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Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, given the "unsafe" verdict of his department following trials of GM sugar beet and oilseed rape, will the Minister spell out that they will ban such GM crops in the UK or, if not, accept legal liability for contamination from such crops?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that we now have the reports on three crops. He uses the word "unsafe"; we were considering the environmental rather than the human health impact. There was a greater detrimental effect on the environment from two of those crops compared with conventional crops. We will clearly need to take that finding into account in considering any application to grow such crops. Were they or any other GM crops to be allowed to go ahead—

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which is entirely hypothetical—they would be subject to the guidelines, on the details of which we are expecting advice within the next few weeks.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, over what distance do the Government consider that wind-borne and insect-borne contamination from GM crops can be spread?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, there is no simple answer to that. As they are already in the public arena, I am happy to furnish the noble Lord with the reports on the crops involved. It depends on the local conditions, the type of crops and the time of year. It is precisely such detail that may need to be covered in guidelines.

The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the GM crop trials in 2001 and 2002 in Scotland, which were paralleled in England, suffered from an admixture of GM material that was not covered by the consent for the trials? Do the Government have any plans to introduce a more rigorous purity test for genetically modified seed than that which currently operates for conventional seed?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, there is already substantially greater testing of GM seed than of conventional seed—although at the end of the day, the public health impact may well be the same, so they may therefore have to be tested subject to the same degree of proof and caution. If there were a consent, anyone who breached the terms of that consent would, in certain circumstances, be liable, but we are discussing so many hypothetical questions that any detailed answer to that question must await our verdict on the basis of the advice that we are about to receive.

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, does my noble friend accept the advantages of researching GM crops for countries that are not able to grow enough to feed themselves?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, it appears that in certain circumstances there may be some advantage in that respect. The economic report which is part of our general consultation on future attitudes towards GM showed that, in certain development circumstances, there could be some advantage, although it was not as great as is sometimes claimed.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, is the committee that is due to report at the end of this month on the GM situation considering the implications, not just for whole crops, but field trial crops also? As the noble Lord knows, last week we talked about the trashing of those crops, and, fortunately, that verdict has been overtaken. However, we have lost the science from Bayer, which has pulled out of field trials, and Monsanto has pulled out of cereals altogether. Is the Minister not concerned that we might lose future science and technology development in this country, which would probably be very regrettable?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, that is one concern. It is unfortunate that Bayer and Monsanto have taken

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those decisions. However, it is important to recognise that Monsanto's decision was not related to GM research but a general rationalisation of its European research efforts, most of which was on conventional crops. We are anxious to get better research. Further to the earlier question on development, we are jointly financing research with the Rockefeller Foundation to ascertain better the benefits of GM crops in a development context. If we opt for any planting, in trials or commercially, it needs to be subject to a regime of co-existence.

Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, Bayer pulled out of its GM crop trials because the Government insisted on releasing the six-figure grid reference, thus it was concerned that its trials would be trashed. In retrospect, do the Government think that that was unwise? Will they consider not always insisting that companies give out the six-figure grid reference in future?

Lord Whitty: No, my Lords. Transparency is an issue. There would be greater public concern, particularly among local farmers, were they not aware that a GM crop was being grown in their area. That would create the exact kind of anxiety that I thought the noble Lord was concerned about in his first Question.

West End Theatre

2.52 p.m.

Lord Harrison asked Her Majesty's Government:>

    What is their response to the report of the Theatres Trust on modernising London's West End theatres.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, nobody can deny the cultural and economic importance of the West End theatre. The report by the Theatres Trust does an excellent job of setting out the problems that beset the sector. I understand that the Arts Council is committed to working closely with the Society of London Theatre and the Theatres Trust to explore funding options and discuss the issues.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply and the commitment to engage with London theatre entrepreneurs, whose recent investment has helped to maintain a rich architectural heritage, a lively tradition of top-class drama and musicals, and a tourist attraction bringing jobs and prosperity to the capital. Nevertheless, will my noble friend undertake government action in the form of lottery funding, tax concessions or improved planning law to ensure that 250 million is found to upgrade London's commercial theatres, especially their seating and sight lines, public areas and backstage facilities and their ability to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act and modern health and safety laws?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, nobody who has read the Theatres Trust report could fail to be impressed by the physical problems of London

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theatres in what they offer the public. Nobody who goes to the theatre could fail to be aware of that. I congratulate the Theatres Trust on its report. At the same time, the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, raises the issue that the Government must confront: the only people who could financially assist London theatres are lottery distributors and non-departmental bodies, with which we have an arm's-length relationship. Nevertheless, I intend to meet the Theatres Trust in early January and to visit at least one of its theatres. I am personally committed to seeing that whatever funding can be made available is provided.

Lord Lloyd-Webber: My Lords, obviously, I must declare an interest in West End theatre. A fantastic Question has been asked. Is the Minister aware that the real concern within the West End is not only the fabric of the buildings but that the commercial theatre is not on a level playing field with the public sector? An example is the fact that the entire profit generated by the four playhouses on Shaftesbury Avenue since 1945 is less than was granted for the refurbishment of the Royal Court in the public sector.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, except in exceptional circumstances—for example, where there is access to, and learning about, heritage—the policy of lottery funding bodies is that grants should not be made to commercial buildings as opposed to the subsidised theatre. In that sense there is a distinction between the publicly subsidised theatre and commercial theatre. But that is true of all lottery funding for theatres and for all other purposes.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of the Theatres Trust and a former member of the board of the Society of London Theatre. As my noble friend pursues his very sympathetic response to the Question, will he bear in mind that the subsidised sector depends quite significantly on the health and well-being of the West End theatres? In support of that, for instance, the National Theatre currently has three shows running in the West End. Historically, the subsidised theatre has provided many products for the West End. I am sure he will agree, therefore, that it is very much in the interest of the subsidised theatre that West End theatres should be well maintained and well managed.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I agree. I recognise the degree to which subsidised theatre and the commercial theatre support each other—it goes both ways. That is why I am pleased to be able to say, as I did at the outset, that the Arts Council is committed to working closely with the Society of London Theatre and the Theatres Trust.

Viscount Falkland: My Lords, the report mentions the expectations of theatre-goers. I think that the noble Lord will agree that most regular theatre-goers temper their expectations with moderation, because they are in very old buildings, many of which are listed, and do

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not have the facilities that we expect today as they were built for a different public. Does he not agree that, if we are to modernise theatres, there ought to be some priorities? Three aspects that bother regular theatre-goers such as me are: lavatories and washrooms, which are in many cases inadequate; facilities for the disabled, which are obviously a difficult matter and need to be dealt with very sensitively; and bars.


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