Genetically Modified Crops

Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 3:49 pm on 8th June 2000.

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Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means 3:49 pm, 8th June 2000

Before I call the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo), I must tell the House that Madam Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 4:14 pm, 8th June 2000

I beg to move, That this House deplores the Government's mishandling of the consequences of the presence of GM seeds in a batch of conventional oil seed rape seeds imported to Britain from Canada, which were subsequently planted for commercial purposes; and condemns the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's response which has led to a collapse in public confidence and unnecessary difficulties for the agricultural industry. The motion is deliberately narrow in its focus. It deals with a subject of deep concern to the public, to all consumers of food and to farmers. Today's debate is not about the merits of genetic modification, although there is a proper and lively discussion about that, even among the highest families in the land. The debate is not about the crop trials, the principle of which we strongly support, although we have reservations about some aspects of their conduct.

I greatly welcome the review of separation distances. We have repeatedly called for those distances to be increased, most recently three weeks ago, when the Minister made his statement to the House. Once again, it has taken a debate in the House organised by the Conservative party to force the Minister to act. I hope that the review will be swift, before yet more damage is done to conventional and organic farmers.

As hon. Members will not have had time to consider the terms of the consultation paper issued today about separation distances, I am sure that the Minister agrees that it would be wrong to try to use this debate to discuss its details, although I hope that the House will have an early opportunity to do so. This debate is about the way in which the Minister ignored warnings that he was given, failed to contact farmers who were innocent victims in the crisis, and failed to advise consumers whose ability to choose GM-free food was threatened. It is about how the Government kept secret information that should have been published; about claims made by the Minister in Parliament that turned out not to be true; about the dithering, confusion and, finally, panic that gripped the Minister; about how individual farmers now face bills running to thousands of pounds that could have been avoided; and about the destruction of public confidence in a potentially valuable technology.

Professor Malcolm Grant—the Government's choice to head the latest advisory body on biotechnology—said this week: The episode has not been spectacularly well-handled. To avoid developing a reputation for understatement, he continued: The public are confused, bemused, underinformed and feel disenfranchised in this whole debate. After such straight-from-the-shoulder comments, Professor Grant will doubtless soon join the other distinguished experts whom the Government appoint to advisory bodies and then refuse to consult in case their advice is inconvenient or embarrassing.

Professor Grant was right about the disfranchisement of the public and right too, if his words were accurately reported in The Times, to believe that the public and farmers affected by the contaminated seed should have been told much sooner.

This latest and worst example of ministerial blundering and cover-up over genetically modified crops began seven weeks and three days ago on Monday 17 April, when Advanta Seeds warned the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, that GM-contaminated oilseed rape seeds had been imported to Britain from Canada. At that stage, the company that imported the contaminated seeds, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, were all aware of the facts. The public, of course, were not and neither were the farmers—some of whom at that date had bought seeds but not yet planted them—or the seed merchants whom Advanta had supplied with contaminated seed and who may unwittingly have continued to sell it to their customers.

Under those circumstances, time was of the essence, but the Minister remained silent. No public statement was made for more than four weeks. Then, on 17 May, a junior Minister replied to a planted question that was so innocently worded that nobody could have guessed its true significance. The answer said very little, but it confirmed that genetically modified crops were being grown commercially in Britain—something that Ministers had promised time and again over the past 12 months would not happen until the current programme of crop trials had been completed and analysed.

If Ministers thought that they could get away with sneaking out an important and damaging announcement by making it late in the afternoon, they soon discovered how wrong they were. Such was the outcry that evening that the Minister was forced to come to Parliament the next day and make an oral statement—something that he should have done in the first place.

The Minister's reluctance to come clean on such a sensitive issue may have been due to the flimsy basis of many of the claims that he made in Parliament that day. Let us look at what he said. He said: We moved quickly to establish the facts. Just how quickly we shall find out in a moment. Later, in answer to a question of mine, he said: We established the facts and put them in the public domain. The truth is that the facts were not put in the public domain for four and a half weeks after MAFF officials first knew of them. No explanation has yet been given for that long delay. We shall examine those four and a half weeks in a moment.

First, let us consider another of the Minister's claims. He said: In this whole matter, the Government are proceeding on the basis of professional advice provided … to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment … on the environmental issues. What the Minister did not say was that that advice was obtained from somewhat limited sources. English Nature, the Government's statutory adviser on nature conservation and an independent body funded by the taxpayer, might have been thought to have a view about the matter. However, during the whole four-and-a-half week period of silence from the Minister, English Nature was not consulted. Nobody at MAFF or DETR even bothered to pick up the phone and have a word with one of the highly qualified scientists and environmentalists on the public payroll at English Nature.

Of course, by ignoring English Nature the Minister followed a precedent set by the Prime Minister, whose assertion in Parliament in February last year that the Government were proceeding on genetically modified issues on the basis of sound science was contradicted, within 24 hours by the chairman of English Nature, herself a recently created Labour peer.

Photo of Mrs Anne Campbell Mrs Anne Campbell Labour, Cambridge

Can the hon. Gentleman confirm that the genetic modification involved, known as RT73, was approved for food use in crop trials by the previous Government?

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Lady will receive a brownie point from the Whips for reading out the planted brief, but I am happy to confirm that the Conservative Government approved that particular crop for use in crop trials, a part B approval which under the law is fundamentally different from the part C approval that is needed for the commercial growing of that crop. As the hon. Lady might remember, had she been in the House on the day the Minister made his statement, I suggested that the Government could treat all the accidentally planted crops as crop trials, and that would avoid the pressure that subsequently grew for the destruction of the crops.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

We could not do that. The crop trials are for genetically modified crops. The problem involved conventional crops with a small degree of GM contamination.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

It would still have been possible for the Government to apply the same conditions and monitoring procedures to those crops to prevent an illegal activity from continuing. Let us return to what the Minister said on 18 May. He claimed that the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment—ACRE—had looked at this specific incident and concluded that there is no risk. When the Minister made that claim, the incident had not even been discussed at a meeting of ACRE, nor was it on the published agenda for the next meeting of ACRE on 25 May. However, I understand that members of ACRE were contacted individually. A Minister who recognised that public confidence in genetic modification will be restored only if the Government are more open in their decision making might have explained how the ACRE advice was obtained, especially as there was a discrepancy between what DETR told ACRE members and what the Minister told Parliament.

The advice note produced by ACRE on 17 May, without the benefit of any collective discussion, said: In conclusion, ACRE considers that the risks to human health and to the environment are very low. However, the Committee welcomes the precautionary steps proposed by DETR to verify and monitor independently the situation in the field and report back to the Committee. Hon. Members should note that DETR had obviously told ACRE members that the situation was being monitored in the field. However, one day after ACRE issued that advice, the Minister told the House: The advice that the Government collectively have received is that it is not necessary to trace … the crops.—[Offical Report, 18 May 2000: Vol. 350, c. 473–75.] The advice from ACRE contradicts what the Minister said. How could the crops be monitored in the field, as DETR told ACRE members, if they were not even to be traced?

A week later, at Agriculture questions, the Minister made an astonishing claim. He said: I am not keeping any information secret. I have gone out of my way to be candid with the House.—[Official Report, 25 May 2000; Vol. 350, c. 1101.] Equally seriously, five and a half weeks after the Minister first learned that GM oilseed rape was being grown commercially in Britain, he still had no advice to offer the farmers on whose land those crops were growing. Another two days passed, during which the French Government ordered their farmers to destroy the equivalent crops in France.

In London, the Minister continued to either. Finally, on 27 May, advice of a kind was given to farmers. It was pointed out that that GM crop did not have approval to be sold, and the Minister suggested that farmers could destroy the crops now and replant—a suggestion that would have been rather more useful if it had been made five weeks earlier—or they could continue growing the crop up to the harvesting stage. Even then, the Minister shrank from actually advising farmers directly to pull up those crops.

What changed, other than the pressure of public opinion and the usual slide by the Minister from confusion into panic, between 18 May, when the Minister made his first statement to Parliament saying everything was fine, and 27 May, when he pointed out that the crops were unsaleable—a pronouncement that many farmers felt left them with no option but to destroy their crops? What new information became available to the Minister during that time? If the answer is none, the whole five-and-a-half week delay becomes even more puzzling.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

That issue is probably at the heart of the debate and we might as well get it cleared up now. The important new development was the continuing legal advice that was coming to me and other Ministers. Once we had established the legal position, we acted immediately to put the best advice would give to farmers into the public domain.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

People will not draw much comfort from the fact that it took five and a half weeks for the lawyers at MAFF to discover whether a law passed in 1990 was being broken.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I have given way once. The Minister will get his chance. [Interruption.] I have repeated exactly what the Minister said. I shall give way in a moment, but I wish to establish exactly what happened during that period.

During the four-and-a-half week period of silence after Advanta contacted MAFF on 17 April, we know that the Minister did not consult English Nature. We know that he did not call a meeting of ACRE. As agriculture is a devolved issue, it might have been thought that the time was used to consult the Minister's Scottish and Welsh counterparts, especially as even MAFF might have realised that planting of the crop was still taking place in Scotland after 17 April. However, apparently, the Scottish and Welsh Ministers were not informed until 15 May, four weeks after the Ministry in London had learned the truth, and just two days before Parliament was told. Whether the Minister will now tell us that he needed legal advice before informing the Scottish Minister is something that I expect he will explain later in the debate.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

No, the right hon. Gentleman will have a chance in a moment. The Scottish Minister for Rural Affairs told Members of the Scottish Parliament of his deep anger and annoyance at being kept in the dark. He said: I'm even more annoyed there was a total lack of communication between MAFF and ourselves … We are writing to them to make it clear that this is unacceptable.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

Should not the Minister have consulted his newly established Food Standards Agency very early on in this four-and-a-half week period? Does my hon. Friend know whether he did so?

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

As far as I know, the FSA was consulted, although I do not know on exactly what date.

What is certain is that, after 17 April, some farmers who had purchased contaminated seed from Advanta in good faith proceeded to sow it. In a letter to The Times on 25 May, the Marquess of Lansdowne made it clear that the contaminated seed was sown on 65 hectares in Perthshire two weeks after MAFF knew that it had been sold to farmers. He wrote: It must be asked why those who had purchased the seed were not informed immediately and, secondly, instructed by the ministry to destroy the seed (or the crop, if it had already been planted) to ensure GM plants are contained in research environments only. Why indeed? Before I answer that question, I want to examine the position of the importer, Advanta Seeds UK.

Apart from the Minister and his civil servants, the company was alone in knowing about the contaminated seed. It knew to whom it had been sold, so why did the company not contact its customers after it had contacted the Minister? If it had done so, it might have been able to minimise its liability.

Last Friday, the general manager of Advanta, Mr. Mike Ruthven, told me that the company would have liked to warn its customers. The only reason that it did not do so was that it was asked by MAFF officials to keep the whole matter secret. [HON. MEMBERS: "Cover up."] When Advanta went to the Government to make a clean breast of its blunder, it was asked not to say a word about the matter to anyone else. It was MAFF advice to Advanta, and nothing else, that ensured that farmers were kept in the dark after 17 April. It was the Ministry's advice that allowed farmers to go on planting GM seeds in Britain in the period after 17 April. That makes a complete mockery of all the assurances from Ministers that commercial planting of GM crops would not take place.

What on earth is the point of all the carefully monitored crop trials when, knowingly and willingly, MAFF allows the planting and growing of GM crops on sites that are not even identified, let alone monitored?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. There is a clear obligation on Advanta to tell its customers that it had sold them a defective product, as soon as it knew that it had done so. It received no advice from Government not to tell its customers what had happened.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I hope that documents eventually will prove who is right in this matter. I noted that the general manager of Advanta last Friday said to me exactly what he said to a reporter from The Guardian, as a report in this morning's newspaper confirms.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

From a sedentary position, the Parliamentary Secretary says that the report does not confirm that, so I shall read it to the House. Mr. Ruthven states that MAFF told him that they would want to make some tests themselves and not to say anything about it until they had sorted that out. I took a lot of comfort, from that and as a result did not take any action to inform farmers or seed merchants.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

There is no instruction to the company not to tell its customers that it had sold them a defective product. Clearer than that I cannot be.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Minister appears to be saying that what Advanta told The Guardian last night is inaccurate. If so, I am surprised that officials from MAFF or DETR did not also give a quote to The Guardian, as they were invited to.

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament

The Minister appeared to choose his words carefully, but of course every employee at MAFF is part of the government. Would it not be interesting to know whether the Minister is seeking to absolve Ministers from responsibility by isolating officials and trying to hide behind them, and whether any public body was involved in the advice given to Advanta?

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My right hon. Friend makes a most important point. The way in which this matter is developing means that the documents, notes and records of the meetings that took place—even those involving only Ministry officials and the company—must be placed in the public domain.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I, too, was struck by the candour of the quotation from Mr. Ruthven. Is it possible that the civil servants to whom he refers belong to DETR and that the Minister is answering only for his own officials? It seems clear that wholly unhelpful advice was given.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Gentleman is right. It is possible that the officials who spoke to the company belong to DETR. I understand that the first meeting took place at DETR, with a MAFF official also present. I suspected that the Minister might take this line of response, so I attempted to speak to Mr. Ruthven before coming into the Chamber for this debate to make absolutely sure that The Guardian had reported what he said accurately. Unfortunately, he was not available, but I have no doubt that we will get to the truth of the matter shortly.

Given the Labour Government's appalling record of secrecy and media manipulation over GM issues, many people will suspect that MAFF may have hoped, on 17 April and during the days and weeks of silence that followed, that the issue would go away, that no one would find out and that an embarrassing problem could be covered up.

