HL Deb 15 July 2002 vol 637 cc960-2

3 p.m.

Lord Taverne

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they agree with the views expressed by the Prince of Wales about genetically modified organisms in a recent speech in Germany.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, the Government recognise that people have concerns about genetically modified crops. We have announced that we will encourage a full and informed public debate on GM issues, including GM crops and food.

Lord Taverne

My Lords, whether one agrees or disagrees with Prince Charles's speech about genetically engineered crops or with his denunciation of cheap food, we must all agree that, in a constitutional monarchy, it is quite wrong for the heir to the throne to make speeches about politically controversial issues. If he wishes do so, should he not renounce his claim to the throne?

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, what is quite wrong is for any aspersion or reflection to be cast on the Sovereign or any member of the Royal Family. I would advise your Lordships not to accept such questions.

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, can I be in order by returning to the subject of GM crops? The Prime Minister said that he would like the science of genetically modified crops to be allowed to progress unhindered. Does the Minister agree with me that, if the Prime Minister intends to facilitate that by silencing the critics of genetic modification, he will do a disservice to informed and honest debate? Does the Minister also agree that Her Majesty's Government should set up a Select Committee on science to monitor developments in this field and advise government and Parliament?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, the noble Lord questions whether the Government support a genuine debate on the issue: we do. We wish to identify the public's questions and provide people with the information that will allow them to formulate their response. We want people to reach their own informed judgment. The independent Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission has provided detailed advice on how the debate might be conducted. We will respond to that advice as soon as possible.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the precautionary principle should apply strongly in the trialling of GM crops" The manipulation of genes needs careful assessment, before any conclusions can be reached. Biodiversity is still of crucial importance.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, the Government fully recognise the concerns. That is why great care has been taken in the establishment of the trials and the farm-scale evaluation. We will consider the results carefully when we know the outcome of those trials.

Lord Carter

My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that Americans have consumed GM produce for years? Is there any evidence that any American has suffered ill effects as a result?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, we are aware of no evidence that suggests, in any way, that any Americans have been adversely affected by the use of such crops. It is not possible to have a direct read-across because the crops concerned and the circumstances and style of farming in the United States and the United Kingdom are different. We have absolutely no evidence of ill effects.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart

My Lords, does the intervention by the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House indicate that there will be a change in the rules relating to the acceptability of questions?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, there is no change in the rules. The Question was in order; the supplementary question was not.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that one of the most depressing features of the debate to which she referred is the assumption that an entire technology is either good or bad? Does she agree that it is the application of the technology that is important and needs proper scrutiny? The technology has been shown to be valuable in the genetically modified organisms that produce a range of things, from vegetarian cheddar cheese to life-saving vaccines. Will the Minister ensure that the Government protect research that allows us to have a proper evaluation of crops and, in particular, their potential impact on the developing world?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for raising that point. She is right. Many people who suffer from diabetes already benefit from insulin produced from the medical application of the GM process. Like the noble Baroness, we believe that the crops are not inherently good or had. However, they must be assessed on a case-by-case basis, in the context of the sort of concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey of Talgarth.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the Food Standards Agency, set up under Sir John Krebs, has stated that it can find no evidence of harm caused by the eating of GM food?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

: My Lords, I was not aware that that statement had been made. However, I can say that the Government are concerned that the debate that will attend the results of the trials, and the public dialogue must as a central feature take account of the concerns of consumers about quality and choice.

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