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Baroness Amos: My Lords, I agree with the right reverend Prelate; there are social, economic and political considerations. DfID is funding research which supports the safe development and testing of affordable GM technologies which have the potential to benefit poor farmers, improve food availability, human well-being and the environment. We are also funding research designed to assess the economic, environmental and social impact of GMOs on poor farmers. The concerns expressed are being taken on board by that department.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, will the Government ensure that in areas of the world in which small farmers save their own seed for the next crop, such farmers are not supplied with a so-called "terminator seed" which could not be used for their next crop?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the Government do not support the development of the terminator seed. The noble Lord may be aware that last year Monsanto, which had conducted the most research on this issue and was within five or 10 years of concluding that research, decided not to take it forward. We are not supporting any kind of development of any kind of terminator gene.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, will the Minister bear in mind the lessons learned from the profusion of toxic chemicals which have been spread around the world and have caused enormous damage? Slogans such as that used by the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, regarding the absolute safety of chemicals have proved to be untrue. Would the Minister bear in mind that, with genetic modification, there is no going back? We are playing with the basic building blocks of life and must be absolutely sure of safety before we use them.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, that is why the Government's approach is science-based and money is invested in research so that we do not facilitate the use of GM crops in areas where developing countries have not put in place the basic infrastructure or legislation that will enable them to use this technology beneficially. We want to see developing countries use this technology in a way which is beneficial for them and to ensure that they have the capacity not only to develop the technology in ways that suit them but also to market it to their own advantage.

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the alternatives to genetically modified crops tend to be pesticides which are

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ecologically damaging and expensive, in particular when they are used on marginal land, which so many poor people are reduced to farming?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. It is important that developing countries are included in an effective and inclusive dialogue on the risks and benefits of GMOs. However, it is also important to remember that much of the research has to date been focused on the use to be made of GMOs in the developed world by large commercial organisations. We want to see the technology used to assist developing countries in the ways that suit them best.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, did not Watson and Crick win the Nobel Prize for their research on the basic building blocks of life, and is anything wrong with that? Furthermore, does the noble Baroness agree that all the opinions so far expressed on GM crops have come from the developed world? Does she further agree that it is about time that the third world, where the benefits of GM crops may well be felt the most, should have their say as well?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I entirely agree that a public debate is needed on this issue. We need a public debate that focuses not only on the developed world but also includes the developing countries. For that reason, DfID provided funding for some developing countries to send representatives to the Edinburgh conference so that their voices could be heard. I hope that their voices will continue to be heard.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely has so rightly said, in the Middle Ages the Church condemned surgery because it interfered with God's handiwork, and we must follow science rather than emotions. With that in mind, does the Minister agree--taking into account all the necessary precautions that have already been mentioned, including the TRIPS agreement--and the fact that at least 30 million hectares worldwide were planted successfully with GMOs in 1998, saving many starving people in the developing world, that the Government should promote GMOs far more?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I believe that I have already addressed many of the points raised by the noble Baroness in her question. As I said, we are funding research but we are not yet at a stage where we will fund crops in developing countries unless those countries have in place the necessary legislation and infrastructure. We will continue with this work. Furthermore, we want to involve people in developing countries by helping them to build the capacity to take this technology forward.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford: My Lords, perhaps I may take this opportunity to thank the noble Baroness for the Government's change of heart on GM technology and for demonstrating their greater awareness of public unease. I believe that the

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Government have also shown a greater awareness of the environmental dangers of this technology. Perhaps I may make two points, both of which have been touched on but have not yet, I think, been answered satisfactorily. First, some NGOs, in particular Christian Aid, have taken a very negative view of this technology and have considerably influenced developing countries against it. While I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, has said about expressions of enthusiasm for it on the part of many developing countries, can the noble Baroness say a few words on the Government's relationship with NGOs? Secondly, is there any prospect of progress on some kind of international agreement on the vexed question of intellectual property rights in GM technology? That question lies behind much of the fear and unease.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, first, perhaps I may say to the right reverend Prelate that there has been no change of heart by the Government. We have said consistently that we need to have an open debate about these matters. To enable us to have that debate, we need to gather the right information. The Government have consistently argued that some of what has been said in the press has been inaccurate and that we have tried to address that. Indeed, in the Government's response to the Science and Technology Committee's report on this matter, we expressed the concern that we needed to see greater understanding and greater probity on the part of all the players involved. As regards the attitude of NGOs, I think it is important to ensure that dialogue continues between all NGOs and the Government on this matter. We have done our best to promote that dialogue.

In response to the point made by the right reverend Prelate on international agreements, we are of course constantly discussing ways in which we might take those international agreements forward.


Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m., my noble friend the Leader of the House will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement being made in another place on the Special European Council in Lisbon.

House of Lords' Offices: Select Committee Report

3.6 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the Fourth Report from the Select Committee (HL Paper 45) be agreed to.--(The Chairman of Committees.)

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Following is the report referred to:

    1. Steps of the Throne

    The Committee has considered the four categories of heirs to peerage currently allowed to sit on the Steps of the Throne:

    eldest sons of Peers of Parliament;

    eldest daughters or grand-daughters of such Peers when heiresses presumptive;

    grandsons of such Peers when heirs apparent;

    eldest sons of those who have disclaimed their peerage.

    In the case of hereditary peerages, these categories all assumed that those exercising the right would eventually become Members of the House. That is no longer true, except as the result of a by-election to become one of the 90 hereditary peers who remain Members of the House. The chances of the eldest son, daughter or grandchild of a hereditary peer who had been a Member of the House being elected would be uncertain, though not impossible.

    As the original rationale for the four categories no longer applies, the Committee considers that in future the privilege should be granted to the eldest child of a Peer of Parliament, without regard to gender. The Committee was, however, mindful of the need to avoid any unfairness to eldest sons who had previously exercised their right to sit on the Steps of the Throne but who have older sisters, and therefore recommends that the privilege be granted to:

"the eldest child of a Peer of Parliament (or the eldest son where the right has been previously exercised)."

    2. Black Rod

    The Committee agreed to an extension of the appointment of Sir Edward Jones for one final year to 8 May 2001.

    3. Staff of the House

    The Committee was informed of the following new posts:

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