The Minister has had six and a half weeks to think about the matter. He owes the public a full and detailed explanation of what happened and why, and this afternoon's debate gives him the chance to start that explanation. We know that he understands the seriousness of the issue now, because two weeks ago he told the House: To knowingly corrupt seed products is of course an offence in this country, as is knowingly releasing them into the environment.— [Official Report, 25 May 2000; Vol. 350, c. 1099.] From 17 April onwards, until the Government came clean on 17 May, unauthorised releases of contaminated seed into the environment continued to take place. However, although those releases were unauthorised, they were not entirely unknown. One of the people who knew about them was the Minister. He knew about them and could have stopped them, but chose not to do so.

From reports in the press now, it appears that at first the Ministry's officials may not have realised the full gravity of the situation. However, it staggers belief and strains credulity that it should take five and a half weeks for civil servants to find out the true seriousness of the problem. Not even civil servants at MAFF or DETR could be as incompetent as that.

I hope that the Minister will explain precisely what advice his civil servants gave to Advanta. I hope that he will publish the minutes of the meetings that his civil servants had with Advanta. I hope that he will tell the House when he first knew that GM seeds had been planted. I hope that he will say when he first realised that an offence might have been committed. I hope that he will explain what the tests were that his officials told Advanta that they wanted to carry out. Will he now publish the results of those tests?

On 18 May, the Minister told the House that officials had been in continuous contact with the company. When did he or his officials warn Advanta that the situation was even more serious than was first thought?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

The hon. Gentleman calls on me to be candid, and I always try to be candid with the House—as, deep in their hearts, Conservatives Members know. I shall therefore share in full with the House the note that has just been given to me. It says that officials at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food at that meeting gave no instructions to Advanta not to contact farmers or merchants. Nor did officials say they were going to do tests—Advanta was going to do further tests. If you will allow me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, just for the sake of absolute transparency, I am quite happy to cross the Floor and give this note to the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

In a moment.

I note that the Minister has contradicted specifically the report in today's edition of The Guardian, and I am aware that the reporter concerned gave an opportunity to spokesmen from both MAFF and DETR to comment last night on that report. I believe that this sequence of events makes it even more important that the Minister should place in the public domain the contemporary records of the meetings concerned. Given that he is willing to share with me the scribbled advice given by him to the civil servants in the box, I trust that he will publish those minutes as soon as possible after this debate.

I repeat my last two questions: when did the Minister or his officials warn Advanta that the situation was more serious than first thought, and when were lawyers first consulted? If the Minister is unable to answer those questions fully, the suspicion will grow that he and his officials may indeed have been aware that there was a risk that a crime was being committed. In case anyone believes that that crime was just a technicality—a sort of environmental parking ticket—let me point out that contradicting the relevant section of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, if tried in a Crown court, carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and an unlimited fine.

I hope that the Minister will explain both his actions and his inactions in this matter. I hope that his statements will be supported by documents available to the public. He must understand that his previous statements have reduced trust and increased suspicion. The Government's abject failure to keep their promises about not allowing commercial planting of GM crops until the trials were completed, their dithering and inaction in the face of knowledge that the law might be being broken, their lack of openness and candour in dealing with farmers, the public and Parliament, mean that if the Minister confines his reply today to announcements about yet more advisory bodies, future random checks on seed imports and consultation over separation distances, he will be admitting his own negligence. He will be condemning himself as a man who cannot be trusted, whose weakness and incompetence put farmers and the environment at risk and who, even by the abysmally low standards of this Labour Government, is not fit to hold office.

I commend the motion to the House.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) 4:43 pm, 8th June 2000

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: endorses Her Majesty's Government's approach to the development of GM technology in agriculture; believes that the Government has responded in a responsible, open, considered and proportionate way to the recent discovery of the adventitious presence of GM seed in conventional oilseed rape seed; supports the priority the Governmenthas given and continues to give to the protection of public health and the environment, and its continued determination to act on the best available scientific advice; applauds the creation of the new, independent Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission to provide strategic advice on GM issues; welcomes the announcement by the seed company Advanta, following discussions with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, that they will provide a fair and equitable compensation package to affected farmers; and commends the Government for the action it is taking at both national and international level to minimise the risk of a similar incident occurring in the future. The last remarks of the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) were particularly personal and offensive. If he really believes that I should not hold the office that I hold, there is a parliamentary procedure that he can adopt. I notice that he has not done so. However, it reflects credit on the hon. Gentleman—I almost said "horrible"—that he is so ashamed of his speaking material, with its grotesque misrepresentation of events, that he was reluctant to take interventions.

Right hon. and hon. Members will be familiar with the plays of Robert Bolt, particularly "A Man for All Seasons", in which Thomas More is framed by his enemies. After a particularly indefensible and implausible charge is put against him, More says: That's a horse that won't run, Master Secretary. Thomas Cromwell replies: There will be others. So it is with Agriculture Ministers.

We have had a succession of complaints from the Conservative party, suggesting that the Government are doing things wrongly. Only a few months ago, all the hedges were going to be ripped up in this country and farmers would be denied their arable aid payments, pork chops would have to be de-boned, the shepherds' crooks industry would be closed down, the beef on the bone ban would be reintroduced, our pets would have to be boiled before going abroad, and so on. This is the latest attempt, and it is more pathetic than most. The over-riding point that the Government established early on, and which the hon. Member for South Suffolk has not challenged, is that there is no risk to public health or to the environment in this accident.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman referred to The Times, because on Wednesday 7 June it contained a very good commentary on GM crops issues by Nigel Hawkes. He observed, although it was not his main point, that the hon. Gentleman was raising fears rather than addressing the issue.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I will give way in a moment, but let me just finish my introduction.

It is very telling that the key charge made by the Opposition, as I pointed out on 18 May, is about process, not substance. The Government have responded in a responsible, measured and proportionate way to this incident. Therefore, I commend the amendment to the House.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The right hon. Gentleman referred to an article in The Times. He will be familiar, as we all are, with the consequences of being quoted out of context. The quotation referred to in the article was taken from a remark I made to explain the difference in concept between genetic modification and ordinary plant breeding. It was taken out of context by the journalist concerned.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I accept the hon. Gentleman's explanation. Nevertheless, the point remains that his attack on the Government is about the process, not the substance. [Interruption.] It is impossible to interpret his speech this afternoon any other way. So let me remind right hon. and hon. Members of the key facts as I set them out for the House in my statement on 18 May.

The Government were advised by Advanta Seeds on 17 April that some of its supplies of conventional rapeseed sold and sown in 1999 and 2000 might have contained a small proportion of genetically modified seed. This seed had been sold and sown in several European Union member states, possibly including the United Kingdom. The full facts were not known at that time.

It now appears that the seed was sold in France, Germany, Sweden and Luxembourg, as well as the UK. This is a problem with EU-wide and international implications, and it requires a common solution.

On learning of the potential problem from the company, the Government took action to investigate the implications for public health and the environment, as well as to assess the legal implications, so that appropriate action could be taken. The Government established that the genetic modification in question—RT73—had previously been approved in the UK for food use in 1995 and for field trials in 1997.

The expert committees specifically tasked with examining the food and environmental safety of genetically modified products—the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment and the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes—had both cleared it. The Government asked both ACRE and the Food Standards Agency to look at the circumstances of that specific incident.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I want to make my presentation. If Opposition Members think that it is incomplete, I am willing to take interventions at the end. I ask the House to hear me first. I shall take interventions later.

Those committees confirmed—initially and subsequently in formal advice—that the product presented no risk to human health or to the environment. That advice has been placed in the Library.

Having established those facts, the Government were in a position to provide balanced and proportionate advice on the implications of the incident and on how to deal with it. My Ministers of State accordingly did so in both Houses on 17 May, when they set out the steps that the Government are taking to address the wider issues on seed purity highlighted by the incident.

The Government have been criticised for delay. However, as I have already made clear, our approach throughout has been to establish as many of the facts as possible so that we can give accurate and responsible guidance to farmers and consumers. Given the uncertainties of the incident when it was first reported to us, it would have been premature and potentially alarmist to have published incomplete information. In any case, we were reassured at an early stage—that is a crucial point—by the knowledge that the GM product in question did not pose a threat to health or to the environment. Of course, we had the 1995 and 1997 technical assessments to guide us.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

The Minister heard from Advanta on 17 April. On wha dale did he first consult English Nature and the Food Standards Agency?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

The FSA was consulted at a very early stage—almost immediately. I shall come to the point on English Nature in a moment.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I shall give way to the right hon. Gentleman and to the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir R. Smith) and then I ask the House to let me make the presentation.

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament

The Minister is making a clear and understandable case that, when Advanta produced that information, there were good reasons to investigate the matter further so that it would not give rise to concern. On those grounds, it would have been extremely sensible for officials to advise that Advanta should be asked not to say anything at that time. Yet the Minister strenuously denies that they lid any such thing. It seems to me that the matter could easily be cleared up. In the interests of openness, do I understand that he is undertaking to provide the minute of the meeting between officials and Advanta, so that we can read what was actually said?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

The right hon. Gentleman has served in government. He knows the position on providing written records of meetings. I have to rely on the assurances given to me. I was not at the meeting. I do not even know whether there was a written record.

Photo of Robert Smith Robert Smith Liberal Democrat, West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine

Obviously that matter creates some concern. The Minister talked about not publishing the information. Will he explain why he could not share it with other rural affairs Departments in the United Kingdom? When Members of this place write to MAFF about certain issues, their letters are passed to those other Departments for reply. How can we have confidence that those Departments know what MAFF knows when they write such replies?

Furthermore, although the Minister minimises the risk to health and to the environment, there was certainly a commercial risk to those people who bought the seed.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

The territorial Departments should have been drawn more fully into the discussions at an early stage. For that, I apologise on behalf of the Government.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I should like to make some progress, but I shall come back to the hon. Gentleman later.

Consideration of all these issues takes place against a background of already heightened public concern about GM products. Our approach, which was paralleled by other affected countries—the decisions are not unique to the UK—was first to seek the advice of our experts. Because the matter is complex, that includes legal advice as to the legal situation, as the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) hinted in his intervention on his hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk.

Officials from the FSA and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions were involved in discussions as soon as the incident was reported to the Government. The process of consulting the expert committees was, of necessity, a continuing one, because the early information we received was incomplete. The Government obtained early and informal reactions from the secretaries to the committees on the basis of the first and incomplete information. Subsequently, the secretaries consulted committee members and were able to convey their advice to the Government.

The hon. Member for South Suffolk tried to make much of the fact that English Nature was not consulted by the Government. The fact is that English Nature advises on nature conservation issues. The key questions in this incident related to environmental and human health implications. Those are for ACRE and for the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes, whose specific remit is to look at the implications of genetic modifications.

Efforts have been made to portray English Nature as being at odds with the Government over this incident. That is simply not the case. The chairman of English Nature has confirmed that English Nature does not think the affected crops need to be destroyed. English Nature has offered advice on the nature conservation aspects of the incident—as would be expected, because that is its statutory function. An English Nature expert, Brian Johnson, said publicly—on the BBC—that any risk of GM pollen from these plants pollinating native plants was "vanishingly small". The hon. Member for South Suffolk referred to dangers to the organic farm movement. He did not say where the organic oilseed rape was located and he did not say whether there was any; it would be extraordinary if there were. The advice that Brian Johnson has given is consistent with the advice that we have received from ACRE.

The Government have been accused of allowing farmers unwittingly to plant the crop by delaying an announcement. If there were anything in that charge, it would be a serious one.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

Let me deal with this issue before I give way to the hon. Gentlemen and to anyone who may be queuing up behind me. I see that at least part of the House is satisfied.

Photo of Malcolm Moss Malcolm Moss Conservative, North East Cambridgeshire

The right hon. Gentleman has no support from those behind him.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

Come the Division, the hon. Gentleman will find that he is wrong.

The fact is that the Government were first notified by the seed company once the planting season for the variety was already well under way. I have already explained, exhaustively, that we needed to establish the facts and the technical and legal implications before we could make any sensible announcement. If anyone doubts my motive before I made the announcement, let me make it clear that I wanted to find a workable way forward for this country's farmers who, after all, are the innocent party in this case. That is what we were striving to do. I shall have something to say that will interest those who care more about our farmers rather than making political mischief.

The Government have followed up the announcement of 17 May with further action on the practical and legal implications. The legal advice to Ministers is that we have the power to order the destruction of a crop in specific circumstances. Let me make this clear: if there were a threat to human health or the environment, we would order the destruction of the affected crops. There is not such a threat, so the legislation cannot be invoked. That is the legal advice to Ministers.

Therefore, as the advice I and my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment published on 28 May made clear, it is for individual fanners to decide whether to destroy or to maintain the crops. However, the disposal options for the harvested crop are likely to be extremely limited—this point was perfectly properly raised—as there is no consent for the GM element of the crop to be marketed.

To offer farmers greater flexibility in this difficult situation, I negotiated a special derogation to the rules for EU crop subsidy payments. That allows farmers to claim subsidy payments on crops planted up to 15 June, instead of 31 May, as normal. Farmers therefore have two options as the position stands. Thanks to the extended EU planting deadline, some farmers may have the option of destroying the affected crop and planting another crop in its place. Others will wish to maintain the crop as normal to qualify for EU subsidy payments.

The expert advice to Government is that these crops present no danger to the environment. However, in discussion with the National Farmers Union and the seed company Advanta, I have explored the possibility of negotiating a further derogation to the EU subsidy scheme rules to allow farmers to mow or destroy the crop straight away rather than to maintain it to maturity. They will still qualify for the subsidy payments.

Photo of Mr Jon Owen Jones Mr Jon Owen Jones Labour/Co-operative, Cardiff Central

Will my right hon. Friend explain why farmers need to look to European subsidies to make up for the losses that they may incur? Why is the company not liable? It sold a product that was not what it was claimed to be.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

This issue is fraught with legal peril, including points about the mitigation of loss, and it has taken time to find a way through it. I hope that we have found a clear-cut way and 1 shall explain it to the House.

I must stress that what I am about to explain is not legal as things now stand, but my officials are in urgent discussion with the European Commission to see whether it is a possible option. I believe that it is the most desirable way forward. I and Ministers in other member states are pressing for the outcome and a decision is due to be voted on today.

