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Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, can the Minister say what the poor sheep with sheep scab are doing while organophosphates are off the market? How are they being treated?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, knows better than I that there are alternative products in terms of injectables that cover some parasites and in terms of SP dips rather than OP dips. I recognise that both those alternative treatments have drawbacks and that there are difficulties over price. But alternative treatments are available in terms of pour-ons, dips and injectables.

Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, can the Minister say what organophosphates that are used in the home come into contact with our children? Can she say whether those items will be looked at in the very near future?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, we should not think that, because no specific research projects are being funded by MAFF at the moment, the exposure of children to organophosphate products is not taken into account in the licensing process. It is taken into account in the licensing process, whether it is a human medicines licence for products such as malathion, which is used for head lice, or licensing of flea collars for pets. I understand that the Veterinary Products Committee has asked for extra information about the effects on users, including children, of those kinds of products. Equally, it has asked for information on pesticides--which could be insecticides--that are used in the home. It is part and parcel of the regulatory process that the effects on any users, including children, are taken into account. As I said, it is not impossible that we shall look also at proposals for specific research projects.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, does the Minister think that parents are aware, when they are using the nit lotions, that those products contain ingredients such as organophosphates? They may have read in the newspapers that organophosphates are controversial for use on sheep,

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yet they are knowingly using such products on their own children's hair with, as we heard, unresearched results.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I did not say that there were unresearched results as far as concerns the use of organophosphate medicines for the treatment of head lice. The Committee on Safety of Medicines has to approve such usage, and it has to do so through a rigorous assessment of the safety process. That has been gone through. The Committee on Safety of Medicines did not suggest that there was any reason for withdrawal. It is precisely because not everyone may know every detail of what is contained in a medicine or treatment that they use that we must have robust regulatory processes in order to ensure that there are not products on the market that might be dangerous.

The Countess of Mar: My Lord, is it not the case that in domestic situations the users are untrained and uncontrolled? There is a serious danger--I have come across a number of cases--of over-use of organophosphate products, which causes damage, particularly to children. I am especially concerned about children under five, whose neurological systems are not fully developed.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, it is right that we should be continually vigilant in this area. We have to be particularly concerned if there are possible effects on children which have not been recognised. As I said, we hope that the seminar that we intend to hold in March as a follow-up to the research recommendations from the COT report which was published last year will indicate some ways forward to ensure that we cover all these areas. As the noble Countess knows, a vast amount of time, energy and scientific work has gone into the assessment of these products.

Afghan Aircraft Hijack

3.8 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many passengers on the Afghan flight hijacked to Stansted have applied for political asylum.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): My Lords, as of 15th February, 79 passengers have applied for asylum or are dependants of those who have applied for asylum.

Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Can he tell me what the Government will now do to prevent such incidents happening again? Can he further tell me what representations the Government have made to the

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Russian Government, which appear to be in clear contravention of international civil aviation conventions in this matter?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am not aware of the precise representations that have been made to the Russian Government. However, no doubt discussions will continue. As the noble Lord is well aware, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has made plain our distaste for the hijacking activities that took place when the aircraft was diverted to Stansted Airport. We have a very good record in this respect--as had the previous government, it should fairly be said--and we shall continue to ensure that we take the most robust measures possible to deter other people from considering such action.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, will the Minister accept that the Secretary of State has a quasi-judicial role in matters of immigration and asylum and that it was rather unfortunate for him to have made a pronouncement that those people should go back even before their applications were considered? Will he further accept that the Afghans were entitled to make an application for asylum under the present Immigration and Asylum Act and that there is a fast-track system which can determine whether or not the case is genuine? Will he accept that the asylum seekers--bar those being charged with hijacking--have done nothing wrong under the obligations of the United Nations Charter on Refugees?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I fully accept that those who have come here as an unfortunate consequence of the hijacking are entitled to make an asylum application. I cannot agree with the noble Lord's assessment of the position of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. He has not pre-judged the claims. He has made it clear that he will act strictly in accordance with the law by considering each claim on its merits. That must be right and proper.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the recent incident shows the need for improving the quality of initial asylum decisions? Would that not greatly reduce the number of appeals and applications for judicial review? Is it not important that the first decision maker should personally see the applicant?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the final point made by the noble Lord is an important one. Clearly, the way in which cases are reviewed will have an impact on their outcome. The Government have taken effective action by putting into law the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, which will actively deter false asylum seekers but at the same time provide for a new streamlined appeals system to reduce the scope for delay by applicants pursuing multiple avenues of appeal. We believe that to be right and proper. The measures have received active and wide support from both sides of the Chamber.

Lord Boardman: My Lords, is any distinction to be made between those seeking asylum here who had no

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expectation of leaving their own country and those who were part of a plan hoping and expecting to arrive here?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, each asylum application must be judged on its merits. Clearly the intentions of those wishing to seek asylum will be a consideration in individual decisions. The decisions are complex, but no doubt, as the process will be speeded up, all the applications will be properly processed, as they should be.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, perhaps I may return to the question of the Russian Government. Will the Minister confirm that it was the Russian Government's responsibility under international treaty to deal with the situation when the aircraft landed in Moscow? During the hijack period, did the Government consider the option of returning the aircraft to Moscow to allow the Russians to fulfil their obligations under the treaty? Will the Minister at least undertake to write to my noble friend Lord Brabazon in response to the question of representations made to the government in Moscow, both during and since the hijack?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it would be difficult for me to give precise answers from the Dispatch Box this afternoon to the first two questions that the noble Lord has quite understandably, rightly and properly put to me. I am happy to undertake further investigation of those points. Of course I shall be more than happy to write to the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, to copy correspondence, where possible, to other noble Lords with an interest in the matter and to place a copy in the Library.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, is any channel now open to enable the Government to engage in dialogue with the Taliban administration, given that its interests are inextricably linked with heroin distribution and terrorism in Afghanistan?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, there are of course channels of communication between our Government and the Taliban government. They are important because there are important matters between the two governments. The noble Viscount makes an important point about the movement of drugs and the appalling trade in humanity that takes place, with people coming to this country falsely seeking asylum. Those two matters seem to be closely related.

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