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Lord Whitty: My Lords, the Government spend nearly £60 million in total in these areas. Of course only part of that total is spent on GM technology. The expenditure by my own department, which is about half of that, is mainly concerned with the development of GM techniques. Those are geared to doing exactly as the noble Baroness suggests—looking at what is being developed, assessing it and helping to use such approaches in areas that will be of benefit to the community as a whole.

The point I was making to the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, is that government money is not primarily directed to product development. It is directed at helping to improve the Government's ability to assess products and assess the way in which science is developing.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the debate in this country on GM crops has been disproportionately focused on the risk rather than on the potential benefits of such crops? Given the point that has already been made by the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, that the fear of control of technologies being in the hands of multinational corporations is a large element of that, is it not important to those of us who are concerned that the potential benefits in terms of health and agriculture in the developing world are supported by research expenditure that is not commercial? That means from government.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, it is precisely on those non-commercial areas where we can assess development that the Government are focusing. That includes, as my noble friend indicates, supporting developments within the developing world, within medicine and within the safe and responsible development of crop and food technology. The argument has perhaps at times not been entirely rational on this issue on either

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side. That is why the Government have very heavily invested in ensuring that the farm-scale trials of GM crops are completed before we take any further decision. We need to allay public concern in this area. It is not just a question of media stories; there is substantial consumer concern. We need, therefore, to have proper science and a proper assessment of the actual production risk, which is what the farm-scale trials are directed at.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the degree of public scare about genetically modified foods is disproportionate? Not many people realise that the early hybridisation and first studies on this issue go right back to the monk, Mendel. People have been breeding improved crops ever since that time. Could not a little more publicity be given to that fact? Could it not be made clear that this is really modern science progressing on from that early work?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, to a degree I agree with the noble Baroness. One can regard genetic modification as being the next stage of a programme of hybridisation that has been going on for a long time. But there is also an element of step change in this, which is why it is right to recognise that there is a degree of broader concern than there would be in just one more intensification of a process. That underlines the need for us to have the science correct and to ensure that the basis on which we are informing the public is an informed, controlled and detailed assessment of the effects of commercialisation on crop growing in this country.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, the Minister was quite right to use the words "step change". It is a step of the order of many magnitudes. Does he agree that while genetic modification may look scientifically desirable or beneficial, the practical difficulties are very great indeed? Will the Government take the greatest possible care over such things as volunteer plants, escapes, hybridisation and wind pollination?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the likely controls on any commercialised growing would indeed be directed at minimising and, so far as possible, eliminating the risks on those counts. We are taking the matter carefully, but we are also taking it on the basis of sound science and sound agriculture.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, the Minister indicated that the money that the Government are investing is not in the close-to-market area but in research. Is he confident that enough money is going into research in what is an important area of science?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, as I said, a substantial amount of money is going into research of GM techniques. Of course, substantial commercial money is also being invested in these areas, including within the UK and within Europe. The Government must

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address the balance between ensuring that we understand the science and can assess proposed developments and dealing with widespread public anxiety within the UK and within Europe as a whole.

A400M Aircraft Project

2.51 p.m.

Lord Burnham asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What revised plans have been made for the future of heavy lift aircraft in the light of the partial withdrawal from the A400M project by the German Government.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): My Lords, I can reassure the noble Lord that there has been no partial withdrawal from the A400M project by the German Government. The German commitment to proceed with the A400M programme is subject to Bundestag funding approval, which the German defence ministry is working to obtain by the end of March. There is therefore no present need to revise our plans for acquiring that capability.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. However, are not the vibes strong that the German Government will not provide the money for the project? Is it not time that Her Majesty's Government exercised the right that they rightly reserve to themselves totally to abandon the A400M programme and plan for an aircraft that has the lift, capacity and range that the services require?

Lord Bach: No, my Lords, it is not time to abandon the A400M. It is the best deal for the taxpayer and for British industry. I remind the noble Lord that it has a 50 per cent greater payload than the ageing Hercules C130K that it replaces, with the flexibility to operate in both strategic and tactical roles. As a joint programme with our European partners, it also delivers clear benefits in interoperability, sheer development and through-life costs. Finally, I remind the noble Lord that it can create or sustain thousands of British jobs.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, while supporting the A400M, does the Minister agree that there may be a gap between the decommissioning of the ageing Hercules fleet and the date on which the A400M comes into service? If so, what will fill the gap? If it is the American heavy lift aircraft, will we have to buy it, or will we lease it?

Lord Bach: My Lords, we will not have to buy it. We have leased four C17s—I think that that is the aircraft to which the noble Lord refers—and will continue to do so until the A400M is on-stream. We expect that to be in 2010.

Lord Jones: My Lords, how many jobs will be created in the now hard-pressed aerospace industry by the A400M project? As the American President now

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aims to put steep tariffs on Britain's steel exports, why should we contemplate the leasing or buying of further C17s? Mighty Boeing is mighty enough.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I shall not answer any questions about steel tariffs; I am looking forward to hearing the Answer to be given by my noble friend Lord Sainsbury in a few minutes. Airbus UK, which is the company responsible for the aircraft, estimates that the programme will directly create up to 2,500 high-quality jobs, notably in design and advanced manufacturing. Indirect employment could bring that figure to more than 8,000.

Noble Lords: My Lords—

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, perhaps we may hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Strange. She has risen three times, I believe.

Baroness Strange: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord. Is the Minister aware that last week the defence study group visited the C17 at Brize Norton and was impressed not only with the charm and morale of the three-man crew but with the speed with which the aeroplane could be emptied—30 minutes flat—and its capacity? It could take a Tornado or a Chinook or two Pumas as well as heavily loaded lorries and pallets and 50 passengers.

Lord Bach: My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right: the C17 is a superb aeroplane—I have had the good fortune to see inside one myself. But that does not take away from the need for the capability of the A400M. Although the C17 is a fine aircraft, it is not an answer to our needs in the field.

Lord Vivian: My Lords, what contingencies are in place for the survival of the A400M project should programme approval not take place by 31st March? What are the implications for the European rapid reaction force if the project does not proceed?

Lord Bach: My Lords, if only partial German funding were to be achieved by 31st March—that is, for the first 40 of the 73 aeroplanes that they would still require—the contract could become effective. However, partner nations would expect the German Government to secure balance of funding for 73 aircraft at the earliest opportunity and—this is important—to compensate them for their additional cost, in other words, increased unit price, if that funding were not secured.

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