HC Deb 27 March 1979 vol 965 cc401-17

"In Schedule 3 to the National Health Service Act 1977 at the end of paragraph 17 there shall be added— (17A) The Board shall prepare and publish in respect of each financial year a review of its activities incorporating therein a separate report on the activities of the Centre for Applied Microbiology and Research."."—[Mr. Patrick Jenkin.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

10.26 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin (Wanstead and Woodford)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

In Committee we moved an amendment to oblige the public health laboratory service to produce an annual report and to include in it a separate section about the Porton Down Microbiological Research Establishment, which is now to be known as the Centre for Applied Microbiological Research—CAMR—and also to produce separate accounts. The Minister very convincingly dealt with the question of accounts. We have not returned to that. We were left with an opening as to whether there should be an obligation on the PHLS to produce an annual report and whether that obligation should include provision for a separate section about Porton.

On 15 March the Under-Secretary of State said: It may surprise the Committee to learn—but it may be applied to other bodies as well—that the Public Health Laboratory Service is under no statutory obligation to publish an annual report. However, it does so and I think it would be agreed that it is in the public interest that it should do so, to show what is happening with its activities during the course of the year, particularly as it is in receipt of public funds. He went on to say: I am assured that it is the board's intention in future to include in its annual report a section dealing with the activities of CAMR. Therefore it may be necessary to lay that down in statute. He continued: However, I would like to reflect further on this between now and Report to see whether in the circumstances we should consider whether it would be advisable to place a statutory obligation on the board to publish an annual report, and of course within that annual report to have a separate section devoted to CAMR."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 15 March 1979; c. 96–7.] The new clause was tabled by us to give the Under-Secretary of State an opportunity to give the House the benefit of his further consideration.

I am not irrevocably wedded to the idea of saying that we ought to place a statutory obligation. For the very major undertakings, yes, I think that there should be an obligation to produce a report and to lay it before Parliament, but for these smaller bodies perhaps that is not altogether essential. Nevertheless, I thought that there was an obligation. It turns out that there is not. Therefore, I believe that the House deserves an explanation on what is intended—whether the Government do or do not accept the need for a statutory obligation.

Mr. Robin Hodgson (Walsall, North)

I support my right hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin). I suggest to the Under-Secretary of State that it would be a good idea if the annual report dealt with one special aspect of the activities at Porton Down. I refer to the fate of the great bustard.

The great bustard is virtually extinct in this country, and its only mating ground lies within the grounds of Porton Down. It requires a great deal of room to fly. It is a very fat bird which has to waddle for a long way before it can take off. It lays its eggs on the ground and it therefore requires an entirely secure area in which to breed.

Though it may be a small point, I hope that when the Under-Secretary replies to the new clause he will say whether, if the annual report is to be produced, it will cover at least some of the points I have mentioned in connection with this rare and endangered species of bird, with its sole and only remaining breeding ground in Britain within the secure perimeter of Porton Down. If the Undersecretary says that he does not or cannot accept the clause, perhaps he will assure the bird lovers of this country that the perimeter fence of Porton Down will remain secure, and that within that perimeter fence this bird can continue to be free and to breed.

The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mr. Eric Deakins)

Since the Committee stage I have, as promised, given further thought to the need for a provision of this kind. It seems to be the practice, so far as I can judge, for reports to be required statutorily when they have to be laid before Parliament—for example, as the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) mentioned, in the case of large-scale undertakings such as the nationalised industries.

There are two bodies rather similar to the public health laboratory service—the National Radiological Protection Board and the National Biological Standards Board. These bodies are not statutorily required to publish reports. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that the object of the new clause, with which I am wholly in sympathy, can be attained without adding unnecessarily to the provisions of the Bill.

As the right hon. Gentleman rightly said, the board already publishes an annual report and fully intends to include in future reports a section on the activities of the CAMR. In this connection I have taken note of the point raised by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Hodgson) about the great bustard. I am not sure that this is necessarily a matter for the PHLS, since, of course, PHLS will have only a small part of the total area at Porton. However, I shall look into this matter and if it is more a matter for the Ministry of Defence I shall write to the hon. Member.

