HC Deb 31 March 1999 vol 328 cc1075-6
3. Mr. Norman Baker (Lewes)

What mechanisms exist to communicate representations made to his Department concerning genetically modified crops to other Departments. [78061]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Jon Owen Jones)

The Welsh Office maintains regular contact with other Departments that have an interest in genetically modified crops. Any issues arising from representations made on the subject are communicated to and discussed with those Departments as appropriate.

Mr. Baker

Given that the Welsh Assembly will have responsibility for agricultural matters, will the Minister clarify for the House what responsibility the Welsh Assembly will have for licensing and approving GM crops in trial sites and elsewhere? Will the Welsh Assembly have some flexibility in dealing with the matter? If so, will the Minister guarantee that the same environmental safeguards as currently apply across the UK, or even stronger ones, will apply in Wales under the Welsh Assembly?

Mr. Jones

The use of genetically modified techniques is a fast-moving science with huge potential benefits. There may be risks—which of course need careful assessment—but the Government's priority is to safeguard public health and the environment. Ensuring that the risks are properly assessed will be a United Kingdom function rather than a Welsh Assembly function.

Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth)

May I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the very serious concern in my constituency about two applications—by AgrEvo UK and Pioneer Genetique SARL, in collaboration with Monsanto—to release genetically modified organisms, in relation to oilseed rape, in Monmouthshire? May I assure him that there is great concern that adequate safeguards have not been applied, and about the effect that such a release might have on biodiversity? May I assure him also that I have formally objected to the applications to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales?

Mr. Jones

I can well understand that there are concerns, and that my hon. Friend shares them. The Prime Minister has established a ministerial group to oversee developments on the subject. As a first step, the group has commissioned a thorough examination of our regulatory framework. The group will report soon.

I hope that my hon. Friend will understand that, if we are to assess the environmental impact of genetically modified crops—which are likely to become an increasingly common sight, if not in the United Kingdom, then in other countries—we have to undertake properly monitored and independently assessed field trials, to ensure that we get the best scientific knowledge.

Forward to