Commons Fury as GM Rules Bill Blocked / 'GM crops are good for us' - NOT! (26/3/2004)

Labour backbench MP Andrew Dismore interrupted proceedings in the House of Commons today involving a private member's bill that would require clear rules on the future planting of GM crops in order to force a vote on whether Parliament should move to a secret debate.

The vast majority of Labour MPs - including a Government Minister present in the Commons - then deliberately failed to vote. As a result the debate was stopped, as too few MPs were demmed to have been present.

This follows something of a pattern.  The Blair Government has never - since 1997 when they were elected - called a debate on GM crops. Every debate in Parliament has been called by backbench MPs raising concerns. Now even those debates are being blocked.

The MP proposing the bill said afterwards, "Labour MPs and ministers have conspired to prevent the House of Commons even debating the matter. My Bill... was a common-sense approach to any new technology that carries risks as well as benefits. However, even such a sensible measure was clearly too much for the Labour Government."

1.Commons Fury as GM Rules Bill Blocked
2.London - 'GM crops are good for us' - NOT!

1.Commons Fury as GM Rules Bill Blocked
By Vivienne Morgan, Political Staff, PA News

Ministers were accused of "shamelessly" abusing Commons procedures today when a bid by a Tory MP to impose strict rules on the future planting of GM crops was blocked amid scenes of confusion.

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) had teamed up with Friends of the Earth to introduce his Genetically Modified Organisms Bill.

It would stipulate minimum separation distances between GM and organic and conventional crops, clarify liability issues if cross-contamination occurred, ensure simple regulation of GM and that overseeing bodies were self-funded.

As Mr Barker started to outline his Bill, fellow Tories complained that no environment minister was sitting on the Government front bench.

Deputy Speaker Alan Haselhurst replied: "Sometimes events on a Friday do not follow an entirely normal course and that may explain the absence at the moment of an environment minister."

A preceding Bill to reform retirement income had been withdrawn by Tory Adrian Flook (Taunton), ensuring an earlier than expected start to the second reading of Mr Barker’s Bill.

The Government was still represented on the front bench by trade and industry minister Gerry Sutcliffe, said Mr Haselhurst.

Resuming his speech, Mr Barker told MPs: "I had a letter from the minister yesterday evening at 6.30pm where he actually said ‘I will of course listen carefully to what you have to say in support of your Bill on Friday and judge it accordingly.'"

In a procedural move several minutes later, Labour's Andrew Dismore (Hendon) requested the House sit in private, prompting a division.

Only 23 MPs voted, less than the quorum of 40, leaving Mr Haselhurst to declare that "the business stands over until the next meeting of the House".

Raising a point of order, a furious Mr Barker said: "Through the most shameless and despicable use of House procedure the Government have deliberately killed off my Bill and debate before I was even half-way through my speech.

"Yesterday the minister wrote to me saying that he would be here to hear my Bill and judge it accordingly.

"How can anyone ever trust not only this Labour Government but the Environment Department when a minister deliberately tells untruths in a letter and refuses to come to this House?”

Warning Mr Barker he was "going too far", Mr Haselhurst added: "The procedures of the House have been observed correctly, the chair has no control over the particular actions that are taken provided that they are in order.

"What has happened has happened."

The Bill now goes back into the queue of backbench Bills.

2. London - 'GM crops are good for us' - Debate at Natural History Museum
[report by Mark Griffiths of nlpwessex]

No they aren't - according to the outcome of a major public debate held at London's Natural History Museum, 22 March.

The motion debated was "GM crops are good for us" and was chaired by TV presenter Peter Sissons.

The result of the debate was 212 to 136 votes against the motion, with the majority of the "don't knows" (the audience was asked to register their views on arrival into: for, against, don't know) switching to "against" by the end.

Speaking for the motion:

Professor Conrad Lichtenstein (UK), Chair of Molecular Biology at Queen Mary, University of London.

Professor Vivian Moses (UK), Visiting Professor of Biotechnology at King's College London and Chairman CropGen

Kerry Preete (USA), Vice President of Monsanto’s U.S. Crop Production Business.

Speaking against:

Dr Sue Mayer (UK), Executive Director of GeneWatch UK

The Rt Hon Michael Meacher MP (UK), former Minister of State for the Environment

Devinder Sharma (India), award-winning journalist and researcher on food and trade policy

More details are available on the "Intelligence Squared" (hosts for the event) web site:

Once again Devinder Sharma (previously a speaker in London at the World Food and Farming Congress, November 2002 ) reminded the world that India has millions of tonnes of surplus grain (often exported to the developed world to feed livestock) whilst millions of its people go hungry.

The cause of this hunger (India has more hungry than anywhere else in the world) is poverty, not the inability to produce food. Some farmers have even been committing suicide because they are unable to sell their produce, a syndrome referred to by Mr Sharma as "Produce and Perish".

The advent of GM crops will not change this situation. Devinder Sharma says it will most likely cause a deterioration in the situation as patents attaching to such crops restrict the ability of farmers to save their own seed, and are already beginning to limit India's sovereignty over its plant breeding and agricultural development programmes.

For more on the work being done on these areas by Mr Sharma see:

He is currently undertaking a lecture tour in the UK


Before debate
For - 30.6%
Against - 45.7%
Don't Know - 23.7%

After debate
For - 36.8%
Against - 57.3%
Don't Know - 5.9%


Tearing Down Biotech's 'Berlin Wall'

The Acceptable Face Of Ag-biotech  


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