I come back to the board's desire to publish an annual report. I should point out that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has powers under paragraph 13 of schedule 3 to the National Health Service Act 1977 which allow him to direct the board to publish such a report, and he intends within the next few days to direct the board to publish reports covering the same period, and as far as possible at the same time as the annual statements of account it is already required to submit to him.

In view of that assurance, I hope that the new clause will not be pressed.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

I am the last person who would want to add unnecessary words to a statute. I simply remind the Minister that we have not had an annual report from the PHLS for 1977. But, for reasons that I indicated in Committee, I think that the pressure of work connected with taking over Porton have made this extremely difficult. It may well be that that is the kind of flexibility which the absence of a clause will give. However, in view of the Minister's undertaking, that it is certainly the intention that an annual report should be produced, and that there should be a special section dealing with CAMR, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

10.36 p.m.

Mr. Deakins

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

It might help if I draw out some of the main themes that have occupied the House during the passage of the Bill.

Almost every speaker, both in the Chamber and in Committee, has had something to say about the industrial and commercial potential of the Centre for Applied Microbiology and Research. I think that we have devoted more words to this than to any other topic that we have debated, and I shall not add unnecessarily to them now, but I would like to take the opportunity of emphasising the awareness that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I share of how important it is that this potential should not be neglected.

Particular emphasis has been laid on the exciting new developments that we may see in industrial microbiology and genetic engineering. I am confident that this message, from both sides of the House, has reached the public health laboratory service board. I have, nevertheless, given an undertaking that my right hon. Friend will specifically ask the the board to examine and report on the opportunity for CAMR to lead and play a part in such developments. We have had earlier reports, which have certainly not overlooked this question, but it is right that, now that the future of the establishment and its main lines of development have been decided, the matter should be examined afresh by the board, which is assuming responsibility for its management.

In saying that, however, it would be wrong of me to overlook inevitable limitations on what can be done, especially in the early stages of the centre's life. It is important that any work of the centre should be consonant, as far as possible, with the health and preventive activities which must be its central function. For the centre to lose sight of that function could lead to a scrappiness which would make it difficult to run, and perhaps impossible to run efficiently and economically. There are obvious dangers in too great and too wide a diversity of activities. That is one limitation. There are others in the laboratory and other space available, and in the staff to undertake work of various kinds.

We have agreed that additional staff may be employed on short-term appointments to cope with contract work and the fluctuations in the level of activity to which it is bound to give rise, as well as to cope with work over and above that which can be undertaken by the permanent staff of the centre. The cost of such staff will be covered by the income from contracts. But the PHLS board must be allowed to judge the proper level of activity at the centre, and I am anxious that it should not fail because the board has been pressed to go too far too fast.

Mr. Arthur Latham (Paddington)

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. I apologise if this is the inappropriate moment, but I am not sure how far he is through the remarks that he intends to make. Does he at some stage intend to refer to the undertaking he gave me in Committee when I asked whether, in advance of the meeting on 27 April, the virus at present stored at St. Mary's hospital, Paddington could go to Porton, at least on a temporary basis, because of the view in the Shooter report that although all precautions may be taken, there is a risk where human beings are involved and it is wrong to conduct such experimentation in areas of heavy, concentrated urban population? Is my hon. Friend yet able to give an answer about at least a temporary transfer of the virus from St. Mary's hospital, Paddington?

Mr. Deakins

I shall come to that point.

Another question that we have discussed at length is the safety of the people working in laboratories and the population at large. In addition to the speeches that the Bill has given rise to, we have had a statement by my right hon. Friend on the Shooter report and an Adjournment debate introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Hoyle). There is little at this stage that I can usefully add. My right hon. Friend's statement set out the measures that we are taking in the wake of the Shooter report, and there are consultations on a number of issues.

My right hon. Friend and I have also laid emphasis on the PHLS board's intention to establish a safety reference laboratory at CAMR. Indeed, I believe that work on its establishment has already begun, and from 1 April, when the board formally takes over, it will be able rapidly to go ahead.

