Sunday Herald

Scotland's GM stance threatened

By Douglas Fraser, Political Editor

Whitehall ministers are threatening to convene a panel of government chiefs
in London, Edinburgh and Cardiff, a measure never before used, to thrash out
disagreements over genetically-modified crops.
The unprecedented constitutional impasse has emerged despite apparent
agreement on the issue between the three administrations last week. But the
issue has flared up with a report last night that the joint ministerial
committee may be used to force agreement.

There is resentment in Whitehall's Department for Environment, Food and
Rural Affairs (Defra) that the statement last Tuesday by environment
secretary Margaret Beckett had sought to accommodate the high levels of
scepticism in both the Cardiff and the Edinburgh administrations.

Meanwhile, ministers in both devolved governments, including First Minister
Jack McConnell, stressed their continuing scepticism, and the possibility
that the one form of GM crop proposed for commercial use in Britain - a
maize named Chandon LL - might be kept out of Wales and Scotland. Carwyn
Jones, the Welsh agriculture minister reaffirmed a hardline position,
"taking the most restrictive approach possible to the growing and
commercialisation of GM crops within UK and EU legislation".

The devolved administrations claim to have forced on Whitehall a series of
conditions , including a requirement that commercial cultivation must be
under the same strict conditions as recent field tests.

Beckett's department has warned that current attempts to resolve differences
between Scotland, Wales and Whitehall may prove impossible: "If we do not
reach joint agreement, under the appropriate legislation, there are more
general mechanisms to reach mutual agreement," a spokesman said.

Senior officials told the Independent On Sunday that this meant convening
the joint ministerial committee, set up as part of devolution arrangements
five years ago as a means of resolving disagreements. That would include
Prime Minister Tony Blair with his deputy, John Prescott, McConnell and
Welsh First Minister Rhodri Morgan, along with two other ministers from
their teams.

The frustration evident from Beckett and Defra reflects wider problems in
agriculture and fisheries, where there has been by far the most tension
between Whitehall and devolved administrations.

A spokesman for the Scottish Greens doubted whether the inter-administration
row was any more than spin, after it appeared that Scotland and Wales had
capitulated to Whitehall's "gung-ho" determination to introduce GM crops,
and secured what the environment party thinks are insignificant conditions
on cultivation. The party wants the Scottish parliament to get its own legal
opinion on its powers to resist GM crops.

14 March 2004

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