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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I think I have gone far enough with these tempting analogies. As with other items smuggled--perhaps I dare say more serious items like drugs--Customs has moved very much into the intelligence and investigation field. Apprehension and conviction are part of the success of its intelligence operations.
Lord Carter: My Lords, in their response will the Government take into account that besides the broad and general commendation the committee gave to the two directorates, it also mentioned illogicality in operation, delay, duplication, lack of commercial awareness, over-charging, lack of commercial understanding, over-regulation, unnecessary bureaucracy and a lack of communication? Do the Government regard the pesticides safety and the veterinary medicines directorates as good examples of executive agencies in practice?
The Earl of Clanwilliam: My Lords, the committee recommended that OP drugs should be on prescription only. Do Her Majesty's Government accept the precautionary principle that where there are serious concerns relating to the safety of a particular pesticide its use should be withdrawn or restricted until a new risk/benefit analysis can be made? Or are we to wait until the ending of the present epidemiological study, research project No. 3304, at Edinburgh University, which I understand will not be completed before 1999, before any further restrictive action is taken?
Lord Lucas: My Lords, we take the precautionary principle very seriously. It is evident from a number of recent announcements on other types of pesticide that we act when there is thin evidence rather than waiting until the case is absolutely proved. So far as the long-term effects of continued exposure to small amounts of organophosphates are concerned, our evidence is that there is no effect. However, we have been convinced by the noble Countess, Lady Mar, and others that we should re-examine the matter in a long-term study to establish whether, in spite of nothing being evident at the moment, there actually is something to be seen. Were we to believe at the moment that there was evidence beyond what we know to be the effects of acute exposure, we would take action. However, at the moment, we believe there is none.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the reason why no evidence exists is that no research has been done? Again, will he and the health Minister study those who believe that they are suffering the chronic effects of long-term exposure to OPs? We are still getting nowhere so far as they are concerned. Some are very ill and desperate for treatment.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, a good deal of research has been done. However, it has not proved conclusive. It produced no evidence of long-term effects. I am aware that the noble Countess wishes us to look particularly
Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply to this Question, which to my surprise appears in my name and in this form. I saw it for the first time when I sat down in the Chamber this afternoon!
The Minister will be aware that there has been a considerable amount of criticism and public examination of the recent activities of Westminster City Council. Will he tell the House what is the present position in regard to that examination?
The simple answer is that all SSAs are calculated in the same way throughout the country. There is a considerable amount of discussion with the local authorities associations each year on what makes up the SSAs. That has continued, and will continue. Indeed a number of the changes being made this year are due to the initiatives of the local authorities associations.
Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, is the Minister aware--I am sure he is--that Westminster City Council, according to its own figures, has a budget in 1995-96 below the standard spending assessment set by the Government for grant distribution purposes? According to the council, were it to budget up to the SSA, the council tax, instead of being £275, would be £550. On what basis, and why, do the Government consider that Westminster City Council should spend more than does the council itself?
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the noble Lord is quite surprising in some respects. The whole purpose of local authorities is that they manage their affairs as effectively and efficiently as possible. The fact that Westminster City Council does that better than almost any other
Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, I am not quite sure that the noble Earl understands the calculation of the standard spending assessment. It is the Government's view on what local councils should spend per head. If the noble Earl can get that into his head, perhaps he will answer my question as to why the Government think Westminster should spend more than the council itself believes it should.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I find that question, even by the noble Lord's standards, peculiarly difficult to comprehend. The standard spending assessment is made up of a number of standard spending assessments for education, social services, highways maintenance and so forth. That is the basis of calculation for standard spending assessment. On top of that, it is up to the local authority to run its business as well as possible. If it runs its business efficiently by not setting a higher council tax, that is a good thing. It is funny--is it not?--that the council in question is Conservative-run.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Marsh. He is absolutely right. I was also quite impressed to find that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, has taken the precaution of living in Wandsworth, which also happens to have a Conservative-controlled council with one of the lowest rates of council tax.
Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that Westminster City Council is one of the best city councils in the country and has the admiration not only of those who live in it but also of those who, like myself, live near it?
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend. He makes a perfectly valid point. I declare an interest: I also live in the environs of Westminster City Council. It conducts itself very effectively, very efficiently and very well.
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