My hon. Friend the Member for Paddington (Mr. Latham) was right to remind the House of our discussion in Committee. Perhaps I could deal with his query in two parts. The work on smallpox hitherto carried on at the laboratory at St. Mary's hospital medical school is work for which Professor Dumbell is personally responsible on behalf of the World Health Organisation. We are examining the possibility of some arrangement whereby Professor Dumbell can continue to do that work for WHO—which is only part of his total work—but in a laboratory located in a less populated area. While the obvious place for that would be Porton, we first have to be sure that Professor Dumbell and the staff directly concerned could operate on such a split basis. That involves discussion with Professor Dumbell—and he is at present abroad—and with the council of St. Mary's hospital medical school and the University of London, as well as with the public health laboratory service.

Considering the other point that my hon. Friend raised in Committee, at this stage we see no major reason why the stocks of smallpox virus should not continue to remain at St. Mary's until satisfactory arrangements are made for future work elsewhere. The virus is contained in a deep-freeze cabinet and is under double lock. The keys are held by two persons. There was no suggestion in the Shooter report that maintaining stocks of the virus in a built-up area under secure conditions presented any specific hazard. The recommendation related to the continuance of research in a built-up area and the removal of that research to another site is being considered.

I hope that shortly after the meeting of the dangerous pathogens advisory group on 27 April we shall be able to reach speedy conclusions, which will reassure my hon. Friend. He has been most assiduous in his concern on behalf of his constituents, who are wary of such a dangerous pathogen.

Mr. Latham

I do not believe that there is a grave danger or serious risk to the local population, but the headmaster of a local school has produced a petition signed by many parents, and a lot of people are uneasy. In view of the situation in Birmingham and the Shooter recommendations, there is no good reason for the stocks remaining there. The rate of crime in the Paddington area is not low, and if someone broke in and removed the stock, for whatever absurd reason, there would be a risk. It is considered that the experiments should take place elsewhere, so why in the meantime keep the virus in an urban area? It should be in deep freeze under double lock at Porton. That would reassure the local population.

Mr. Deakins

Professor Dumbell is at present abroad. I undertake that either my officials or I—depending on the events of the next few days—will contact Professor Dumbell on his return to discuss this matter and see whether some arrangement can be arrived at in line with my hon. Friend's request.

Mr. Doug Hoyle (Nelson and Colne)

Can my hon. Friend give any indication when Professor Dumbell will return?

Mr. Deakins

I do not know. I imagine that he is abroad on academic business. I shall find out and let my hon. Friends know.

I turn to two other matters connected with the staff of CAMR and the PHLS generally. The Ministry of Defence Staff Side, representing scientific staff at MRE, have been to see me and, separately, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence. They were quite free to raise with us any points that they wished, and I found the discussion I had with them both interesting and informative and a great help in understanding the probelms and worries of staff. The Staff Side put to us a number of issues which it wished us to consider, and explained to us the ways in which it hoped we might be able to improve the transfer terms that the staff have been offered and the way in which the staff who are not being transferred will be dealt with.

We have not been able to give them all they would like, for very good reasons. My right hon. Friend has not been able to agree that members of the staff should have complete freedom to seek redundancy, regardless of the alternative employment that might be found for them. I have not been able to agree that we should attempt to safeguard the careers which, rightly or wrongly, they consider that they might have had if they had been able to remain civil servants, but I assure them and the House that it is not because of any lack of concern for them and their problems. We are very much aware of the disruption to their lives and careers that is being caused by the change that they are experiencing. We are doing all that we justifiably can to secure their future well-being, and we remain ready to consider any new problems they may bring to our attention.

I explained in Committee that we have taken steps to give full protection to the salaries and conditions of service of staff transferring voluntarily—I emphasise that the transfer is a voluntary one—from the MRE to the PHLS. I know that some of them are concerned, because they feel their career prospects may be less good, and that their chances of obtaining senior posts may be diminished. It is impossible to be sure what the career prospects of individuals may be, and I do not think that we should be able to guarantee the future of everyone who has decided to transfer, but I have taken particular care to see that the terms of transfer which have been offered to the staff are at least as good as those given to the staff of other public bodies on other occasions. When I met the Staff Side, its members drew my attention to other public bodies where the transfer terms were mentioned in Acts of Parliament. I have studied this very carefully, and I am satisfied that we are doing no worse.

The Civil Service Commission has agreed that the existing staff of MRE may continue to participate in Civil Service trawls even after they have transferred to the PHLS, and that it will be willing to re-certificate any staff who are successful, although it reserves the right to interview such staff.

