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Gene Manipulation

Volume 174: debated on Tuesday 12 June 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what response he has given to the proposals of Professor Beringer of the department of botany in the university of Bristol for the expansion of the United Nations framework for covering problems related to gene manipulation; and if he will make a statement.

Professor Beringer has made no formal proposals to Ministers on this subject. However, the United Nations Environmental Programme, together with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation and the World Health Organisation, set up an informal working group in 1985 to consider all aspects of biosafety. Britain was invited to be an observer to some of the discussions of that group and the British Government will continue to support initiatives of the United Nations in that area.

Who is responsible for this complex and delicate issue? Is it the Department of the Environment, the Department of Education and Science or the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, or is it the Prime Minister who, as far as we know, has not gone back on what she told the House in 1981, which was that she was the Minister who was personally responsible for co-ordinating science policy? It is not easy.

The Prime Minister has a general, overall responsibility as chairman of the relevant committee. However, it is an area of responsibility for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. I have drawn his attention to the question and I am sure that he will consider its implications sympathetically.