthened.

Christopher Atkinson: You are right in supposing that we feel the measures are insufficient. We need a high degree of traceability and the ability for organic producers in particular to understand where crops are being grown and the risk of contamination.

Roger Kerr: The other aspect is that, as we have heard from previous speakers, there is not going to be a significant amount of investment in producing this material unless there is sufficient visibility over where it is, because of the likelihood that it will disappear into the food system and the businesses that have developed the technology will not be able to recover the costs. There is an issue in understanding the full and public visibility over where these crops are being grown, who is growing them and where they are going, so that there is the opportunity to see where that product has gone, so that people can recover their investment.

Steven Jacobs: The Bill says that the organism is

“a marketable precision bred organism”

and

“the qualifying progeny of a marketable precision bred organism”.

One of the issues is what will happen if there are—and we are assuming there will be—many precision bred events put into one product, whether that is livestock or crops. In crops, for instance, you can have stacked traits. The issue is around that crop being bred with something else and some of those traits being passed over, perhaps unknowingly.

We have seen incidents where herbicide resistance has gone out into the wilder environment and that has caused problems. For instance, there was a case on the Swiss-Italian border where herbicide-resistant oilseed rape that was not grown in Switzerland was found on the railway. It had leaked out of the railway carriages. That is a problem because they spray herbicide to keep the railway sidings—all the ballast—stabilised. Now, they have a situation where there is a herbicide-resistant weed in a location that would normally be sprayed in order to keep the railway safe. There are incidents where one would need to see some measure of traceability in order to evaluate. It is not just our need; I would suggest that there is a public and commercial need.

Roger Kerr: On livestock, take a genetically edited bull, for argument’s sake—I have picked cows because I like cows. He will have sired innumerable daughters that will go on to be crossed back. They may be crossed back with a non-GE sire. At what point do they become non-GE? Obviously, going back through their parentage, there will be GE material in there. From our point of view—from an organic standpoint—the question is: at what point is it no longer a genetically edited animal, if its forebears were genetically edited? There is a lot of concern around how we manage this issue, how those things are defined and who, ultimately, owns the genetic material within that animal, albeit it is the great-great-great-great-granddaughter of something. There are concerns there.

Joanna Lewis: It also feels that the solution in terms of implementing supply chain transparency, traceability and labelling is eminently achievable. It does not feel like a big barrier to bring that into the scope of the Bill in order to address those concerns and allow the legitimate needs of citizens who reserve the right to choose to reject this technology, and to preserve the integrity of organic systems. We are obviously at a point in time where the industry is buzzing with big data supply chain solutions and wanting a whole new resurgence in food labelling to show the citizen everything about the provenance, origin and production practices of their food. It should not be a big barrier to this Bill’s intent to include that requirement for full supply chain transparency and labelling.

--- Later in debate ---
Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Which begs the question of why you had to register. However, I think we could probably go round in circles on this. Chair, I am quite happy for us to move on to other questioners.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

Q Professor Oldroyd, you mentioned tight restrictions on validating the safety of gene-edited organisms. I just wondered whether it is possible to use field trials to assess sufficiently whether there are major impacts, or even minor impacts, on local ecologies once the crops are grown at a commercial scale. How do you take that into account?

Professor Oldroyd: Let me describe how we get to the point. For instance, I have some gene-edited material out in the field right now and we measure everything we can possibly measure in that material, from its effect. These are affecting plant microbial interactions, so we are particularly looking, for instance, at what is happening in the soil. We have the wild type and we have the gene-edited line, so we can precisely compare, to understand any differences in the local environment caused by the gene-edited type or the wild type. That is intrinsic to the research programme and we have to do those field trials before anything even gets close to commercialisation.

Therefore, intrinsic to working with this material is that we are already putting it out in the field. If I then hand it to breeder, they will then be doing breeding in their lines with that material and also doing extensive field trials, testing many factors, according to their performance relative to other lines. Ultimately, if it gets released as a variety, then NIAB, under the jurisdiction from the Government, tests and compares those lines relative to other lines on their performance in the field.

So there are many points along this track where we are actually testing the performance—as a researcher myself; as a breeding company; and then as NIAB, creating the recommended list. There are multiple factors all along the way that are already intrinsic to the process.

