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Baroness Miller of Hendon: The two amendments tabled by my noble friend at line 16 call for the Secretary of State to consult with environmentalists and the farming industry. I do not see how anyone could possibly object to such a procedure in the interests of ensuring that any decision that is made about the release of GM crops is as fully informed as possible.

Although the Minister has said that he would not object if I accepted the amendments, he has said once again that they are not necessary because the power is already there. But the power is not in the Bill and I strongly feel that the Bill is of help to everybody. I believe that putting the power in the Bill would strengthen it. If the power is there already, the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, are in a sense also unnecessary, because it would seem that those powers are somewhere else.

The amendment would also ensure that when ministerial guidelines are approved by Parliament, as required by subsection (4)(d) of Clause 1, Parliament would have the fullest possible picture. I am sure that the Government will say that they will consult--I am sure they will--but if they are to do that, there is no reason not to have it on the face of the Bill.

The Earl of Caithness: I am extremely grateful for the support of my noble friends. To the Government Chief Whip I say, once a farmer always a farmer! I know that beneath that tough Chief Whip's exterior

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there beats a heart that is sympathetic to the countryside. Given different circumstances, I am sure that he would move the amendment as happily as I do.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 1, line 16, at end insert--
("( ) he has consulted representatives of the farming industry, including organic farmers,").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Kimball moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 1, line 22, at end insert ("; and
(e) after 31st December 2001 in respect of herbicide tolerant crops.")

The noble Lord said: I move Amendment No. 3 and, with the leave of the House, I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 4. These two amendments reflect what has been said by the right reverend Prelate. They put some dates into the Bill. Specific dates are important. I do not know whether your Lordships have had an opportunity of seeing an article in the Royal Horticultural Society's journal for July on the subject of plant breeders' rights. We cannot deny to the rural community the fruits of agricultural research. I am conscious of the fact that in another place, representing as I did a large chunk of North Lincolnshire, I had one of the foremost plant breeders in my constituency. We cannot deny for too long the research and the contribution to prosperity that those companies have made in increased yields and disease-resistant stock, particularly in the case of herbicide tolerant crops.

The article in the journal of the Royal Horticultural Society went on to point out that in the present plant breeding programmes, we shall shortly see, on a large scale, "spoiler" genes being incorporated. When you buy a seed, you will be able to use it only for the purpose for which it was grown. In no way will you be able to siphon off some of it and hope to plant it again, because it just will not grow. That will increase the monopoly power of the large American corporations. If we have further restrictions, Monsanto and Dupont will be laughing all the way to the bank because of the restrictions on plant breeding in this country.

Of course, my noble friend Lady Miller is right. She wants to meet the genuine concerns of many people. Please let us have a date to which the plant breeders can work with a chance of some commercial release in the not-too-distant future. I beg to move.

Lord Skelmersdale: My noble friend has sought to group Amendments No. 3 and 4 together. That slightly surprises me. Why has he chosen the date of 31st December 2001 in respect of herbicide tolerant crops and 31st December 2003 in respect of insect tolerant crops? My noble friend did not refer to that point.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: Perhaps I can help my noble friend. When SCIMAC, which stands for the Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops, reported, it said that it would be ready to produce

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herbicide tolerant crops in the year 2000 and insect tolerant crops by the year 2002. SCIMAC thought that that difference was necessary in the production of those crops.

Lord Taverne: I am sorry to speak against the principle I announced that I should speak only once, but a number of questions have been raised that I want to answer. Once again, the question of delay arises. I want to stress, once more, the disadvantages of putting dates in the Bill, thus causing particular delays.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford said that he totally disagreed with my view that what mattered was not the process but the product. Scientists have different opinions, but I would certainly argue that most of them would take the view that it is the product which has to be addressed, not the process. After all, as the report of the Royal Society pointed out, the transfer of genes from one species to another takes place now--the constant transfer of genes which takes place by old-fashioned traditional bio-technology without genetic modification. I entirely agree that we need to know a great deal more about this. Many mistakes have been made in the past.

Many years ago I read a most interesting analysis by the Office of Technology Assessment, which gave very good advice to the US Congress. It no longer exists, but it actually listed some 850,000 cases, I believe, of new organisms which had been released into a different environment. It traced the cases where this had had harmful effects and where it had not. Some consequences were extremely serious, though not disastrous, as result of the random transfer which took place. It has been happening all the time. One has to think of the product. There is nothing specially dangerous about the process; indeed, that is one of the things that was pointed out by the Royal Society in its recent report on the issue.

I should point out to the right reverend Prelate that one must bear in mind the very serious consequences of a slow-down which gravely disadvantages and, indeed, may ruin this industry. It is an industry which has enormous benefits to contribute to mankind. If one is really concerned about intensive agriculture and about the spread of chemicals, one should encourage the most rapid form of field trials which would actually reduce the intensive use of chemicals.

The noble Earl, Lord Clanwilliam, said that you cannot trust scientists too much because they have made mistakes in the past. Of course, that is true. However, what is uppermost of most people's minds is the advice given by some scientists that BSE was safe. That is the most signal example and one which has undermined public confidence in the verdict of scientists. Having recently read the history if BSE, it is interesting to note--

Lord Carter: I should point out to the noble Lord that scientists said that beef was safe, and not that BSE was safe.

Lord Taverne: I accept the correction. Indeed, certain scientists said that beef was safe and that we need not worry about the chances of contracting BSE too much.

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It is interesting to note that this was a very difficult issue where the actual science--for example, the history of Kuru--was known by very few. The committee which looked at this was, at first, totally ignorant of the case of Kuru and of the transfers in the case of minx and, indeed, of the recent history of spongiform encephalopathy. However, the scientists who had the expert knowledge were desperately worried about it. GM food and crops is a case where the people who know most about it are the least worried and where those who are causing all the scares are people who are mostly neglectful of the scientific evidence.

The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, said that we do not know about the science but we are worried about public opinion. I am sorry to see that she is no longer in the Chamber. Nevertheless, I wonder which kind of opinion is more worth while--that of the Royal Society or that of the Sun newspaper. I know which one I would choose because newpaper reports distort the facts all the time. Indeed, a recent report carried big headlines stating that the value of GM crops had been totally disproved. Why? The story was based on a study by the US Department of Agriculture. I took the trouble to look up the original source and traced it on the Internet. The conclusions of the study were the direct opposite of what was reported in the press. It concluded that the evidence was limited, that it should be treated at this stage with suspicion; but that, on balance, the evidence showed that there was a reduction in the use of insecticides and the use of herbicides and that greater productivity resulted from the introduction of GM crops. I give way.

The Earl of Clanwilliam: I am obliged. The scientists have produced all sorts of other things besides the BSE scare. What about DDT, deldrin and aldrin? They were very serious introductions which did an enormous amount of damage to the whole world.

Lord Taverne: Of course mistakes have been made in the past. However, if one does not have regard to the best scientific evidence, what other test can one have? Does one really go to the newpapers, like the Sun, and ask them to advise us? Personally, I would prefer the advice of the Royal Society.

One should not ignore the seriousness of continual delay and rendering this no longer a viable industry. The benefits it can produce are enormous. I hope that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford will read the article in Nature by Florence Wambugu because it is very important and shows the enormous importance of this technology to Africa. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, denounced the multi-nationals. Ms Wambugu previously worked for the Kenya Institute and was getting nowhere with conventional science. She was helped by the multi-nationals to do work on GM crops, which was enormously productive and of great potential value to Africa. One should have regard to the great benefits and not promote amendments or modifications which make field trials slower and less effective.

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