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9-Misc: Scottish first minister signals U-turn on GM crops



                                 PART I
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TITLE:  McConnell’s U-turn signal on GM crops
SOURCE: The Sunday Times - Scotland, UK, by Jason Allardyce
        http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2090-2059396,00.html
DATE:   26 Feb 2006

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McConnell’s U-turn signal on GM crops

THE first minister has signalled a U-turn on the Scottish executive’s ban on
growing genetically modified (GM) crops in Scotland. Jack McConnell has
launched a public consultation to identify ways of preventing GM organisms from
contaminating conventional crops, paving the way for the commercial exploitation
of the technology.

A “voluntary” ban was agreed by ministers in 2004, after commercial trials in
Fife and Inverness-shire. However, executive sources concede they they have
little option but to allow commercial cultivation of the crops in the face of
European rules that prevent governments imposing GM-free areas. The
consultation document will seek comments on “a proposed co-existence regime for
Scotland that would aim to minimise any unwanted GM presence in non-GM crops”.
An spokeswoman for the executive said that the consultation was “very much the
start of the process”. Allowing GM crops to be grown commercially in Scotland
could lead to another outbreak of direct action by environmentalists. In 2002
scores of protesters were arrested after a trial crop of GM oil seed rape was
trampled in the Highlands. The government has been criticised for sticking to
crop-free “buffer” zones of between 50 and 200 metres around GM sites.
Independent tests commissioned by The Sunday Times in 2002 found that honey
from beehives situated two miles from a site where GM crops were being grown
was contaminated. Environmentalists have long maintained that GM crops and the
chemicals used on them could be a threat to native plants and wildlife. But
research produced last year suggested that GM crops do little or no damage to
the environment.

McConnell yesterday took a swipe at the Liberal Democrats, branding them
opportunistic and two-faced. The first minister accused his coalition partners
of promising “one thing to one part of the country and another thing to another
part”. His comments reflect deep-seated anger among Labour ministers at losing
their safe Westminster seat in Dunfermline and West Fife to the Lib Dems
earlier this month. McConnell was furious that the Lib Dems won the by-election
campaign by claiming it would stop Labour increasing Forth Bridge tolls to £4.
Labour ministers were angry because the executive minister responsible for
transport is a Lib Dem.


                                 PART II
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TITLE:  Tory MEP accused of having ‘conflicts of interest’
SOURCE: Sunday Herald, UK, by Paul Hutcheon
        http://www.sundayherald.com/54200
DATE:   19 Feb 2006

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Tory MEP accused of having ‘conflicts of interest’

A Scottish Euro MP with strong links to financial services has been criticised
after it emerged he had backed proposals that could benefit some companies with
which he is involved.

John Purvis, the veteran Tory MEP, has consistently supported the hedge fund and
biotechnology industries since he was elected in 1999.

But he has championed them at the same time as having a significant stake in
both sectors.

Purvis’s alleged conflict of interest was first apparent during last year’s
passage of the Third Money Laundering Directive, which committed member states
to combating terrorism by clamping down on illegal transactions.

The legislation requires EU members to make firms report suspicious dealings, as
well as tightening the regulations on the financial vehicles used for “dirty
money” transactions, such as trusts and hedge funds, which are largely
unregulated investment portfolios.

Bankers and others in the financial world were unhappy with the original draft
of the directive because they felt it placed extra burdens on business.

These fears were shared by Purvis, a member of the European parliament’s
Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, who last year tabled amendments, the
effect of which arguably watered down the document.

His revisions, some of which were accepted, loosened disclosure requirements and
tried to place fewer burdens on firms.

A minute of a January 2005 meeting of the European parliamentary financial
services group, which acts as forum for the industry, showed Purvis’s unease
with the general plans:

“John Purvis MEP said that while it is necessary to combat money-laundering and
terrorist financing effectively, he is concerned that the methods introduced
recently or being introduced risked creating a very heavy system and practical
problems for both commerce and individuals.”

He also asked an oral question on how the fight against terrorism could be
achieved without “gravely impeding commercial and personal transactions”.

Other opponents of the directive ensured that one of the original proposals,
which would have required anyone owning more than 10% of a trust to be
identified in legal records, was amended to 25%.

Purvis’s actions have caused concern because he is the non-executive chairman of
Belgrave Capital Management, a financial services firm. Established in 1994, the
company then became part of the Banca del Ceresio Group, a Lugano-based Swiss
bank and an investor in hedge funds.

But the MEP’s interest in the subject predates his proposed parliamentary
amendments to the money-laundering directive. In 2004, the European parliament
approved his plans for the introduction of an EU-wide “passport” for hedge
funds.

Purvis said at the time that his proposals, which have still to be adopted by
member states, were about creating a “light-handed” regulatory regime that
would help the sector – “It is vital that we encourage hedge funds into the
EU”.

His role in championing the biotechnology sector is also coming under scrutiny
after it emerged that he is a partner in a life sciences firm.

Purvis has long supported biotech, as in 2001 when he helped write a report that
called for the industry to be given greater help from government.

In 2002, he hit out at the “Luddite obstruction” which he believed would harm
Scottish scientists and farmers, while he also said it was “high time” for
European biotech industries to be promoted.

This was followed in 2005 by the MEP becoming a partner in Life Science Capital
LLP, a biotech firm set up by his son-in-law.

Purvis declared the financial interests in his parliamentary register, although
he has not disclosed the amount of money he receives from the companies.

Consumer groups have long campaigned for tighter rules on MEPs’ financial and
other outside interests.

A spokesman for Corporate Europe Observatory, a campaign group that monitors the
activities of lobbyists in the EU, said the rules on MEP disclosures were slack:

“It’s a massive problem if parliamentarians have private interests and
remuneration for issues which they are discussing in their roles as
parliamentarians. If he is working for financial companies that the
money-laundering directive will affect, clearly that may involve a conflict of
interest.”

In addition to having stakes in biotech and financial services, the Scottish
Tory has other private interests that may overlap with his duties as an MEP.

Scottish Executive figures show that Brigton farm, which Purvis’s register of
interest states is owned by the MEP, received £3487.96 in 2005 in agriculture
subsidies. He also declares a partnership in another firm, Purvis and Company,
but does not reveal the identities of his clients.

Speaking to the Sunday Herald, the MEP denied a conflict of interest existed
between his political and commercial activities.

“It is all declared. I am trying to do my legislative job, which is to try and
make a single European market in financial services. If you know something
about something, aren’t you entitled to participate in it?”

On his criticisms of the laundering directive, he said: “We all accept money-
laundering rules, up to an extent, so long as they don’t disrupt normal
business practices.”

David Miller, a professor of sociology at Strathclyde University and co-founder
of lobby watchdog Spinwatch.org, said the Purvis case showed that greater
regulation of politicians’ outside interests was required.

“This is an example of a conflict of interest which is all too common in
Scottish politics. It is clear that there is a need for much greater
transparency and a tighter regulation of the activities of political
representatives. One way forward is to tighten up codes of conduct, to clamp
down on revolving-door appointments and to outlaw private business interests,”
he said.



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