--- Later in debate ---
Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I will follow up on that, in that case. If there is that confidence, why the reluctance to allow consumers to know how their food is being produced? Polling from the Food Standards Agency suggests that consumers want that. Is there not a danger that it looks as if you are trying to hide something?

Sam Brooke: We are absolutely not against full transparency of breeding methods. Most breeders have already taken their own initiative to highlight, on their websites and social media platforms, how varieties are produced. I think it was back in March 2021 that we wrote to the Secretary of State, George Eustice, and said, “No, BSPB is absolutely up for transparency on the breeding process.” It is just that the best way of doing that is through the chain.

We have worked with DEFRA and looked at how we can easily bring that step into the national list process by highlighting what breeding process was used, because we already do, to a certain extent. For example, if it was a hybridised crop, we would have to highlight if it was cytoplasmic male sterility or a chemical-hybridising agent system, so we are already doing that. That, for me, would be another step forward and would support the public register, which is in the Bill and which we absolutely support.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

Q You just spoke of the UK’s considerable reputation for offering protections around the breeding processes and so on, making them very safe. Does that differ markedly from the protections that the EU offers? Is the UK leading in that respect?

Sam Brooke: Naturally, we have been following EU legislation and have been historically aligning, quite rightly, with EU legislation on this, where we have our nearest trading partners and the majority of plant breeders. Because it is such an expensive industry, the majority of plant breeders are breeding at least for Europe if not internationally, because varieties travel quite nicely, especially to our nearest countries in the EU. We align with that. The key difference is probably that we have a lot of expertise in the UK and we want to keep that, because plant breeders are based here and actively breeding here—they have labs and food trials here and we have this fantastic, world-leading research and development in the likes of NIAB, John Innes and Rothamsted.

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Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q To follow up, I was thinking more of it the other way round. If there was a time lag or a different view was taken in Europe, would you have to have two different production systems—one using gene edited animals, and one not? What are the practicalities of that?

Dr Tinch: If the legislation puts in place a system whereby gene edited animals would need to be labelled, you would need to have parallel systems. My argument would be that gene editing is a means of creating genetic variation that is identical to the variation that would occur naturally. As a consequence of that, we are not seeing products that are different.

If I identified a gene for disease resistance in a group of animals in the population that I was farming and bred it into the population for supply into the food chain, or I gene-edited the animal with the same genetic change—the same mutation—those animals would be identical in their genetics and performance, but if we labelled them and identified them differently, we would be creating two levels of animals within the production system that are essentially different. That would cause more problems than required in terms of the science behind the technology and the proportionality of how we are dealing with that lack of genetic difference.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

Q Hello, Dr Tinch. It is good to see you. We have heard from folk who have been dealing with arable crops and so on, and there is a suggestion that the commercial benefits of this Bill would not be realised for anywhere between five and 11 years, but I wonder what the difference would be for aquaculture. Say the Bill becomes law, how quickly could we see commercial benefits for aquaculture farmers?

Dr Tinch: The key difference—let me know if I get too technical, as I do not want to drift away—is in the amount of time it takes to go from generation to generation. Some aquaculture species have a very short generation interval and can grow up and produce eggs quite quickly. For a lot of the warm water species that are farmed, and imported and exported around the world, we could move quite quickly because they have a short generation interval and they produce large numbers of eggs, so we could quickly be in a situation where we are producing animals with gene edits. That would be species like shrimp and tilapia. Shrimp are consumed at high levels in the UK. Tilapia are not, but they are still consumed at high rates around the world.

Atlantic salmon are much slower in terms of their growth and maturation. It takes at least three years—probably four years—to go through that cycle from egg to egg. From a practical point of view, we are not going to do it in one generation—it would be a couple of generations—so for Atlantic salmon we are talking at least four years, probably nearer eight years, until there were significant numbers of Atlantic salmon edited in the populations.

Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill (First sitting)

Debate between Deidre Brock and Daniel Zeichner
Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q All that is very interesting and very good, but I do not actually see that this is covered in the Bill as it stands. This is all going to have to follow through secondary legislation, is it not?

