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3.43 pm

Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North): It is with some trepidation that I rise to speak on this measure, as I do not want to take too much time from discussion of our main business today. I also assure my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) that my opposition to his Bill will have no bearing on my selection decisions for the parliamentary football team.

I have some reservations about GM food, but I do not accept that it presents any more difficulties than those that arise in conventional breeding. My views were sharpened recently, when I led a parliamentary science and technology delegation to China where we saw GM cotton fields and learned of the advantages that had resulted. There is less use of pesticide and insecticide, and the flourishing cotton plants are not savaged by insects.

Conventional breeding is imprecise, but it has been successful because plant breeders have learned how to test and evaluate plants, selecting only those with desirable characteristics and rejecting the rest. All the tests in conventional breeding are practical, and there is a wide range of additional safety assessments for GM crops. The tests evaluate actual and potential impact on food, human and animal health and the environment. Although trials are still continuing, there is as yet no evidence that would lead us to assume that GM crops are less safe than conventionally bred crops. The demonisation of genetically modified crops and the deification of organic foods are unacceptable at the current time. All food crops should be subjected to thorough examination for benefits, and effects on health, the environment and so on.

I share my hon. Friend's views about multinational companies and the undermining of traditional farming practices. I repeat that I strongly agree that we need to provide crops that are of clear benefit to the consumer, taking into account price, health implications and effects on the environment. However, the Bill should address all crops, whatever technology is used in their production. The Bill is particularly limited on the liability issues.

There is no crop that we eat, however we produce it, that can be deemed natural. That is another reason why I believe the Bill to be flawed. The truth really is that we cannot say what food, however it is produced, is absolutely safe and carries absolutely no risk. I welcome the Food Standards Agency and its assessment of the problems of all crops. John Krebs has made an illuminating start in the arena of organic foods, and other foods will now be subjected to the same rigid scrutiny.

If we deter scientific experimentation by passing such a Bill, which is so narrowly focused, we may one day find that the world population has doubled, and that nutritional needs cannot be met by food redistribution. However, I am not arguing that transgenic foods are the answer.

The Bill is far too limited, and we should vote against it today.

15 Nov 2000 : Column 943

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 23 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):--

The House divided: Ayes 97, Noes 30.

Division No. 334
[3.46 pm


Allan, Richard
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Atherton, Ms Candy
Barnes, Harry
Beggs, Roy
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield)
Bercow, John
Berry, Roger
Brake, Tom
Brand, Dr Peter
Brazier, Julian
Breed, Colin
Burstow, Paul
Cable, Dr Vincent
Chaytor, David
Chidgey, David
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Cohen, Harry
Corbyn, Jeremy
Cotter, Brian
Crausby, David
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Dismore, Andrew
Donaldson, Jeffrey
Donohoe, Brian H
Drew, David
Drown, Ms Julia
Evans, Nigel
Foster, Don (Bath)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
George, Andrew (St Ives)
Godman, Dr Norman A
Hayes, John
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Hepburn, Stephen
Hopkins, Kelvin
Illsley, Eric
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Mon)
Jones, Ms Jenny
(Wolverh'ton SW)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Keetch, Paul
Kennedy, Rt Hon Charles
(Ross Skye & Inverness W)
Kidney, David
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Kingham, Ms Tess
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Livsey, Richard
Llwyd, Elfyn
McCafferty, Ms Chris
McDonnell, John
McWalter, Tony
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Moore, Michael
Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway)
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Mudie, George
Oaten, Mark
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Pond, Chris
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Quinn, Lawrie
Rendel, David
Robertson, Laurence
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
St Aubyn, Nick
Sanders, Adrian
Sawford, Phil
Sedgemore, Brian
Shipley, Ms Debra
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stinchcombe, Paul
Stunell, Andrew
Swayne, Desmond
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strangford)
Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Thompson, William
Tonge, Dr Jenny
Tyler, Paul
Walley, Ms Joan
Wareing, Robert N
Webb, Steve
Welsh, Andrew
Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Willis, Phil
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Huw Edwards and
Miss Anne McIntosh.


Ashton, Joe
Blizzard, Bob
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, Dale
Cawsey, Ian
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Curry, Rt Hon David
Dalyell, Tam
Dobbin, Jim
Flynn, Paul
Gapes, Mike
Gibson, Dr Ian
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Iddon, Dr Brian
Jenkins, Brian
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Kumar, Dr Ashok
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
McFall, John
Maxton, John
Moffatt, Laura
Organ, Mrs Diana
Page, Richard
Sheerman, Barry
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)

Tellers for the Noes:

Mrs. Anne Campbell and
Mr. Nigel Beard.

Question accordingly agreed to.

15 Nov 2000 : Column 944

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Alan Simpson, Mrs. Alice Mahon, Mr. Norman Baker, Miss Anne McIntosh, Mr. Tony Benn, Mr. David Drew, Mrs. Ann Cryer, Mr. Llew Smith, Mrs. Maria Fyfe, Mr. John McDonnell, Mr. David Chaytor and Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews.

Genetically Modified Food and Producer Liability (No. 2)

Mr. Alan Simpson accordingly presented a Bill to make further provision with respect to the safety of and liability for the deliberate release or marketing of genetically modified organisms and genetically modified food; to establish a genetically modified organism compensation fund; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 24 November, and to be printed [Bill 184].

15 Nov 2000 : Column 945

Transport Bill [Ways and Means]

3.59 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Keith Hill): I beg to move,

(1) the imposition of charges in respect of the execution of works in a highway, and
(2) the charging of fees in connection with driver training courses.

The resolution relates to two amendments to the Bill that were made in another place. The Government tabled them to fulfil commitments made in response to amendments tabled by others at an earlier stage. I shall speak to them briefly.

The provision in the resolution on the execution of works in a highway arises from the fact that the Bill now contains a power for the Secretary of State to make regulations so that local authorities can charge utility companies from the start of any works that they undertake on the street; that is known as lane rental.

The provision on driver training courses arises from the fact that the Bill now enables the Secretary of State to make regulations to require drivers of specific types of vehicle to undertake training as part of obtaining their licence. Fees could be charged to recover the Secretary of State's costs for supervising such training, which includes assessments of trainers authorised to provide courses. There are also powers to cap the charges that trainers could make for those training courses. We already have similar requirements for motor cycle training, and the powers mean that they could be extended to other vehicles, in fulfilment of an important part of our road safety strategy.

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