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6.51 pm

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Ms Joyce Quin): 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.

8 Jun 2000 : Column 525

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.

Mr. Paterson: 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?

Ms Quin: Having not seen the hon. Gentleman's 29 questions, I have no idea how long it will take the

8 Jun 2000 : Column 526

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--

Mr. James Arbuthnot (North-East Hampshire) 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)
Allan, Richard
Amess, David
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Baker, Norman
Baldry, Tony
Beggs, Roy
Bell, Martin (Tatton)
Bercow, John
Beresford, Sir Paul
Body, Sir Richard
Boswell, Tim
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia
Brady, Graham
Brake, Tom
Breed, Colin
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Browning, Mrs Angela
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Burns, Simon
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies
(NE Fife)
Cash, William
Chapman, Sir Sydney
(Chipping Barnet)
Chidgey, David
Chope, Christopher
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)
Collins, Tim
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Cotter, Brian
Cran, James
Davies, Quentin (Grantham)
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Day, Stephen
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Duncan, Alan
Duncan Smith, Iain
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Evans, Nigel
Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Faber, David
Fabricant, Michael
Fearn, Ronnie
Flight, Howard
Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Foster, Don (Bath)
Fraser, Christopher
Gale, Roger
Garnier, Edward
Gibb, Nick
Gidley, Sandra
Gill, Christopher
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Gray, James
Green, Damian
Greenway, John
Grieve, Dominic
Gummer, Rt Hon John
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Hammond, Philip
Hancock, Mike
Hayes, John
Heald, Oliver
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Horam, John
Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Hunter, Andrew
Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Johnson Smith,
Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Kennedy, Rt Hon Charles
(Ross Skye & Inverness W)
Key, Robert
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Lansley, Andrew
Leigh, Edward
Letwin, Oliver
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Llwyd, Elfyn
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
MacGregor, Rt Hon John
McIntosh, Miss Anne
Maclean, Rt Hon David
Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert
McLoughlin, Patrick
Madel, Sir David
Major, Rt Hon John
Malins, Humfrey
Maples, John
Mates, Michael
Moss, Malcolm
Nicholls, Patrick
Norman, Archie
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Öpik, Lembit
Ottaway, Richard
Page, Richard
Paice, James
Paterson, Owen
Pickles, Eric
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Prior, David
Rendel, David
Robathan, Andrew
Robertson, Laurence
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
St Aubyn, Nick
Shepherd, Richard
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Spring, Richard
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Steen, Anthony
Streeter, Gary
Stunell, Andrew
Swayne, Desmond
Syms, Robert
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Tonge, Dr Jenny
Tredinnick, David
Trend, Michael
Tyrie, Andrew
Viggers, Peter
Walter, Robert
Waterson, Nigel
Wells, Bowen
Whittingdale, John
Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Wilkinson, John
Willetts, David
Yeo, Tim
Young, Rt Hon Sir George

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown and
Mr. John Randall.


Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Alexander, Douglas
Allen, Graham
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary
Ashton, Joe
Atherton, Ms Candy
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, John
Banks, Tony
Barron, Kevin
Bayley, Hugh
Beard, Nigel
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield)
Bennett, Andrew F
Benton, Joe
Bermingham, Gerald
Best, Harold
Blizzard, Bob
Boateng, Rt Hon Paul
Borrow, David
Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Bradshaw, Ben
Brinton, Mrs Helen
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)
Browne, Desmond
Buck, Ms Karen
Burgon, Colin
Butler, Mrs Christine
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Cann, Jamie
Caplin, Ivor
Casale, Roger
Caton, Martin
Cawsey, Ian
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Chaytor, David
Clapham, Michael
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Clelland, David
Clwyd, Ann
Coffey, Ms Ann
Cohen, Harry
Coleman, Iain
Colman, Tony
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cooper, Yvette
Corbett, Robin
Corbyn, Jeremy
Corston, Jean
Cox, Tom
Cranston, Ross
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Dalyell, Tam
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Darvill, Keith
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Davidson, Ian
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Dawson, Hilton
Dean, Mrs Janet
Denham, John
Dismore, Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Donohoe, Brian H
Drew, David
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Ellman, Mrs Louise
Ennis, Jeff
Etherington, Bill
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flint, Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Fyfe, Maria
Galloway, George
Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry
George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Gerrard, Neil
Gibson, Dr Ian
Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Godsiff, Roger
Golding, Mrs Llin
Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Grogan, John
Hain, Peter
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Hanson, David
Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Healey, John
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Heppell, John
Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Hill, Keith
Hinchliffe, David
Hoey, Kate
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Hoyle, Lindsay
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Hurst, Alan
Hutton, John
Illsley, Eric
Ingram, Rt Hon Adam
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Jamieson, David
Jenkins, Brian
Johnson, Miss Melanie
(Welwyn Hatfield)
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Jones, Ms Jenny
(Wolverh'ton SW)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Kelly, Ms Ruth
Kemp, Fraser
Khabra, Piara S
Kilfoyle, Peter
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Laxton, Bob
Lepper, David
Leslie, Christopher
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Linton, Martin
McAvoy, Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCartney, Rt Hon Ian
McDonagh, Siobhain
Macdonald, Calum
McDonnell, John
McFall, John
McGuire, Mrs Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Mackinlay, Andrew
McNulty, Tony
MacShane, Denis
Mactaggart, Fiona
McWalter, Tony
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Mallaber, Judy
Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Martlew, Eric
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Merron, Gillian
Michael, Rt Hon Alun
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Moffatt, Laura
Moonie, Dr Lewis
Moran, Ms Margaret
Morley, Elliot
Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle
(B'ham Yardley)
Mountford, Kali
Mullin, Chris
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)
Naysmith, Dr Doug
Norris, Dan
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Olner, Bill
O'Neill, Martin
Osborne, Ms Sandra
Palmer, Dr Nick
Pearson, Ian
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter L
Plaskitt, James
Pollard, Kerry
Pond, Chris
Pope, Greg
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Primarolo, Dawn
Purchase, Ken
Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce
Rapson, Syd
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Rogers, Allan
Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff
Rooney, Terry
Rowlands, Ted
Roy, Frank
Ruddock, Joan
Sarwar, Mohammad
Savidge, Malcolm
Shaw, Jonathan
Shipley, Ms Debra
Singh, Marsha
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Smith, Miss Geraldine
(Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Soley, Clive
Southworth, Ms Helen
Spellar, John
Squire, Ms Rachel
Steinberg, Gerry
Stevenson, George
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Timms, Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mark
Touhig, Don
Trickett, Jon
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Tynan, Bill
Walley, Ms Joan
Ward, Ms Claire
Wareing, Robert N
Watts, David
White, Brian
Whitehead, Dr Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, Rt Hon Alan
(Swansea W)
Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Wills, Michael
Winnick, David
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Jim Dowd and
Mr. Clive Betts.

Question accordingly negatived.

8 Jun 2000 : Column 529

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.

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