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Margaret Beckett: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who is quite right. Professor Pollock, who oversaw the trials, made the point that throughout history the human race and wildlife have competed for the sun. When wildlife is in the ascendant, as it was, for example, in the middle ages, many members of the human race went hungry, even in countries such as ours. However, we are now in danger of biasing the decision too far in the opposite direction. It is hugely important that evidence going far wider than anecdotal evidence is available to us for the first time about the impact on the environment and biodiversity of some conventional crops. The advisory committees to which I referred are pursuing those issues, looking at what research can be done and how we can follow it through, but I think that that is the most important lesson of all from those trials.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge) (Lab): My right hon. Friend has achieved a difficult balance. I think that she got it right and applied a very precautionary principle in making her decision. Does she agree, however, that the stringent operation of the trials and the criteria used to approve the particular variety of maize send a clear signal to the GM industry that in future it needs to concentrate on varieties that will have much less damaging effects on the environment so that we can look forward to GM varieties that perform much better in relation to the environment than the conventional varieties that we are using at the moment?

Margaret Beckett: My hon. Friend is entirely right, and I am grateful for her remarks. One lesson is that it is important for GM companies to consider, as others must, the impact on the environment of their choices. It is also important that they accept that one lesson of the public dialogue was that people did not feel the need to attenuate their hostility to the technology because they saw little benefit for humans in many of the present developments. If people who are engaged in research in this field could turn their attention to things that have a clear net benefit for the human race, that would make a significant difference.

Sue Doughty (Guildford) (LD): In 2002, research published by Newcastle university showed that bacteria in the intestine could pick up GM material in the stomach. The public are concerned about the fact that we do not have enough sound scientific research about the flow of GM material from one species to another. Is the Minister considering the possibility of substantial research so that the public can be satisfied about perceived risks to human health and their fears allayed?

Margaret Beckett: We have known since the 1940s that such a flow of material was possible, and it has frequently been studied for various reasons and in

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different areas. The hon. Lady is right that those issues are of interest and concern, and people are following them. She will find in the science review a reference to the studies that have been carried out, and she will know that the World Health Organisation does not perceive that there is any special impact on human health from the growing of GM crops available at present. It is because that applies to crops available at present that a case-by-case approach is important. I understand that the British Medical Association made a similar point just this morning.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): Does the Secretary of State accept that such an important decision, which many members of the public and Members of Parliament oppose, will set a precedent and is the thin end of the wedge? Should we not therefore have a vote in the House after a proper debate, and will she assure me that, if this goes ahead, compensation for organic farmers whose farms are contaminated will be on the statute book before the final decision is made?

Margaret Beckett: I have already dealt with the issue of compensation, and I repeat to my hon. Friend, as I have to others, that, yes, we anticipate that we will deal with the co-existence regime and will also be able to deal with and resolve the issue of contamination. We also anticipate further discussions in the House. She is right, however, that these are important, complex and difficult decisions that, as the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) said, will undoubtedly make us unpopular with various players. That is what is called being in government.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): The right hon. Lady's statement illustrated the care with which she has assessed the difficult scientific and environmental issues surrounding the matter in reaching her conclusions. May I press her to make it clear in Government publicity the basis on which the decision was made, as there is ignorance about such matters and a need for education? Will she also clarify the use of the technology when applied to the plant as a biofactory? Finally, will farmers who choose to plant the approved variety be able to do so without public identification or announcement of their planting intentions?

Margaret Beckett: I shall consider the right hon. Gentleman's final point—because there will not be trials such announcements may not be necessary. I am grateful for his remarks as Chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, and we will do everything possible to convey the basis of our decision to people who, I suspect, will be beset by a fog of misinformation. He is also right to draw attention to the potential of the technology as a biofactory. I heard a passing reference from a Nobel scientist to its potential as a technique to produce plants that can fix their own nitrogen, which would mean that we would move away from the regime of fertilisers and so on, which has bedevilled much of our environment for a long time.

Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central) (Lab): My right hon. Friend said in her statement that it was "highly

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unlikely that any stray remaining plant or seed would survive a winter here and thus cause concern about a subsequent crop. Equally, very little organic maize is grown here". In other words, there is a perceptible risk of environmental contamination. There is a growing demand for organic food, not an appetite for GM food, so would it not be wise to learn the lessons evident in the behaviour of bigger companies such as Unilever, Nestlé, Sainsbury and Tesco, which are not pursuing GM foods because they are consumer-driven, not scientifically led? Perhaps we should be more democratically led, not driven by disputable scientific interpretations that, it is accepted, still leave a possible opening for environmental contamination.

Margaret Beckett: It is because I use words with care and try to use them accurately that I used the words that he quoted. Of course, there is potential for cross-contamination and cross-pollination between one crop and another, but as maize is not native to this country it has no wild relatives, so that is irrelevant in this case. Similarly, I said that stray plants or seeds were unlikely to survive the winter because they are not native to this country. Strong substances such as atrazine had to be used in conjunction with the growing of maize because it is difficult to grow the crop in the UK as it does not belong here.

