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Mr. Brown: I understand that we either have agreement on the protocol or are close to it. My hon. Friend is on to the right point. The United Kingdom Government have taken the lead in trying to get the international agreements on seed purity that are at the heart of this issue. The work of the Agriculture Committee is a useful contribution to those discussions.

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford): Is the Minister aware that Herefordshire reportedly has more organic farms per hectare than any other county in England, and that many organic farmers are concerned that they will lose their business if they lose Soil Association accreditation if they are infected by genetically modified crops? Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that on 27 March the Minister for the Environment told me in a written answer that there were no GM farms in Herefordshire? However,

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in another written answer on 15 May, the right hon. Gentleman told me that there was one GM site in Herefordshire, at Preston Wynne, and that the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions had only discovered that fact on 26 April.

Can the Minister assure me that there are no other GM sites in Herefordshire? Can he tell me what compensation organic farmers will receive from the Government if they lose Soil Association accreditation? Can he assure me that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will hold a public meeting in Herefordshire? It has held such meetings in Worcestershire, Warwickshire and other parts of the midlands, but has so far refused to hold one in Herefordshire.

Mr. Brown: Essentially, the question is for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions rather than for me, because it is about accreditation and separation distances. However, all the issues are under review, and no one would want to do anything to damage the prospects for organic farmers. The Government are putting more money into supporting conversion to organic farming. The organic farm movement has won an important place in the retail marketplace. I want to sustain that, not see it undermined.

Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South): I congratulate the Minister on the work that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has done in promoting organic farming. Will he come back to the House with a statement giving specific details of liability and compensation that relate to GM crop contamination?

Farmers across the country will be discovering that they have inadvertently fallen for the wiles of the food biotech industry. These GM gigolos have been touring the country, and farmers are waking up to the fact that the industry has rogered their fields and run off in the morning without accepting any responsibility for the contamination that follows.

At a time when consumers and supermarkets are queueing up to demand GM-free products, does my right hon. Friend accept that there are widespread implications for farm incomes if farmers can no longer offer that guarantee? Will he consider the arguments in favour not of a Child Support Agency but of a Farm Support Agency that will pursue the seed corporations which have demanded patents and royalties, and remind them that they will have to accept long-term, lifetime responsibility for GM paternity, and environmental responsibility?

Mr. Brown: I hope that my hon. Friend will take it from me that the advice to the Government is that there is no risk to human health in what has happened, and no risk to the environment. Environmental liability is currently under examination in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, with a view to a future parliamentary debate.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): The Minister will know that Wales has declared itself a GM-free zone, and many people in Wales will be very disappointed at the recent incident. May I ask him--I accept his assurances about public health--whether 1 per cent. contamination would in itself make these crops non-GM-free? There is also a very real threat to organic farming arising from these incidents, as has already been mentioned.

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Whether by default or design, the Government seem to have engineered a number of crises of confidence around their GM policies. Will the Minister accept from me that farmers in Wales and Ceredigion want to produce food, whether organic or conventional, that people trust. Incidents such as this do not help. Will the right hon. Gentleman review the procedures and look in particular at the North American Free Trade Area, where it seems that the gene identification process is totally inadequate to stop these things happening?

Mr. Brown: My Department and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions are focusing on the important issue of conventional seed purity. As I have said, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions is introducing random checks from 1 June. There is no reason why the particular strain should endanger organic farm production, for example, because of the nature of the product.

Mr. Alan W. Williams (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr): Can we be certain about the cause of the contamination? Was it a case of inadvertent mixing of GM and non-GM seeds, or was it pollination from a distance of 800 m? If it was such pollination, there are serious questions about what are safe distances. There is a fundamental biological question. If the cause of the contamination was pollination, how could a sterile crop pollinate at 800 m?

Mr. Brown: The issue is slightly more complex than that. We believe that it is pollination in Canada, but three-way pollination. In other words, it is not a question of the product that is present here and sterile having been shown not really to be sterile. I shall put a technical note in the Library that sets out the production process and how three-way cross-pollination occurred in Canada.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): The Minister, who is a former Government Chief Whip, has not been reading his Whip. Yesterday was not an Opposition day. The Opposition day was on Tuesday. Notwithstanding that, we had a statement. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that while it is a matter of relief that the seeds in this instance will be sterile and do not in his estimate provide a threat to public health, he must give a reassurance on the issue that such a thing could happen? That is the real question.

Mr. Brown: On the hon. Gentleman's second point, that is why we are examining the important question of seed purity. On his first point, he is absolutely right.

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I read an earlier version of the Whip and I was wrong in what I said to the House. The hon. Gentleman has won one, but I do not resile from the underpinning point, which is that putting the facts into the public domain is the right thing for Ministers to do. The use of a written answer to do that, and putting additional information into the public domain, should be a perfectly acceptable way forward.

Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon): My constituents will be pleased to hear the Government's assurances that the contamination poses no threat to human health or to the environment. However, it raises real concerns for consumers who want to exercise their choice to avoid GM technology. It seriously undermines confidence in the companies that have been responsible for the contamination. What steps will my right hon. Friend take to talk to the companies and ensure that they take consumer choice seriously, so that our constituents can have assurances that if they want to avoid GM technology, they can?

Mr. Brown: I agree with what my hon. Friend says. The Food Standards Agency is pressing ahead with a labelling regime to ensure that consumers can exercise their choice. Discussions with the company have been going on at official level between my Department and others on an almost daily basis. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State will be seeing representatives of the company very soon.



Mr. Mackinlay presented a Bill to make provision to regulate the use of the term 'police' and related terms; to amend the law relating to the powers of certain constables; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 9 June, and to be printed [Bill 128].

Pardon for Soldiers of the Great War

Mr. Mackinlay, supported by Mr. Syd Rapson, Mr. Lindsay Hoyle, Dr. Norman A. Godman, Mr. Phil Sawford, Mr. Tony Benn, Mr. Kelvin Hopkins, Mr. Dennis Skinner, Mr. Ronnie Campbell, Mr. John Cryer and Mrs. Llin Golding presented a Bill to provide for the granting of pardons to soldiers of the British Empire Forces executed during the Great War of 1914 to 1919 following conviction for offences of cowardice, desertion or attempted desertion, disobedience, quitting post, violence, sleeping at post, throwing away arms or striking a superior officer; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 9 June, and to be printed [Bill 129].

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Orders of the Day

Care Standards Bill [Lords]

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): Before we begin the debate on the Bill, I advise the House that Madam Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. There will be a 15-minute limit on all Back-Bench speeches.

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