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Lord Taverne: With respect, I have read the New Scientist version but I have also looked at the original which is much fuller. The New Scientist report is not entirely balanced, but it is still a long way away from the newspaper reports.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: I thank the noble Lord for those comments. However, anxiety arises when one sees comments such as "Frankenstein foods" because one assumes that everyone is against everything, whereas my Bill seeks to address those matters which are important to everyone.
The third reason that made me consider that an even stronger tug on the reins of regulation was needed was the Government's seemingly headlong dash towards the commercial planting of these crops even before they had been fully evaluated and tested--a dash led by the Prime Minister. It is interesting to note that during
I ask the Prime Minister the same question I have asked twice already; namely, what is the hurry? BSE has nothing whatsoever to do with GM food or crops. That matter arose from feeding herbivorous animals meat protein, turning them into cannibals if you like. In addition, the animal protein was contaminated. Therefore although that problem has nothing to do with GM crops, it is understandable that the public distrust the protestations of the agricultural supply industry unless they are supported by clear evidence. If BSE has nothing to do with GM crops, why am I mentioning it at all? It is because the party opposite constantly blames the previous government for it, ignoring the fact that we relied on the scientific evidence that we received.
The Government claim that the justification for their beef-on-the-bone ban is still based on the scientific evidence they received. A few days ago scientific advice reported a remote chance--so remote that it has never happened--that the new variant CJD might be contracted from contact lenses. This kind of advice is non-stop. It seems extraordinary that the Prime Minister--whose degree is in law and not in biology or in botany--and his Ministers should insist upon cherry-picking from the advice that is given.
That is the purpose of my two amendments. Amendment No. 5 requires the monitoring of any GMO's that are authorised. This entails not merely the passive continuance, in effect, of a licence until something happens but for its renewal and reappraisal every three years for 20 years. That includes substantially new variations of existing approved products. It empowers the Secretary of State to revoke any licence at any time if the circumstances warrant it. It empowers the Secretary of State to order such sterilisation procedures as he deems fit. This could entail the burning or other destruction of grain crops and stores of seeds, as well as the sterilisation or chemical treatment of the land.
The amendment provides for no compensation to be paid. The person who plants the GMO for his own commercial profit should bear the cost of providing redress for his neighbour and seek compensation from his supplier. An innocent neighbour will have a claim against the person who planted the crop which in some way has damaged his land.
Amendment No. 6 provides for constant monitoring of the areas where the crops are planted, perhaps in co-operation with the various environmental pressure groups, which will doubtless be prepared to provide the necessary personnel. One of the organisations which certify organic vegetables and fruit insists that any land
Baroness Byford: I support my noble friend's two amendments. At the same time, perhaps I may ask the Government Chief Whip whether he can specify the Government's thinking about revoking permission without notice and the time scale. A Written Answer of 20th April in the other place stated that if the Advisory Committee on Novel Food and Processes considered that the risk was greater than originally thought, the Government would consider taking action under the safeguard clauses in the EC Deliberate Releases Directive 90/220 to restrict the use of raw maize in animal feed and press for an urgent reappraisal of the situation by the EC scientific committees and the Council. In view of my noble friend's amendment, will the Government Chief Whip be kind enough to comment on that aspect?
On Amendment No. 5, and the suggested subsection (8B), there are already provisions in the existing legislation to limit the period of a consent. There is no justification for a statutory limit of three years. A decision on the length of a consent is taken on a case by case basis. As to subsection (8C), the legislation already requires that any genetically modified organism which is materially different from one already released, shall require a separate authorisation.
As regards subsection (8D), the Environmental Protection Act already gives the Secretary of State powers to revoke consent at any time without notice. As to subsection (8E), the Environmental Protection Act 1990--an Act which I am sure the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, will remember because he was the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment when it was being planned and I wonder whether he raised all these points then--already gives the Secretary of State powers to order the destruction of any growing organisms and to take remedial action to protect the environment as necessary. We therefore feel that subsections (8B), (8C), (8D) and (8E) are not necessary.
On subsection (8F), the question of disallowing claims for compensation is a matter which would have important implications and the Government would wish to take this issue forward in the context of environmental liability generally.
Moving to Amendment No. 6, the Government agree that there should be careful monitoring of both research trials and GM crops should they be entered into commercial production. The current legislation has provisions for such monitoring to be carried out and the revision of the EU directive agreed at the Environment
The directive is currently being amended. This will give us the opportunity to clarify and extend a number of the key provisions. We want to see a fairer weighting of the views in these procedures; of key importance are changes in the committee procedures for resolving objections lodged by one or more member states. That is from my background brief: it would better if I wrote to the noble Baroness in respect of the technical details.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: The Minister has answered all of my amendments with his usual courtesy, which he shows both inside and outside the Chamber. I am glad to see that he does not disagree with my amendments; he simply feels they are not necessary. However, I beg to move.