During the Second Reading and the Committee stages of the Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne and my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington had something to say about industrial democracy. I have explained that I cannot accept the suggestion that we should encourage the public health laboratory service to go ahead of the National Health Service in this. However, I can assure the House that the legislation—the National Health Service Act 1977—will allow an employee representative to be appointed by the Secretary of State if all concerned agree that this is appropriate. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will consult with all concerned, including other Ministers with fringe bodies such as the PHLS, with a view to such an appointment. Obviously, the question of whether such an appointment is made will depend on the outcome of the consultations. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will ask the board to ensure that employees and their representatives are given all possible opportunities to contribute views on matters affecting their legitimate interests.

In conclusion, I should like to express to the public health laboratory service board and its staff—and particularly the staff at Porton—the best wishes of the House. They are embarking on an exciting, and in some ways unpredictable, adventure. I should like them to know—I am sure the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition Benches will join me—that we shall follow the progress of the new centre with the keenest interest and that we have complete confidence in the staff and in thir future success.

10.50 p.m.

Mr. Michael Hamilton (Salisbury)

I wish to express gratitude to the Minister for his remarks. I am also grateful to him for having met a deputation of staff from the Microbiological Research Establishment.

I am deeply saddened by this change. After decades of valuable contribution to our defence effort, the shutters are to go up in this establishment at the end of this week. I appreciate that that decition was in no way the responsibility of the Under-Secretary of State or, indeed, of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services, who is now present on the Government Front Bench. That decision was, as we all know, taken by the Secretary of State for Defence.

I was hoping that the Minister could give some assurance to the staff that the transfer from one Department of State to another would not damage their prospects and that they could have a more copper-bottomed guarantee than it was possible for the Minister to give this evening. These scientists and technicians have had to endure three years of doubt and uncertainty. I had hoped for a firmer guarantee than the Minister gave tonight. Nevertheless, I am grateful to him for his efforts, and also for his assurances, so far as they go. I wish to join him in expressing good wishes to the new establishment, which starts life at the end of this week.

10.52 p.m.

Mr. Doug Hoyle (Nelson and Colne)

Although my hon. Friend the Minister did not go as far as I hoped in his remarks, we know that in Committee he undertook to report back to the House. He has fulfilled that undertaking tonight. He may well have opened the way for employee representation.

What concerns me is that the future in some way depends on talks with the board. I hope that those talks will not take too long in reaching a conclusion. There is an opportunity to experiment, even in a limited way, in this area of activity by having an employee on the board. It would be a good move if that happened, because it would bring to bear the expertise of the staff. Although what has been proposed does not go as far as I hoped, it is at least a step in the right direction. I hope that whatever conclusion is reached will not take too long in coming to light.

10.54 p.m.

Mr. Hodgson

I share the hopes for the future of industrial microbiology which have been expressed in this House and in Standing Committee. I was delighted that the Minister was able to reassure the House that the work of Porton Down would continue in future. I regard it as a vital matter, and the Minister is to be congratulated on the assurances he has given.

I turn to the financial effects of the Bill, about which the Minister was kind enough to write to me on 9 March. The numbers still do not entirely add up, and there are one or two points on which I seek clarification.

The Minister says in his letter that the cost of the centre will rise by about £400,000—that is, from £1.9 million to about £2.3 million, an increase of around 25 per cent. He gives three reasons for the increase. The first is that the new centre for applied microbiological research will have to provide its own security. It is not clear why the security operations which previously covered both centres cannot continue to operate in the same way in future. It is not clear why we have to break the security services into halves and so increase the cost.

The Under-Secretary of State says that the PHLSB is not entitled to receive Property Services Agency services on an allied service basis. Will the Undersecretary explain briefly what that means, because it is not clear? It would be helpful if he explained the financial effects of that decision.

I turn to the question of net receipts of the CAMR for 1979–80, which are estimated at £1.4 million. Are any of those drawn from private industry? Alternatively, are they subventions from the Government Departments mentioned in the letter? Has the centre started to charge private industry? If so, how does that £1.4 million break down?