If we have a clear outcome by the end of today or tomorrow, the House and the industry, including the farmers affected, will be told. I believe that the proposal offers the best way forward, which is also the view of Advanta and the National Farmers Union.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

Does the Minister's legal advice include an analysis of the damages that could become liabilities under the principle that the polluter pays in both the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and arrangements in Community law that are being extended under the proposed directive on environmental liability? Yesterday, the Select Committee on European Scrutiny voted for a debate on the Floor of the House on the directive, but, regrettably, that decision was overturned by the Leader of the House this morning.

Does the Minister agree that if the Government are to be open and transparent, we should be able to see all the legal advice and have access to all the material in the Library? The Government should be more candid and open in debating such questions, so that the British people and the farmers—whom we rightly say are innocent—do not find themselves at a severe disadvantage.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

My days as a Government business manager have ceased, and I have moved on to a happier billet. I am therefore afraid that I am not able to respond as I might otherwise have done to the hon. Gentleman's request. Hon. Members will be aware that Ministers are not supposed to interpret the law inside or outside the House.

I have been working to try to find a reasonable way through the matter which is fair to the company, mitigates the losses and means that farmers who are innocent victims do not suffer resultant financial hardship.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Opposition Whip (Commons)

The Minister admitted to the Select Committee on Agriculture that he was responsible only for the seed aspects of genetically modified crops. Environmental matters are dealt with by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, food matters by the Food Standards Agency, and presentation, I believe, rests in the hands of the Minister for the Cabinet Office, who in May told "Today" that she was not happy with the presentation in connection with such crops.

Who is in charge? Would it not be sensible to have someone in overall control of all GM matters, to stop those extraordinary muddles involving the Department, its sister Departments and the devolved Assemblies?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

The delay that is occurring while the issue is fully considered does not mean, as the hon. Gentleman is trying to suggest, that there is a muddle. Such matters are co-ordinated by a Cabinet Committee, of which my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office is in charge.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

The Minister for the Cabinet Office, whom the Minister has prayed in aid, said on "Today" on 22 May that the Government had made a mistake in not telling the public about the contamination. Will the Minister respond to that? A moment ago, he dismissed his noble Friend, Baroness Young, when he said that English Nature had nothing to do with the matter because it is concerned with animals. Baroness Young said: The UK statutory nature conservation agencies must be consulted about similar incidents in future. What is the Minister's response to his colleagues' remarks?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I did not dismiss the views of English Nature. Its statutory responsibilities are for nature conservation and it has offered us helpful advice on such matters. I fully agree with the views of my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office. I hope that is helpful to the hon. Gentleman.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I would like to make progress, but I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Mr. Williams).

Photo of Dr Alan Williams Dr Alan Williams Labour, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

I suggest that we contrast our debate with the dozen or more debates on the serious problem of BSE that we had in the early 1990s. We are nit-picking about insignificant dates in April and May and about a crop that was not a threat to human health or the environment. Uprooting those crops would cost about £3 million, whereas the problems that occurred in the decade in which the Conservative party was in office involved a cost of £4 billion, and are still with us.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out again to the House that there is no threat to human health or the environment. There are important issues, including legal issues, involving the supply chain, and the Government have been working hard to resolve those so that there is ultimately no economic loss to farmers, and the seed company is treated fairly. We will take steps to make sure that we minimise the possibility of such an incident occurring in future. I give way to the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald).

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The Minister was asked whether advice had been given to Advanta not to give information to its customers. His reply was that no instructions had been given to Advanta to tell its customers about the seeds. There is a difference between advice and instructions. Is there no question that the Minister is using weasel words, and that advice, but not an actual instruction, was given to Advanta that it should not tell its customers about the seeds? I hope that there is no question of that, because the Minister is under a duty to be full and frank with the House.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I do not think that there is a Minister in this Government who tries harder to be candid with the House, and I could not have been more candid with the explanation that I have given; I handed it to the hon. Member for South Suffolk, who speaks for the Opposition on such matters. I know of no semantic differentiation of the sort that the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire mentions. I cannot be more open than that.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is made clear in resolutions of the House that Ministers should be as open as possible. There is a difference between advice and an instruction, and the House needs to know which was given because this is an important point—

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I have got the gist of what the hon. Gentleman is trying to say, and it is not for the Chair to interpret words or advice that are being debated. This is a matter for the debate, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will find other ways of pursuing the point.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I offered to give way to the hon. Member for Salisbury, who is an old sparring partner of mine, although in those days he was the Minister and I was the Back-Bench MP making a nuisance of himself.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

I am certainly not making a nuisance of myself. If the right hon. Gentleman was convinced that there was no danger in the crop being planted, on what grounds did the French Government instruct farmers in France to destroy their crops?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

It is not for me to interpret the law in France, but apparently the French Government have the power to do that under their legal code. We have the power to do that under our legal code, but only in very specific circumstances that are defined in the Environmental Protection Act. Like me, the French Agriculture Minister would have had in mind the fact that there is no marketing consent, so the issue for Ministers is to find a way to safeguard arable payments to farmers.

As those who follow such matters will know, the European support mechanism is an important element in growing oilseed rape, so we want to preserve farmers' rights to European aid, but we have to find a way within the law to deal with the lack of marketing consent. That is what we are trying to do here; Jean Glavany is trying to do that in France; Karl-Heinz Funke and Margareta Winberg are doing the same in Germ, my and Sweden respectively, and the Minister in Luxembourg has the same task. We all face a common problem, and we have, I hope, arrived at a common solution, which will work for farmers and be fair to the industry.

That brings me to compensation for farmers' losses, which is essentially a matter between the farmers affected and the seed company. However, the House will want to know that I have had a constructive meeting with representatives of Advanta Seeds last week, and the Government welcome the company's announcement on 2 June that it will provide a fair and equitable compensation package for the affected farmers.

Opposition Members are trying very hard, and completely unconvincingly, to pin the blame for the incident on the Government and to argue that taxpayers' money should be used to deal with the consequences. It was not the Government who produced the seed and sold it to farmers; the Government's role in this incident is limited to dealing responsibly and proportionately with the consequences once the company had come forward to notify the Government of the problem. This we have done and will continue to do.

The precise circumstances that resulted in the presence of GM seed in the non-GM batches are still being investigated. My officials are in contact with the Canadian authorities and the seed company to establish the details. One of my technical advisers has visited Canada to liaise with the authorities, and one possible factor in the incident may relate to the separation distances used to produce the seed crop. We are investigating that issue.

In line with the response that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) on 18 May, I can tell the House that the Government are undertaking a review of separation distances, including a scientific review of the relationship between separation and crop purity. We shall consult farmers—both conventional and organic producers—and other interested groups and see what lessons may be learned from the Advanta incident.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

I have made similar points before, but the other matter that must be explored is the importance of every country signing up to the Montreal biodiversity protocol because until all countries do so, segregation will remain a difficult issue, as the Select Committee on Agriculture proved. The very least that we can expect is that each country will police its own production.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Underpinning all this is the inescapable fact that the seed business is international, and if we intend to regulate it, standards must be set. There are currently gaps in European Union and international law.

The incident has highlighted the importance of putting in place up-to-date regulatory systems to reflect the implications of the worldwide development of GM technology for the seed industry. That includes the need for clear and explicit product descriptions for consumers. An important objective of the British Government is to protect consumer choice. As my hon. Friend says, the seed trade is international.

The regulation of seed purity is an EU and international issue, and action is required at EU and international level. That is why we have raised the subject as a matter of urgency with the European Commission and our EU partners, and in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. I have written to Commissioner Byrne urging him to accelerate the setting of new EU standards for seed purity. I have discussed that matter with my colleagues at the recent informal meeting of EU Agriculture Ministers, and there was general agreement that it should be addressed urgently. Technical work has already begun, and Ministers will discuss it again at the June Council.

Mr. Lembit Öpik:

On the consultation and the inquiry, can the Minister confirm that farmers will be given a brief résumé of the findings whenever they are finally made available? Many farmers would be grateful for the kind of guidance that could result.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

As soon as we have something further to say to farmers, we will ensure that they are notified as fully as we can, but I do not know where the affected farmers are, so we will put the information in the public domain. I am sure that by doing that, and also through their union, we will get the information to the farmers.

On agreed international standards, we have taken immediate action in the United Kingdom to minimise the chance of the problem recurring. My Department is carrying out a study into seed sourcing and the possibility that GM presence may occur in seeds. The report of the study's preliminary findings is being published today and has been placed in the Library. Members will have a chance to consider it.

The report will inform the system of seed import spot checks that my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment has introduced as part of the existing inspection and enforcement arrangements for GM organisms.

Officials in my Department and in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions are working with the UK seed industry to develop an industry-wide code of practice on issues relating to the sourcing of seed and monitoring GM presence. I am glad to say that the industry has responded positively to that initiative.

It is unfortunate that Opposition Members are trying to make political capital out of an accident. Of course that accident is worrying for the farmers who, unfortunately, have been caught up in it, but I am trying to resolve their fears without their suffering financial loss.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Damage to the farmers is what the Opposition are concerned about; that is why we tabled the motion. The Minister said that he might not be able to publish a minute of the meeting that took place between his officials and Advanta, because it might not exist. If a minute does not exist, it is difficult to understand how he can be so sure that certain things were not said. Be that as it may, he told the House that his officials were in continuous contact with the company for a month. There must be some minutes of some of those meetings. For the purpose of clearing up the doubt that my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) rightly raised about the difference between advice and an instruction, will the Minister at least undertake to publish all the minutes that exist of those meetings, so that the House and the industry can be clear about exactly what advice or information was passed to and from Advanta?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

Subject to advice that I receive from officials once this exchange is over, if the information exists and if I can put it in the public domain, I am willing to do so. However, there may be some reason why I cannot keep that pledge. If there is such a reason, I shall explain it. A good explanation would be that there is no written record, for example. I want to be open and candid, and if there is something that I can put in the public domain I will do so, although there are no precedents from the previous Government to guide me in that direction.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Opposition Whip (Commons)

Following on from that point, if there are no written records, can we see a diary of the telephone conversations in which each of the other Departments and the devolved Departments were informed of these events?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

Those Departments were first informed at official level—but as I have already told the House, the devolved territories should have been involved earlier. I apologise for the fact that they were not. My Department's involvement with the devolved Administrations is greater than that of many others, and we have developed good working relationships with the devolved authorities in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. I want to maintain relationships built on candour, and I regret that we did not get the information to them quickly enough.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Does the Minister agree that it would be worrying if the company and/or the Government were aware of the problem, but let farmers go ahead and sow the seeds, causing all that damage and cost, which could have been avoided? Is not that one of the most serious aspects? Can he assure the House that that is not what happened and that the Government did not say, "Oh, let's keep this quiet while we do the tests."? Logic seems to suggest that that might have happened, so can the right hon. Gentleman give us the clear facts?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I can do better than that. As well as confirming that I can put the minutes of the early meetings in the public domain—I understand that there is no reason why I should not; therefore I shall do so, as I want to be candid—I can also announce to the House that the European Union committee has met, voted on the scheme that I described and approved it. As of now, a new option is available to UK farmers, and, indeed, to farmers in other parts of the EU. It is now possible for farmers to take the tops off the affected crop and still claim the arable aid payment under the rules. That is the best way forward, and I am pleased to tell the House that that option is available, because it will go a long way to resolving the issues. All Members, whatever their political point of view, will be pleased with what I have said, as it is welcome news for the farmers affected.

Photo of Colin Breed Colin Breed Liberal Democrat, South East Cornwall

That is welcome news, but has there been any discussion of the potential for consequential loss and damages—not specifically for those who have sown the rape, but because the destruction of so much rape, and the consequent lack of it in the market, may push up the feed price?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

Many perils threaten the common agricultural policy, but an immediate lack of oilseed rape is not one of them. I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks.

It is my contention that the Government have acted throughout in a responsible, balanced and proportionate manner. We have investigated the facts and the legal and scientific implications, and have issued information and advice accordingly. We have taken the lead in pressing for action at EU level and have secured the result that we were looking for. We have made our representations at international level and have also taken interim measures in the UK to minimise the possibility of recurrence, pending EU and international agreement on the wider issues.

The House will have taken a hard look at the motion and the amendment, but before hon. Members make a final decision, I invite them to take a hard look at the latest eco-warrior, the Swampy of South Suffolk. The hon. Member for South Suffolk has tried to present himself as a green consumerist, who is anxious only to discover the facts. Before falling for his words, I ask the House to consider his contribution on a different matter. It displays a different swing of the famous Tory "yeo-yeo" on a debate about a real public protection issue: BSE.

On 25 March 1996, the hon. Gentleman said to the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell), who was then Secretary of State for Health: Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would have been an act of gross irresponsibility on his part to overreact to the hysterical demands coming from Labour Members? We were considering BSE, not oilseed rape. The hon. Gentleman continued: Does he further agree that if the British beef industry is destroyed as a result of that hysteria, voters in the rural economy, which will have suffered a devastating blow, will know whom to blame? As it turned out, they did. The hon. Gentleman's words were prophetic. He went on: Does my right hon. Friend also agree that if billions of pounds of extra public money were suddenly to be available for the purposes of protecting children's health, it would certainly not be sensible to use that money to pay for the slaughter of millions of healthy British cattle?—[Official Report, 25 March 1996; Vol. 274, c. 720.] Those were the words of the hon. Member for South Suffolk about a public protection measure. Yet the Conservative Government found it necessary to spend what will ultimately be £4 billion on it. Given the hon. Gentleman's views on BSE, why should any hon. Member rely on his views on oilseed rape? I urge my hon. Friends to support the amendment.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 5:22 pm, 8th June 2000

The Minister is right to say that he has a reputation for openness, frankness and candour. That reputation is hard won, hence our disappointment in the Ministry's reaction to the episode that we are considering. The delay in making details available to the public does not reflect well on the arrangements in the Ministry or between Departments. Even if it does not reflect reality, an impression has been given of complacency, inconsistency and incompetence. That is a serious charge, which will damage the Minister's reputation for openness.

