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Lord Warner: My Lords, the department is rolling out a chlamydia screening programme. Ten areas, covering 30 PCTs and over 400 individual testing sites, are involved in the first phase of the programme. Expressions of interest will shortly be sought from a further 10 areas covering a similar number of primary care trusts. Apart from Sweden, England is the only European country currently introducing a nation-wide programme of this particular kind. An extra 8.5 million will be spent on chlamydia screening during 2004–05.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, the real question the Government have to answer is why it has taken those in the department so long to turn their attention to this problem from yet more reorganisation of the health service and a seeming total concentration on waiting-lists. Is not the time well overdue to have a health promotion campaign stressing the need for abstinence in cohabitation and to use sex education in schools to point out the dangers as well as the joy of sex?

Lord Warner: My Lords, work is continuing on strengthening sex education in schools. I do not think the noble Lord can say that we have been sitting on our hands. The strategy was published over two years ago, in 2001. I have already given the House a lot of details of the kind of results that are being produced. All I would observe is that calls for abstinence come, critically at this time, from people of an older disposition rather than from those who are younger.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, which age group is most affected by these diseases?

Lord Warner: My Lords, the age groups most affected are younger people, between the ages of 18 and 30—that

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is why we are concentrating the sex lottery campaign on that particular age group. Many of the infections, particularly among women, are found in younger women, under the age of 20.

Genetically Modified Crops

3.24 p.m.

Baroness Byford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What research is being done into the effect which genetically modified crops might have on human health.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My Lords, the GM science review is currently examining the considerable research already available on the health impact of GM crops and is expected to report next month. On the food side, the Food Standards Agency spends about 2 million a year on research into GM food safety. Each individual GM crop and each individual GM food must be rigorously researched and tested, including for any potential toxicity or allergenicity, before approval can be given.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, the Minister will be aware that his former colleague, Michael Meacher, accused Tony Blair's spin doctors and Ministers of systematically ignoring and rubbishing the evidence that genetically modified crops could be a health hazard. He said that many of the health tests carried out were scientifically vacuous. If that is so, and if, as the Minister has indicated, the current research will not be available until next month, is it not ridiculous that the Government are going ahead with their GM consultation when the evidence on which we should be basing our decisions is not yet available to the general public?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, as I have explained to the House on several occasions, the GM consultation is covering a whole range of aspects relating to the use of genetic modification techniques. It is not related to any particular decision on commercialisation. Two other strands of that examination of the issue are the science review, to which I have referred, and the economic review. Both pieces of evidence will be available next month. The totality of the public consultation and those pieces of research will form part of the background for future decisions. So it all fits together. I refute completely the noble Baroness's interpretation of my former colleague's remarks. He was in fact pointing out that there are areas of research that need further consideration. That is indeed what the Food Standards Agency is engaged in.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, will the noble Lord explain whether the Government's view on genetically

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modified crops is that they are all right until they are proved wrong, or that they are unacceptable until they are proved right?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the Government's view is that the case for GM crops has yet to be proved and the case against GM crops has yet to be proved. That is why we require this information. That is why the science review is so important. That is why, on every individual application for an individual commercialisation of a GM product, we have laid down, both at British and at European level, rigorous tests of its safety and its effect on the environment. We have yet to take decisions on new individual applications.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there is some danger in the kind of confusion that has been reflected in terms of the issues of food safety and human health and the desirability of commercial cultivation and environmental effects? Can he confirm that every novel food—including, but not exclusively, food based on GM crops—has undergone a rigorous safety assessment and been approved, and that the Food Standards Agency agrees with that? Does he further agree that it is important to look at health benefits in the round? Perhaps non-food crops, such as GM cotton, which are saving the lives of agricultural workers in China because of the reduced effects of pesticides, should also be considered.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, to take my noble friend's final point, that is why the debate has to be very rounded. We need to examine the economics in development situations as well as in the UK and European situations, and the benefits or otherwise of GM crops in the round. As regards the first part of her question, I think that there is some confusion between the growing of crops—which raises issues of potential environment problems, and therefore issues of regulation for the co-existence of GM crops and other crops—and the issue of food safety, which, as my noble friend indicates, is thoroughly researched before any permission for commercialisation is given.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, will the Minister accept that the implications for human health may not relate only to GM crops themselves? The herbicides used on such crops, because they are herbicide tolerant crops, are extremely strong and extremely toxic, and can end up in water courses. I believe that the United States Environmental Protection Agency is beginning to have severe doubts about the use of such herbicides. Do we really want such herbicides used to that degree in England?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the method of production that includes the use of herbicides, and the relative use of herbicides on potential GM crops, will be part of the assessment of the environmental impact of giving

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approval to commercialised crops in this country. The noble Baroness is right that it is not just the crops themselves, but the total production effect.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, is it not a fact that the Government's approach to this general area is fairly complacent, to say the least? I say that simply on the back of the fact that these crops are now in fairly widespread use across many countries, without apparent harm so far.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am not sure that the first half and the second half of the noble Lord's question stand together well. I deny that the Government have shown any complacency. There is widespread concern about the impact of the crops; and there are widespread claims for the benefits of these crops. What we intend to do—and engage the public in—is carry out an assessment of the balance of those arguments, based on sound science. That is what we are involved in now.

It is not an issue of complacency, nor is the fact that crops have been successfully cultivated in other countries necessarily a sufficient criterion for us taking that decision in Britain and Europe. Our decision will involve the public view and will meet the public's concerns, but will be based on sound science.

Business of the House: Recess Dates

3.32 p.m.

Lord Grocott: My Lords, with permission, before the Statements I should like to say a few words about recess dates. Back on 6th May, I told the House that the date on which the Summer Recess would begin, subject to the progress of business, would be Thursday 17th July. Since then, progress has been slower than expected. Therefore, with regret, I must tell your Lordships that my target date for rising has had to be revised by one day. The usual channels currently envisage the House sitting on Friday 18th July, and rising for the recess on that date.

I should add, as ever, that this is always subject to the progress of business. On 17th July, Starred Questions will be at 11 o'clock; the usual channels have discussed this. With regard to the September sitting, it remains our intention that the House will sit from Monday 8th September to Thursday 18th September. Finally, I can tell the House that, again subject to the progress of business between now and the Summer Recess, and during the September sitting, the spillover will start on Monday 6th October.

I cannot rule out the possibility that we may need to come back before that date, but I can assure the House that all of us in the usual channels fervently hope that that will not be the case.

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