Notwithstanding these small points, in conclusion I wish the centre a successful and fruitful future. It has a vital role to play, particularly in industrial microbiology.

10.56 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, North-East)

It would be presumptuous of me to say much, since I took no part in the previous stages of the Bill. I join with others in wishing the new organisation success. I regret that it has not been possible for the Minister to wait until the Select Committee has finished its investigation into genetic engineering, or genetic manipulation.

It has been suggested that Porton should be used as a centre for genetic manipulation. The Williams committee rejected that suggestion, but biological genetic manipulation is a tremendous technique for the future. Because of the securitiy facilities there, I hope that the centre will be available for such work, whether it is done in the private or the public sector.

10.58 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Latham (Paddington)

There was some silliness in Standing Committee about the attendance of the Secretary of State for Defence. That would have been improper, since he was not a member of that Committee. I was surprised that the civil servants had not advised the Secretary of State about what was said about that invitation. I understand that he received no direct communication.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

It was made not to the Secretary of State but to the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence—the right hon. Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert).

Mr. Latham

All I ask is that it is on record that the Secretary of State for Defence was not aware of that representation.

I draw the attention of the House to the Standing Committee's second sitting. The right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) said: With much greater movement around the world, we are now subject to strange new diseases from visitors and others in this country, and this shows how enormously important it is to have the very high quality service available to protect members of the public, to identify new, dangerous organisms at the earliest possible opportunity, to be able to advise on the steps necessary to contain them, and so on. In an intervention, I asked him: In the context of his remarks about the development of new viruses, strange diseases and so on, will the right hon. Gentleman say a word in passing about those who deliberately produce such viruses and disease organisms, regarding them as a legitimate military aid? The right hon. Gentleman replied: The hon. Gentleman will not tempt me down that path. These are matters of enormous strategic confidentiality about which I have never needed to know and therefore know nothing."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 15 March 1979; c. 99–101.] That was a most shameful declaration. There was never a more classic case of burying one's head in the sand. I deplore it and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman has had further serious thought since he made that remark.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

In the debates on the Bill, the hon. Member for Padding-ton (Mr. Latham) has spent almost his entire time in making personal attacks on me. True to type, on Third Reading he has not deviated one iota from that. I am not sure what those who consider these matters—particularly the scientists and doctors who work in the PHLS—will think of his contributions. The hon. Gentleman has never been in Government and perhaps does not understand the use of the phrase "need to know". One security classification is that certain information should go only to those who need to know. Therefore, when I gave that reply, I was quoting a technical phrase, which happens to be the truth.

Mr. Arthur Latham

The point that I was making was not in the spirit of a personal attack but in relation to a genuine issue. Many scientists are concerned about the ethics of some aspects of the development of bacteriological warfare. It is of concern to them whether their talents are misused. Therefore, it should be of concern to the politicians who have responsibility in the matter. That is why I urge the right hon. Gentleman to make a declaration about the possible misuse of scientists.

Mr. Jenkin

If I need guidance about my duties in the House, one of the last people I should ask is the hon. Member for Paddington.

I echo and endorse entirely the good wishes that the Under-Secretary extended to the CAMR and all its staff in its new role. I also endorse what my hon. Friends the Members for Salisbury (Mr. Hamilton) and for Walsall, North (Mr. Hodgson) said about the Under-Secretary's statement on industrial biotechnology. This evening he went further on the matter than either he or his right hon. Friend went in Committee. It is a valuable response to the points made from both sides of the House and the Committee about the enormous importance of using the potential of CAMR for the development of industrial biotechnology.

There is a great future for these techniques, including the technique of genetic manipulation—to which the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer) referred. I look forward to reading the report of the Select Committee. I hope that the Committee will be able to consider in full some of the opinions that I was able to quote in Committee about an over-reaction to the technique. There is a danger that if we persist in that attitude the work will be driven abroad. That would be a great loss in jobs and the development of the benefits which would otherwise accrue to this country.

Mr Hoyle

I apologise for interrupting the right hon. Gentleman and I know that the hour is getting late. I wish that the right hon. Gentleman would concentrate on safety rather than minimise it. There is a large body of scientific opinion that takes the view that there is a risk involved—hence the reason why the Select Committee is examining the matter. It does not do to minimise the risks. There are risks involved, and we should not always put the profit motive first.

