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Lord Carter: My Lords, is the Minister aware that advice from some quarters to take health warnings on foodstuffs with a pinch of salt is perhaps rather unfortunate phraseology? Will he agree that the present legal situation, which merely requires health claims on foodstuffs to be not misleading, is unsatisfactory? There should be a much stricter requirement to substantiate such claims.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I suspect that the answer may turn out to be "yes". However, we are reviewing the whole area in the course of the year and are examining all aspects and all possible improvements and changes. We expect to have drawn conclusions by the end of the year.

As the noble Lord may be aware, one particular brand of yoghurt is causing us concern. It has published claims that it reduces cholesterol because the ferment from which it is made is extracted from the bowels of 120 year-old Caucasian men. Those in the Ministry of Agriculture who are intrepid enough to have tried it report that it tastes as if it is made from extract from the bowels of 120 year-old Caucasian men. It occurs to us that if that health claim turns out to have foundation and there is profit to be made from the extract of old gentlemen, perhaps this House could have a brand name which is worth exploiting.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that consumers of food as a whole now need as much good advice as they ever did, and that supposed jokes concerning health warnings are confusing, besides being in very bad taste?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, in general, consumers should be entitled to have wording on food packets which is not confusing, which is unambiguous and which tells them what they want to know about what they are about to eat.

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Volatile Organic Compounds

2.50 p.m.

Baroness Nicol asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why the deadlines for phasing out emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) have been postponed.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Earl Ferrers): My Lords, our international obligation, under the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe's Protocol, is not to phase out VOC emissions, but to reduce them by 1999 by 30 per cent. over the levels which obtained in 1988.

The postponement of deadlines for certain sectors, which was announced last June, was to avoid industry incurring what might have proved to be unnecessary expenditure in advance of a review of the relevant statutory guidance. We remain on target to meet the obligation due in 1999.

Baroness Nicol: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Is he aware that some volatile organic compounds lead to ozone levels which cause asthma and difficulties for other sufferers as well? In addition, is he aware that the delay to which he refers could have serious consequences for our developing environmental technology industry, which is already experiencing difficulties because of fierce competition from other countries where such industries have been in operation for very much longer? Who was consulted before these arrangements were made? Did the Minister consult environmental agencies and the industry; or was it just pressure from the coating industry that caused it?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right. Volatile organic compounds can affect asthma, etc. However, there are some 200 compounds. They are all very different, and have different effects, some of which are even carcinogenic.

The noble Baroness said that environmental technology businesses are concerned. I can understand that. There are two sides to this coin. One is the technology business that wants to sell its "stuff"; the other is the people who have to buy the "stuff" in order to make their emissions more suitable. We do not want to impose unnecessary expenditure on businesses. That is why, given that we are on target to meet the deadlines required by 1999, there has been a temporary remission of between eight months and, in some cases, 24 months in order that we should reach the standards.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon: My Lords, in the light of that reply, will the Minister agree that the Government have once again sacrificed long-term gains for the environment and health of the nation in favour of short-term commercial advantages?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, that is a most extraordinary question. We have not sacrificed long-term gains. As I just explained, we shall meet the international obligations by 1999. What we do not want to do is impose unnecessary costs on business. There is an approach

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termed BATNEEC--not to be confused with "beatnik", which is a gentleman with black hair. Under BATNEEC you have to use the best available technique you can in order to achieve the ends you require without involving excessive cost. That is the approach being examined. That is possibly why some relaxations were able to be made, which is in the interests of industry.

Baroness Nicol: My Lords, does that mean that the Government have decided to ignore the advice of the Environment Select Committee of the House of Commons? The committee stated:


    "reducing VOCs is necessary, but it will not be painless ... industries which use or produce solvents--including the coatings, printing and dry-cleaning industries--will face increased costs. In the Committee's view, the price is worth paying".
Have the Government decided to ignore that advice?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the Government never ignore the observations of a Select Committee. Indeed, the deadlines that were announced last June were included in the department's response to the report of the Environment Select Committee on volatile organic compounds published on 26th June. So we have not rejected it.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, will the Minister agree that this Question has two elements, one short-term and one long-term? We are delighted that he is dealing with the short term. But he need not bother with the long term, because that will be taken care of by the incoming Labour government.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I have always reckoned the noble Lord to be one of those in this House who have the most fanciful imagination. If he really thinks that that will happen, I can only assure him that he had better watch out. He will be staying on that side of the House as long as he is here.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, the noble Earl acknowledged the health effects of VOCs. Have the Government costed the treatment of children and people with asthma, as against the cost to industry of preventing emissions?

Earl Ferrers: No, my Lords. This issue goes far wider than simply the problem of asthma. It relates to the whole purification of air. We now have an air quality strategy. As I said, there are some 200 volatile organic compounds. Some even come from pine trees. As a nation, we are obliged to reduce the total national emissions of volatile organic compounds, which can come from a number of sources. Some are easier to control and reduce than others; and in relation to some sources the last 4 per cent. or so can be very expensive indeed. Therefore, we have tried to bring them all down, and that is what we shall do. While I understand the noble Countess's concern about asthma, it would not be an appropriate matter for specific research in relation to volatile organic compounds. Asthma is a matter for research in its own right.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, does the noble Earl regard the cheapening of the process used to

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produce bone meal, by reducing the temperature at which bone meal was produced and by withdrawing the chemicals that were expensive, a good example of the Government saving money?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the noble Lord sometimes has the capacity to ask totally irrelevant questions. Meat and bone meal have nothing to do with volatile organic compounds, since they are not volatile.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, the noble Earl gave an example of government policy to help industry. I am merely repeating what he said and asking him whether that was a good example.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I still think it is irrelevant.

The Acting Profession: Unemployment Benefit

2.57 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are considering fully the possible effects on the acting profession should they decide to alter the basis whereby unemployed actors can claim unemployment benefit.

The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish): My Lords, following two cases before the special commissioners in 1993, the Inland Revenue treats the majority of actors as self-employed for tax purposes. We have been considering this and have consulted widely on the implications of aligning the treatment of actors for national insurance purposes. We will be making an announcement as soon as possible.

The Viscount of Falkland: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Will he agree that our acting profession is held in the highest regard throughout the world? Will he further agree that, in order to achieve that high regard, it has been necessary to have a large pool of actors--and young actors--which can be achieved only through the (I agree) anomalous situation whereby self-employed actors pay a higher rate of national insurance contribution in return for the right to claim a non-means tested benefit, namely, unemployment benefit? If the provision were in any way removed, would there not be fewer young actors in particular? They lead a very hard-working life and are often extremely poor. Although obviously they have talent, otherwise they would not be thought of in the first place, they need experience. Above all, they need availability. Would not that availability be greatly affected?


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