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Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, it is important that we should do everything we can to make sure that children grow up in happy and stable circumstances, and marriage is often the background in which that kind of happiness and stability can be created. At the same time, it is important that we are sensitive to the fact that there are large numbers of children in our schools who do not have that good fortune. It would be sad if anything that we did in schools made those children feel even more inadequate. This is an area where we want teachers to be sensitive. Teachers are receiving training to achieve just that.
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am not sure whether the noble Baroness heard my first Answer, but I thought that I had made it clear that Preparing Young People for Adult Life makes it absolutely clear that a stable family background is important and that the report refers to marriage. The foreword by the Secretary of State does so. The other document which considers revisions to the national curriculum is out for consultation. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has already made it clear that we shall respond to the representations that have been made about marriage.
The Lord Bishop of Ely: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that her reply gave great pleasure to these Benches? Is she also aware that we believe that it is possible to say all the positive things which have been said in government publications without implying any of the negatives which have sometimes been thought to follow from those positives? Is she aware that we would give the sensitive treatment of these issues our full support?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am enormously grateful to the right reverend Prelate for his welcome of the Government's position on this matter and for his support, and that of his Benches, for a sensitive approach to what is a sensitive issue.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, is it true that the Government have plans to lift the clause in the Act which bars teachers in schools from proselytising homosexual relationships as a preferred way of life?
Life's paradise, the great princess, the soul's quiet,
Sinews of concord, earthly immortality"?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, the Department for Education and Employment has responsibility for the school curriculum, including questions of personal, social and health matters that affect all young people.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My Lords, there are stringent controls in place to ensure that healthcare waste is disposed of satisfactorily. Under Part II of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 healthcare waste must be disposed of under a waste management licence issued by the Environment Agencies. The purpose of a licence is to ensure that waste is disposed of in ways which protect the environment and human health. Contravention of licence conditions is a criminal offence.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Does he accept that material which has been in contact with body fluids or patients' wounds is especially dangerous waste and that sharps--that is, blades and needles--are the most dangerous? As the best healthcare waste management involves minimisation, segregation and isolation, can he tell us what proportion of National Health waste is disposed of on site where these materials have been used?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I cannot give the total figures but largely as a result of improved segregation techniques there has been a substantial reduction in the total amount of clinical waste--from 128,000 tonnes to just over 100,000 tonnes over the past three years--which is disposed of under these regulations.
Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, the Minister mentioned the stringent controls with regard to healthcare waste. However, I am sure he is aware of a major national investigation that has been conducted by the police and the Environment Agency into the activities of a major healthcare waste disposal contractor. Can he tell us a little more about the activities of the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive with regard to issuing new guidance on healthcare waste disposal, which has not been updated since 1992?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I cannot comment on individual cases. Continuous work is carried out by both the Environment Agency and by the Health and Safety Agency in relation to the handling and transportation of clinical waste. A number of specific codes have been issued which address particular problems. For example, last year a code was issued by the NHS on clinical waste disposal treatments and technology as alternatives to
Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I am sure the Minister will agree that the proper disposal of waste is entirely dependent upon meticulous and detailed management. The least hazardous and most cost effective way of disposing of healthcare waste is on-site. If that can be done it reduces the management risk. However, many hospitals still have their clinical waste removed. Can the Minister say what is the cost of that removal to the National Health Service? Can he give any indication of how long it will be before hospitals in general have their own disposal facilities?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the short answer to the noble Lord's questions is that I cannot give that information. The noble Lord is exaggerating the problem. A fair amount of clinical waste can be disposed of relatively easily externally to the place of creation provided that care is taken and the codes are followed. Toxic or otherwise dangerous waste--which is a relatively small proportion of total healthcare waste--is covered by tighter regulations under the Special Waste Regulations 1996. Clearly hospitals, health centres and those who deal with that kind of waste must observe special precautions. However, a fair amount of the total clinical waste is not of that level of danger.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the serious problem of healthcare material being misused by drug addicts and then thrown onto the ground in local authority areas throughout most of the country? Children are at particular risk because the needles and syringes have a fascination for them. What controls are there, or could there be, to deal with this problem? It does not really fit into any of the official methods of disposal.
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