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Mr. Tom Watson (West Bromwich, East) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Gregory Barker: No, not on this point. We have done it to death.

All crop seeds have the potential to mix with other varieties, and GM crops are no different. They can be

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mixed by cross-pollination, when the pollen of one crop is blown or carried by insects from one plant to another. They can be mixed when birds or animals eat or otherwise transport seed to other fields. They can be mixed if a field is planted with a GM crop one year and a non-GM crop the next. Some of the seed will inevitably remain in the ground and grow later than intended, mixing with the following non-GM crop. Such plants are known as volunteers. Humans, too, can mix the seed, in farm machinery or silos that are not completely emptied of one batch of seed or crop before another is added or when seed is spilled in transportation. Seed can be mixed by accident at the grain merchant.

The point is that if GM crops are allowed to mix with non-GM crops, it will not be possible for a consumer who does not wish to eat GM food to be able to buy GM-free products. It is clear that many people want to continue to buy GM-free products.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Welsh Assembly has had much debate about this issue, and it shares his concern that unless we do something about it now, our choice will be removed by default?

Gregory Barker: The hon. Gentleman makes his point well.

Mr. Watson: The hon. Gentleman has outlined the principles behind the Bill and some of the challenges that GM food poses for retailers. Has he managed to inform Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth about his Bill? What are their views on his Bill?

Gregory Barker: If the hon. Gentleman occasionally read the newspapers, he would know that Friends of the Earth has been extremely helpful in the drafting of the Bill. All the environmental groups have taken an interest, although they do not all entirely agree with what I am doing.

Mr. Miller: I am concerned not with the principle of what the hon. Gentleman seeks to do, but with the methodology. The Bill would regulate in a very prescriptive manner, but does that not go against the basic tenets of his party?

Gregory Barker: I do not intend to respond to time-wasting interventions. If the hon. Gentleman had read the Bill carefully instead of having just been passed it by the Whips, he would find that what he alleges is not the case.

The Government's "GM Nation?" debate found that 86 per cent. of respondents did not want to eat GM food, something that our retailers—even the large supermarkets—have long recognised. Indeed, none of the major supermarkets goes out of its way to stock GM food. To preserve the choice that our constituents clearly wish to continue to exercise, we have to prevent the contamination of non-GM crops with GM traits. GM crops must be required to be planted according to rules that govern separation distances and planting intervals, as well as according to farm hygiene rules that prevent equipment from being used for GM and non-GM crops simultaneously.

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I hope that so far I have followed a logical path. I know from meetings with the Minister, who is unfortunately not in his place, that the Government agree with me that we need a co-existence and liability regime—

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I beg to move, That the House do now sit in private.

Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 163 (Motions to sit in private):—

The House divided: Ayes 0, Noes 23.

Division No. 111
[12:13 pm


Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Barry Gardiner and
Rob Marris


Barker, Gregory
Brazier, Julian
Clarke, rh Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Davidson, Ian
Drown, Ms Julia
Flook, Adrian
Forth, rh Eric
Francois, Mark
Gale, Roger (N Thanet)
Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall)
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Kaufman, rh Gerald
Keetch, Paul
Lansley, Andrew
McLoughlin, Patrick
Öpik, Lembit
Paterson, Owen
Redwood, rh John
Robathan, Andrew
Skinner, Dennis
Teather, Sarah
Wilkinson, John

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Andrew Miller and
Mr. Andrew Dismore

It appearing on the report of the Division that 40 Members were not present, Mr. Deputy Speaker declared that the Question was not decided, and the business under consideration stood over until the next sitting of the House.

26 Mar 2004 : Column 1197

Gregory Barker: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Through the most shameless and despicable use of House procedures, the Government have deliberately killed off my Bill and the debate on it before I had got even halfway through my speech. Yesterday, the Minister for the Environment wrote to me saying that he would be here to hear my Bill and to judge it accordingly. How can anyone ever trust not only this Labour Government but DEFRA, when a Minister deliberately tells untruths in a letter and refuses to come to the House?

26 Mar 2004 : Column 1198

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is going much too far in his remarks. It is certainly not a point of order for the Chair. The procedures of the House have been observed correctly and the Chair has no control over the actions that are taken provided that they are in order. What has happened has happened.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The issue of genetically modified organisms is a matter of enormous national controversy and the House is as divided as the general public. It is simply unacceptable that a Bill of this nature that asks Parliament to decide the nature of regulation should be closed down and that a Minister should not come to the House. Is it possible for you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to make representations to the Minister that he should come in future to debates that concern his Department?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The importance of a particular matter cannot be decided by the Chair. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that any particular matter that hon. Members wish to have debated on the Floor of the House should be taken up with the usual channels.

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not the case that it is, indeed, the role of Parliament to determine that? If the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) had secured the support of even 40 of his colleagues, he could have continued with his peroration and his Bill might have been able to proceed, but as he did not have the support of his own side, it fell.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: These points of order are turning into a debate. They are not for the Chair—[Interruption.] Well, we will try one more.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In more measured tones, will you accept that on reading Hansard on Monday, people will find that 23 people voted in the No Lobby? It was not 23 Tories because, as a matter of fact, there were six or seven Labour Members. It was a cross-party Division. Let the facts speak for themselves—they only got about 16.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I am sure that the record will show that. No hon. Member who is experienced in Friday sittings will be surprised by what happened, but what has happened has happened. It is in order and we should proceed with the other measures on the Order Paper.

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26 Mar 2004 : Column 1199

Performance of Companies and Government Departments (Reporting) Bill

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [30 January], That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Question again proposed.

12.31 pm

Andy King (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My recollection is that when the Bill was previously considered, the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Andy King) had finished introducing it and the Minister was in the middle of his remarks. Surely the hon. Gentleman cannot speak again without the leave of the House, and, unless we hear from a Minister, should we not move on?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making that plain, but we had to get the ball rolling. The Bill is now before us and we are continuing an adjourned debate.

12.32 pm

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): This is something of an unexpected treat.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): For all of us.

Mr. Dismore: For the whole House, no doubt. I had expected to speak at some length on the Bill before last, but happily I did not spend too much time preparing for it, and I have not spent much time preparing for this Bill. As will be apparent, I support it and regard it as important.

I want to draw attention to a few reports that show where companies fall short of the high standards that we expect of them. All the reports have been published since our last debate on the Bill. According to a report by the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development, labour standards in the high-tech computer sector are among the worst in the world. Systemic problems of unsafe working conditions, compulsory overtime and poor wages falling below the legal minimum are just some of the catalogue of examples found in factories in Mexico, Thailand and China.

In Brazil and Kenya, Christian Aid continues to report extreme health and safety violations of tobacco farmers who supply to major companies, such as British American Tobacco. In Nigeria, communities report ongoing problems with oil spills, emanating from Shell's operations there.

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