My hon. Friend talked about disputable science, and suggested that other approaches would be better. The technology has been more scrutinised and tested than any other. In the farm-scale trials we compared the use of genetically modified crops and others, and discovered information about the use of conventional crops and their impact on biodiversity that was not previously known. The vast majority of stuff that we have eaten for generations has never been studied in this way. Cabbage contains 17 or 27 substances that, fed separately in sufficient quantities to animals, can be carcinogenic. Should we all stop eating cabbage—[Interruption.] There are some good recipes using cabbage.

It is because I would not make up my mind in advance of the evidence and ban the use of genetic modification in crops that I have been accused of being pro-GM. I am not pro-GM any more than I am pro-Petri dishes or pro-mass spectrometry. It is a technique or tool that allows us to do with rather more precision something that the human race has been doing since the dawn of time. If the human race had not been doing so, most of us would not be here and the ones who were would be very hungry.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): I welcome the right hon. Lady's sensible and balanced statement. She and her sceptical Ministers must have taken some convincing, but I am confident that they are right to move forward cautiously. Does she agree that the silent majority have found it difficult to hear the voice of sound science, and that one reason for that—I say this in the nicest possible way, without any criticism of the Minister involved—is that we do not have a science Minister in the House of Commons? Next time round, we need a science Minister in the House of Commons who is not bound by conflicts of interest that prevent him from saying anything about the issue.

Margaret Beckett: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks and for his consistent view that we should assess the technology very carefully.

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Sex Discrimination (Clubs and Other Private Associations)

1.30 pm

David Wright (Telford): I beg to move,

In promoting the Bill, I follow in the distinguished footsteps of the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) and of my good friend, the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda), who tried to introduce a similar Bill. I am also indebted to Lord Faulkner for trying to move the issue forward in the other place.

More than 70 years ago, the area that I represent returned to this House Edith Picton-Turberville, who was a campaigning Labour MP renowned for her commitment to tackling discrimination. I cannot but think that she would be somewhat surprised that in the early 21st century we are still attempting to legislate to end discrimination against women. I hope that she would be pleased that one of her successors is still working in this House to tackle such discrimination.

The purpose of the Bill is to bring private clubs within the coverage of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 by making unlawful the unequal treatment of male and female members, associates and guests of mixed-sex private clubs with 25 or more members. That mirrors a similar provision in the Race Relations Act 1976. Let me take a brief look at how the Sex Discrimination Act applies to clubs. At present, section 29 applies to all clubs that are open to the public or to a section of the public: that is, where a person or a particular group of people can pay their money and enter the club—examples would be nightclubs and some sports clubs—to use its facilities and services. Those clubs cannot discriminate on the grounds of sex. If a member of a public club has been discriminated against on those grounds, they can take action under the auspices of the Act. Private members' clubs have been found by the courts not to come within the scope of section 29 because they provide facilities and services to their own private members, not directly to the public. The Sex Discrimination Act, as interpreted to date, allows such clubs to discriminate against members in the facilities that they offer because the discrimination has occurred in a "private" sphere.

Why bring private clubs within the scope of anti-discrimination legislation? In the past, private clubs have been asked to take voluntary action to abolish discriminatory practices. Some mixed-sex clubs have made a real effort to achieve that, but others still

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discriminate on grounds of sex. It is interesting to note that the availability of national lottery resources, which are allocated to clubs on the basis that they do not discriminate, has prompted many of them to change their practices. I am also pleased to say that, as far I can tell from my research, no clubs in Telford operate discriminatory practices. Perhaps it is time for others to follow our example.

Excluding women from equal treatment as full members of mixed-sex clubs is simply unfair and can involve demeaning and humiliating treatment. What kind of discrimination do women face in private members' clubs? I understand that more than half the 3,000 working men's clubs that belong to the Club and Institute Union still deny their female members full rights. They often restrict women's use of certain facilities, give them restricted voting rights and deny them access to the annual general meeting. Many golf clubs are the worst culprits in relation to discriminatory practice. Some still restrict playing times for women members to, for example, peak hours at weekends. Such treatment can deprive members of potentially valuable associations and networking opportunities, which can in turn have an adverse effect on their personal and professional lives.

In summary, what would the Bill achieve? It would have an impact on mixed-sex private clubs with 25 or more members by making unlawful unequal treatment between their male and female members, associates or guests. It would not affect single-sex clubs, other than by making unlawful the unequal treatment of male and female guests at an occasion to which guests of both sexes were invited.

I hope that the House will support the Bill. It is supported by the Equal Opportunities Commission and has a great deal of cross-party backing. I understand that the Government have warm feelings about it; and it is supported by a glittering array of parliamentary talent.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by David Wright, Mr. Parmjit Dhanda, Mr. Robert Walter, Mr. David Stewart, Vera Baird, Mr. Tom Harris, Mr. David Heath, Ann McKechin, Ms Meg Munn, Peter Bradley, Mrs. Lorna Fitzsimons and Liz Blackman.

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