HL Deb 03 November 1998 vol 594 cc35-6WA
Lord Evans of Parkside

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the statement by the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on 30 July (HC Deb., cols. 621–630), what progress has been made on genetically modified crops. [HL3508]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue)

My honourable friend the Minister of State made a statement on 30 July. He reported fully on the background to MAFF's non-enforcement of Regulation 11(3) of the Seeds (National Lists of Varieties) Regulations 1982. He stated then that we intended to put in hand immediate action to remove the requirement in Regulation 11(3) to provide replicated trials data, which is redundant and serves no useful purpose. He also indicated that we were considering urgently how the position of varieties already added to the National List or currently in tests and trials without replicated trials data should be regularised.

A formal consultation on the revocation of Regulation 11(3) was launched on 6 August, and a further consultation was launched on 17 September setting out proposals for the regularisation of varieties already added to the National List or currently in tests and trials. The proposals contained in the 17 September consultation would have regularised the position of varieties already added to the National List, but would have continued to require replicated trials data, albeit submitted after applications had been received, from tests and trials carried out prior to the date of application.

However, in the light of representations received during the consultation process we concluded that there are no good reasons for differentiating between the treatment of varieties already on the National List, and those that are only part way through statutory tests and trials. Accordingly, we therefore issued revised proposals on 8 October which would revoke the requirement to submit replicated trials results (as already proposed in the 6 August consultation). They would also permit Ministers to determine all applications not yet determined by the date the regulations come into force, notwithstanding the absence of replicated trials data. These proposals are fully in line with the comments of the Court of Appeal that the position ought now to be resolved speedily and decisively across the board. The Court of Appeal also said that it would seem surprising if at least the possibility of retrospective amendment were not to be considered.

This latest consultation will end on 30 October, following which Ministers will give careful consideration to the views expressed by respondents before deciding on the final form of the amending statutory instrument. In the meantime the data requirements of Regulation 11(3) are being operated. (Copies of all three consultation documents have been placed in the Library of the House).

So far as genetically modified varieties are concerned, controls are addressed under separate legislation, the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the regulations made under it. Genetically modified varieties are not accepted into National List tests unless they have been given the appropriate consents under this legislation.

In my honourable friend the Minister of State's statement he also spoke of the need to ensure that organic farmers are not adversely affected by the introduction of GMO crops. He said that MAFF and DETR would be working with the farming community and representatives of organic farming to ensure that the expansion of organic farming was not compromised by the introduction of genetically modified crops. The Government's aim is to promote dialogue between the organic and GM sectors so that practical steps can be taken to avoid problems.

This commitment is being taken forward in a number of ways. MAFF is commissioning research on the factors affecting the likelihood and consequences of gene transfer between genetically modified and organically produced crops and factors influencing the probability of such transfer. This research is being commissioned so that those concerned with defining and regulating organic crop production are able to draw on relevant data and information.