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Lord Whitty: My Lords, I really do have to take issue with the noble Earl on his final point. Many noble Lords in this House have borne witness in many circumstances to the efficiency, courtesy and effectiveness of our embassy staff.
To turn to the noble Earl's less lurid questions, I am very much in favour, as my noble friend Lady Symons has reported to this House on many occasions, of the idea of engaging more people from ethnic minorities and, in this context, people speaking some of the languages that are needed in our embassies abroad. However, there is a rapidly changing demand for languages in the Foreign Office. The noble Earl will be familiar, for example, with the fact that some embassies in the former Soviet Union have required a crash programme which is only now coming to fruition. I am not sure that looking at the Foreign Office Vote in the way that he suggested, or bringing in the Ministry of Defence, would improve the status or effectiveness of language teaching within the Foreign Office.
The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, will the noble Lord tell the House whether the heads of mission in the former Soviet states of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Chechnya, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan can speak the local language?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I was expecting that question on the Baltic States, therefore my briefing is not entirely up-to-date on central Asia. In each of those embassies in central Asia there will be at least one
Viscount Waverley: My Lords, does the system of overseas postings, including the Department of Trade and Industry, allow for division and concentration in broad categories of languages to allow for real confidence to be developed?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the answer is to some extent yes, in that there is an increasing build-up of language expertise in related languages. But in addition, postings and language training can be in entirely new areas. The traditional system of posting for the Foreign Office is still continuing in that respect.
Lord Moynihan: My Lords, while the considerable foreign language teaching skills of BBC World Service reporters are informally used by our diplomatic personnel, will the Minister explore the possibility of a formal link, to ensure that that resource base is fully utilised, particularly in relation to some of the less commonly used languages that our World Service reporters employ as their native tongues? That approach was highly successfully followed, not least in Uzbekistan.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am aware of the position in relation to Uzbekistan. Certainly it would be our intention to make use of BBC talent where necessary. However, the main burden will rest on the Foreign Office's own training centre.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, will the Minister tell the House, given that we now have to support well over 200 missions abroad, how far Her Majesty's Government are taking advantage of the possibilities of co-operation in any way in relation to staffing, buildings and security with other European Union member governments?
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. Is he aware that what is crucial in relation to the four court cases is that at long last the fact of chronic ill health as a result of exposure to OPs has been found acceptable in the courts? It would appear that Her Majesty's Government do not accept that. Is the noble Lord further aware that work in Israel indicates that stress, whether from heat, emotion or physical activity, causes the blood vein barrier to break down and organophosphates and viruses to enter the brain? That is particularly applicable to sheep dipping. Is the noble Lord also aware that children are now being found to suffer from organophosphate poisoning to a much greater extent than was anticipated because they are particularly vulnerable? There is a lot of other epidemiological evidence which is now coming forward. Will the noble Lord ask his colleagues in another place urgently to reconsider their decision in relation organophosphates?
Lord Carter: My Lords, first, in relation to liability, we are advised that it is for an individual to take up the matter with the manufacturers of the sheep dip. It is significant that in the cases in Australia and Hong Kong, and also that involving Lancashire County Council, the action was between the individual and his employer.
As regards the exposure of children, the safety assessments carried out in relation to such products must take into account exposure of members of the public, including children. Such assessments are particularly important in relation to OP flea treatment for pets, since children come into close contact with treated animals.
On the question of a revision of the present position, as I said, the approach to the approval of pesticides and veterinary and human medicines is precautionary. The expert scientific committees review the data to ensure that the balance between risk and benefit is correctly drawn. Any new evidence will be taken into account.
Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the Transport and General Workers' Union supported at least one of the cases referred to in the Question and there is great concern about the health and safety of workers, particularly those involved with sheep dipping? There is apparently evidence that the protective clothing does not adequately protect. Could there be consultation with the workers in the industry via their unions on the issues raised in the Question tabled by the noble Countess, Lady Mar?
Lord Carter: My Lords, the case of the employee to which my noble friend refers was in fact settled out of court. I refer to the case of Mr. Rob Shepherd and Lancashire County Council. We therefore have no details as to the background to the settlement, and further comment would not be appropriate.
Regarding the use of the currently recommended personal protective equipment (PPE), we understand that it can be worn with comfort, and consultation with contractors has suggested that it is fit for the purpose. However, the Veterinary Products Committee has recommended that research should be carried out into the use of lighter, user friendly materials for the manufacture of PPE which would still protect dippers against exposure to OPs. The Health and Safety Executive is taking that work forward.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that it is a matter of some astonishment to many people that the government departments concerned should for so long have remained impervious to the arguments of the noble Countess? One understands why the noble Lord rather hurried through his answers, given to him as they were by experts. Would it be too much to hope that he might deliver a fairly powerful message to those experts that the answers he has been given are not wholly satisfactory?
Lord Carter: My Lords, for the benefit of the noble Lord, I will speak very slowly. As I am sure the noble Lord is aware, advice on the approval or review of OPs is provided by the Veterinary Products Committee, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, the Committee on the Safety of Medicines, the Advisory Committee on Pesticides, the Working Party on Pesticide Residues, the Pesticides Forum, the Health and Safety Executive and the Pesticides Incidents Appraisal Panel, to name but a few. It is not clear how much more advice we could actually seek.
Earl Russell: My Lords, perhaps I may congratulate the noble Lord on his wisdom in choosing the words, "the current advice is". In the light of the past history of this subject, will he convey the warning inherent in those words to his advisers as well as to this House?
The Earl of Clanwilliam: My Lords, will the Minister arrange for the publication of a list of pharmaceutical and agricultural products containing organophosphates so that the public can be reasonably aware of the dangers to which they are subjected?
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