Professor May: That is correct. At the moment, part 3 of the Bill encompasses the direction of travel, but not the details. That is something we are working on at the moment.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

Q Food Standards Scotland produced a paper in March of this year that pointed out potential for regulatory divergence between the four nations of the UK and that the Bill could result in Ministers in England taking decisions on the approval of genome-edited food and food products with little or no involvement from Food Standards Scotland or, indeed, Ministers in Scotland. It is an independent authority, as you know. Can you tell us how that relationship will be approached and managed, if the Bill becomes an Act?

Professor May: Happily, I am here as a scientist, so I can say that, scientifically, we have an extremely close working relationship with FSS and other regulators around the world, but the closest is with FSS.

If I give an example, at the moment, risk assessments that we might do in FSA are shared very closely with FSS. All that process is done together. Often we are using the same sets of experts—for example, to provide information. Once the risk assessment is done, it passes to a risk management process. I cannot think of an example where there is a difference in the risk assessment part between nations, because the science is the science.

Where there are sometimes differences is in the risk management area. A current example is raw drinking milk, because the science around the risks of drinking such milk is the same, but England and Scotland have different views on how much risk is acceptable. Under this framework, I would fully intend that we would share all the science around the risk assessments of a precision-bred product. Ultimately, though, the decision on a risk management basis and whether to authorise it would fall to Ministers in each of the individual countries.

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Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you. I will leave it there for the moment.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

Q The Scottish and Welsh Governments have clearly stated their intention at present for precision bred organisms to be regulated as GMOs. How will ACRE’s advice on releases to the environment take account of the fact that the Welsh and Scottish Governments currently have a different approach from Westminster on this?

Professor Dunwell: Well, we realise that the jurisdiction is different. We have observers at ACRE meetings from the devolved authorities—not at every meeting, but they are clearly invited to attend, and some of them do. They can add their own input into the discussions, even though it will not apply within their jurisdiction. Then of course we have the fact that much of the good science goes on at the James Hutton Institute, the Roslin Institute and elsewhere. Those are world-class centres of science doing this type of research. I am sure that among those scientists there is an intrinsic frustration about the political environment that exists, but I am not going to comment on the policy at that level. ACRE as a committee had sessions in Edinburgh some three or four years ago, and we have spoken to the relevant committees directly. I was part of those discussions.

Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [ Lords ]

Debate between Deidre Brock and Daniel Zeichner
Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

Okay, Sir Charles. Further to that, the Scottish Government hope to work through those issues, but it demonstrates how that Act can undermine devolution.

In closing, I commend those who have written in with their views, raising distressing issues such as puppy farming and unregulated microchipping and very sad cases of animal abuse. We hope that the Bill will go some way to address those issues. I also commend submissions from organisations such as the RSPCA, which, in particular, impressed me as adopting a very measured but rigorous approach to the Bill.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles, and to be able to address the issues in the Bill. I have to say, we have already strayed on to other areas. As I walked into the Committee Room this morning, I saw that the notice on the door has the wrong wording, which rather sums up this Government’s muddled approach to animal welfare. Many people get confused by the various pieces of legislation, with Friday mornings spent discussing each other’s pet animals and so on.

My concern about clause 1 relates to exactly what it says: it sets up a committee. It does not enshrine sentience in law. That is the key point. The Government had the opportunity to put sentience into law when my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East and other Members across the House tabled a very sensible amendment to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. I hope that the Minister will address that. The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster briefly referenced that poor cat. I am not sure what the status of sentience is in our law at the moment. Perhaps the Minister could address that. The hiatus over the past two years has left us in a curious position.

In the sense that it is better than nothing, we welcome the Bill. However, it is pretty close to nothing. As the Minister said, the committee has no power to make value judgments. She might as well have paused in the middle of that sentence—the committee has no power. It is a talking shop.

We will support the Bill in so far as it goes. However, let us be clear: it is a complete betrayal of the Conservatives’ promise to pursue animal welfare issues. We do it; they talk about it.