It was not acceptable for details to be released to the public through a written answer, which was characterised by its incompleteness. We strongly suspect that the written answer was provided only because the matter was about to become public through other means in other parts of Europe. It was unacceptable that important details were published in a press release, which was separate from the material available to hon. Members. I raised a point of order about that on the evening that the press release was sent out. It was also unacceptable that the Minister had to be dragged to the House the following day to make a statement. The initial delay, too, was unacceptable. I shall revert to the latter point.

The Ministry, and everyone who takes a serious and scientific interest in the matter, knew that seeds from north America had been contaminated at source. It was a matter of common discourse in the scientific journals. On the day of the Minister's statement, I drew his attention to an article by Dr. Phil Dale of the John Innes centre. That was hardly a secret document; it was published in The Times on 18 June 1999. The article made it clear that there was a problem at source with the seed, yet the Department did nothing.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Labour, Lewisham, Deptford

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I agree with what he says about scientific articles. I asked the House of Commons Library to do a trawl of parliamentary questions, and I find that none of us, on either the Opposition or Government Benches, tabled any parliamentary questions at any time during this Session on such contamination of seed.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I cannot honestly say whether any question was tabled from these Benches—I was not responsible for this area at the time—but I hope that we have been consistent in our criticism of GM and its handling. I do not believe that anyone can challenge Liberal Democrat Members on that.

There was a widespread view that contamination had occurred. What worries me is that, while giving assurances in the House and to growers and consumers, the Department was not instituting precautions such as the testing of seed and investigation at source, or even talking to the Americans and the Canadians, as it has done since the Advanta Seeds episode has come to light. That suggests a laxity in procedures which I would not have expected, given the public interest in the matter.

When the firm information came in on 17 or 19 April—when it was known from Advanta that there was a potential problem—that strange discourse took place between Mr. Ruthven and the Department. I do not believe for a moment that we will get to the bottom of that today. What the Minister said is in flat contradiction to what Mr. Ruthven has said on record, as reported in newspapers and elsewhere. Mr. Ruthven has the advantage of having been at the meetings and been a party to the conversations, which the right hon. Gentleman was not. That must be weighed in the balance.

We must ask ourselves to whose advantage it was that nothing was said. Was it to the advantage of a seed company that was facing potentially large compensation claims—a liability? I suspect that it was not.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

If it was not to its advantage that nothing was said, why did the seed company not say something?

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

That is precisely my point. The only rational reason why the seed company stopped notifying the farmers at that point was that it received advice from some source or other to do so. We must wait and see what the reason was.

The next question is how the matter was managed within Government. As the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson), who has just left the Chamber, said earlier, the difficulty is that the Cabinet Office, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions all have a finger in the pie. It is not clear whether people were sitting round a table at an early enough stage to develop a strategy for dealing with a potentially difficult issue.

What is clear—the Minister admitted it today and apologised for it—is that the territorial Ministers were not advised. That is extraordinary. We have a Cabinet Office and a Cabinet Committee whose job is to co-ordinate government. The one thing that it must co-ordinate is GM seeds, but it cannot be bothered to tell the Scottish and Welsh Ministers. Surely somebody has that job—perhaps it should be the Advocate-General. We have never discovered what he does. Somebody should have been responsible for letting the departmental Ministers know, yet that did not happen. I find that extraordinary.

There is the argument—let us put it no higher than that—about whether an appropriate degree of consultation took place with ACRE, English Nature and other interested bodies.

Let us deal with what the Minister told us in his statement. I preface my comments by saying that I accept the general advice that there is no danger to public health or to the environment as a result of the contamination. I must, however, ask specific questions about what the Minister said. He referred to RT73 GM oilseed. He is right: the Conservatives gave licence for a part B release for trial purposes, and also for food use.

The Minister said that this variety of GM oilseed is one that had previously been approved in the UK under our strict regulatory regime for food use. The precise position, is it not—the Minister will confirm this—is that the oil was approved on the European Union substantial equivalence basis. It was fast-tracked through—the oil, not the seed. I hope he will also confirm that that is now being challenged by the Italian Government. There are significant doubts about whether it was appropriate. Simply to tell the House that the oilseed had been previously approved for food use was to disguise some of the background.

On 18 May, the Minister said that there was no risk to "health or the environment". He has moderated his view since then. He has said that there is no substantial or appreciable risk, and I accept that. But without clear advice beforehand and without the testing on site mentioned by the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo), how could he know? It was blanket advice, given on the basis of limited information rather than the exhaustive consideration and investigation that should have taken place.

On 18 May, the Minister said that the oil was indistinguishable from conventional rape oil; no modified DNA will be present. We have heard that argument before. I entirely accept that there is a difference between material derived from genetically modified organisms and material that contains such organisms; but let us consider the advice of the European Union scientific committee on food. On 17 June 1999, it said: some refining processes used by industry today may ensure that DNA/protein are efficiently removed. There is no guarantee however that these processes are commonly applied. Again, we are advised by experts that that categorical assurance could not be given, because there is at least an element of doubt. It depends on the processing mechanism.

I found it curious when the Minister said that the GM variety is sterile.—[Official Report, 18 May 2000; Vol. 350, c. 473.] I puzzled over that. What were we talking about? Were we talking about an F1 hybrid, or an F2 hybrid? How was that variety sterile? In fact, it is a case of male sterility. The pollen is sterile, not the plant. The female parts of the plant are anything but sterile; they are fertile, and can therefore propagate. It is rubbish to suggest that there could be cross-Pollination from male sterile plants. What there can be is continued propagation from those plants, via the female plants and seed scatter. Again, the statement was not incorrect, but it was incomplete.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I think that we have to deal with risks that are vanishingly small in this context. As I say, I honestly do not believe that this is some form of trickery that will make its way across the country and destroy nature before our eyes. However, we claim to have proper precautions in place. Everyone knows about the release of oilseed rape; everyone knows that sports get everywhere in our countryside. Hardly a lane does not have a bit of oilseed rape in it. If we are seeing release, we are seeing release. [Interruption.] The Minister says from a sedentary position that this is conventional, as if this variety of rape will behave differently. Perhaps he will tell me why.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

The genetically modified part of what is overwhelmingly a conventional crop will behave in a different way, because it is modified to do so.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

That is an entirely baffling comment. Apparently, it is modified to behave itself to stay within its field boundaries. That is wonderful news. We now have well behaved oilseed rape as a result of genetic modification. I do not believe that. The right hon. Gentleman will be able to persuade me later.

On that day, the right hon. Gentleman made a string of statements, all of which have a degree of validity, but none of which tell the complete position, which we need to know. Frankly, at that stage, if not before—I believe that we should have been told much earlier about the position—a completely candid view should have been expressed to the House. I do not criticise him because I am sure that he gave his statement in good faith, but the more we examine it and look at the detail, the more we realise that many questions still beg an answer.

A major concern for us all has been how the farmers—600 throughout the country are affected, we understand—who have grown the crop would be compensated. Today, the right hon. Gentleman has made announcements, which I wholly welcome, on European Union derogation and how that will work. That will be helpful. It does not solve the difficulties in relation to cancelled contracts, or deal with the fact that there should still be a liability on the part of the seed company. Nor does it answer another question: what role does the right hon. Gentleman feel his Department has, not in providing compensation—I do not think that it should provide it; the seed company should be liable—but in marshalling legal cases, assisting our farmers and ensuring that they are as well catered for as farmers elsewhere in the European Union? That is absolutely the province of his Department. I would welcome more information on that.

Photo of Robert Smith Robert Smith Liberal Democrat, West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine

I have read the Government's amendment. They clearly wish to link themselves with Advanta's decision to enter into discussions on compensation, but the sequence of events will not be lost on many Scottish farmers. It was not long after the announcement that Mr. Al Fayed had bought some of the contaminated seed that the company came out with a more interesting approach to the compensation issue.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. My advice to any would-be biotechnological firm is to choose its enemies carefully. I am not sure that that firm chose its enemies terribly carefully in that respect. That may have had an effect on its decision. Nevertheless, we want a clear strategy.

The whole episode smacks of dereliction somewhere within the Department, or between the Department. I do not like the way in which the Government were eventually forced to make the matter public, rather than vouchsafing it of their own accord. I do not like the retrospective justification that is going on: the argument for a 1 per cent. threshold. It tries to justify what is a fait accompli, to our detriment. The statement was considerably ill prepared and, in some ways, ill advised. I do not accept that empty reassurance is any replacement for robust investigation.

Indeed, there is more than a smack of the old days about the whole thing. Some Labour Members have mentioned the BSE crisis. Of course there is a difference in scale. Of course there is a huge and yawning gap between what happened with BSE and what has happened with the oilseed rape seed, but some of the Department's instincts seem to have changed not one wit. That is what is of concern. I am only waiting for the day when the right hon. Gentleman corrals some poor child and stuffs him or her with an oilseed rapeburger to reassure the public, because that is how the Government have addressed the issue.

We do not want to go back to the days of the Tory Government. We do not want to go back to the way they managed things. I know that they have changed their tune. The hon. Member for South Suffolk—Swampy, as he was described earlier—has been consistent on the issue, at least over the past year or so. The Conservatives were not terribly consistent earlier. It was they, when in government, who argued against labelling GM food in Europe; and it was they who first licensed GM foods: cheese, tomato puree and soya were allowed on to the market.

The Minister was fortunate to find an appropriate quote from the previous Government. It is very difficult to find any relatively recent quote on genetically modified organisms from the previous, Conservative Government. I think that that omission was a dereliction on their part. In those days, they were not concerned about the issue, but were happy to go along with big industry. Now that Conservative Members are in opposition, they feel differently about the issue.

The episode raises some basic biotechnology issues. I do not damn all biotechnology. I have also always made it absolutely plain that the Liberal Democrats do not believe that any technology, developing or otherwise, is in itself wholly wrong. We are, however, dealing with a critical issue that patently involves potential problems for human health, the environment, agronomics and agriculture's effect on society. We should not only be aware of those problems, but take absolutely every precaution to ensure that developments in this country are safe.

The proponents of genetic modification often argue that there is an essential similarity between it and natural selective breeding. Of course selective breeding, and the introduction of alien species to the United Kingdom, can be compared with genetic modification. Some of the issues in the inter-relationship between those developments and the environment are the same. However, there are also significant differences between genetic modification and those other developments. In genetic modification, an artificial situation is created as genes not only from different, unrelated species, but from both the animal kingdom and the plant kingdom are combined. That is not a natural process and gives rise to innate concerns.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools), Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

The difference to which the hon. Gentleman alerts the House is essentially a difference of scale. Plant breeding programmes occur over decades and generations and are essentially gradual, whereas genetic modification programmes involve an almost immediate quantum leap. The key difference is one of scale.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman is right that there is a difference in scale and in the size of the technological leap. Those are both relevant factors.

There are other technological issues, such as the safety of the vector mechanism that is used to implant genetic material. What do we know about the safety of vectors? In many cases, we do not know how safe they are, because there has not yet been sufficient experimentation to enable us to be sure.

An essential issue is the friability of the new genome. The genetic material may appear at any point in a pre-existing genome, but what might be its effect? To what extent might it create fractures or new relationships in the genetic material? We need to investigate not only those matters, but the material's interactions and possible inter-relations with native species. The precautionary principle is so important.

When addressing public health issues, we have to be secure in our knowledge that a novel food, whatever it might be, has been tested to pharmacological standards, so that we are entirely aware of any potential side-effects and dangers to human health.

The labelling issue is important: we should make the public aware of what they are eating. On 13 January, when we discussed the issue, the Minister for the Environment was very clear that his personal view was that he was keen to reach a threshold of 0.1 per cent. genetic material in food, rather than the 1 per cent. threshold that is now being used as a working hypothesis. The same lower threshold should apply to seeds. If we are talking about GM-free, let us mean GM-free and specify a very low tolerance, rather than the threshold that is currently being considered.

I understand that United Kingdom officials may be supporting the European Commission's emerging view that a 1 per cent. threshold is acceptable. If so, that is worrying. If we want GM-free seeds and cannot get them from America, let us get them from a more reliable source that is genuinely GM-free.

Some animal feed issues have not been addressed, either in the House or outside in the general consideration of these matters. At present, 2 million tonnes of GM crops are imported for animal feed. Does that cause a potential problem? The US Centre for Veterinary Medicine thinks that it does. It replied to an inquiry from the Food and Drug Administration in 1992. It stated: In addition to the human safety and environmental concerns outlined in the appendices to the notice, CVM believes that animal feeds derived from genetically modified plants present unique animal and food safety concerns. There is an issue that has not yet been properly addressed.

We have always said that farm trials are an essential part of the investigatory process. We do not accept the suggestion that there should never be any trials. If no trials take place, we shall never be able to ascertain what is scientifically valid and what is not. However, we have been consistently concerned about separation distances. That was the thrust of an argument that I put to the Minister for the Environment in January. I suggested that the distances were inadequate. I felt that I was fobbed off and that the argument was not being taken seriously.

All that has changed. I am glad that a review has been announced, but I think that it is too late. It should have been put in place a long time ago. As for the Canadian contamination, the distance was probably 800 m. That is 16 times greater than the distance that the Government were first assuring us was adequate for the task. If that is the case, why are we taking any other assurances at face value?

When farm trials take place, separation distances and the protocols of the experiments need to be right. They need to be specific to the GM species and variety that is under trial. We cannot move results from one place to another or from one variety to another. What is right for one species in East Anglia will not be right for the same species in Alberta. The local species, flora and fauna are different.