Mr. Jenkin

I shall not weary the House by quoting again the views of the many distinguished biologists whom I quoted in Committee, but no identifiable hazard has ever been pointed out. I leave it there, though I am sure that the Select Committee will shed some valuable light on the matter.

I outlined several times in Committee the strong anxiety of the scientific staff at Porton that the industrial work will be dropped. I have had further evidence of that since the appointment of the new medically qualified director, whom I wish well in his new and important post. The Under-Secretary's statement is very important, and I hope that he will ask the management of the PHLS to draw it to the attention of all the staff. This is necessary to allay the anxieties.

I recently received a long and emotional letter from a lady who, although she does not work at Porton, is connected with the establishment. She said: It is essential for Britain to keep in the forefront of biotechnology, which I believe goes without saying. … With the appointment of a medical director we are certain to see the end of advanced biotechnology in this country which we cannot afford. I do not necessarily accept that, particularly in the light of what the Under-Secretary has said. She went on: What has now happened with the remaining staff transferred to CAMRA, i.e. the scientists have lost all career prospects, and anyone at the level of SPSO cannot further their careers within the PHLS and many could have expected to do so under MOD, so by definition CAMRA will not attract the best scientific brains from now on. … No original scientists will remain at this establishment with the lack of career prospects that will exist over the medic/Dentals. She concludes, and this is a measure of her anguish: All I can say God help us all, what a ruination of such potential for our nation. In the light of what the Under-Secretary has said, I believe that her fears may be unfounded. The House can take credit for the fact that it has moved the Government to be more positive in their commendation of work on industrial biotechnology than they had originally intended to be. I welcome that.

I hope that the work done after the takeover on 1 April will reflect the Under-Secretary's statement of intent, so that we can realise the full potential in this important and exciting area of the enormously valuable asset inherited from the Ministry of Defence.

I wish all concerned the best of good fortune in an important and far-reaching enterprise.

11.8 p.m.

Mr. Deakins

With permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall reply briefly. Let me deal first with the points raised by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Hodgson). On security, the MOD police cannot cover non-Government establishments and therefore the PHLS will probably use Securicor. On the PSA, receipt of services on an allied services basis is for Government Departments only and the PHLS board is extra-governmental for that purpose. As the hon. Gentleman's other questions were rather detailed, concerning the breakdown of income and so on, I had better look into them and write to him.

Mr. Arthur Latham

Some of us shuddered when my hon. Friend mentioned Securicor. If it is not possible for the MOD police to provide the necessary cover, could not some other arrangement be made, perhaps when the Bill goes to another place?

Mr. Deakins

The Bill has been in another place, if that is what my hon. Friend means. I take note of his comments. I shall look at the situation to see whether or not a contract has been signed. Something has to start from 1 April. Unless there is some carry-over period, it may be that some sort of firm will be present to protect the security of those working there and the experiments they are carrying out.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North-East (Mr. Palmer) asked whether this could be held up any longer. The answer is a comment made by the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Hamilton). The Ministry of Defence announced its decision to close its part of the Medical Research Establishment in 1976, which is a long time ago. The staff has been under great pressure and anxiety since then. Now that we have reached a settled date, it would not be appropriate to depart from it.

My hon. Friend may have misunderstood, but I would like to reassure him on genetic engineering. On Second Reading on 15 February, I gave details of the work that had been drawn up by Sir Robert Williams in consultation with the staff of MRE. Part of that work was genetic manipulation experiments. It was made clear that experimental work in genetic engineering, including experiments requiring the maximum level of containment, which is category 4, would take place there. While my hon. Friend may feel—

Mr. Palmer

The Williams report seemed to think that much of this work would be done in private industry. That is why I made that point.

Mr. Deakins

Indeed, I take my hon. Friend's point. I had the advantage of going to Porton. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and instructive visit. The staff was well aware that while some genetic manipulation might go on in private industry, the chances are that the running, certainly in the early years, will have to be made by a public research establishment because of the risks involved, the amount of capital for a small return, and the fact that it might be five, 10 or 15 years, or more, before there is any commercial application. I hope that I have answered all the points raised in the debate.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with amendments.