26 May 1999 : Column 915

House of Lords

Wednesday, 26th May 1999.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Hereford.

Viscount Rothermere--Sat first in Parliament after the death of his father.

The Earl of Cromer--Took the Oath.

Royal Assent

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

Scottish Enterprise Act, Rating (Valuation) Act, Northern Ireland (Location of Victims' Remains) Act.

Organophosphates: Licensing Policy

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What co-operation there is between the Veterinary Medicines Directorate and the Pesticides Safety Directorate on licensing policies.

Lord Carter: My Lords, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) and the Pesticides Safety Directorate (PSD) regularly keep one another informed and consult where appropriate on policy issues and safety matters. Both these government agencies are represented on the official group on OPs. This high-level group of officials was set up by the Government in 1997 with the primary aim of ensuring effective co-ordination among government departments and agencies.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. It would seem that what he says is not entirely what is carried out. Is he aware that when the OP information network became aware that the Pesticides Safety Directorate was looking at particular groups of OPs, it asked whether the Veterinary Medicines Directorate's evidence on diazinon, which is a major constituent of organophosphate sheep dips, cat and dog flea collars and various pesticides used in domestic situations, could be made available and was told that because of commercial confidentiality and Section 118 of the Medicines Act no information held by the VMD could be passed to the PSD? Does not the noble Lord think it extraordinary that in these days of joined-up government, and supposedly joined-up

26 May 1999 : Column 916

thinking, these two organisations, whose scientific committees are looking at the same organophosphate, cannot talk to each other?

Lord Carter: My Lords, the issue of providing data for the PSD on diazinon did not arise because the pesticide approval holder chose not to support the products in question. The bulk of data on the safety of diazinon held by the VMD is from published sources and there would have been no difficulty in providing it to the PSD. In the event that the PSD had asked for data provided to the VMD on a confidential basis and by a company, which is controlled by Section 118 of the Medicines Act, it would still have been provided if there were a safety concern relating to human health which the data would assist in resolving. As I said, there are regular exchanges of views between the VMD and the PSD on particular issues. Each agency routinely copies to the other reports of meetings and information on safety evaluation.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, how will the situation be affected by the new transparency under the access to information Bill?

Lord Carter: My Lords, it is already in a sense transparent. The official group on OPs meets regularly. All its reports are published; indeed, its latest report is in the Library. In respect of this matter, there was no need for a freedom of information agenda because the information was already in the public domain. I repeat that if human safety is involved, the information is made available as a matter of course, despite the requirements of the Medicines Act.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will not think me in any way offensive when I ask whether he agrees that his original Answer was foggy in the extreme, had the fingerprints of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food all over it, and therefore would stand a great deal of improvement?

Lord Carter: My Lords, I do not find the noble Lord in the least offensive. What other noble Lords think, I do not know! The situation is as I explained it. It was not foggy; it was quite clear. The product, diazinon, was removed from the approved list by the PSD because the manufacturer had chosen not to support the application. The market for the product was small. It was used for the making of compost and in mushroom production. Obviously, because of the size of the market the manufacturer decided that it was not worth the cost of seeking approval.

The use of diazinon in a sheep dip is completely different and is rigorously controlled. Yes, MAFF drafted the Answer. I read it and approved it.

Lord Richard: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that his first Answer to the Question was not in the least foggy? It is the only one I understood!

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, now follow that one! The noble Lord said that there was full

26 May 1999 : Column 917

communication between the two organisations. Could he explain why it was that the OP information network was therefore misinformed? Concern about the matter was expressed to me some 18 months ago and I was waiting for the results of the inquiry before I raised it. Could the noble Lord say when the OP group will report again? It published one report late last year, but will it report again soon?

Lord Carter: My Lords, I am not sure of the date of the issue of the next report. The departments involved in that group are the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; the Department of Health; the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions; the Ministry of Defence; the Health and Safety Executive; the Veterinary Medicines Directorate; the Pesticides Safety Directorate; the Medicines Control Agency and the territorial departments. That is an excellent example of joined-up government.

International Sport: Television Coverage

2.44 p.m.

Lord Barnett asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have to ensure that major international sports can be seen on television by all those who have paid a licence fee.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, a number of major sports events are included on the list maintained under Part IV of the Broadcasting Act 1996. Television coverage of listed events must be offered to the free-to-air channels which are available to all licence-fee payers. The list was reviewed and extended last year. The significance of sports events changes over time and the broadcasting market is evolving rapidly. So the Government will continue to monitor the need for another review.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that reply, which is much appreciated. How would he answer a question put to me by a personal friend? He said that he fought in the war for his country for six years. Although there has been an improvement since last year, he now finds, despite paying the TV licence fee, that there are many games in which the team of his country plays but which he is not able to see. Is the real answer a matter of money; namely, that the Group B events, which are classed as secondary events, are sometimes not available to terrestrial TV and therefore not available to my friend?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not know in which sports my noble friend's friend is interested. In almost every sport, the amount of free-to-air universal coverage of sport is, as my noble friend acknowledges, increasing. On free-to-air universally available television, there were eight hours of sport per day in 1998 compared with seven hours in 1997. Some people may think that that is excessive, rather than the other way round.

26 May 1999 : Column 918

It is true that the group B secondary events may have exclusive live coverage on subscription channels provided that adequate arrangements are made for delayed coverage or highlights on free-to-air terrestrial channels. Many people prefer highlights or delayed coverage to live coverage which may sometimes be in the middle of the night.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the list works well for the rights of television viewers? But will he agree also that the very fact that sports bodies are on the list amounts to a diminution of their rights which may lead to a financial penalty if they are not able to attract the largest amount of money available? Does he agree further that to extend the list would affect sports which have been able to benefit from the vast royalties which they have been able to collect?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I hope I heard the noble Viscount right. I hope he referred to the "rights of television viewers" rather than the "right sort of television viewers" which is what I first thought he said. Yes, there is a trade-off between the amount of money available for the sports themselves from selling their broadcasting rights and the opportunities for viewers who do not have access to subscription channels to see them. But even so, the BBC, whose coverage is always free-to-air, spends 10 per cent of its licence fee revenue--£20 million--per year on the rights to sports coverage. That is a great deal of money.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page