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Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, on the few occasions that one is both asked a question and given the answer, I believe it is very foolish not to accept the answer.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, does the Minister agree with his noble friend Lord Barnett that excessiveness is in the eye of the beholder? Having said that and having listened carefully to the noble Lord's first Answer to the Question, can he say why, if that is what the Government really believe, they killed off the Bill introduced in another place by my honourable friend Archie Norman to deal with such a problem?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, we have a good deal of sympathy with the objectives behind Archie Norman's Bill but there are extremely important questions about how it would work in practice. Predominantly, the fundamental point is that it would interfere with contractual rights and that would raise serious issues. The Government have agreed to consult on the matter because we consider it to be an issue of importance. However, the Bill requires careful examination if it is to be made to work in practice.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that he is telling us that a

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government who are prepared to pursue abroad an uncertain moral case to the brink of war will not lift a pusillanimous finger effectively to curtail the licentious appetites of fat cats which workers throughout Britain recognise very well and which cast a stain upon the moral fabric of our society?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I do not agree with the first assumption about an uncertain moral case. As for the rest of the Question, one needs to consider carefully the consequences of governments becoming involved in trying to determine the salary levels of directors. As my noble friend rightly said in his question—and answer—excessiveness is extremely difficult to determine other than by two parties freely making a contract.

Viscount Slim: My Lords, is the Minister aware that my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, always frames his questions as though every chairman, every director and every manager is helping himself from the till? Is he aware that today many managers, particularly in manufacturing—an area in which I used to work—are not receiving pay rises and sometimes receive less than they received the previous year?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, it is fair to say that the situation is variable in different sectors of the economy. Nevertheless, directors' salaries are still rising faster than inflation. The major area of concern to many is rewards for failure. There is an almost unanimous view that, if possible, that should be stopped. The right people to stop it are the shareholders.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, would the Minister consider it interesting to circulate the findings of his noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord Layard, on the connection between remuneration and happiness? It is not all that shareholders sometimes believe it is.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, my noble friend gave an interesting series of lectures. Whether there is a connection between remuneration and happiness is a philosophically interesting point. Unfortunately, when negotiating contracts for jobs most people put that consideration to one side.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, my noble friend said that dealing with excessive rewards for failure in British industry—surely a blight on this country—should be left to shareholders. How confident is he that the mechanism for decision-making by shareholders is adequate to deal with rewards for failure?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, in a number of cases shareholders have shown that the issue is of concern to them and much pressure has been placed on that point. That is why it is extremely important that they will now have the automatic right to vote on the remuneration report. The answer to excessive rewards for failure concerns getting the contract right in the first place, rather than having a bad contract and

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trying to correct it through legislation. It seems to me that the Association of British Insurers and the National Association of Pension Funds' recent best practice guidelines on directors' contracts and compensation is the right way to go for shareholders.

GM Crops

2.53 p.m.

Lord Taverne asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the views expressed by Mr Michael Meacher MP published in the magazine The Ecologist on 17th February represent the policy of the Government.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My Lords, the article in The Ecologist was based on a lengthy and complex interview with my right honourable friend Michael Meacher. It covered a lot of ground. There is no inherent contradiction between what he said and the position of the Government.

Lord Taverne: My Lords, it was an astonishing interview. Apart from showing a certain disloyalty to a ministerial colleague, namely the Minister responsible for science—perhaps not an unknown phenomenon in the present Government—he claimed that there was no independent assessment of the safety of GM crops whereas some seven national academies of science have carried out such assessments. Most importantly, is it wise for the Government to have as the Minister responsible for the environment someone who has swallowed the policies and agenda of Greenpeace hook, line and sinker?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the House should appreciate the tremendous job that Michael Meacher has done on environmental policy over the past five or six years. He has established the United Kingdom as one of the lead participants in progress towards sustainable development. I do not believe that the strictures of the noble Lord can in any sense be accepted. My colleague was simply pointing out that some of the testing procedure requires testing by the companies themselves. Therefore, there is scope and need for caution on the part of the British and European authorities which are assessing whether we should allow the marketing of GM crops.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the article was fairly specific? Michael Meacher said that GMs are not necessary, which is a surprising contribution from the responsible Minister. He went on to say:


    "As the current trials are only testing what effects GM crops might have on the environment . . . and as the government has neither the money nor the manpower to do anything else, we have to rely upon the biotech companies themselves to tell us if they discover any other problems",

particularly with regard to health. Does the Minister find that a very unsatisfactory situation?

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Lord Whitty: My Lords, my right honourable friend will be gratified by the time and attention paid to his article and to the interview. I wish that the rest of the literature produced by departments received the same degree of attention. Whether anything is necessary or not, it is clear that one has to establish a benefit. If there is a benefit, we have to establish whether a risk attaches to that benefit; and if there is such a risk we have to decide on what terms the product will be developed, grown or imported. That is the system that my right honourable friend was trying to describe. We are reliant on much of the information coming from private companies sponsoring the products. It is necessary therefore for a degree of double-checking to take place and for a degree of caution to be exercised. The Government have always adopted a cautionary approach but we are neither for nor against these individual products, and the system reflects that.

Lord Carter: My Lords, can the Minister say what is the timetable on GMOs? There should not be the precipitate rush into GMOs for which some would argue, including perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Taverne. Equally, there should not be a blanket ban, as others would argue. There should be proper evaluation and full and public discussion. What is the timetable for publication of research results, the commercial evaluation of GM crops and their release?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, different issues are involved. In regard to the GM crops grown in this country, the trials finish later this year. Primarily they are to assess the effects on the environment. As yet, there is not adequate testing. In the light of the results of those tests we shall decide whether to proceed to the commercial growing of the crops. As regards other products, whether grown or imported, or incorporated in processed foods, there is a European process, some of which is carried out in the individual member states. That is done on a case-by-case basis. Over the past few years there has been a de facto slowdown on considering each of those products. The Commission is required to consider them on a case-by-case basis.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Labour Party is lucky to have Michael Meacher as keeper of its conscience from time to time? When he said in the article that the Labour Party had changed from being hostile and sceptical about big business, he was reflecting public concern about the lack of legislation on some issues like corporate social responsibility?


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