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House of Lords

Thursday, 11th July 1996.

The House met at three of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Carlisle.

Organophosphate Exposure: Specialist Treatment Units

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    To which specialist units the National Poisons Information Service advises general practitioners to refer patients for treatment for the chronic effects of exposure to organophosphates.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege): My Lords, the National Poisons Information Service centres advise general practitioners to refer patients to an appropriate specialist unit. This could be one of five linked to NPIS centres or others situated in general hospitals.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply. It is now four years since I first asked a Starred Question in an effort to gain proper medical help for farmers. Is she aware that we are still suffering from a lack of recognition of the problem by GPs and consultants? I am very grateful for what the Government have done; I realise that one cannot force people into doing things. However, will the Minister look into the issue once again to see if we can achieve a solution for the farmers who are suffering so dreadfully?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, I believe that few have been more resolute and more tenacious in their cause than the noble Countess. I am delighted to tell her that the presidents of the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Psychiatrists met the Chief Medical Officer at my request yesterday. They have agreed to set up a working group to review the evidence for possible long-term adverse effects of exposure to OPs. The group will also meet with the noble Countess and others she wishes to suggest. It will then be in a good position to offer advice on any course of further action which may be necessary.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am sure that the House will be extremely glad to hear of the Minister's initiative in this area, which is extremely welcome. I join the Minister in congratulating the noble Countess on her efforts in this field.

Where there is a new and possibly undetected illness of this kind, is it not a matter of some concern that the present structures in the health service, by which hospitals are required to act independently, make it difficult for people to receive locally at each individual

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hospital the advice that the noble Countess seeks, if the matter is not commercially attractive or absolutely scientifically proven?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, I do not believe that that is the case. One of the problems that the noble Countess identifies involves general practitioners. They are independent people. We rely on them to make the diagnosis and to refer patients on. However, I believe that this initiative will help not only the general practitioners but also the consultants in individual hospitals.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, perhaps I may express my gratitude to the noble Baroness the Minister for her reply to me.

Turkey: Human Rights

3.9 p.m.

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they are taking through the European Union, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Council of Europe, NATO and the International Committee of the Red Cross to secure improvements in human rights and a peaceful resolution of internal conflict in Turkey.

Lord Chesham: My Lords, we continue to explore, with partners in international fora, the scope for encouraging more progress on human rights in Turkey and for helping to promote a peaceful resolution to the conflict in the south-east of Turkey. We also raise our concerns in regular bilateral contacts with the Turkish authorities.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply. However, is it not quite unacceptable that each successive political party in Turkey which advocates a negotiated settlement of this conflict is disbanded by government action? At the same time the Red Cross is excluded from the country, while the other international bodies named in my Question stand by, almost turning a blind eye.

Lord Chesham: My Lords, I do not believe that a blind eye is being turned by those bodies. We are not allowing them to do so. We are raising the matter whenever we can. Some of the actions taken against political parties have been disappointing. I refer in particular to the recent arrest or prosecution of members of HADEP at their annual congress. As we understand it, no one has yet been charged in relation to the incident.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, is the Minister aware that in addition to the arrest of members of HADEP following the party congress, three of the delegates were murdered on their way back to their constituencies? Have the Government taken up specifically with the new authorities in Turkey under Mr. Erbakan the exclusion from Turkey of certain UK-based persons including Mr. Jonathan Sugden and Mr. Helmut Oberdiek of

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Amnesty, Ms. Pam O'Toole of the BBC and myself, and Miss Aliza Marcus, the former correspondent of Reuters?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, we are well aware of those situations. We totally condemn the murder of anyone going from one place to another, whether it be from a political meeting or any other occasion. We totally deplore such action. Until we have full details, and people are convicted, the Government should not comment further. We have frequently brought up the case of people who have been barred from visiting Turkey such as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, himself. We intend to raise the matter again with the new government. We shall bring it up at every opportunity.

Lord Rea: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the PKK, the Kurdish armed body normally cast as the villain of the piece, whichever way you choose to spell it, has operated a unilateral ceasefire for the past three months and wishes to start negotiations with the Turkish Government without preconditions? Will the Government encourage the Turkish Government to take up that offer? Does he agree that, otherwise, this destructive war is likely to go on and on until the legitimate human rights of the Kurdish population of south-east Turkey are honoured?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, we rather question the credibility of any ceasefire declaration by the PKK, which has carried out dreadful terrorist acts that we unreservedly condemn. It is for the Turkish Government to decide how to respond rather than for us. As I have stated, we repeat as frequently as we can to the Turkish Government that we should like to see an improvement in human rights and peace in the whole of Turkey. We will continue whenever we can to raise these matters in international fora and on a bilateral basis.

The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, will my noble friend tell the House whether we receive from Turkey or other countries advice on how to settle the Irish problem?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, that is a very good point. Some people try to give us advice. Whether or not it is well received is another matter.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, is the Minister aware that advice given from outside has been extremely helpful in the appalling conflict in Palestine between the Jewish state and the Arabs? I like the Turks, and I appreciate the facts on both sides. Does the Minister agree that if we took a positive stance instead of the negative response given to the noble Earl, our influence on Turkey might help in this conflict?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, I believe we take a very positive stance. We have not indicated in any way that we take a negative stance. Whenever we can we raise the issues about which noble Lords are so concerned.

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Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, will the Minister take it from me that we on this side of the House do not regard the comments made by the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, as being in the slightest bit relevant? Indeed, they represented a serious breach of good taste.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Clinton-Davis: Yes indeed, my Lords. Is the Minister aware that Turkey has made application for membership of the European Union? Will he give an undertaking that this Government will not begin to entertain that application while the current breaches of human rights persist? Does he believe that Turkey should be in receipt of aid from the European Union while the current position persists?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, we believe that the most effective way of helping progress on human rights in Turkey is to encourage closer ties between Turkey and western institutions. The Turkey/EU customs union and increased political dialogue are an important part of this process. It would be a great mistake to try to push Turkey further east.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, at the risk of committing yet another gross breach of good taste, does the Minister agree that the best advice we could give to the Turkish Government is how much credence to place on unilateral ceasefires by terrorist organisations?

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