Environment Test From Patch Testing (First sitting)

Debate between Deidre Brock and Daniel Zeichner
Monday 16th August 2021

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I am grateful to the Minister for writing to me yet again. We are such regular correspondents that I am half expecting a Christmas card any time soon. She wrote on the debate we had on new clauses 25 and 27. It is a very detailed reply and it does give some reassurance, but I have to say that it shows why we should have had a discussion about those clauses in an evidence session, rather than have them inserted late in the day. I suspect there will be other lawyers who will take a different view on some of these matters, but I am sure that can be pursued as we go through the later stages of the Bill.

On new clause 29, I very much echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test. We believe that new clauses 29 and 28 together would strengthen the Bill. New clause 29 would give additional bite; it can stand on its own, so there is still time for the Minister to redeem herself. Exactly as my hon. Friend said, we take issue with the lack of overall clarity in the Bill. It needs a clearer thread running through.

The new clause, which would require the Secretary of State within six months of the Bill becoming law to report on the adequacy of current environmental law and policy in meeting the climate and ecological challenges the UK faces, would be tremendously helpful, not least because—as we saw yesterday—it seems the Government do one thing one day, and completely different things another day. They fail to face the challenges when they make big policy announcements. The new clause would make it much tougher for the Government to crawl out of their obligations.

We think the report should specifically be required to address issues of water, biodiversity, the capacity of natural and agroecosystems to mitigate global warming, resource efficiency, waste reduction and the promotion of the circular economy. That should be helpful to Government. As my hon. Friend said, we support the Prime Minister’s signing up to the UN leaders’ pledge for nature, and this includes the circular economy in our thinking.

We have taken a number of these ideas from the climate and ecological emergency Bill, which we believe is right to place emphasis on the importance of expanding and enhancing natural ecosystems and agroecosystems to safeguard their capacity as carbon sinks, as well as on the need to restore biodiverse habits and their soils. Out there in the world, which is sadly not following proceedings on the Bill as closely as some of us would hope, there is an appetite for this more ambitious approach.

After the Secretary of State has made the report, we would then very much hope that he or she would act on it and ensure that the environmental targets and environmental improvement plans were appropriately ambitious and would set out not just one long-term target in each area as required in clause 1, but set and outline the adequacy of those targets and lay out adequate plans to address each of those major issues within six months.

If it is an emergency, it needs addressing urgently. We do not believe the Bill does that at the moment. New clause 29 would help.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
- Hansard - -

Much of the Bill is concerned with English-only environmental issues, as I have mentioned in the past, because environment is a devolved area under the Scotland Act 1998 and legislative consent motions have been agreed.

In connection to new clauses 29 and 29, I point out for those who are keen to hear what is happening in Scotland that the Scottish Government are developing their own environmental strategy. “The Environmental Strategy for Scotland: vision and outcomes” was published earlier this year. As the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform indicated just yesterday at her appearance in front of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, she will soon be publishing a monitoring framework for the strategy, which will bring together existing statutory targets, elements of the national performance framework and indicators from other strategies. That is after considerable consultation with stakeholders.

The strategy has attracted a broad range of cross-party support. The Cabinet Secretary just yesterday suggested working with Opposition Members to design amendments that will set out an obligation on Ministers to continue the work on an environmental strategy. It is an example of cross-party working that I think this place would do rather well to emulate. The Scottish Government and Parliament are leading the way in many environmental areas. I encourage Members from this place to lift their eyes from here and look to some of the great progress in this area that is being made in the devolved nations of the UK. I think it really would be worth their while.

Environment Bill (Twenty Second sitting)

Debate between Deidre Brock and Daniel Zeichner
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 22nd sitting: House of Commons
Thursday 26th November 2020

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 View all Environment Act 2021 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 26 November 2020 - (26 Nov 2020)
Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I am grateful to the Minister for writing to me yet again. We are such regular correspondents that I am half expecting a Christmas card any time soon. She wrote on the debate we had on new clauses 25 and 27. It is a very detailed reply and it does give some reassurance, but I have to say that it shows why we should have had a discussion about those clauses in an evidence session, rather than have them inserted late in the day. I suspect there will be other lawyers who will take a different view on some of these matters, but I am sure that can be pursued as we go through the later stages of the Bill.

