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Genetically Modified Food: Imports

3.7 p.m.

Lord Jenkin of Roding asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the United States Government announced yesterday, 13th May, that they are seeking consultations with the European Commission on the so-called moratorium on the approval of GM products within the European Community. If the issue is not satisfactorily resolved by consultations then, 60 days after receipt of the request for consultation, the US has the right to seek the establishment of a World Trade Organisation dispute panel to consider the matter. It is a matter for the Commission, in consultation with European Union member states, to decide how to defend the case.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, but has not the so-called moratorium—I agree with the language of the noble Baroness on that—been viewed for many

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years by the Commission as illegal? Three years ago, a Commissioner, Margot Wallstrom, said that the moratorium was illegal and unjustified. Why has nothing been done about it? Is it not also profoundly anti-science? That being so, how does all that square with the Prime Minister's speech last autumn at the Royal Society, which was both pro-trade and pro-GM food—and, of course, pro-science?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the United Kingdom has never agreed with the so-called de facto moratorium on GMOs, which was imposed by some EU member states. We have made clear that we support an ordered return to effective and evidence-based European Community decisions on approval of GM products.

However, the noble Lord is not right to say that nothing has been done. We agree with the Commission that the conditions already exist for taking decisions on GM products, particularly since the entry into force only last October of the strengthened generic GMO release and product approval directive. That is an important development. I am sorry that the United States has decided to move to the disputes procedure now, when we have in place a mechanism that, we hope, would allow us to resolve the difficult issue.

I agree that it is very important that our decisions on GM are science-based. We believe that we have taken the right decision in the consultation exercise in which my noble friend and his colleagues in DEFRA are involved. We should have some answers on that in September this year.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I take it from the Minister's comments that she is as disappointed as I am that the US invokes international institutions only when it will benefit the US and that it fails to come on board with international institutions ranging from the Kyoto Protocol to the International Criminal Court. Meanwhile, will the Minister impress on the EU the importance of adapting the labelling regime to take account of country-of-origin labelling so that consumers have a proper choice when it comes to GM?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I cannot agree with the entirely sweeping nature of the noble Baroness's opening remarks. It is important to recognise that a number of disputes are running in the WTO at any one time. It is possible—and I hope that it will be the case—that we will resolve the dispute without running through all the issues. Around a quarter of WTO cases are solved before they have run through a process that can last as long as two years.

I agree that traceability and labelling are very important. The United States has already said that it would regard it as another restrictive practice. The United Kingdom believes that it gives consumers information on which they may make an informed choice.

The Earl of Selborne: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the failure to agree in Europe on traceability

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and labelling has caused the de facto moratorium? It is caused specifically by the difficulty of identifying produce that, although not genetically modified itself, is derived from genetically modified processes. Does the Minister agree that an identity-preserved route is probably the best way to deal with the matter? Admittedly, it places the cost on those who seek to avoid genetically modified food, rather than the producer.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I do not know whether the traceability issue has made it difficult for some of our partners to move from the de facto moratorium. We have a mechanism in the directive, to which I referred in response to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, about a way through. The issue is now being used for a number of approvals, although it is taking some time. We wish to see the issue of traceability resolved. It is right that we found some difficulties with the proposals put forward because of the basis of the thresholds used. I stress that it is argued that any decisions that we take on GM and GM products should be in the interests of this country's consumers.

Lord Taverne: My Lords, will the Government point out to their EU partners who support the moratorium that, not only is it without any scientific base, but it is deeply damaging to a very important industry and has devastating effects on the developing world?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we have made clear our position on the moratorium, as I hope that I have made clear to noble Lords. There are several issues relating to the developing world and GM food. One of the most difficult has been that some aid to parts of Africa in desperate need of food and other aid has been in the form of GM grain. It is enormously important to deal with the issue sensitively. It is a matter of enormous sensitivity in this country, particularly to young mothers and others with young children. But it is also a matter of great sensitivity in parts of the developing world. It is made so difficult because there are issues for consumers and, as the noble Lord rightly pointed out, producers.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: My Lords, in discussions with the US Government on the issue, will the Government take into account the WTO approval of up to 4 billion dollars worth of sanctions to be levied by the European Union on the US because of its illegal use of export tax breaks?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Yes, my Lords, we certainly will. Those of a cynical turn of mind might note that the WTO has indeed calculated that damage to the EU in respect of the foreign sales corporation tax is around 4 billion dollars. I am sure that those noble Lords who have studied the matter will also have noted that the United States has said that the damage that the EU position on GMOs causes to the US economy is, astonishingly enough, 4 billion dollars.

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Business of the House: Debate this Day

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn) My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the debate on the Motion in the name of the Baroness Williams of Crosby set down for today shall be limited to three-and-a-half hours.— (Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections and Periods of Suspension) Bill

3.15 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on the Bill.

I wish to say a word on consequent procedure. If the Committee amends the Bill, copies of the Bill as amended will be available shortly after the end of the Committee in the Printed Paper Office. Noble Lords will then have one hour, from the end of Committee stage, to table any amendments that might be required on Report.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [Election of next Assembly]:

[Amendment No. 1 not moved.]

Lord Williams of Mostyn had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 2:

    Page 1, line 10, leave out subsection (3) and insert—

"(3) Section 96 is amended as follows—
(a) in subsection (2), after "section" there is inserted "31(2),",
(b) after subsection (2) there is inserted—
"(2A) Paragraph (b) of subsection (2) does not apply to an order under section 31(2) if the order declares that the Secretary of State considers it to be expedient for the order to be made without the approval mentioned in that paragraph.
(2B) An order containing a declaration under subsection (2A)—
(a) shall be laid before Parliament after being made; and
(b) shall cease to have effect if it is not approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament before the end of the period of 28 days beginning with the date on which it is made.
(2C) Subsection (2B)(b) does not prejudice the making of a new order.
(2D) In calculating the period of 28 days mentioned in subsection (2B)(b), no account is to be taken of any time during which Parliament is dissolved or prorogued or during which both Houses are adjourned for more than four days.""

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The noble and learned Lord said: As always, I am grateful for the courtesy that the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, showed me because I was aware of his intention. As Committee Members know, we had a significant discussion in some depth yesterday about how we ought to deal with these matters. I indicated that, following the extremely helpful report of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, we had given the matter further thought. I told noble Lords yesterday that I intended to move an amendment that would require the Government to come back to Parliament if the relevant power had not been exercised by 31st December this year. I have had further representations, not least from the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, in the context of his amendment, and the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton.

That being so, and having listened, I hope, with an open mind, I intend, not to move this amendment in Committee, but to move an altered, I hope, improved amendment on Report. That would bring forward the date from 31st December to 15th November. That would have the attraction that, if Royal Assent is tomorrow, it would be a six-month period, so there would be the internal symmetry of six months' succession. Furthermore, I gathered the feeling in your Lordships' House that, although the 31st December proposition was welcomed, perhaps something a little more rigorous might be wished for. I hope that noble Lords will accept my undertaking to table the amendment on Report. It has already been lodged in the Printed Paper Office. I repeat my heartfelt thanks to the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, not only for its report, but for the speed and efficiency with which it worked. With the leave of the Committee, I will not move this amendment.

[Amendment No. 2 not moved.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clauses 2 to 6 agreed to.

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