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Lord Carter: My Lords, I am sure the House has taken careful note of what my noble friend said. He may not be aware that it is a long-standing convention of the House that the Finance Bill is always taken through all its stages on the day of Second Reading. That is usually, but not always, a Friday. The House never goes into Committee on money Bills so we will not be able to deal with it in the way the noble Lord suggests. This House has no effective power on money Bills. It has long been thought that the most convenient way for the House to deal with Finance Bills is in the way I described.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass. I do not intend to take much of your Lordships' time, but I begin by reminding noble Lords of two things I have said either at Second Reading or during the passage of the Bill. First, the Bill is not about genetically modified foods, nor food made with genetically modified products. These are already the subject of a regulatory regime which, so far as is known, works perfectly well.
What is significant in relation to the Bill is that the large food retailers and at least one of the major manufacturers of own label products, Northern Foods, are removing those ingredients from products for the time being at least. That is in response to public disquiet, however misinformed it may or may not be. It is said to be intended that that policy will continue until further positive scientific evidence is available to satisfy all but the most sceptical that there is no harm in the ingredients.
The second preliminary point I wish to make is a personal one. I am not opposed either to genetically modified crops or to the necessary testing of them. I hope that they will prove to be the boon to mankind that the developers of the products claim they will be and that the side effects in the form of the need for fewer pesticides and fewer artificial fertilisers will also be a bonus to the benefit of the environment.
That is why, in common with, I imagine, the whole House, I condemn unequivocally the acts perpetrated by masked hooligans in Oxfordshire last Sunday when they destroyed an experimental crop. It is only by controlled and carefully monitored testing that we shall be able to find out whether these products are safe and beneficial--or not, as the case may be. What these self-appointed people who are answerable to no one are trying to say is that they are not interested in facts but simply in imposing their point of view by force.
Just as the major food distributors have now conceded that GM foods should be safe--and they say they are sure they are--so it is also necessary that they should be seen to be safe. The Government must adopt the same attitude before licensing the commercial planting of GM crops. That is all that the Bill demands.
The Bill has grown somewhat in length from the modest single sheet I first introduced some weeks back. This is due in part to the constructive suggestions of some of my noble friends and also to the considerable advice and lobbying I have received from various quarters. I believe that as a result of the amendments introduced in Committee and on Report, the Bill is greatly strengthened and more effective.
The Government's attitude, not just towards this Bill but to the whole debate, has been curious to say the least. I wanted to make that point as we reach the stage of the Bill do now pass. The Labour Party, in opposition and in government, has never lost an opportunity to jeer and sneer at the previous administration over the BSE crisis when what the last government did was to follow the scientific advice they received--incorrect as it turned out. Now that the Labour Party is in government, it panicked into an arbitrary ban on beef on the bone, not on the basis of firm advice founded on clear evidence but because their advisers, following the time-honoured practice of covering their rear, refused to say that there was absolutely and positively not the remotest danger.
In the case of GM crops, the Government have received the advice of a committee of your Lordships' House that the utmost caution should be exercised. They have received the advice from their own think-tank, English Nature, urging caution. They have received conflicting advice from various quarters, for and against, as I mentioned in previous debates and which I shall not repeat. Despite that, the Prime Minister has arbitrarily and publicly, both in the press and in the other place, dismissed all doubts, no matter from what eminent quarter they are voiced. The suggestion is that the doubters and those who advise caution are just a lot of Luddite cranks. Naturally, his Ministers, especially with a re-shuffle imminent, tamely follow the line of the master.
The simple question which I posed previously and to which I have never had an answer is, "What's the hurry?" I can understand the hurry of the agrochemical and biotechnical companies to market the products in the development of which they have invested millions and where perhaps they want to be first in the field ahead of their competitors. But that is of absolutely no interest to the public. Even in America, with its
Herbicide-resistant products may be very useful but will that help to propagate a new mutation of super weeds in the next field? No one can yet say for sure. More testing is the answer. But the Government's whole testing programme, the so-called farm-scale trials, has been thrown into disarray. That is because the number of farmers who were originally prepared to allow themselves to be used as guinea pigs and to involve their unwitting neighbours at the same time has been so reduced by desertions from the testing programme as to make it worthless from the point of view of scientific evaluation.
The noble Lord, Lord Carter, argued at one stage that my Bill was "unnecessary." He later said that it was "unnecessary and inappropriate." By the time we reached the Report stage, he said that it was "unnecessary, inappropriate and OTT". The grounds he advanced for this ever-escalating--
Baroness Miller of Hendon: There you are, my Lords, I did not hear it at Report stage. The grounds the noble Lord advanced for this escalating stream of adjectival descriptions of my Bill are that the Government already have the powers to do this, that and the other. There is, however, no automatic revocation of licences, no automatic destruction of crops, no sterilisation of land and no compensation, provided by my final amendment in face of the noble Lord's earlier objection on legal grounds to a short further period of evaluation.
I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, that, with the greatest possible respect, which I always use when I address him, I believe that he has missed the whole point of this Bill. The Government do indeed have the power to do some of the things I have proposed. But it is an enabling power. What the Bill does is to make it obligatory on the Government to take the action stipulated. Most of all, it obliges the Government to evaluate all the evidence, not just the self-serving evidence from parties with axes to grind. It obliges the Government to listen to representations from all appropriate interested parties and not simply to those which conform to the Government's own preconceived or preferred choices. It requires the Government to act quickly before irreversible damage is done and without waiting for the usual Whitehall ploy of setting up yet another committee and then claiming that there is no legislative time available or that there has to be the customary 40 days' delay before a statutory order can come into effect.
Finally, the Bill would oblige the Government to submit their evidence and justify their conclusions to Parliament. That is what the public want and expect. They do not want simply to be told by the Government, "We know what is good for you."
I have taken rather longer than I intended. I am very surprised by the attitude of the Government. This is one of the most important issues to come before your Lordships' House in recent times. The Government wanted it dealt with quickly on the nod. I took it on myself to do what the public expect this House to do.
Lord Carter: My Lords, as the noble Baroness said, I was the Minister who dealt with the Bill in Committee and on Report. Unfortunately, I could not be here for Second Reading and I am very grateful to her for making good that gap in my knowledge.