HC Deb 30 October 1990 vol 178 cc902-4

Lords amendment: No. 253, before clause 116 insert the following new clause—

(".—(1) The Secretary of State shall appoint a committee to provide him with advice—

  1. (a) on the exercise of his powers under sections 105, 106 and 107 above;
  2. (b) on the exercise of any powers under this Part to make regulations; and on such other matters concerning his functions under this Part as he may from time to time direct.

(2) The chairman and other members of the committee shall hold and vacate office in accordance with the terms of their appointment.

(3) The Secretary of State shall pay to the members of the committee such remuneration (if any) and such allowances as he may, with the consent of the Treasury, determine."

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.—[Mr. Trippier.]

Mr. Morley

I beg to move amendment (a) to the Lords amendment, in line 7, leave out from 'concerning' to end of line 8 and insert 'the operation of this part as it may consider desirable'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have to inform the House that amendment No. 253 involves privilege.

Mr. Morley

I emphasise again that we welcome the concessions that the Government have made by establishing the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment, which was announced last April. This amendment seeks clarification on the role of that committee. Will the Minister confirm that the advisory committee will have a wide-ranging area of advice as its remit—for example, what it can do and where it can intervene? We believe that our amendment gives the committee greater freedom to operate within its remit.

Will the Minister confirm that the terms of reference agreed by the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment at its first meeting on 3 July will he allowed? The terms of reference were to advise the Health and Safety Commission and Executive, the Secretaries of State, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and other bodies as appropriate on all aspects of human and environmental health and safety, on the introduction into the United Kingdom environment of genetically modified and other novel organisms and in particular to advise on proposals for the specific introduction of research needs and on appropriate regulations and written guidance.

Certainly we should have no quibble with those terms of reference, but the new clause seems more restrictive than the words used in the committee's terms of reference, which refer to all aspects of human and environmental health and safety. Also, the new clause is not clear about the advice, reference needs and written guidance that the committee refers to.

The Royal Commission on environmental pollution has suggested that the advisory committee should advise on a whole series of headings, such as the scope for categorising releases, the need for research, especially on releases, the undertaking of a review of releases that have been carried out, as well as liaison with overseas organisations. It is also possible that the committee may advise on any need for changes in the legislative procedure in future.

I should also like an assurance that the committee will have the power to produce an annual report, which will include developments that it has been involved with and lessons to be learnt from them.

Will the Minister also assure me that the Genetically Modified Organisms Release Advisory Committee and the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment will have a broad-based representation? I accept that the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment has such a broad base and I congratulate the Minister as it covers a wide range of interested parties, not only on the technical and scientific side but on the wider environment side. I should appreciate assurances that the Genetically Modified Organisms Release Advisory Committee will also have that broad base.

There is concern about the ethical implications of such research. While I believe that genetically modified organisms—plants and animals—have great potential and could have great advantages, there are a whole series of ethical implications. I understand that a commitment was given to the Lords that the Government would consider such implications, and would make a statement in due course. Can the Minister inform the House at which point in the next Session of Parliament a statement can be expected and what form it will take?

5.45 pm
Mr. Trippier

I respect the point that the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) made about the ethical considerations that must be addressed. He will remember that the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) raised that matter in Committee, and that several members of the Committee commented upon it. I welcome what he said, and that matter will certainly be addressed.

There will be an annual report, and I am glad to be able to give the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe that assurance. However, he must remember his words only five minutes ago, when he was talking about accountability. I agreed with him at the time. With such a complicated and technically obtuse subject as genetically modified organisms, eventually it must be the Secretary of State's responsibility to decide what happens to advice given by the advisory committee, for reasons that I thought we had agreed in the Standing Committee—I shall quickly reiterate them. The Secretary of State for the Environment, who is answerable to the House and ultimately to the country, must be the person who is responsible in law for the committee and for the advice that it gives.

I can confirm to the hon. Gentleman that the statement that I issued in April on the terms and conditions of the advisory committee still stands. I confirm that membership of that committee, which I have already announced, is wide-ranging, and draws from people with incredible expertise in this complicated area. I have had the pleasure and the privilege of meeting all of them. I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks, but I ask him seriously to consider withdrawing the amendment because as it stands, it gives the power to the committee to lake powers unto itself with regard to part V of the Bill and, in my wildest dreams, I cannot believe that that is what he intended. I believe that he would wish the Secretary of State of the day, in whichever Government, to have that responsibility. If not, I do not know how on earth he can square it with the comments that he made five minutes ago.

Mr. Morley

I respect the Minister's statements. I also take as a compliment the fact that he said that there may well be another Secretary of State. Perhaps the Opposition have not peaked quite as early as the Minister said we had at the weekend. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment to the Lords amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put and agreed to.

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