There are specific issues that we must consider, such as the evidence that has emerged of a transfer of herbicide resistance, which is being seen in Alberta. Crops lying close to GM crops have acquired Round-up assistance. They now have to be dealt with using rather more unpleasant and environmentally damaging herbicides. That is a concern. It is exactly what people have been worried about from the start in environmental terms.

As for commercial planting, we must have a strict and enforceable moratorium. I worry about the Chardon LL consideration. Some time ago, I wrote to the Prime Minister on the issue. It took months and months to get a reply from the Minister in another place, Baroness Hayman. I do not know why it takes her months to reply to my letters. I wonder whether there is a correlation between that delay and the delay in dealing effectively with this issue. It irks me that I had to pay £30—

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I would wish to demolish that conspiracy theory. There is a backlog in the correspondence section. Extra people have been put in to try to clear it. It is not a conspiracy.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Then that is all right. There is a backlog in the correspondence section. One effective means of reducing the correspondence is to charge £30 to anyone who wants to object, which is the process that we have had to go through.

If the Government are to go ahead with listing Chardon LL, the moratorium means nothing. Effectively, there will be no legal barrier to a genetically modified crop being planted commercially. To be plain about it, the industry will take that course. It will lose patience in the end, unless the Government are prepared to take action.

The hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) has repeatedly referred to the issue of reliability, and it must be sorted out. We must have a clear understanding of where liability lies so that we do not have to consider whether there is a basis for legal action being taken.

There is no need for superstition, because there are enough scientific concerns. They need to be properly addressed in a neutral way, but with an emphasis on the precautionary principle. We need proper care, good science, good agricultural practice and, above all, openness and information. We have yet to see many advantages from GM crops, but we have already seen some of the disadvantages.

I welcome the new committee, although I do not know how it will find its place in the overcrowded arena of Government responsibility in this area. We may eventually need a system map to find our way round the Government's GM management system.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Opposition Whip (Commons)

The hon. Gentleman has just said that we know the disadvantages of GM crops. Will he list them?

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has been listening to my speech with such assiduity. I thought that I had been clear about some of the disadvantages. If he wants to know, perhaps he would like to speak to his hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk on the Front Bench, who can give him a comprehensive list. I thought that that was the tenor of the Conservative attack. Perhaps we have little local difficulty in this Conservative Opposition day.

I welcome the new testing procedures, the promise to look again at separation distances and the rather belated efforts to support farmers. However, I repeat that the episode has done a lot of damage to the reputation of the Minster and his Ministry, as well as to the cause of biotechnology in this country—although I leave it to others to judge whether that is a good or a bad thing. There is a lack of confidence, not necessarily in the House, but among the public, that the Government have got their heads around the issues surrounding GM technology and the necessary precautions. Over the next year or so, the Government need to persuade the public that they have sorted the problems out, because at the moment they are looking very threadbare.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether you could advise me on to which Committee of the House I should address my concerns. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) has just spoken for longer than my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) when he introduced the debate. As a consequence, when one takes into account—

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The length of time that hon. Members take when they address the House is entirely a matter for them. Points of order such as this simply reduce the time available for other Members to contribute.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury

May I finish my point of order?

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Labour, Lewisham, Deptford 5:53 pm, 8th June 2000

I will endeavour to be brief. At the heart of the GM debate is a critical dialogue—or perhaps a lack of dialogue—between science and society. Scientists, particularly technologists, have moved ahead at such a pace that the public are concerned that they cannot keep up and therefore cannot remain in control of some of the things that are most fundamental to their lives—the food that they eat and the environment that they inhabit. All of that is logical. We should never deride the public for their attitudes, even if they have been influenced by the hysteria that has been whipped up at times by certain sections of the media. I have no doubts about the continuing seriousness of the subject at the heart of this debate.

There is also a perception that many GM companies have recklessly rushed to the marketplace without due concern for public sentiment and the potential effects on the environment. I want to put today's debate in that context by asking what Advanta was thinking about. The company could not have been ignorant at any stage of the preparation of the seeds. It could not have doubted the concern of the European public or the actions that have been taken by food retailers. Even when oil is produced from oilseed rape seed with no DNA remains, many retailers insist that the source of the seed is GM-free. Advanta is not ignorant of European law. Indeed, it battles frequently to achieve new licences, to have seeds placed on lists and to acquire new patents. It was completely clear that no licence existed for the commercial sale in the United Kingdom of the GM seeds in question nor the products arising from them.

My argument, therefore, is that the company had a clear duty of care. The seeds were grown in seed crops in Canada. Advanta would have been able to ascertain that GM crops were being grown in the same region in which the crops were being grown to produce conventional seed. The company must be as aware as any hon. Member of all the scientific literature on cross-contamination of oilseed rape. It must also have been clear that the particular GM crops grown in the area were those that were resistant to the Round-up herbicide developed by Monsanto. Contamination of Advanta's seed crops by GM seed of that particular type was, therefore, a real possibility.

Either Advanta should have taken care to test its seeds, or it has to bear a responsibility for knowing all that it knew and choosing not to test and, therefore, risk the possibility that it marketed contaminated seeds. Seed purity tests were available to the company, and in making the sales it did and discovering subsequently—if it was subsequently—that the seed was contaminated, it had an absolute responsibility to inform its suppliers the moment that it had the facts and to trace and inform the farmers who had planted, or had ready for planting, those seeds.

Advanta also had a responsibility to inform the Government, but informing the Government is not equivalent to passing the responsibility and liability from the company to the Government. That responsibility and liability remains with the company. I have gone on record and criticised the Government for the delay in bringing the information into the public domain. However, I have not the slightest doubt about the motivation that led my right hon. Friend the Minister to do what he did in that intervening period. His motivation was wholly good and honourable, and I have no reason to question his integrity. There is no reason or justification for the Opposition motion today or the scurrilous attacks that have been made on my right hon. Friend.

My right hon. Friend has set out clearly the steps that he took and perhaps the criticism that can be made is that he was overly cautious, that he tried to get everything in place and that he wanted to know exactly what the facts were, who might be affected and where the liability lay before he came to the House to give, in his words, balanced and accurate advice to farmers and consumers. That is honourable, but I hope that he will realise with hindsight that such is the sensitivity of the public to those matters that it might be more sensible in any future occurrence—which we hope does not happen—to be less cautious and to give the information before everything is in place. I accept that there may be consequences from doing that. What is clear is that there was nothing to cover up and no attempt to cover up anything.

However, there are lessons to be learned from what has happened, and I turn to them now. My right hon. Friend the Minister has spoken about the presence of oilseed rape that is genetically modified, and the advice of English Nature. It would be helpful if the Government tried to find out what traces remain of the 1999 crop. Only the male plants are sterile, so some adventitious fertilisation and seed production from the previous crop is likely. The result would be fully grown plants able to produce pollen. He may find nothing, but I hope that my right hon. Friend will look into that important matter.

Another issue involves the seeds that may remain after the safe harvesting and destruction of contaminated crops this year. I hope that steps are taken to determine what can be done about those seeds and to ensure that they are destroyed. I understand that English Nature has advised that spraying be undertaken, and that that may be necessary. However, I hope and expect that further checks will be made, so that we can reassure farmers and the public that there is no remaining contamination.

I hope also that my right hon. Friend will determine the true level of contamination in this country. It has been estimated at 1 per cent., although I believe that Advanta hoped that it was less than that. If checks are being carried out already, I hope that the results will be made known. It has been suggested that in some parts of Sweden, for example, 2.6 per cent. of the conventional seed stock was contaminated. That is worrying.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) catches your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as he is one of those who support the introduction of strict liability. I do not believe that any case can be made for tolerating the confusion that arose in this case. It must be made absolutely clear that the liability in such matters rests with the company. I believe that that is the case in this instance, but the matter needs to be codified.

With regard to seed purity, I know that many people want to suggest that, because 1 per cent. contamination is accepted in food for labelling purposes, a parallel level of contamination in seeds could be acceptable. I do not agree, as there is no equivalence. Seeds are planted into the environment, and the living plants that they produce will have a continuing effect in that environment. There is no room to tolerate any percentage of contamination. It can be prevented, and companies must be made to prevent it. Our fanners must be sure that the products that they buy are the ones that they seek, and that they are the ones that they can plant.

Time does not permit me to say all that I want to say on this subject. I believe that we can all learn from this regrettable incident—the Government, scientists, environmentalists and the public at large. Science is not absolute, as we know. We will receive the test results of our trials in due course, and the political debate will continue. However, we must be mature in that debate and understand that absolute control is not possible all the time.

We need transparency and rational argument. My right hon. Friend the Minister has dealt with the matter and brought it to a sensible conclusion for the moment. I am sure that he will have in hand what is needed for the future, and that he will ensure that farmers do not lose out as a result of this event.

Photo of Mrs Teresa Gorman Mrs Teresa Gorman Conservative, Billericay 6:04 pm, 8th June 2000

We seem to have been around this course many times before, as different products and developments affect our food supplies. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should have learned some lessons by now. It always seems to react after the event, with the result that scorn is poured on the biotech industry. That is an important and developing sector in our economy, as it is in the United States. It also drives our farmers mad. If they are not ploughing up their crops, they must tearing out their hair, and many of them are being put out of business. There have been dozens of different scares, such as BSE, salmonella, listeria, irradiated food, aldrin and spraying apples for scab. Given the number of times that the House has debated matters of this sort, we have to ask ourselves whether we have learned anything.

Has the Minister bothered to read the very excellent reports produced by our own House organisation, POST—the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. It wrote excellent and very clear papers on this subject in May 1998 and October 1999, producing excellent, simple, sensible and scientifically sound documents. That information would have informed the Minister and his Ministry so that he could have stepped in to the argument before we reached this point.

The idea that the public might get is that people working in science and the commercial development of agricultural products have no concern for their consumer market, and that they are trying to shove into the market things that are dangerous to human health, almost regardless of whether or not those products are sound. That is an absurd proposition. Any business that behaved so irresponsibly would not last five minutes, because every user of the product—and goodness knows, we live in a litigious society—would sue the company. There would be no point in taking such a risk.

We are all concerned about the relationship between society and science, but the scientist must be allowed to experiment. Trial and error is an important part of scientific progress. At some stage, the product will be tested on people. In the past, scientists often tested products on themselves. I do not suppose that they ate mountains of soya, or whatever. However, we learned about vaccines and other products that improved human health by that means. It is inevitable that we must have trials—yet immediately such trials become known, pressure groups seek to frighten the public about them, because they have their own agenda. They believe that nature is as it is and should never be adapted or altered, yet hardly anything in our environment has not been altered over a period of time.

Historically, almost every new scientific development has been challenged. Astronomy, medicine, development of the understanding of the workings of the human body and Darwinian science have all, in their time, been treated in much the same way as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace treat this issue and have treated issues in the past.

Much of the science that is cobbled together and presented to the Minister—and much of that which was presented to the previous Government on BSE—Is highly challengeable. However, because it is all done at the last minute to deal with the challenges made by these pressure groups, it is often bad science, badly thought out. I am making a plea for us to take a logical and sensible attitude to the industry and the people producing the seeds, who have just been given a tongue lashing by the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock), which I think was hardly justified.

We make no progress unless we treat our scientists and those in other countries—in this case, most of the research was done in the United States—as sensible human beings.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools), Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

I do not claim to have my hon. Friend's expertise in this field. I know that she has carried out academic research into the history of science. Surely she would acknowledge that the difference with this particular challenge is its pace and scale, as I said earlier. She talks about evolutionary change in science, the many historical changes that have taken place and the suspicion that was felt at the time. However, this change is so fundamental. It does not build on what has gone before in a simple way. It is a giant leap into the unknown, is it not?

Photo of Mrs Teresa Gorman Mrs Teresa Gorman Conservative, Billericay

If Conservative Members are a family, there is probably the same latitude between my hon. Friend and me as exists in some other prominent families. I consider the trial of these products essential. The trials are being conducted discreetly and monitored carefully. To try to repress them or to distort or discredit the findings is a reactionary, almost atavistic, attitude to science.

I make my plea because when politicians consider such matters, we often know little about the science, but we criticise scientists and their motives. Let us remind ourselves that what they are trying to do is to reduce the need for the use of herbicides, such as Round-up, on crops. Those herbicides have been shown to have most undesirable effects on human health. Sensible and progressive attempts are being made to modify the seed so that we can reduce the use of some of those potentially toxic products.

All that scientists are trying to do is to produce a seed that will need less herbicide to produce a crop or one that will be resistant to the organisms that prey on it. That too would give a more successful crop. If the effect of the organisms that destroy crops is reduced, there will be less need to use toxic substances.

That is the motivation. There is no sinister plot to bring half the population to its knees. Science and industry are trying to improve human progress—to make life better by making more food available.

One argument that has not been advanced in the debate relates to ethnic farmers. It is said that they will be forced to buy GM seeds and that, as the seeds are not fertile, they will have to be replaced regularly. Of course, that is a silly argument. Farmers anywhere in the world can continue to use the seed they already have if they want to do so.

Not enough is made of the fact that we in this House are extremely ill-informed by scientists—often it is at the last minute. I welcome the new organisation that the Government will be able to consult. I wish the Government had taken more notice of POST and hope that they will make more use of that excellent organisation; it is on-hand and can be consulted. The Government should not wait until public hysteria has been generated, largely by pressure groups that have their own agenda. The leaders of such organisations, for example, Lord Melchett, Mr. Secrett and others, have all sorts of sub-plots--not least their opposition to the world of commerce.

We must be well prepared to deal with public concerns when they are raised. In a few years time, we shall wonder what the debate was all about and why we made such a fuss. We have not had the opportunity to undertake proper trials in this country. We should do so, because it would be irresponsible not to do so.

Meanwhile, we must accept that the Canadians, who have these products, are not out to poison their population—nor is the United States. There is an element of anti-Americanism in some of the literature attacking ideas on these matters. Of course, American farmers see advantages in these products; as they use them, they realise that they do not need so many herbicides and that they can grow food more cheaply.