On new clause 29, I very much echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test. We believe that new clauses 29 and 28 together would strengthen the Bill. New clause 29 would give additional bite; it can stand on its own, so there is still time for the Minister to redeem herself. Exactly as my hon. Friend said, we take issue with the lack of overall clarity in the Bill. It needs a clearer thread running through.

The new clause, which would require the Secretary of State within six months of the Bill becoming law to report on the adequacy of current environmental law and policy in meeting the climate and ecological challenges the UK faces, would be tremendously helpful, not least because—as we saw yesterday—it seems the Government do one thing one day, and completely different things another day. They fail to face the challenges when they make big policy announcements. The new clause would make it much tougher for the Government to crawl out of their obligations.

We think the report should specifically be required to address issues of water, biodiversity, the capacity of natural and agroecosystems to mitigate global warming, resource efficiency, waste reduction and the promotion of the circular economy. That should be helpful to Government. As my hon. Friend said, we support the Prime Minister’s signing up to the UN leaders’ pledge for nature, and this includes the circular economy in our thinking.

We have taken a number of these ideas from the climate and ecological emergency Bill, which we believe is right to place emphasis on the importance of expanding and enhancing natural ecosystems and agroecosystems to safeguard their capacity as carbon sinks, as well as on the need to restore biodiverse habits and their soils. Out there in the world, which is sadly not following proceedings on the Bill as closely as some of us would hope, there is an appetite for this more ambitious approach.

After the Secretary of State has made the report, we would then very much hope that he or she would act on it and ensure that the environmental targets and environmental improvement plans were appropriately ambitious and would set out not just one long-term target in each area as required in clause 1, but set and outline the adequacy of those targets and lay out adequate plans to address each of those major issues within six months.

If it is an emergency, it needs addressing urgently. We do not believe the Bill does that at the moment. New clause 29 would help.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
- Hansard - -

Much of the Bill is concerned with English-only environmental issues, as I have mentioned in the past, because environment is a devolved area under the Scotland Act 1998 and legislative consent motions have been agreed.

In connection to new clauses 29 and 29, I point out for those who are keen to hear what is happening in Scotland that the Scottish Government are developing their own environmental strategy. “The Environmental Strategy for Scotland: vision and outcomes” was published earlier this year. As the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform indicated just yesterday at her appearance in front of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, she will soon be publishing a monitoring framework for the strategy, which will bring together existing statutory targets, elements of the national performance framework and indicators from other strategies. That is after considerable consultation with stakeholders.

The strategy has attracted a broad range of cross-party support. The Cabinet Secretary just yesterday suggested working with Opposition Members to design amendments that will set out an obligation on Ministers to continue the work on an environmental strategy. It is an example of cross-party working that I think this place would do rather well to emulate. The Scottish Government and Parliament are leading the way in many environmental areas. I encourage Members from this place to lift their eyes from here and look to some of the great progress in this area that is being made in the devolved nations of the UK. I think it really would be worth their while.

Environment Bill (Twelfth sitting)

Debate between Deidre Brock and Daniel Zeichner
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 12th sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 10th November 2020

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 View all Environment Act 2021 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 10 November 2020 - (10 Nov 2020)
Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
- Hansard - -

Amendments 125 and 193 have similar intentions. My amendment was meant as a probing amendment. I will not revisit the areas that the shadow Minister has eloquently gone through. My assumption was that the marine environment was considered for inclusion here and the decision was taken to exclude it. I would be interested to hear from the Minister what the rationale was for that.

Obviously, marine life is just as vital to the global ecosystem as terrestrial life, and the health of marine environments also needs to be protected. There may be some other agencies responsible, which the Government reckon should do the job, but surely there is a good case to be made for an agency with an overarching view of these tasks and challenges for the whole environment. I look forward to the Minister’s comments.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This is a short clause, but it is very important. I am fortunate to represent Cambridge, a city with some fantastic environmental organisations. The David Attenborough Building is renowned. It houses the Cambridge Conservation Initiative, which includes the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Fauna & Flora International and BirdLife International. I was fortunate to visit them a while ago, when I was preparing for a Westminster Hall debate. I was briefed by a range of dazzling experts. I was struck from their presentations by how many talked about the marine environment. I had not realised how significant it was. That was very much the term they used throughout their recommendations and advice to me.

