§ Mr. Baker
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions for what reason the UK delegation to the 10th session of the negotiations for a UN Economic Commission for Europe Convention concerning public participation in environmental decision making, held in Geneva on 3 to 6 March, did not support provisions giving the same rights for the public to participate in decisions relating to GMOs as for other proposed environmental activities; and if he will make a statement. 
§ Mr. Meacher
[holding answer 1 April 1998): The Government are committed to a policy of increased transparency and enhanced public participation in decision making in relation to the deliberate release of genetically modified organisms and, as such, supported the inclusion of a provision applying the requirements of the Convention in this context. Our current legislation has such provisions. The drafting of the Convention provision was the subject of considerable debate during the negotiations and the UK was concerned, particularly in view of our role as EU Presidency, to secure a workable 286W provision which provides a basis for further development. For that reason, we support a proposal for the first meeting of the Convention Parties to develop the application of the Convention in this field, taking into account work under the Convention on Biological Diversity to develop a protocol on biosafety, in which the United Kingdom is playing a leading role. The provisions of the Convention will be taken into account when the EU revises its own Directive on deliberate releases to the environment later this year.
We do not, however, consider that public participation is practical in all decisions on contained use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). There are estimated to be 20,000 contained use activities underway in GB, in about 450 notified premises. The vast majority of these (estimated to be about 95 per cent.) employ non-pathogenic organisms, such as disabled bacteria or yeasts. The remaining 5 per cent involve work with potentially harmful organisms, such as genetically modified pathogens, and work with these must all be notified to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
Contained use activities are typically small scale (often in volumes of 100–200 millilitres) and short lived (research projects are often of between 6 months and 3 years duration). These activities are highly controlled and contained using tried and tested methods. The Genetically Modified Organisms (Contained Use) Regulations 1992 require that physical barriers, supplemented as necessary with biological and chemical barriers, are used to limit the contact of GMOs with the environment and the general population.
Although it would be disproportionately cumbersome to the scale, nature and large number of contained use activities to include them in the Convention, it is clearly important that information be available to the public. In addition to requiring the HSE to keep a public register of information relating to notifications of proposed activities, the legislation also has provision for disclosure of information by HSE when requested to do so.