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Margaret Beckett: The hon. Lady says "challenged", but I presume that she does not just mean that there is a challenge. She presumably means that there is evidence of a breach. It seems to me that there would be liability if there were proof of management neglect against the farmer who grew the GM crop or if the incident happened inadvertently and was in some way a fault of the seed supplier. Liability would lie with whoever was responsible for that event—not, I fear, with the Department.

Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West and Royton) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that this is the wrong decision because, now that atrazine has been banned throughout the EU, it is not supported clearly by the science? It continues to be strongly opposed by public opinion, which the Government say they want to listen to, and it is not driven, as it should be, by a public interest need for precaution, but by the commercial interests of the big biotech companies and, no doubt, pressure from the White House.

If cross-contamination occurs, as it will, who will pay the compensation, when the industry flatly refuses to accept any liability, the Government have rightly said that they will not allow taxpayers to foot the bill and the insurance industry will not provide insurance for farmers who grow GM crops? ACRE insists that the only basis for going ahead with GM maize should be that it follows exactly the same regime as that for the trials. How will the Government secure that when it would require an amendment to the consent in Brussels to which the other 14 member states would almost certainly not agree?

Margaret Beckett: My right hon. Friend asks how we could secure that, but I have already dealt with the point about the same or equivalent regime and the question of what would happen if contamination occurred. He says that the decision is not supported by the science, but I simply disagree with him about that. He says that the decision is driven by the biotech companies, but I genuinely do not understand why people who are especially concerned—it is a legitimate concern—about the influence, advice and interests of major multinational biotech companies are desperate to get any research on, or development and experience of, the handling of genetic modification out of this country. Our independent laboratories and universities have a strong scientific reputation, so I would have thought that people might want such research to be pursued here, rather than leaving it all in the hands of those whose motives they mistrust so much.

Finally, my right hon. Friend says that the decision was driven by the White House, but I simply say that I assume that the decision in 2004 was no more driven by the White House than the decision that he made in 1998.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion) (PC): I am sure that the Secretary of State is aware that the Environmental

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Audit Committee's report said that a decision along such lines would be irresponsible. Does she agree with that conclusion? If it was irresponsible a few days ago, why was it responsible to take such a decision today? We should turn her statement round. If the crop is so unimportant to the United Kingdom's economic future, why break the dam now? Why license the crop now to get small economic gains? The real issue is the signal that the decision sends to future licensing applications for GM crops in this country.

The Secretary of State has not yet responded to two questions on whether areas in the United Kingdom will be able to declare themselves GM free. Will she now take the opportunity to say how that will happen—not only in respect of voluntary relationships whereby farms come together—and whether, for example, Wales and Scotland will be able to maintain their GM-free policies?

Margaret Beckett rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Before the Secretary of State replies, may I point out that every hon. Member so far has asked about four supplementary questions? That is unfair to other hon. Members who wish to be called.

Margaret Beckett: As I have said, we intend to give guidance so that if people want to set up voluntary GM-free areas, they may do so. It would not be lawful to have an arbitrary designation of a whole geographical area, but there is nothing to stop people coming together and the Government will offer advice on how that may be achieved. I do not accept that the decision is irresponsible, but I accept that there is some truth in what the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) says. The decision does send a signal. It sends a signal that the Government will try—no matter what the pressure is—to make decisions that we believe to be right on the basis of evidence that we carefully weigh. There will be disagreement about those decisions and legitimate disagreement about judgments. In the end, however, it is the Government's responsibility to do their best to make the right decisions, which is what we have done and will do.

Mr. Nigel Beard (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her statement, and especially on her reaffirmation that case-by-case scientific evidence will determine the future cultivation of genetically modified crops. What steps will be taken to protect such crops from destruction by misguided direct action?

Margaret Beckett: I would have hoped that those with a view on trying to destroy such crops would have learned a lesson from their experience in the farm-scale trials, because if they had succeeded in destroying the trials we would have had no evidence on biodiversity with which we could decide not to proceed with growing two of the crops. A cautious approach is needed, and the law on the matter applies as it does to any other action that people take.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con): I have asked the Secretary of State on several occasions who will compensate organic farmers if their farms become contaminated by GMOs, and I am grateful to

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her for partially answering the question. In her reply to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning), she amplified that answer by saying that the GM seed producer or the GM farmer would have to offer compensation. Who will determine what represents contamination? Will it be determined by the Soil Association, which is, after all, the organisation that certifies that an organic farm is growing organics?

Margaret Beckett: As I have already indicated, consideration will occur on a case-by-case basis, and who will be liable for any compensation will depend on what happens in a specific instance. With regard to how a case would be judged, we have indicated that we will consult on thresholds. We do not oppose the notion that there should be a lower threshold for organic crops, but we think that it is wise to consider that case by case because it must be realistic; otherwise, it will harm the interests of organic growers and others.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend will be aware that her decision will have wide ramifications for the third world and, especially, the new entrant states. Some of us see this as a Trojan crop. What advice can she offer the Governments of those countries when they come under pressure from the biotech industry to introduce other crops on a licensed basis? What guarantee can she give this country's consumers that they will be eating non-GM in the future?

Margaret Beckett: There is a limit to the extent of the guarantee that anyone can give because there is much GM material grown throughout the world and one cannot undo the reality of what has already been done. The EU has a strict traceability and labelling regime—I think we were one of the first Governments to put it into law—and we will monitor that to ensure that it is observed. He makes an important point about the third world. The UK is a signatory to the Cartagena protocol, which puts in place an international regime of advice, support and monitoring to help developing countries to reach decisions.

I simply make one point to my hon. Friend and others who are understandably concerned about the matter. I recently read an observation from someone who studies such issues in the developing world closely who said that if, for example, one could get a good and reliable crop of maize to grow in the climatic, pest and disease conditions of Africa, that single step would mean that millions of people would be lifted out starvation. Although I completely accept that there is much more to hunger and famine than that—especially given the possible impact of climate change—it seems to me that it would be folly to turn our backs on a technique that might allow us to tackle the problems of salinity, drought and other difficult conditions.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Does the right hon. Lady accept that her statement would have been unpopular and questioned by hon. Members on both sides of the House irrespective of what she had announced? Her decision seems to be a sensible way forward in difficult circumstances, and as we would have

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had few developments over the past 500 years without such decisions, it is necessary for the opportunity to be given.

Does the right hon. Lady accept that one part of her statement is especially important, because some conventional mechanisms for growing crops are seen to be environmentally damaging? How does she intend to try to identify those so that we can improve the environment of our nation for the benefit of all?

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