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Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, the first port of call for anybody who is ill is the GP, unless it is an emergency. We believe that the same system should apply to these people: first, they should see their GP and if he feels that further investigation is needed, they can be referred to a consultant.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, does the Minister recall that when the noble Countess last raised this Question in this House about six months ago, the inadequacy of GP referrals was mentioned? In response to a question from me, the Minister on that occasion said that the problem with extra-contractual referrals for those cases was minimal. Has she now reconsidered that position in the light of the evidence that there are more
Earl Baldwin of Bewdley: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is high time that the whole area of environmental medicine was taken more seriously? Will she accept that there is a marked reluctance on behalf of the Government and the medical profession to come to grips with the human health implications of an increasingly polluted environment?
Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, increasingly government departments are working more closely together on this matter, particularly the Department of Health and the Department of the Environment. There are now a number of joint committees with experts on them to look at this particular issue.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there are still tremendous problems with people obtaining a diagnosis from their GPs? Because the Department of Health does not recognise chronic organophosphate poisoning as a medical condition, GPs are reluctant to diagnose it. Therefore, patients who are ill do not receive the right treatment, are given drugs to which they react very strangely and flounder about in the wilderness. Will she please once more look at this subject and do something about it?
Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, we shall continually look at this subject. Indeed, the Chief Medical Officer wrote to all doctors in England in 1991 to draw their attention to this matter and did so again, with the chief executive of the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, in June 1993. An article was written by the Chief Medical Officer in October 1995 and published in his update. The update is delivered to every GP, so that every doctor in the country would have seen it. Also, the noble Countess may be interested to know that the booklet, Pesticide Poisoning Notes, about which I know she was concerned and which was out of date, is being revised at the moment and will be published very shortly.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I am sorry to have to come back to the noble Baroness, but all those communications have been about the acute effects of organophosphate poisoning, not the chronic effects. Please will the noble Baroness look once again at the plight of those people who believe that they are suffering from the chronic effects of OP poisoning?
The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Fraser of Carmyllie): My Lords, the Government's plans for the future of the Post Office were set out in a Statement in another place on 11th May 1995 by the President of the Board of Trade.
Lord Ezra: My Lords, in giving that Answer, has the noble and learned Lord read that Statement carefully recently? Among the criteria set for the greater commercial operation of the Post Office was included the comment that the amount of money that the Government would recover in the form of a negative EFL (external financing limit) would be about half of its post-tax profits, whereas in the event after the last Budget that was doubled and as a result the Post Office has now announced that it may well have to raise the cost of postage stamps despite being a highly profitable organisation. This matter was raised in a Question by the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, on 18th December.
Does the noble and learned Lord further recall that in a television interview on 7th January, on being asked whether the Government had any further plans for the privatisation of the Post Office, the Prime Minister said that the matter was under serious consideration and that it could well be included in the next manifesto? In all those circumstances, is the noble and learned Lord surprised that the Financial Times, a much respected and objective newspaper, wrote in a leading article that the Government's treatment of the Post Office was a textbook case of how not to manage a public enterprise?
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I have indeed recently looked at the Statement to which I referred in my Answer. I am sure that the noble Lord will recollect that in making that Statement the Deputy Prime Minister, with the caution that is his hallmark, began the paragraph on external financing limits by saying:
I am impressed that the noble Lord should rise so early on a Sunday morning to listen to the Prime Minister. What he actually said was that further consideration would be given to privatisation proposals in preparing the election manifesto. He was as worth listening to on that occasion as he was yesterday afternoon.
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the remarks that fell from the lips from the Deputy Prime Minister yesterday when he advocated that civil servants should be instructed in the use of graphical representation? If so, has the Minister taken it on board, because if a graphical representation was made of the number of people in the United Kingdom who are in favour of the privatisation of the Post Office, the depiction of those in favour would almost disappear off the graph paper by becoming a negative?
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I think that it was an appreciation of public reaction that led to the Statement of 11th May. The Prime Minister has said no more than this--that further consideration will be given to privatisation proposals. I think that we should put the performance of the Post Office into context. We have now enjoyed the longest period of stability in stamp prices since the 1960s. There are fewer restrictions on capital expenditure. A new corporate planning process is under way and, as the chief executive of the Post Office has indicated, he now wishes to expand into Europe. That hardly seems to be a public corporation that is kept in fetters.
Lord Molloy: My Lords, if any fundamental change is to be made to the Post Office, will the Government consider seeking the views, and providing opportunities for the views to be expressed, of the trades unions, the employers' organisations and the very many other organisations that are interested in the Post Office and its future?
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, the noble Lord will appreciate that there have been a number of documents, not least the consultative document on the future of the postal service which was issued in June 1994. Therefore, there has been consultation when such matters have been considered. I emphasise what the Prime Minister said when he made that statement on television. He said that it was a matter that would be under consideration when the manifesto was drafted. I should have thought that that would reveal clearly that there was no intention of bringing about, or attempting to bring about, any privatisation of the Post Office this side of a general election.
Lord Peston: My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on finding a way of getting the future of selective education into a Question on the Post Office. As I prepare for the next debate, may I ask the noble and learned Lord whether I should make some remarks on that subject ahead of him on the question of selective education in South America? Is that something that we should be doing all the time?
On the Post Office itself, which is what I thought that this Question was about, did I understand his answer correctly--it seemed clear--that he regards the Post Office as doing extremely well because it is meeting its financial targets and is subject to enormous competition in the communications field? As is the case with the Stationery Office, would it not therefore be sensible to leave it to get on with things rather than going in for further barmy ideas about putting it into the private sector?
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