The British public do not yet see much advantage in GM products. Most people do not buy soya oil; it occurs only in small quantities in a wide range of foods. As people see little advantage, they decide that they may as well join in the hue and cry created by the pressure groups. Ultimately, those groups will have to eat if not a large slice of humble pie, a large jar of GM-treated soya oil. I wish them joy.

Although my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) was right to take the Government to task for coming forward yet again with an ill-prepared and ill-digested agenda, it is time that the House took a more tolerant and more sensitive view of scientific events. What progress would have been made if politicians in the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries had taken such an interest in scientific matters? I can think of many elements of progress that we would not have today if they had taken the approach that has been suggested. It is likely that if we had had our way, many of the progressive moves for the production of better quality and cheaper food would not have happened.

Photo of Mrs Anne Campbell Mrs Anne Campbell Labour, Cambridge 6:15 pm, 8th June 2000

I represent an area that has many biotech companies and I used to work at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany, which is the national plant testing authority for most agricultural varieties of seed. Like most Members, I have many constituents who are concerned about the dangers to health and to the environment of GM crops and the food from them.

I listened carefully to the opening speeches. The opportunism of the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) knows no bounds. The Conservative party, when in government, refused to contemplate any labelling scheme. Those of us who fought for such a scheme well remember the opposition to the idea from the previous Conservative Government. The Conservative party in government approved GM foods for sale in this country and it saw no problem in promoting GM crops and GM food.

In contrast, the Labour party in government has strengthened the regulatory environment. We have introduced the labelling of GM ingredients in food so that people can make informed choices about what they eat. We have also promoted debate so that people are fully informed of the issues. The hon. Gentleman now chooses to take advantage of a commercial error and tries to turn it to his political advantage, instead of debating sensitively and constructively what we can do to avoid such accidents in future.

I believe that the genetic modification of crops can bring many advantages. It will be easier to produce drought-resistant crops, crops that do well in hostile environments, crops that have medicinal properties and crops that are high in protein and vitamins. However, I agree that it is necessary to proceed cautiously. We do not yet know how many of the crops will react to the environment and we do not know whether there might be future long-term health risks. There is a case for proceeding sensibly with the research.

We need to examine how best we can grow such crops in the field and examine the likelihood of them spreading beyond the immediate location. We also need to know—this area of research could prove to be extremely interesting—what will happen when farmers make the occasional mistake and when they do not follow the protocols exactly. We need to know what will happen when seed companies make mistakes, because we are beginning to find out that they do.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools), Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

The hon. Lady says that, broadly speaking, she regards the development of such crops favourably. Does she support the development of crops that contain genes from bacteria that make them resistant to a wide range of weedkiller? When that weedkiller is applied to a field, it destroys everything else and creates an entirely sterile environment with the dangers to biodiversity pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition.

Photo of Mrs Anne Campbell Mrs Anne Campbell Labour, Cambridge

That is an important point. I said that GM crops can bring many advantages. However, like most scientific inventions, the science can be used for good and for ill. We must discriminate between the two. I urge caution, but I think that we shall regret it for ever if we turn our backs on a major scientific advance at this stage.

It is easy to whip up public hysteria on these issues. The hon. Member for South Suffolk is aware of public anxiety, and I believe that the debate is deliberately designed to feed that anxiety. It is not surprising that there is much public concern about food safety following the crass way in which the previous Conservative Government handled the BSE crisis, as mentioned by my right hon. Friend. When the Conservatives were in government, they cut the research budget for scrapie and other animal diseases. If they had not, the research might have led us to an awareness of the dangers before they got out of hand.

The Conservatives refused to listen to scientists. The Agriculture and Food Research Council found itself trying to cope with swingeing cuts in its research budget which were imposed by the previous Government, so it could not carry out the necessary research. I remember that the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), first mentioned the best available scientific advice after the announcement in the House that BSE posed a potential risk to human health. At that stage, it was rather late for the Government to reassure the public that they knew what they were doing, as clearly they did not.

The BSE crisis was significant because it shook public confidence in food safety. It was perceived that BSE was caused by unnatural feeding practices, and the public remain suspicious of anything to do with food which seems unnatural. The biotech companies have not helped matters by transferring fish genes to give plants frost resistance and by using a penicillin resistant marker gene to find out whether their experiments have been successful. The biotech industry has been a victim of its own ineptitude and should have recognised at an earlier stage that the public would mistrust those uses and, indeed, find them unnecessary. The industry has paid dearly for its mistakes, and we are paying too.

Some biotech companies are pulling out of the UK. Dupont, for example, has decided that it will no longer expand its Cambridge operation. We have lost for ever the opportunity to take commercial advantage of genetic modification. Having been vibrant and innovative just a few years ago, the industry has suffered a loss of public confidence, which has led to a retrenchment and firms relocating to the US. That is a great pity.

The Labour Government listen to scientific advice, not after the event, but at all times. We have increased the basic science budget by more than 16 per cent, but I hope that that we will go further than that. However, that increase shows that the Government recognise the value of scientific knowledge. The Food Standards Agency, set up by the Government, gives advice on food safety, and the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment gives advice about releases into the environment. We also have the new independent Agricultural and Environment Biotechnology Commission to provide strategic advice on GM issues.

Unfortunately, it will take a long time to regain public confidence, but that is a result of the previous Government's mishandling of the issues. It is crucial to that confidence building that an accident similar to the Advanta accident does not happen in future. I know that the Government are doing everything in their power to minimise those risks.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury 6:23 pm, 8th June 2000

We are not debating the virtues or otherwise of genetically modified crops. In recent years, Parliament has often debated those issues. A statutory framework is in place and I suspect that there is not much disagreement between the parties on the way in which field crops are going forward.

Our debate is about a specific incident. The House must focus on the Government's handling of the Advanta seed contamination and the action that the Ministry took once it had that information from Advanta on 17 April. I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) said about Advanta's responsibility; I accept, of course, that it had a duty of care. However, why did the general manager of Advanta repeatedly say that, at the outset, senior civil servants from MAFF and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions told him not to worry and that the matter was not of any concern? He said: They told me that they would to make some tests themselves and not to say anything about it until they had sorted that out. I took a lot of comfort from that and as a result did not take any further action to inform farmers or seed merchants. Clearly, one or other of those things happened. It is in everyone's interests that whatever minutes exist—I am sure that there are minutes—of meetings between officials and Advanta, they are made public.

I say to the Minister of State, as I would say to the Agriculture Minister if he were here, that the Government are largely responsible for the concern because they dealt with the matter using a planted question in another place, and nothing is more guaranteed to raise concern that the Government are trying to sneak out unfavourable news. The impression was given that they only did that as a consequence of knowing that the French and other Governments were about to release the information and that they would look misplaced if they did not do so.

The Minister's explanation that the only reason why he did not give a statement in the House was that the date in question was an Opposition supply day is one of the feeblest that the House has ever heard. It would have been perfectly possible for him to come to the House with a statement, as he eventually had to do—and then there was, understandably, a public outcry.

The Minister's explanation for the time lapse between April and May was that the Government had been seeking to establish the facts. I am still trying to work out what facts took from 17 April to 18 May—when the statement was made—to be established. Advanta had clearly come to the Government and told them that the seed was contaminated and that the contamination was de minimis—about I per cent. That fact was therefore established right at the outset, as was the fact that the genetic modification was RT73. Can the Minister of State tell the House what other facts were established between 17 April and 18 May which were not immediately known to the Agriculture Minister.

It would be interesting and helpful to know 'when the Minister was first seized of the issue. When did officials first tell him that there was a problem? As a former MAFF Minister, I imagine that the permanent secretary and officials would have gone to the Minister on 17 or 18 April and gone through all the various options and permutations with him. In his speech today, he gave the impression that be was wanting legal advice. I know that there is a convention that Ministers do not share actual legal advice with the House, but it would be helpful if we were told when the Minister first asked lawyers in MAFF or outside for advice and what was the nature of that advice. If we do not receive that information today, we can table parliamentary questions.

It is surprising that in the Minister's statement to the House on 18 May there was absolutely no mention of any legal advice. The suspicion must be that the legal advice that he has referred to was given after 18 May, when he realised that he was in an invidious position because he could not tell the farmers to destroy their crops, but had to do something to ensure that the crops did not get into general circulation. I suspect that when we question the Minister more closely through parliamentary questions, we will discover that legal advice was not sought until after 18 May.

In his statement on 18 May, the Minister said that he moved quickly to establish the facts. What facts? What did he not know on 17 April that took over a month to establish? He also said: The advice that the Government collectively have received is that it is not necessary to trace and destroy the crops. But there was no mention or advice then of what farmers should do. That has come out in dribs and drabs subsequently. The House should note that the Minister, rather complacently, also said: I believe that the response that I have announced today, and which was announced yesterday in the other place is the right one.—[Official Report, 18 May 2000; Vol. 350, c. 473–74.] Events have clearly shown that it was not the right one. On the Minister's own admissions since 18 May, he and the Government have had to do a considerable amount of work in the European Union and elsewhere and with Advanta to sort things out. They have had to persuade Advanta that it had a duty of care to pay compensation. They have had to work with the EU to produce a scheme that protects payments under the integrated administration and control system, but allows the farmers to move forward and provides them with specific and detailed advice on what they could and could not do with their crops. All of those matters have arisen since 18 May, but they should have been dealt with far earlier.

The Minister came to the House and quoted from "A Man for All Seasons", looking rather injured and sad as though he could not believe that anyone would want to criticise a nice guy like him, but the truth is that there has been a serious dereliction of duty by MAFF Ministers. I attach no blame to officials in MAFF. Having worked with them, I would say that they are an extremely good team—but the Ministers clearly did not get a grip on the issue. It would be interesting to discover what submissions and minutes went from the private office to various parts of the Ministry. I suspect that the truth of the matter is that the Minister did not get a grip on the issue until quite late in the day. The consequence is that farmers have been put in an invidious position.

The hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell), who represents a university constituency, is understandably concerned that science generally should not be imputed, but good science has been imputed as a consequence of the way in which the matter has been handled. The Minister has much explaining still to do, and the House would be greatly helped if the questions that my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) posed in his opening speech were answered in detail, and if that information in its entirety, including when legal advice was sought and its nature, were placed in the Library. Until we get to the bottom of those issues—nice guy or no nice guy—the Opposition will continue to ask questions because the farming community feels that the Government have treated it pretty badly and shabbily and it jolly well thinks that it deserves answers, and answers it will get.

Photo of Alan Simpson Alan Simpson Labour, Nottingham South 6:32 pm, 8th June 2000

I am pleased that we are debating this subject in the week in which the royal family have also decided to wade into it. I shall particularly refer to comments made by the Duke of Edinburgh, but I only wish that he had had an opportunity to listen to the wise and thoughtful remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock).

What has happened reflects badly on us all, so it would be helpful if we were to begin by taking on board the shared responsibilities and history of neglect in which we have all played a part. Some of those matters were spelled out by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell), but I would add that we cannot ignore the way in which the whole House drifted without criticism into endorsing the biotechnology patenting regime, under which it has been effectively presumed that people can sell the ownership of life itself. It has launched society into a gold-rush of greed in pursuit of the growing and ownership of crops that no one wants, which is seen as a way not to feed the planet, but to own the food chain.

I welcome the actions that my right hon. Friend the Minister has taken. I also welcome the fact that we have signed up to the biosafety protocol, that we have introduced product labelling and that we are committed to zero contamination of non-GM crops and, belatedly, to the review of separation distances. I hope that that will result in our agreeing with the position taken by the British Bee-Keepers Association, which suggests that the separation distance should be six miles. Even so, we are still getting it wrong.

I want to make it clear that we are ill-advised to continue with the current GM trials as they are constructed. We are wrong to set standards for animal feed labelling lower than those for labelling food that goes direct to humans. We are wrong not to have introduced our own GM producer liability Bill. Nothing shows that more clearly than the experiences with Advanta.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister on getting Advanta to come up with a compensation framework, but I must ask the House whether any of us are surprised that this crisis has been thrown up. Has any of us seriously doubted what has been going on? For almost a year, I have argued that an industry that failed to convince the public would seek to corrupt the food chain so that it could throw up its hands and say, "It's out there—there's nothing we can do." That was a guaranteed certainty, and it does not surprise me that Advanta has suggested a compensation scheme. Look at the wording; it came up with that scheme specifically to say, "But we accept no liability."

The compensation scheme has been suggested so that no cases go to court, because that would bring into existence a legal framework that would say to Advanta, "You bloody well are liable!" That is what it fears most and what the House ought to push forward. It is sad that the only people who appear to face prosecution are those young kids who go out in the fields and pull up the crops. In Austria, France or Sweden, they would do so under Government instruction. We have a topsy-turvy view of who is responsible for the things that are most damaging to our environment, our society and our long-term future.

I do not support the current trials because they are based on poor science or non-science and will not show up what the tests do not ask. They will not tell us anything about whether something is safe for human health and will tell us little about horizontal gene transfer. They will tell us nothing about what scientists refer to as biomagnification or of emergent characteristics. All those fundamental issues are central to the challenges presented by the technology, which is why I support the claims made for the five-year freeze programme.

It is bizarre that we are undertaking trials when there is no public support or demand for them and I read in The Times that so desperate are we to achieve co-operation in the process that the Ministry of Defence has had to resort to conscripting the tenants of its own farms to take part. That is the first occasion in peacetime on which the MOD has had to conscript its own farmers to take part in trials of products that no one wants. I am not sure how it will enforce no-fly zones around its farms, nor am I sure whether it is on the lookout for B52s or in fear of 52 bees.

The MOD has had to step in to fill the gap because the rest of society is running away from the issues and all that has stopped us becoming a laughing stock is the Duke's intervention. He has stepped in to create his own interesting distraction. It was up to him to make the decision, but he seems to be on particularly dangerous and thin ice in suggesting that there are dangers in cross-breeding with exotic foreign varieties. However, he was wrong to suggest that GM plant growing is no different from conventional plant breeding. Someone has to have a word with him. History does not bear out an analysis that a fish gene has not crossed with a soya bean because one likes polo and the other prefers rugger or one reads The Times and the other the Beano.

