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The Countess of Mar: My Lords, first, perhaps I may thank the Minister for organising the workshop. The noble Baroness will know that for many years I have been asking for just such a workshop. Perhaps I may also express my gratitude to her for the help that she has given to OP sufferers.
Can the Minister tell the House whether extra research will be undertaken as a result of this workshop? Furthermore, will that research concentrate in particular on the synergistic effects of using combinations of organophosphates, either two together, with synthetic pyrethroids or with phenols? I understand that blood tests can be undertaken at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee to see whether antibodies can be made to these. Furthermore, can she encourage the development of the unit at the Middlesex Hospital which is investigating the neurological effects?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Countess for her remarks. She will be aware that the Committee on Toxicity recommended that research be undertaken into a number of specified areas. The reason for holding the workshop was in order to investigate whether it was important to look into additional, broader areas. We are building up the research requirements document which will be published and will call for bids by open competition to address research questions. We hope to be able to publish that document before the summer break. I shall ensure that the issues pointed out by the noble Countess--I appreciate that she has identified certain specific areas--will be taken into account when we come to draw up that research requirements document. Equally, I shall look into the issues surrounding support for particular services also mentioned by the noble Countess.
Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, whatever is the outcome of any new research, does the noble Baroness accept that, in effect, her ministry forced the use of organophosphates for 10 years and then proved astoundingly complacent about initiating investigations into the misery that that use has caused?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I do not accept the noble Lord's suggestion that the Government have been complacent in any way. We have put more effort into investigating OPs than I believe has ever been done before. The Committee on Toxicity was asked to take a fresh and completely independent look at the toxicity of OPs. On the basis of its results, not only have we undertaken the extra work necessary but we have taken regulatory action in order to withdraw OP sheep dips from the market while their containers are not considered safe by the VPC. Such action has not been universally welcomed but has been taken on the advice of the regulatory authority.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, will the Minister give more information as regards the outcome of the meeting that was held on 28th March? My understanding is that a great deal of evidence came out of that meeting and the Minister has suggested that research will be undertaken. Will she say more about the timing and the programme? She said that the report will be published in the summer. How soon will the suggestions in the report be followed up?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am not certain that new evidence was presented at the workshop. It was a matter of bringing together people who had worked in fields slightly peripheral to the mainstream investigations into OPs. It has been of particular concern to sufferers that we should investigate the database of people who believe that they are suffering from the effects of OPs. We are funding a study to do just that and the work should get under way shortly, before the research requirements document to which I alluded is published. When I attended the workshop, one of the main areas of concern related to the
Baroness Hayman: Not while I was there, my Lords. Having looked briefly at the report published today, I have not seen a reference to the issue. If it is of concern to my noble friend, I shall certainly investigate whether it should be examined in more detail.
The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, the Minister spoke of the Government withdrawing organophosphates from sheep dip because of inadequate containers. Will she indicate when there will be containers that the Government will approve?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the question is when the industry will produce containers that are considered by the Veterinary Products Committee to be safe for use. I understand that several suggestions for new container design are currently being examined by the committee and that it hopes to give advice to the licensing authorities next month.
The Minister for Science, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 imposes a duty on street authorities to co-ordinate works, and the Government welcome the launch of the Central London Partnership earlier this month. They hope that it will be successful and, if successful, that it will be extended more widely. The Government also intend to implement Section 74 of the Act to allow utilities to be charged for occupying the road longer than an agreed period.
The Government are willing to look at new measures to reduce disruption but do not intend to reduce the number of companies with the right to dig new holes in the road as they believe that effective competition is the best way to increase choice, promote enterprise and bring down prices for consumers.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I am happy to accept that it is entirely a coincidence that the issue of digging holes for water repairs has been raised today. It stems from the suggestion by the water regulator that the major leakages that are taking place should be repaired properly. That is the reason why Thames Water has suggested that it will have to produce more holes. It is perfectly reasonable to suggest that Thames Water should have proper regard to the number of holes it digs in roads but at the same time properly conserve water. Those are two objectives that it should be set, and it should be able to abide by both.
Lord Strabolgi: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there has been considerable disruption to the streets around Victoria for several weeks, with pneumatic drills, noise and dirt, and traffic lights put out of order at crossings, presenting a danger to pedestrians? What is the purpose of it all? This is not for water--there must be some other reason. Who gave these companies permission, and what is it for?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I cannot comment on individual cases and particular holes. My area of responsibility is the licensing of telecommunications companies, to which the Question relates. I would point out that the major initiative taken by the street authorities in the Central London Partnership is exactly the kind of initiative that we want to see in order to make certain that work of this kind is properly co-ordinated. Most people accept that much of this work has to be done. We all want to see it properly co-ordinated so that when a street is blocked and people try to find another route they do not also find that road blocked. It requires co-ordination. I welcome the fact that the Central London Partnership is attempting a major initiative to co-ordinate the work.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, lane rental is for disrepairs/repairs of this kind. That is the point. We shall have to continue to repair roads. The major issue is the attempt to co-ordinate the work so as to minimise inconvenience to road users.
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, will the noble Lord agree that his original Answer gave the impression that he felt that the more competition there was in digging holes, the better it would be for London and other major cities? I invite him to withdraw that impression. More seriously, will the Minister assure the House that when he meets the captains of this particular industry he will try to get them interested in this problem, if only for the sake of public relations? Only when there is a direction from the top will there be a country-wide approach to the problem.
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