HL Deb 02 June 1980 vol 409 cc1104-6

2.41 p.m.

Baroness MASHAM of ILTON

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the second Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will ensure that the public are fully warned against the dangers of brands of paraquat and diquat weed-killers which can be obtained in shops under the name of Weedol.


Yes, my Lords, as with all products which are cleared under the Pesticides Safety Precautions Scheme, the prescribed precautions must be prominently displayed on the labels of all containers which are put on the market. Weedol is no exception. I am sending the noble Baroness a specimen of the relevant labels. If she is aware of premises where products are being retailed without these labels, I hope that she will let me know.

Baroness MASHAM of ILTON

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that I bought this packet of Weedol which contains paraquat over the counter, and the girl in the chemist's shop did not know that paraquat was a poison. This is not marked "poison". Is he aware that people sometimes make up weed-killers in lemonade bottles and if children drink this substance they can damage lungs and kidneys, and there is no antidote to this poison?


My Lords, I was not aware that the noble Baroness had purchased a packet of Weedol, but I am grateful to her for the information. She is perfectly correct in saying that paraquat is a poison, but Weedol is not a scheduled poison because Weedol contains only 2.5 per cent. of paraquat, whereas the liquid form which is used by commercial farmers contains 20 per cent.

With regard to the observations made by the noble Baroness about the stuff being decanted into lemonade bottles, I agree with her entirely that this is a very dangerous practice and should not be done. If she reads the instructions properly, I think she will find that she will be informed that she should not decant Weedol into soft drinks bottles. I would assure her that the instructions are such on all containers containing paraquat that this should not be done, because if used injudiciously this is a very dangerous chemical.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether it would not be a wise precaution to have all packets of weed-killer which contain either paraquat or diquat marked "poison"? Although I take the point made by the noble Earl that the directions are clear, would not a red message marked "poison" on each package be a wise precaution which might easily save a serious accident and would cost no more to the manufacturer?


My Lords, I perceive my noble friend's apprehension. I would merely tell him that what is a scheduled poison and what is not is decided by the Home Secretary on the advice of the poisons board, and the poisons board specifically excluded Weedol because it is in a granulated form and because as such it is undrinkable and unpalatable. I will certainly look into the point made by my noble friend, but I would reassure him that there are instructions on the packet which indicate how it ought to be handled, and obviously any chemical, if it is handled wrongly, can cause harm.

Baroness MASHAM of ILTON

My Lords, may I also ask the Minister whether he is aware that many doctors are concerned about this, because it takes only a very little paraquat to damage the lungs of small children, and many people in this country are careless, especially over locking up weed-killers in garden sheds, and anyway the children probably would not be able to read?


My Lords, I will certainly see that the observations made by the noble Baroness are drawn to the attention of my right honourable friend.