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Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, should not all these meetings be held in public?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not believe that is possible. There are meetings at which the European Parliament discusses its negotiating strategy in relation to the Commission and the Council of Ministers. Under those circumstances a degree of mutual confidentiality is probably desirable.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, while acknowledging the deep commitment of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, to the European Parliament, can the Government say what they intend to do to

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encourage consultations with the British Parliament on the Commission's proposals for the future of the European budget in its Agenda 2000 paper?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, no doubt these are matters that can be raised during the presidency of the United Kingdom in the first half of next year.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the committee which I had the honour to chair, and of which my distinguished noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington was previously a member, held all its deliberative sessions in private?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that information.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that his statement that my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington knows more about this subject than officials tells us two things: first, that my noble friend Lord Bruce is a remarkable person particularly on this subject and, secondly, that the officials must be peculiarly unremarkable bearing in mind the huge resources that they have at their disposal which are not available to my noble friend? Will the Minister do something about that to make sure that officials become better informed than my noble friend because perhaps then they would understand exactly what damage the European Union does to this country?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I agree with the first part of my noble friend's question, but not with the second or third parts. As I said earlier, the question of openness in the European Parliament is not a matter for the UK Government or for this House; and I cannot accept that officials here are derelict in their duty.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, is the Minister aware that I am slightly surprised that he defends the privacy of the budget committee of the European Parliament? I notice that he grasped the Barnett formula on this issue to his chest very quickly. If the Government are really keen on openness and think that the European Parliament and, indeed, this House should be open, may I ask whether such openness will extend to Labour Members of the European Parliament?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, our commitment to openness extends very widely indeed. As I indicated earlier, it was the United Kingdom which put forward proposals on openness in the common foreign and security policy and in relation to justice and home affairs. We shall follow up those initiatives during the UK presidency. I welcome the fact that the Amsterdam Treaty will include the first provision for treaty-based access to documents. That has never been provided before. As to Labour Members of the European Parliament, I do not think that that is any more a matter for this House than is the subject of committees of the European Parliament.

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Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, is the Minister aware that an examination of the documents that emanate as reports from the budget committee of the European Parliament shows that they are distinctly uninformative and do not add generally to the store of knowledge available to the general public? In this case, and allowing for the Minister's defence of the position that the European Parliament and what it does is no particular concern of ours, and in view of the stance taken by the European Parliament on matters of vital interest to the United Kingdom, will the Minister take steps in future (through his civil servants or by other means) to make sure that the British Parliament is acquainted with what happens?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I welcome the development in my noble friend's thinking. It was clear from the question asked by my noble friend Lord Barnett that my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington has changed his views since he was involved in these matters and agreed to meetings in private. The whole thrust of our policy has been for greater openness. One of the most effective ways of achieving that has been the extension of qualified majority voting to issues of openness so that a minority of member states who are opposed to further openness initiatives are brought out into the open, so to speak.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, may I ask why this should not be a matter of legitimate concern for your Lordships' House?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the European Parliament, like another place, is a democratically elected body and makes its own rules. I do not think that we would be very pleased if the European Parliament started to demand that committees of your Lordships' House, for example, must hold their deliberations in public rather than in private.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, but should it not be of interest to this House if Members of the European Parliament act against the national interest?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, there is no evidence that Members of the European Parliament have been acting against the national interest or against the interests of Europe as a whole.


3.4 p.m.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will convene a high level, interdepartmental committee with the remit to consider all the current evidence on the testing, licensing, use and disposal of organophosphorus chemicals and their effects on humans and the environment, and to make recommendations.

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The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue): My Lords, the existing advisory committees already provide a considerable level of scrutiny and advice to Ministers. There is close liaison and overlapping membership between the Advisory Committee on Pesticides, the Veterinary Products Committee, the Committee on Safety of Medicines, and other associated committees. The Government attach the highest importance to ensuring that the current interchange of information and scientific expertise continues and is made available to all those who have an interest. In addition, a group of officials from relevant departments will formally monitor and co-ordinate the information relating to organophosphorus chemicals and will report regularly to Ministers.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, the Minister will be aware that this is not the first time that I have asked such a Question and I am extremely grateful to him for that encouraging Answer. Does the Minister appreciate that not only are the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of Health involved, but that the Department of the Environment, the Department of Social Security, and the Ministry of Defence are also involved--and the Treasury is probably somewhere in all of this? Will the Minister use all his very obvious powers of persuasion to persuade officials that it is not too late for them to discard their defensive stance and that they should address the very real concerns of the sufferers that they should receive treatment and that any future damage should be prevented?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I thank the noble Countess. I assure her that we take this matter extremely seriously, and that the work of the relevant departments, which she mentioned, is being co-ordinated--I do not know whether the Treasury is aware of that. From my observations, there has been a notable move towards a more positive attitude on the part of officials in the department.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, does the Minister remember that when we last discussed this subject he was sympathetic to the proposal that there should be an independent co-ordinator from outside all the departments concerned who should be of such stature as to be trusted by the veterans? Trust is still very lacking and I strongly support the noble Countess in urging the Government to do all that they can to regain that trust. May I suggest that the idea of having an interdepartmental co-ordinator of stature--an idea to which the Minister was sympathetic when it was discussed--should be pursued?

Lord Donoughue: Yes, my Lords, I recall that being raised in debate and I was, and am, sympathetic to the idea. We are continuing to consider that proposal but I believe that what the co-ordinating committee establishes will produce the evidence that Ministers require in order to take the necessary decisions. We are intent on re-establishing trust in our management of this very important matter.

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Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is a serious problem of head lice among schoolchildren throughout the country, that the shampoo most suitable for dealing with the problem seems to be that containing organophosphates, and that many parents and teachers are therefore worried? I agree with the noble Countess about the importance of establishing a co-ordinating committee and congratulate the Minister on his work to establish an interdepartmental committee.

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