I know the Minister cares passionately about the marine environment. I remember a Prime Minister’s Question Time when she questioned the showering habits of the Speaker. It is amazing the things that people remember. I should be clear that she was referring to the microbeads in Mr Bercow’s shower gel. I do not doubt the passion that she feels for the marine environment.

That leads me to question, given that we all agree on this point, why it cannot be put in the Bill. I believe the Government intend to include it. If there is such resistance to putting it in the Bill, it is either because each side wants to defend its position and does not want to give way, or there is something a bit more sinister.

Agriculture Bill (Twelfth sitting)

Debate between Deidre Brock and Daniel Zeichner
Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Sir David, you will be glad to hear that earlier I was mid-sentence but close to my conclusion. All I was going to say was, when we come to conclude our discussion, the simple answer is to put it in the Bill.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
- Hansard - -

The important point about new clauses 1, 4 and 7 is that they would allow us to set standards high to protect the food chain and therefore the consumer. The Minister might, and indeed I am sure she does, have a commitment to maintaining high standards, and she might even believe that her colleagues have a similar commitment. However, as we all know, Governments change—we are still within five years of David Cameron’s last election victory, after all—and the current Ministers will not always be in post. I would hate to think of the Minister, in the far-off days of her declining years, staring at a plate of questionable food in front of her, wishing that she had taken steps to guard against it when she could have done. We should take those steps to safeguard our food standards, protect our food producers and maintain the health of consumers, who are, after all, the people who send us here. The SNP therefore supports new clauses 1, 4 and 7.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

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Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On a point of order, Sir David. I expect that I will say something remarkably similar. I particularly thank you and Mr Stringer for your excellent chairmanship. I thank the Whips for making the Committee run so smoothly and efficiently. As we approach International Women’s Day, I look around the room and notice that all my team appear to be women, and there appears to a majority of women on the Government side, too. I think that reflects an important step forward in this place. I suspect that this has been a more gentle and consensual discussion than one might have had otherwise, although I have been chided from my own side for being insufficiently dressed on occasion.

I thank the Clerks, who have been extraordinarily helpful in translating not always clear instructions into workable amendments. I thank all the staff working across the shadow teams; it has been a particularly difficult time. I particularly thank the adviser Rob Wakely and my assistant Rafaelle Robin. We probably expected far too much from them in a short period of time, and I am eternally grateful. All the mistakes are my responsibility.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

On a point of order, Sir David. Briefly, I thank you and Mr Stringer for your good-humoured chairmanship of the proceedings, and the Clerks, who have been tremendously helpful to my colleague and me. I thank Hansard, who sit there patiently recording our every word, and the Officers, who have had to get up and down frequently to close the doors and open them again. My thanks to all the Committee members for interesting proceedings. I look forward to the Bill reaching Report and to further discussion on many important points.

Agriculture Bill (Tenth sitting)

Debate between Deidre Brock and Daniel Zeichner
Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

A number of these amendments relate to wider devolution issues; my comments are applicable to a number of them, in particular those that we are discussing at the moment.

We are going to need clarity on how we will work together in the future, because the structures being set up are quite complicated. For some, it would be entirely reasonable for the powers to be passed to the devolved organisations, but there needs to be a detailed discussion about the merits in each case. At the moment, I am not convinced in this instance. I was actually persuaded by the Minister’s arguments about whether, as we stand, passing these matters down to the devolved nations would be the right way to go. Although I certainly would not rule out considering doing that further in future, because we want to ensure that we devolve as much power as possible, there are issues around competition law—we will come to further amendments where is some interaction with World Trade Organisation rules, general agreement on tariffs and trade rules and so on, which make it difficult to do that. While supporting the Government on this occasion, I want to put down a marker to say that in future we would want to devolve where possible.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

I am very interested to hear the hon. Gentleman’s comments. Clearly, there are discussions to be had—before Report, perhaps—on this and many other issues. However, I am afraid this still comes back to the point that, in our view, these decisions are more properly reserved to Scottish Ministers, and so we will be pushing the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.