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27 Jan 1998 : Column WA17

Written Answers

Tuesday, 27th January 1998.

Industrial Disputes: Arbitration

Lord Alderdice asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they encourage the use of arbitration, where agreed procedures exist, in order to resolve disputes between employers and employees' representatives.[HL53]

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Clinton-Davis): It is good industrial relations practice for employers and trade unions to establish and use procedures to resolve disputes through discussion and negotiation. However, it is Government policy not to intervene in individual trade disputes between employers and trade unions.

Multilateral Agreement on Investment

Lord Alderdice asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will support an amendment to the OECD's Multilateral Agreement on Investment in order to stress the obligations and responsibilities of investors as well as their rights.[HL205]

Lord Clinton-Davis: We are pressing for the close association with the MAI of the OECD's Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, which lay down standards for the activities of multinationals. More generally, multinationals--like domestic enterprises--have to respect the laws of the countries where they operate.

British Board of Film Classification

Lord Williams of Elvel asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When the British Board of Film Classification's Annual Report for 1996-97 will be published.[HL336]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has today laid before the House copies of the Annual Report of the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) for 1996-97, which gives details of the board's financial accounts and activities over the past eighteen months. Copies of the report have also been placed in the Library.

Under Section 6 of the Video Recordings Act 1984, the designated authority for the classification of video works (in practice, the President and Vice Presidents of the BBFC) is required to produce a report as soon as is reasonably practicable after 31 December. The production of the report for 1996-97 has been greatly delayed and my right honourable friend has expressed

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his concern about this very strongly to the new President, Mr. Andreas Whittam Smith. Mr. Whittam Smith has made it clear that he shares his concern and has assured him that he will be establishing a timetable for the production of the 1997-98 report to ensure that it is produced as soon as possible after the audited accounts are available.

My right honourable friend has also made clear to Mr. Whittam Smith his serious concern at the unilateral action taken by the BBFC last year to relax the guidelines for the classification of videos in the R18 category (that is, videos which can lawfully be sold only in licensed sex shops). The BBFC's change of policy was brought to his attention by Her Majesty's Customs and Excise, which was concerned that material had been classified which might otherwise have been liable to forfeiture under Section 42 of the Customs Consolidation Act and the subject of forfeiture proceedings under Section 3 of the Obscene Publications Act. It was entirely unacceptable that the board should have acted in this way. As a consequence of my right honourable friend's concern, Mr. Whittam Smith has enquired into the handling of this matter and is putting in place procedures to ensure proper controls on the formulation of policy. He is also taking steps to improve management accountability at the board.

On taking up his post, Mr. Whittam Smith outlined his proposals for reviewing the board's classification policy and his intention to consult widely on this issue. My right honourable friend welcomes these positive steps towards greater openness and accountability at the board.

Genetically Modified Crops

Baroness Anelay of St. Johns asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Which applications for licences to grow genetically modified crops are awaiting the decision of the Minister of Agriculture.[HL216]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): Consents for the release of genetically modified crops in England are granted by the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, acting jointly. Consents for releases of genetically modified crops in Scotland or Wales are granted by the Secretaries of State for Scotland or Wales, as appropriate. All releases require the agreement of the Health and Safety Executive. Applications to place genetically modified crops on the market in the European Community are reviewed by the Competent Authorities of all Member States before a decision is made on the granting of consents.

To date, 127 consents have been granted since the legislation came into force on 1 March 1993.

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There are currently eleven applications for experimental releases of GM crops under review and awaiting decisions. These applications are:

ApplicantCropGenetic Modification
MonsantoSugar beet hybridsHerbicide tolerance (3 applications)
NovartisSugar beetHerbicide tolerance
Sharpes InternationalSugar beetHerbicide tolerance
John Innes CentreSpring barleyAltered baking characteristics
John K. King and SonsOilseed rapeAltered oil content (2 applications)
Pioneer GenetiqueOilseed rapeHerbicide tolerance
Plant Genetics SystemsOilseed rapeMale sterility, fertility restorer, herbicide tolerance
MonsantoOilseed rapeHerbicide tolerance

There are also currently five marketing applications under review by the UK Competent Authority in accordance with the Council Directive 90/220/EEC on the release of genetically modified organisms into the Environment. These applications are:

ApplicantCropGenetic Modification
MonsantoFodder BeetHerbicide Tolerance
MonsantoCottonHerbicide Tolerance
MonsantoCottonInsect Resistance
MonsantoMaizeHerbicide Tolerance
ZenecaTomatoesDelayed Ripening

Baroness Anelay of St. Johns asked Her Majesty's Government:

    (a) what scientific reviews have been set up since 1 May 1997 to investigate the safety of genetically modified crops; and

    (b) what research projects have been commissioned since 1 May 1997 to determine consumer views of genetically modified crops.[HL215]

Baroness Hayman: The safety of all proposed experimental releases and marketing of genetically modified organisms, including crops, is reviewed on a case-by-case basis in making decisions on the granting of consents. Since 1 May, nine consents have been granted for the experimental release of genetically modified crops and a further 11 applications are under review. Five applications to place genetically modified crops on the European Community market are also under review. Also, the European Commission recently asked its expert scientific committees to undertake a safety review of six marketing applications which have already been reviewed by Member States under Council Directive 90/220/EEC on the release of genetically modified organisms into the environment.

Since 1 May, seven new research projects have been initiated to support the risk assessment and decision making for the granting of consents. The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions have let the following research contracts:

    Environmental impact of disease resistance genes in genetically modified sugar beet;

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    Review of transformation methods for genetically modified plants;

    Environmental impact of genetically modified plants in containment;

    Environmental monitoring of large scale releases of genetically modified crops;

    Environmental impact of novel compounds in genetically modified plants.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food have let the following contracts:

    Local and regional scale movement of an oilseed rape transgene;

    Risk assessment of transgene movement.

A number of organisations have commissioned research on consumer attitudes since 1 May, including the interactive "Future Foods?" exhibition at the Science Museum, which is partly funded by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Salisbury Bypass Study Team: Membership

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are the names and business affiliations of the study team set up by Dr. Gavin Strang, Minister for Transport, at the time of the cancellation of the Salisbury bypass, to find alternative solutions to that city's traffic congestion.[HL259]

Baroness Hayman: The Salisbury Transport Study is led by a Steering Group consisting of officials from the Government Office for the South West, Wiltshire County Council, Salisbury District Council and the Highways Agency.

We shall appoint consultants with the appropriate skills and experience to carry out the main work of the study. A competitive tendering process will be carried out to decide which consultants to appoint and we hope to announce the name of the successful bidders in the spring.

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