That sort of propagation—the ability of GM technology to produce new products—crosses all the frontiers that nature has ever set for us. That is the issue: not compatibility of interests, but the incompatibility of species. We have been presented with new challenges and we have to analyse the risk and consequences of new toxins being generated, new resistances being created and unexpected further transfers between species taking place. There is indifference to those threats. The Duke of Hazards has ploughed into the debate, leaping into his own car of convenience—

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The hon. Gentleman has referred to a member of the royal family, which is legitimate to an extent, but he ought to be careful with the words he uses.

Photo of Alan Simpson Alan Simpson Labour, Nottingham South

I shall confine myself to saying that we would all be wise to pause before pursuing ignorance into folly. The consequences for society will be profound if we get it wrong.

I shall set out the six challenges that all hon. Members, irrespective of party, must tackle if we are serious about the debate. First, we should stop GM trials and provide a breathing space for science to set the necessary new benchmarks, against which to measure the consequences of the technology. Secondly, until we have met the first challenge, we should reject the inclusion of GM crops in the national seed list. Thirdly, we should commit ourselves to seed purity standards which ensure that GM free means GM free—that is, zero tolerance. Fourthly, we should introduce compulsory labelling for animal feed that is no less exacting than that required for humans. Fifthly, we should prosecute the polluter, not the protester. Sixthly, we should introduce polluter liability legislation, which requires a compulsory insurance scheme to be put in place before consent is considered.

Those are challenges not only to the House, but all those outside who advocate charging into the technology. We should tell them to put their assets where there assertions are. Someone has to be held liable, whether we are considering the Crown estate, a personal estate or the House's estate. That person cannot be the farmer or the consumer. We have a duty to establish that as the moral high ground, which we are all willing to occupy.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 6:41 pm, 8th June 2000

I want to repeat the words of my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) at the outset. The debate is not about the benefits or otherwise of genetic modification. Conservative Members accept that there are plenty of potential benefits to producers, the environment, consumers, and—as is already happening—health care. Each development has to be properly assessed and trialled. There should not be a blanket moratorium, because that ignores the different stages of each development. The debate is about ministerial competence.

It is not surprising that the Minister and his supporters have floated several red herrings. They are nothing to do with the debate. It was suggested that the fact that we had licensed the product for food use and for trials meant that somehow everything was all right. We would never suggest otherwise in relation to food safety. Oil does not contain DNA. There cannot therefore be any doubt about food safety. We licensed the product for trials, but that is not the same as wholesale release into the environment, which has happened. It has also been claimed that we told the Minister that he should order the destruction of the crop. We did not. It has been said that we suggested that the Government should pay compensation. Again, we did not.

I stress that we do not excuse Advanta. The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) was right to say that Advanta has some important questions to answer and, I suspect, some liabilities. However, that is not the issue at hand.

The motion is narrow; it deals with the Government's competence. It was clear from the pained expression on the Minister's face throughout the beginning of the debate that he knew that he was already in serious trouble. I am not talking about his integrity or his personal honesty, but his ministerial competence. He took four weeks to listen to legal advice. We know what that means: he was being told, "You can't say this, Minister; you can't say that, Minister, because if you do, you will have to find the money for compensation, and the Government will be liable." Ministerial interest was being put before that of the farmers who were growing the crops.

The Minister made a most interesting concession. He said that he agreed with the view of the Minister for the Cabinet Office that the details should have come out earlier. He also apologised for not telling Wales and Scotland earlier. After that, I do not know how he had the gall to move the amendment. By making those two admissions, he was three quarters of the way to accepting the motion.

It is not as though the Government were not warned about the problem of seed purity. In May last year, the report that the Government commissioned from the John Innes centre stated: Seed obtained from outside of the UK or the European Union may have different seed production criteria. This may make it difficult to guarantee that it is absolutely free from any GM material. Even more recently, our own Select Committee on Agriculture stated: We recommend that the Government ensure that the separation distances set out in the SCIMAC guidelines be reviewed if there is clear evidence of cross-pollination. Again, that was a recognition that seed purity was a concern.

The delay caused by the Government's inaction meant that farmers faced the problem of what to do when they were told on 19 May that they may—still only "may"—have sown some contaminated seed. No effort had been made to trace it. The Minister said in his statement that there was no need to trace it. Farmers were left wondering what to do.

A week later the Minister published some advice, giving farmers a couple of options. Today he announced a third option. However, as you well know from your own background, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the seasons wait for no man. Planting a crop in the middle of April is a very different matter from planting it in the first week of June. There is virtually no mainstream arable crop that can be planted at the beginning of June and expected to produce any saleable crop whatever.

If farmers had been told in mid-April that their crop could be a problem, they would have had the choice. They could have decided whether to go ahead and take the risk, or to plough it up and sow some other crop, in the knowledge that they would have obtained a harvest of that crop.

The Minister sings his own praises about his achievement today in Brussels, which will allow farmers to mow their crop and still to claim the whole IACS—integrated arable control system—Payments. That is valuable, but it does not deal with the fact that farmers still had to carry all the growing costs and will get zero crop sales if they take that action.

We welcome the review of separation distances announced by the Government. I remind them that in three months, farmers will be planting next year's crop, so it is urgent that conclusions are reached on that.

I have some questions for the Minister. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] He is probably at the shredder, in view of the comment I am about to make. We need the documents to find out what was said. I do not believe that there is smoke without fire. When representatives of Advanta tell us that they were told by officials not to tell anybody else, something needs to be properly explained.

The Minister has not yet explained to us why he did not impose trial conditions on those crops. He has not explained why he said that it was not necessary to trace crops, when ACRE said that it was. He needs to answer those questions.

Two years ago, the Minister took office, with agriculture in its entirety facing a crisis. For a while, his self-effacing charm carried him through. Over the past 12 months, the country has begun to wonder what is behind the charm. His record of delivery has been abysmal—an emergency package here, another one there; £1 million dressed up as £500 million; regulations imposed and then costs deferred; give with one hand and take back with the other.

Only four weeks ago, I pointed out at the Dispatch Box that it took the right hon. Gentleman almost a year to implement any of the proposals that we put forward in May last year to help farming through its current crisis. [Interruption.] It is highly appropriate that the Minister should appear at this point. The debate is about the nadir of his performance. We know of his total inaction for four weeks—as we heard, like a frightened rabbit paralysed in the headlights. He did not even tell Scotland or Wales, and he has now admitted that he was wrong.

Did no one in the Ministry say on 17 April, "Minister, if we act quickly we will prevent many farmers from sowing the seed"? The fact that the Minister himself did not think to ask the question demonstrates his lack of true understanding of agricultural practice. Even when he did tell the world, he exhibited—as my hon. Friend said—astonishing complacency. Like his leader, he seemed to say, "Trust me; I know what I am doing". A week later, he gave farmers two options, and left it to the company itself to advise destruction of the crop. It is a record of delay and inaction.

For two years, farming has been in a worsening crisis. When the industry needed Action Man, it got Mr. Slowcoach. When the British landscape is under threat from unauthorised GM planting—against the law, as my hon. Friend said—who is in charge of the landscape? Incapability Brown.

We have suffered too long from a Government for whom words are everything and action is nothing. Today's debate is just one more example. It is time that they went.

Photo of Ms Joyce Quin Ms Joyce Quin Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food 6:51 pm, 8th June 2000

I welcome the opportunity to respond to the debate. On hearing the introduction by the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo), I feared for its quality, but that introduction was followed by a number of excellent speeches by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

Obviously, I especially commend the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister. He committed himself to openness, and, characteristically, responded to all interventions from hon. Members on both sides of the House. Many other hon. Members made thoughtful contributions—in particular, my hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) and for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) and, indeed, the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman). The hon. Lady may be embarrassed by that. Perhaps she will return to form next time she speaks.

Let me remind the House of the Government's priorities on this issue and, indeed, the issue of genetic modification generally. Our priorities are the protection of public health and—equally important—the protection of the environment. I am glad that, throughout the debate, hon. Members on both sides of the House recognised that those were our priorities, and that we have been able to allay anxieties about public health and environmental protection. That is tremendously important and should have been the context of the debate.

There is a comprehensive United Kingdom regulatory framework that covers all stages of the development and use of GM materials. As we know, it is based mostly on European Union legislation. Some hon. Members referred to that specifically, notably the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath). My right hon. Friend emphasised that the issues we have been investigating are issues with clear European Union and international implications, and should be dealt with in that context.

The Government are advised by a number of expert committees, including the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment, which undertakes assessments for the purposes of release and marketing of genetically modified organisms, and the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes, which deals with assessments relating to foods and food ingredients. Those committees seek to ensure that advice to Government reflects the best available scientific knowledge.

The Government have reviewed the regulatory framework and agreed that the existing committee structure is basically satisfactory. However, they have decided that it should be supplemented by a mechanism to allow broader issues relating to genetic modification to be considered.

Therefore, last year we announced the creation of two strategic commissions: the Human Genetics Advisory Commission and the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission. The Human Genetics Advisory Commission has been in place for several months and the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission was launched this week. Again, I was glad that that was referred to by a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House. To take up a point that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford, the Government have set up the new commissions precisely to advise Government on the wider picture, taking particular account of the public acceptability and ethical issues that she raised. Through the commissions and through our work generally, we want there to be an inclusive debate.

In setting up the Food Standards Agency at the beginning of April, the Government fulfilled a key commitment to provide independent advice to Ministers on food safety issues. It would be good to get a more wholehearted endorsement from the Conservative party of the agency and the work that it does.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Opposition Whip (Commons)

On 9 May, I put 29 questions directly to the Food Standards Agency. None has been answered. Is that an indication of how it will operate in future?

Photo of Ms Joyce Quin Ms Joyce Quin Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

Having not seen the hon. Gentleman's 29 questions, I have no idea how long it will take the agency to deal with them, but the agency will deal with them as it deals with all other issues—with great seriousness. In response to an intervention from the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray), whom I do not see in the Chamber, he was wrong to say that the agency had not been consulted on the incident. He repeated that. However, he is incorrect. I firmly put it on the record that the agency was indeed consulted and gave advice, which has been put into the public domain.

I shall respond to some of the issues on openness. My right hon. Friend the Minister has related to the House the information that has been made available: the advice from ACRE and from the Food Standards Agency, the technical information about the sterility of the crops, the European Seed Association letter and the briefing note on the implication for arable area payments.

If hon. Members consult the MAFF website, they will see that the advice from ACRE and the Food Standards Agency, the advice to farmers, and the questions and answers for farmers and for the wider public are all accessible. Criticisms about lack of openness or secrecy come ill from the Conservative party, given the amount of information that we have put into the public domain and that my right hon. Friend has said will be put into the public domain as a result of some of the questions that have been directed towards him in the debate.

The words of the hon. Member for South Suffolk on BSE came back to haunt him in the debate. I was reminded of the debate in Westminster Hall last year, when my predecessor spectacularly demolished his similar claims of secrecy and cover-up. Since we have come to power, we have appointed non-scientific lay advisers to every advisory committee. Minutes and agendas of meetings have been made public. Some open meetings have been held and the minutes subsequently published.

I am glad to be able to reaffirm the Government's position, as set out in our amendment to the misguided motion. I am happy to defend the Government's action and that of colleagues in my Department and elsewhere. They have acted throughout with proper concern for accuracy of information and with concern to make that information available to Parliament—

Photo of James Arbuthnot James Arbuthnot Shadow Chief Whip (Commons)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 144, Noes 267.

