§ Mr. Dalyell
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he plans to take action on the report of the Working Party on Genetic Manipulation of Micro-organisms.
§ Mr. Mulley
The working party was set up by the Advisory Board for the Research Councils to make an authoritative assessment of the potential benefits and potential hazards of techniques which 215W allow the experimental manipulation of the genetic composition of micro-organisms. I am glad to have this opportunity of expressing the Government's thanks to the chairman, Lord Ashby of Brandon, and the members for the work in producing it.
The working party concluded that, subject to rigorous safeguards, these techniques should continue to be used because of the great benefits to which they might lead. It took the view that an agreed code of practice and a central advisory service were necessary for laboratories in this field, together with appropriate training facilities, but that it would be unreasonably difficult to introduce a statutory system of control.
The report was published in January as Cmnd. 5880 in order to allow an opportunity for wide public consideration. The comments received, mainly from scientific bodies, have generally endorsed the working party's views although varying opinions have been expressed as to the desirability or feasibility of statutory measures of control. The report was also taken into account by the Working Party on the Laboratory Use of Dangerous Pathogens, publication of whose report, Cmnd. 6054, was announced on 20th May by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.
The Government for their part agree that the potential benefits identified in the Ashby Report are such that relevant work should continue in appropriate places provided that adequately stringent precautions for containment are taken. The Government also accept that they have a responsibility to ensure that authoritative advice and guidance are available. At the same time we believe that the potential hazards associated with certain types of experiment are such that it would be appropriate further to examine the possibility of applying to them controls of the kind recommended in the Report of the Working Party on the Laboratory Use of Dangerous Pathogens.
These are matters calling for expert advice and, in consultation with the appropriate Ministers, I am therefore setting up a new working party with the following terms of reference:In the light of the Report of the Advisory Board for the Research Councils' Working Party on the potential benetfis and potential 216W hazards associated with the genetic manipulation of micro-organisms (Cmnd. 5880) and of the Working Party on the Laboratory Use of Dangerous Pathogens (Cmnd. 6054):
- (a) to draft a central code of practice and to make recommendations for the establishment of a central advisory service for laboratories using the techniques available for such genetic manipulation, and for the provision of necessary training facilities;
- (b) to consider the practical aspects of applying in appropriate cases the controls advocated by the Working Party on the Laboratory Use of Dangerous Pathogens."
I am glad to be able to tell the House that Professor R. E. O. Williams, the Director of the Public Health Laboratory Service, has agreed to serve as chairman.
It is the intention that there should be full consultation with all concerned including management and trade union interests. The Government are most appreciative of the responsible attitude already displayed by the research councils and the scientific community generally, and ask the councils and others concerned not to proceed with work already identified as involving potentially serious hazard, pending advice from the working party.