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Retirement Income Reform Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Not moved.

Mr. Adrian Flook (Taunton) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sure that the House will wish to know my reasons for withdrawing my Retirement Income Reform Bill. Despite cross-party support for this legislation, the Government are still unwilling to back it, for the fourth time of asking. When I tabled the Bill in January, the Government had yet to introduce their Pensions Bill. They have now done so, but it remains deficient and will do nothing to help those who are forced to annuitise three quarters of their pension pot at the age of 75.

I am grateful to the Retirement Income Reform Campaign and to Cicero Consulting for their help. Having sought advice, I feel that the Bill would better continue its parliamentary life as an amendment to the Pensions Bill in Standing Committee and on Report. That will force the Government to confront its many merits, instead of relying on their Back Benchers to talk it out.

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Genetically Modified Organisms Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

12 noon

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The subject of genetically modified crops is a subject that can fill an MP with trepidation, and it is clear that it has so filled the Government deputy Chief Whip. [Interruption.] Indeed, I can see consternation on the faces of Government Front Benchers. Usually, it is the complicated science and the entrenched views held by those on both sides of the argument that put people off this subject. However, GM crops have potentially irrevocable consequences that could affect us all. Although I am only an arts graduate, when my name came up in respect of promoting a private Member's Bill, I was determined to tackle this subject, and I am jolly glad I did.

In the run-up to today's debate, I have been extremely gratified to learn of the support for my stand, not least from my own Rother district council, but also from the many letters and cards I have received from various other parts of the country. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) has drawn to my attention the strongly worded resolution of Devon county council.

I am pleased to say that the Bill is sponsored by several members of the Environmental Audit Committee, of which I, too, am a member. I am delighted to say that our report, "GM foods—Evaluating the Farm Scale Trials", has been extremely well received by the public at large. I am sorry that the Government have not taken more trouble to take on board the Committee's views. I am also glad to say that one of the Bill's sponsors is my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois)—he, too, is a member of the Committee—who is in his place. Furthermore, the Chairman of the Committee wrote to the Minister yesterday in support of the principles of my Bill. I am pleased to say that several members of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee are also sponsors. Any mistakes in the Bill are mine, but their support—and that of other sponsors on both sides of the House—adds a great deal of weight to the fundamental principles that I will argue for today.

Without wishing to get bogged down in the complexities of GM crops, I should point out that, whenever any new technology or product is introduced, it has risks as well as benefits. As a point of principle, we must preserve consumer choice and allow people to choose whether they wish to use or consume a product. We must also ensure that, if the technology could have adverse impacts on our health, wealth or precious environment, those who introduce it and benefit from it must be properly held responsible, and if necessary required to pay damages, or to put right whatever harm is done.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Gregory Barker: Not at the moment; I want to make some progress, if I may. One does not need to be a scientist to understand that freedom of choice and

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producer responsibility underpin my approach. It does not matter whether one is in favour of or against the commercialisation of GM crops: those are the basic rules, and we should all subscribe to them. That is what my Bill seeks to achieve for GM crops.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My understanding is that this is a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Bill that would normally be answered by a DEFRA Minister. Do you know whether the Government will be providing a Minister at least to hear the arguments, if not to give DEFRA's opinion on the matter?

It was definitely the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs who made the GM statement to the House. It is rather odd, therefore, that there is no DEFRA Minister present to hear the arguments.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that the Government are represented on the Front Bench, and the Chair cannot intervene beyond that. It needs to be well observed that events on Fridays sometimes do not follow an entirely normal course, which may explain the current absence of a DEFRA Minister.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Following on from the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin), is it not at the very least a discourtesy, if not sheer indifference, to the House that the Government have not seen fit to provide a full team of Ministers to cover the full set of Bills before the House today? Surely the Government cannot make casual assumption that Bills will take this or that course. It must be right for the Government to supply proper Ministers to deal with Bills in the order in which they appear.

Mr. Miller rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Let me try to deal with the matter. There is no genuine problem of order. The Government are represented on the Front Bench, as I said. Whether or not the absence of a DEFRA Minister is intentional is entirely another matter. Circumstances are such that no DEFRA Minister is in his place at the present time, but that is not a point of order for the Chair because the Government are represented on the Front Bench.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): I entirely accept your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the Government are represented on the Front Bench. We all realise that, but as I understand it, the Minister present is from the Department of Trade and Industry. Have you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or any other officials in the Speaker's

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Office, been given any information this morning of a Government reshuffle, which would explain the change of responsibilities?

Mr. Miller rose—

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe) rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Let me tempt Mr. Sutcliffe to contribute.

Mr. Sutcliffe: I am pleased, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you protected my status as a proper Minister. I am a Minister based in the Department of Trade and Industry, which other parties are trying to do away with. The DTI is very interested in all aspects of the business of the House and will pass on to the appropriate Ministers anything that is raised in the debate.

Mr. Miller: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not more appropriate—you, Sir, may wish to discuss the matter with the Speaker—when there is a change of business on a Friday brought about by the mechanism of Bills being withdrawn, that prior notice be given of that change? That is important, because it affects the workings of Front-Bench and Back-Bench Members.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The Chair cannot control every event occurring in the House. Members sometimes take initiatives, involving motions to sit in private and so forth, which can completely alter the order and time taken on particular items of business. No one knows before the start of business whether a Bill will be dealt with in 10 minutes or five hours. In the best of all ordered worlds, both the Government and Opposition Benches should be manned for the appropriate legislation. The Chair expects that to happen, but nothing out of order has taken place and I believe that we should now move on.

Gregory Barker: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think I can shed a little further light on the matter. I received a letter from the Minister for the Environment at 6.30 yesterday evening, in which he said:

What could possibly have happened to that Minister from 6.30 last night, when he said he would be in his place listening to the debate on my Bill? Perhaps it is a cause for concern or a cause of consternation for the Government Whips. Perhaps it explains why the Government deputy Chief Whip has scuttled off.

I want to press on, in the hope that at some point the DEFRA Ministers will turn up. I return to the issue of freedom of choice.

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