Division No. 223][6.59 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Beresford, Sir Paul
Allan, RichardBody, Sir Richard
Amess, DavidBoswell, Tim
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon JamesBottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia
Baker, NormanBrady, Graham
Baldry, TonyBrake, Tom
Beggs, RoyBreed, Colin
Bell, Martin (Tatton)Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Bercow, JohnBrowning, Mrs Angela
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Bums, SimonLlwyd, Elfyn
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife)Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
Cash, WilliamLyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)MacGregor, Rt Hon John
McIntosh, Miss Anne
Chidgey, DavidMaclean, Rt Hon David
Chope, ChristopherMaclennan, Rt Hon Robert
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)McLoughlin, Patrick
Collins, TimMadel, Sir David
Cormack, Sir PatrickMajor, Rt Hon John
Cotter, BrianMalins, Humfrey
Cran, JamesMaples, John
Davies, Quentin (Grantham)Mates, Michael
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)Moss, Malcolm
Day, StephenNicholls, Patrick
Dorrell, Rt Hon StephenNorman, Archie
Duncan, AlanO'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Duncan Smith, lainÖpik, Lembit
Emery, Rt Hon Sir PeterOttaway, Richard
Evans, NigelPage, Richard
Ewing, Mrs MargaretPaice, James
Faber, DavidPaterson, Owen
Fabricant, MichaelPickles, Eric
Fearn, RonniePortillo, Rt Hon Michael
Flight, Howardprior, David
Forth, Rt Hon EricRendel, David
Foster, Don (Bath)Robathan, Andrew
Fraser, ChristopherRobertson, Laurence
Gale RogerRoe' Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Gamier, EdwardRowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Gibb NickRussell, Bob (Colchester)
Gidley, SandraSt Aubyn, Nick
Gill ChristopherShepherd, Richard
Gillan, Mrs CherylSimpson, Keith (Mid—Norfolk)
Gorman, Mrs TeresaSmith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Gray, JamesSpelman, Mrs Caroline
Green, DamianSpring, Richard
Greenway, JohnSteen, Anthony
Grieve, DominicSteen, Anthony
Gummer, Rt Hon JohnStreeter, Gray
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir ArchieStunell, Andrew
Hammond, PhilipSwayne, Desmond
Hancock, MikeSyms, Robert
Hayes, John Tapsell, Sir Pear
Heald, OliverTaylor lan (Esher & Walton)
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Hogg, Rt Hon DouglasTonge Dr Jenny
Horam, JohnTredinnick, David
Howard, Rt Hon MichaelTrend, Michael
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)Trend Andrew
Hunter, AndrewViggers, Peter
Jack, Rt Hon MichaelWalter Robert
Waterson, Nigel
Johnson Smith,Wells, Bowen
Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyWhittingdale, John
Kennedy, Rt Hon Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness W)Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Wilkinson, John
Key, RobertWilletts, David
Kirkbride, Miss JulieYeo, Tim
Laing, Mrs EleanorYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Lansley, AndrewTellers for the Ayes: Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown and Mr. John Randall.
Leigh, Edward
Letwin, Oliver
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Abbott, Ms DianeAshton, Joe
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Atherton, Ms Candy
Alexander, DouglasAtkins, Charlotte
Austin, John
Allen, GrahamBanks, Tony
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Barron Kevin
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)Bayley, Hugh
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms HilaryBeard, Nigel
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs MargaretFollett, Barbara
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield)Fyfe, Maria
Bennett, Andrew FGalloway, George
Benton, JoeGapes, Mike
Bermingham, GeraldGardiner, Barry
Best, HaroldGeorge, Bruce (Walsall S)
Blizzard, BobGerrard, Neil
Boateng, Rt Hon PaulGibson, Dr Ian
Borrow, DavidGilroy, Mrs Linda
Bradley, Keith (Withington)Godsiff, Roger
Bradshaw, BenGolding, Mrs Llin
Brinton, Mrs HelenGordon, Mrs Eileen
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Browne, DesmondGrogan, John
Buck, Ms KarenHain, Peter
Burgon, ColinHall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Butler, Mrs ChristineHall, Patrick (Bedford)
Byers, Rt Hon StephenHanson, David
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Healey, John
Cann, JamieHenderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Caplin, IvorHeppell, John
Casale, RogerHewitt, Ms Patricia
Caton, MartinHill, Keith
Cawsey, IanHinchliffe, David
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Hoey, Kate
Chaytor, DavidHope, Phil
Clapham, MichaelHopkins, Kelvin
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)Hoyle, Lindsay
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)Hurst, Alan
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)Hutton, John
Clelland, DavidIllsley, Eric
Clwyd, AnnIngram, Rt Hon Adam
Coffey, Ms AnnJackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Cohen, HarryJamieson, David
Coleman, lainJenkins, Brian
Colman, TonyJohnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cooper, YvetteJones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Corbett, RobinJones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)
Corbyn, Jeremy
Corston, JeanJones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Cox, TomJones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Cranston, RossKaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)Keeble, Ms Sally
Cummings, JohnKeen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)Kelly, Ms Ruth
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs ClaireKemp, Fraser
Dalyell, TarnKhabra, Piara S
Darting, Rt Hon AlistairKilfoyle, Peter
Darvill, KeithKing, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Davidson, IanLadyman, Dr Stephen
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)Laxton, Bob
Dawson, HiltonLepper, David
Dean, Mrs JanetLeslie, Christopher
Denham, JohnLewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Dismore, AndrewLewis, Terry (Worsley)
Dobbin, JimLinton, Martin
Donohoe, Brian HMcAvoy, Thomas
Drew, DavidMcCabe, Steve
Dunwoody, Mrs GwynethMcCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Ellman, Mrs LouiseMcDonagh, Siobhain
Ennis, JeffMacdonald, Calum
Etherington, BillMcDonnell, John
Fisher, MarkMcFall, John
Fitzpatrick, JimMcGuire, Mrs Anne
Flint, CarolineMcIsaac, Shona
Flynn, PaulMcKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Mackinlay, AndrewRuddock, Joan
McNulty, TonySarwar, Mohammad
MacShane, DenisSavidge, Malcolm
Mactaggart, FionaShaw, Jonathan
McWalter, TonyShipley, Ms Debra
Mahon, Mrs AliceSingh, Marsha
Mallaber, JudySkinner, Dennis
Mandelson, Fit Hon PeterSmith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Martlew, Eric
Meacher, Rt Hon MichaelSmith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Merron, GillianSoley, Clive
Michael, Rt Hon AlunSouthworth, Ms Helen
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)Spellar, John
Moffatt, LauraSquire, Ms Rachel
Moonie, Dr LewisSteinberg, Gerry
Moran, Ms MargaretStevenson, George
Morley, ElliotStewart, Ian (Eccles)
Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Stringer, Graham
Mountford, KaliStuart, Ms Gisela
Mullin, ChrisSutcliffe, Gerry
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Naysmith, Dr DougThomas Gareth (Clwyd W)
Norris, DanTimms, Stephen
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)Tipping, Paddy
O'Brien, Make (N Warks)Todd, Mark
Olner, BillTouhig, Don
O'Neill, MartinTrickett, Jon
Osbome, Ms SandraTurner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Palmer, Dr NickTurner, Neil (Wigan)
Pearson, IanTwigg, Derek (Halton)
Pickthall, ColinTynan, Bill
Pike, Peter LWalley, Ms Joan
Plaskitt, JamesWard, Ms Claire
Pollard, KerryWareing, Robert N
Pond, ChrisWatts David
Pope, GregWhite Brian
Pound, StephenWhitehead, Dr Alan
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)wicks, Malcolm
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Primarolo, Dawn
Purchase, KenWilliams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Quin, Rt Hon Ms JoyceWilliams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Rapson, SydWills, Michael
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)Winnick, David
Roche, Mrs BarbaraWinterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Rogers, AllanWright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff
Rooney, TerryTellers for the Noes: Mr. Jim Dowd and Mr. Clive Betts.
Rowlands, Ted
Roy, Frank

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments):

The House divided: Ayes 253, Noes 125.

Division No. 224][7.14 pm
Abbott, Ms DianeBanks, Tony
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Barron, Kevin
Alexander, DouglasBayley, Hugh
Allen, GrahamBeard, Nigel
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms HilaryBenn, Hilary (Leeds C)
Atherton, Ms CandyBenn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield)
Austin, JohnBennett, Andrew F
Benton, JoeGeorge, Bruce (Walsall S)
Bermingham, GeraldGerrard, Neil
Best, HaroldGibson, Dr Ian
Blackman, LizGilroy, Mrs Linda
Blizzard, BobGodsiff, Roger
Boateng, Rt Hon PaulGordon, Mrs Eileen
Borrow, DavidGriffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Bradley, Keith (Withington)Grogan, John
Bradshaw, BenHain, Peter
Brinton, Mrs HelenHall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Browne, DesmondHanson, David
Buck, Ms KarenHeal, Mrs Sylvia
Burgon, ColinHealey, John
Butler, Mrs ChristineHenderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Byers, Rt Hon StephenHeppell, John
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Hill, Keith
Cann, JamieHinchliffe, David
Caplin, IvorHoey, Kate
Casale, RogerHope, Phil
Caton, MartinHopkins, Kelvin
Cawsey, IanHowarth, Alan (Newport E)
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Hoyle, Lindsay
Chaytor, DavidHughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Clapham, MichaelHughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)Hurst, Alan
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)Hutton, John
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)Illsley, Eric
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)Ingram, Rt Hon Adam
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Clelland, DavidJamieson, David
Clwyd, AnnJenkins, Brian
Coffey, Ms AnnJohnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Cohen, Harry
Coleman, lainJones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Colman, TonyJones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cooper, YvetteJones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Corbett, RobinKaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Corbyn, JeremyKeeble, Ms Sally
Corston, JeanKeen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Cousins, JimKelly, Ms Ruth
Cox, TomKemp, Fraser
Cranston, RossKhabra, Piara S
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs ClaireLadyman, Dr Stephen
Darling, Rt Hon AlistairLawrence, Mrs Jackie
Darvill, KeithLaxton, Bob
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)Lepper, David
Davidson, IanLeslie, Christopher
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)Linton, Martin
Dawson, HiltonMcAvoy, Thomas
Dean, Mrs JanetMcCabe, Steve
Denham, JohnMcDonagh, Siobhain
Dismore, AndrewMacdonald, Calum
Dobbin, JimMcDonnell, John
Drew, DavidMcFall, John
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)McGuire, Mrs Anne
Ellman, Mrs LouiseMcIsaac, Shona
Ennis, JeffMcKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Etherington, BillMackinlay, Andrew
Ewing, Mrs MargaretMcNulty, Tony
Fisher, MarkMacShane, Denis
Fitzpatrick, JimMactaggart, Fiona
Flint, CarolineMcWalter, Tony
Flynn, PaulMahon, Mrs Alice
Follett, BarbaraMallaber, Judy
Foster, Rt Hon DerekMandelson, Rt Hon Peter
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Fyfe, MariaMarsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Galloway, GeorgeMartlew, Eric
Gapes, MikeMeacher, Rt Hon Michael
Gardiner, BarryMerron, Gillian
Michael, Rt Hon AlunShipley, Ms Debra
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)Skinner, Dennis
Moffatt, LauraSmith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Moonie, Dr LewisSmith, Angela (Basildon)
Moran, Ms MargaretSmith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Morley, ElliotSoley, Clive
Mountford, KaliSouthworth, Ms Helen
Mullin, ChrisSpellar, John
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)Squire, Ms Rachel
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)Steinberg, Gerry
Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)Stevenson, George
Naysmith, Dr DougStewart, Ian (Eccles)
Norris, DanStraw, Rt Hon Jack
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)Stringer, Graham
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)Stuart, Ms Gisela
Olner, BillSutcliffe, Gerry
O'Neill, MartinTaylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Osbome, Ms Sandra
Palmer, Dr NickTaylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Pearson, IanThomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Pickthall, ColinTimms, Stephen
Pike, Peter LTipping, Paddy
Plaskitt, JamesTodd, Mark
Pollard, KerryTouhig, Don
Pond, ChrisTrickett, Jon
Pope, GregTurner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Pound, StephenTurner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Primarolo, DawnTynan, Bill
Purchase, KenWard, Ms Claire
Quin, Rt Hon Ms JoyceWareing, Robert N
Rapson, SydWatts, David
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)White, Brian
Roche, Mrs BarbaraWhitehead, Dr Alan
Rogers, AllanWicks, Malcolm
Rooker, Rt Hon JeffWilliams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Rooney, TerryWills, Michael
Rowlands, TedWinnick, David
Roy, FrankWinterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Ruddock, JoanWright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Sarwar, Mohammad
Savidge, MalcolmTellers for the Ayes:
Sedgemore, BrianMr. Jim Dowd and
Shaw, JonathanMr. Clive Betts.
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife)
Allan, Richard
Amess, DavidCash, William
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon JamesChapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Baker, NormanChidgey, David
Baldry, TonyChope, Christopher
Beggs, RoyClark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)
Bell, Martin (Tatton)Collins, Tim
Bercow, JohnCotter, Brian
Beresford, Sir PaulCran, James
Body, Sir RichardDavies, Quentin (Grantham)
Boswell, TimDay, Stephen
Brady, GrahamDorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Brake, TomDuncan, Alan
Breed, ColinDuncan Smith, lain
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterEmery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Browning, Mrs AngelaEvans, Nigel
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Faber, David
Bums, SimonFabricant, Michael
Flight, HowardMalins, Humfrey
Forth, Rt Hon EricMaples, John
Foster, Don (Bath)Moss, Malcolm
Fraser, ChristopherNicholls, Patrick
Gale, RogerNorman, Archie
Gamier, EdwardO'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Gibb, NickÖpik, Lembit
Gidley, SandraOttaway, Richard
Gill, ChristopherPage, Richard
Gorman, Mrs TeresaPaice, James
Gray, JamesPaterson, Owen
Green, DamianPickles, Eric
Greenway, JohnPrior, David
Grieve, DominicRendel, David
Gummer, Rt Hon JohnRobathan, Andrew
Hammond, PhilipRobertson, Laurence
Hancock MikeRoe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Hayes, JohnRuffley, David
Heald, OliverRussel1' Bob, (Colchester)
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)St Aubyn, Nick
Hogg Rt Hon DouglasSimpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Horam.JohnSmith. Sir Robert (WAtVns)
Howard, Rt Hon MichaelSpring, Richard
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)Stenley, Rt Hon Sir John
Hunter, AndrewSteen, Anthony
Johnson Smith,Streeter, Gray
Stunell, Andrew
Rt Hon Sir GeoffreySwayne, Desmond
Kennedy, Rt Hon Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness W)Syms, Robert
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Key, RobertTaylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Kirkbride, Miss JulieTaylor, Sir Teddy
Laing, Mrs EleanorTonge Dr Jenny
Lait, Mrs JacquiTredinnick, David
Leigh, EdwardTrend Michael
Letwin, OliverTyrie Andrew
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)Viggers, Peter
Uoyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)Walter Robert
Loughton, TimWaterson, Nigel
Luff, PeterWells, Bowen
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir NicholasWhittingdale, John
MacGregor, Rt Hon JohnWilletts, David
McIntosh, Miss AnneYeo, Tim
Maclean, Rt Hon David
Maclennan, Rt Hon RobertTellers for the Noes: Mr. John Randall and Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown.
McLoughlin, Patrick
Major, Rt Hon John

Question accordingly agreed to.

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.


That this House endorses Her Majesty's Government's approach to the development of GM technology in agriculture; believes that the Government has responded in a responsible, open, considered and proportionate way to the recent discovery of the adventitious presence of GM seed in conventional oilseed rape seed; supports the priority the Government has given and continues to give to the protection of public health and the environment, and its continued determination to act on the best available scientific advice; applauds the creation of the new, independent Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission to provide strategic advice on GM issues; welcomes the announcement by the seed company Advanta, following discussions with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, that they will provide a fair and equitable compensation package to affected farmers; and commends the Government for the action it is taking at both national and international level to minimise the risk of a similar incident occurring in the future.