Embarrassing upset for Scottish Executive - only parliamentary peculiarity prevents GM being blocked across the whole UK (18/3/2004)

*Only parliamentary peculiarity prevents GM being blocked across the whole UK
*Greens claim backing GM is illegal
*Expect GM crops to be trampled, ministers warned

In an embarrassing upset for the Scottish Executive and Blair's Labour Government in London, the Scottish Parliament came within a vote of blocking GM crop cultivation across the whole UK. Indeed, Blair and the Executive only avoided disaster because of the peculiarity of Scottish parliamentary arrangements.

The vote was 59 for the opposition Scottish National Party's motion calling for GM crop approval to be blocked - 60 against- and 1 abstention. But crucially for this debate and the vote, an opposition member, rather than the Speaker, was in the Chair. This debarred the opposition member from voting for the motion to block GM crops. If the other Deputy Speaker had been in the Chair, the motion would have been carried and the Executive defeated..

Anthony Jackson of the Munlochy Vigil told GM WATCH, "It is totally bizarre that only the Speaker's absence from Parliament could stop the blocking of GM crops from being grown anywhere in the UK. The debate and vote have really underlined the strength of opposition to GM crops."

He added, "Everyone will know now that if the Scottish Executive acquiesces in the necessary national seed listing for the UK, it will only be because by some odd chance the Speaker was away and an opposition member in his place. They know that they have absolutely no mandate. They also know the overwhelming majority of the Scottish people are completely opposed to the growing of GM crops".

Anthony thanked all those who wrote to Scottish Members of Parliament to tell them of their concerns over GM crops. "E-mails and letters have been flooding in," he said. "MSPs have never seen anything like it. But they may have to get used to it because this is just the start of our campaign to make sure that GM crops are never ever grown commercially in Scotland or anywhere else in the UK."

Greens claim backing GM is illegal
The Scotsman, 18 March 2004

THE Scottish Executive’s decision to support Westminster’s approval for GM maize could be either illegal or based on a flawed interpretation of the law, according to the Scottish Green Party.

Green MSPs have demanded the public release of the legal advice held by the Executive on the extent of its powers to block GM maize.

The call comes ahead of a crucial vote in parliament today on an SNP motion to deny approval for the GM maize, known as Chardon LL, until a full inquiry into the potential commercial, environmental and health impacts of commercialisation is conducted.

The Greens and the SNP claim independent legal advice, published in England and Wales last year, points to the Scottish Executive falling short of using similar powers to those adopted by the Welsh Assembly as well as misinterpreting the precautionary principle over the UK seed listing.

Yesterday, each party claimed a cross-party consensus had been reached and the motion only required the MSPs to vote in line with their party’s policies for the vote to carry.

In particular they highlighted the strong position of the Liberal Democrats in Westminster and the Welsh Assembly against genetically modified crops and called on the party’s MSPs to back the vote. John Swinney, the leader of the SNP, said: "At Westminster, the Liberal Democrats have said that they are opposed to granting licences for GM maize.

"In Wales they said they were ashamed of the government’s decision.

"Here in Scotland, their silence so far has been deafening. That must now change.

"We are seeking a parliamentary consensus with other parties. All we are asking is that they vote in line with their own policy, passed just a few months ago, for the ban on commercial growing to be kept in place."

He added: "This is an issue that should go beyond party point-scoring.

"Once the GM genie is out of the bottle, it can never be forced back in. Now is a time to vote on what you believe and I call on MSPs of all parties to vote to protect Scotland’s environment."

The Green Party claims that it is clear the Executive is "gearing up for GM" and accuses ministers of attempting to create a smokescreen over its inaction by proposing "dubious ideas" on insurance and an unworkable and unenforceable voluntary GM-free zone.

Mark Ruskell, MSP, the Green Party’s spokesman on the environment, said: "This [today’s vote] will be an opportunity for the Scottish Liberal Democrats to think again about which way they want to be facing - towards their own policy, that of their UK counterparts and the precautionary principle, or towards the biotech companies and the selling-out of the democratic process."

He added: "There is precious little, if any, scientific evidence to suggest that the GM maize crop would not harm public health or the wider environment. Ministers are making a decision based on lack of evidence coming from a very narrow base of study. Instead we need proper scientific consideration of all the potential effects."

Nora Radcliffe, the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ environment spokeswoman, insisted the SNP and Green claims were misleading. "We know and they know that European law for GM means that the Scottish Executive is not permitted to impose a blanket ban for GM crops.

"This view has been backed up by the Scottish Parliament's legal adviser, the Welsh Assembly minister and the Liberal Democrats.

"European law is clear that GM crops can only be banned if they present a threat to the environment or human health," she added.

A Scottish Executive spokesman said ministers had heard nothing to make them question their decision.

He said: "We have not seen the legal opinion which questions our legal advice. The Executive’s legal advice is quite clear - we do not have the power to ban GM crops without scientific evidence of harm."

He added that Allan Wilson, the deputy environment minister, will address these points in the debate today.

Expect GM crops to be trampled, ministers warned
TOM GORDON, Scottish Political Correspondent March 18 2004

MINISTERS should expect genetically-modified maize grown north of the border to be destroyed by protesters, the SNP warned yesterday.

Speaking in advance of today's parliamentary vote on blocking commercial growing of the crop in Scotland, the Nationalists said it was no surprise that people trampled GM plants because of deep public opposition to them.

Earlier this month, the government approved the large-scale growing of GM Chardon LL maize in the UK, which can grow as far north as the Borders. In 2002, scores of protesters were arrested after a trial crop of GM oil seed rape was trampled in the Highlands.

Roseanna Cunningham, SNP environment spokeswoman, said the Scottish Executive "can hardly be surprised at activity like that. It's a signal that they need to think carefully about what they're doing here".

Asked if he would support any destruction of GM maize, Mr Swinney, the SNP leader, was diplomatic but ambiguous in reply. "I am a supporter of peaceful protest," he said.

Earlier this year Mr Swinney caused a row by saying he would support trawlermen who defied the law and fished illegally.

Mr Swinney said he was seeking a cross-party consensus against GM maize in today's debate, which will call for the crop to be excluded from Scotland on the precautionary principle pending an inquiry.

He also called for some consistency from the Liberal Democrats, who have opposed GM elsewhere in the UK.

"At Westminster, the LibDems have said they are 'opposed to granting licences for GM maize'. In Wales, they have said they were 'ashamed' of the government's decision. Here in Scotland, their silence so far has been deafening. That must now change."

Ms Cunningham cited a legal opinion prepared for Friends of the Earth which argued the Welsh Assembly had sufficient power to block GM crops in Wales.

She said that, as Holyrood had greater powers, it was clear that the executive could have opposed GM if it had wished.

Ministerial arguments that they were powerless to defy European directives were a smokescreen, she said, while the suggestion of a voluntary ban was "nonsense" and an "obvious oxymoron".

The Green Party yesterday called for the executive to release its secret legal advice on Holyrood's powers to block GM crops.   

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