§ 3.19 p.m.
§ The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ How many applications for enrolment for the certificate of competence in the safe use of sheep dips have been received by the National Proficiency Tests Council.
My Lords, as at 18th October, the National Proficiency Tests Council had received 8,881 applications for enrolment for the certificate of competence in the safe use of sheep dips.
§ The Countess of Mar
My Lords, does the noble Earl accept that that is a very disappointing number in view of the fact that the Government believe that there are around 90,000 sheep farmers in this country? Is he aware that during the Recess I came across two first-hand cases of people who have been stockpiling sheep dip? The first person has bought enough for five years for dipping three times a year and the second has formed a syndicate with a group and they have bought three years' stocks in advance. In view of the fact that the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain has only six inspectors to inspect 1,081 major outlets and four different categories of minor outlet, can he say how what is actually happening goes with his stated remarks about the Government's,overriding concern to protect human health through measures that are practicable and effective"?— [Official Report, 19/4/94; col. 176.]
My Lords, I cannot accept the noble Countess's contention that the figures are disappointing. The number of applications has increased each month so far since the scheme was introduced. Sheep farmers do not need to register unless they see the need to purchase OP dips. However, the central point of her Question is a very important one. Agricultural distributors cannot sell dips to those who clearly intend to sell or to supply on to other people. That would be wholesale dealing, an offence which carries an unlimited fine or two years' imprisonment. Similarly, any farmer acting in this way could be aiding and abetting such activity as well as undertaking an illegal sale and supply of the product. If a buyer acts as an agent on behalf of several purchasers, he will need certificates in respect of each purchaser in order to proceed.
538 The Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain is the enforcement body and it is aware of the potential problem of bulk purchases. It is for the society to provide whatever resources it needs to meet its responsibilities and to reflect the costs in its fees as appropriate. It will prosecute if evidence comes to light that the proper conditions of sale have not been observed.
§ Baroness Nicol
My Lords, can the Minister reassure the House that enough inspectors will be available to monitor the scheme? Even at the level of 8,000 applicants, and certainly if the total grows any higher, is it not the case that this service is particularly overstretched at the moment?
My Lords, monitoring will take place on two levels. As I have said, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain is the enforcement body with regard to the certificates of competence, but the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and COSHH give adequate powers to deal with those who handle sheep dip products carelessly. I am confident that there are adequate men on the ground to monitor that as well. The key point here is that those who purchase OP dips will have to demonstrate that they are competent to use those dips or are purchasing the dips on behalf of someone who holds a certificate. That is a very important sanction.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
My Lords, if a farmer takes the test and fails, does he have to pay another £49 to retake the test?
My Lords, the cost of the test is £49. That is not unreasonable for a one-off payment. It covers the holder for life and ensures that he or she has adequate training in the handling of these products, thus minimising any risks that may be involved. Within that figure there are three elements; first, the costs of certification, which are £19; secondly, the agent's costs for assessment, invigilation, provision of accommodation for testing, and so on, which are £30; thirdly, there is the optional extra above that of training for those who feel they need it. Those who fail the test will have to pay part of the fee again. I shall write to the noble Baroness with further details.
§ Lord Swinfen
My Lords, is there any method of reporting excessively large sales of these organophosphate dips so that the inspectors know where they should carry out urgent inspections?
My Lords, my noble friend makes a good point but I would say to him that the onus is on the supplier to ensure that he does not supply organophosphate dips to anyone who is not going to use those dips himself on his own animals. Any suspiciously large quantity of OP dips will of course excite the suspicions of the supplier. It is important that suppliers take their responsibilities seriously.
§ Lord Geraint
My Lords, I am sure the Minister will agree with me that fewer and fewer farmers will enrol for the certificate of competence in sheep dipping for the reason that we have alternative dips on the market 539 these days which are very efficient indeed. I happen to be one of those users. On this occasion I should like to thank MAFF and the ADAS staff for the help that they have given to the sheep farmers of this country over the past six months. However, I beg the Minister once again to reconsider introducing compulsory sheep dipping.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his remarks. He is quite right that there are acceptable alternative ways of treating sheep. Flumethrin dips can be used to treat sheep scab. A new injectable product was licensed in February 1994 for the treatment of sheep scab. That was on the market in time for the 1994 dipping season. There are also pour-ons that can be used to combat blowfly strike.
With regard to the noble Lord's second point and the reintroduction of scab controls, I would simply say that several years of stringent controls failed to eradicate sheep scab. There are no EC-wide controls for sheep scab and the disease can be readily controlled at farm or local level. It is up to the farmer, whose responsibility it is to see to the health and welfare of his animals, to ensure that sheep are dipped if necessary.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords, can the noble Earl give the latest figures of deaths or serious illnesses as a result of handling sheep dip?
My Lords, there are records of two fatalities associated with sheep dipping. One, however, was a suicide, where there was a deliberate ingestion of the sheep dip product. Another involved a heart attack immediately after dipping, but that was later found not to have any connection with the dipping operation itself.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, are the Government aware that it is possible for farmers to purchase OP sheep dips abroad and bring them into the UK with a view to by-passing the certification scheme? Do the Government have any plans to close that loophole?
My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. It is possible in theory for a farmer to purchase organophosphate products overseas and bring them back to this country. It is perfectly legal to do so provided that those products are for his own use and for the treatment of his own animals. However, that is not a reason for the Government to have failed to act in the way that they have by introducing the certificate of competence scheme. If one regards it as a loophole, I suppose I would have to agree with the noble Lord. But it is not a serious enough loophole to invalidate the Government's actions.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, if the farmer purchases the sheep dip abroad and brings it in, he can then use it. He has not needed a certificate to buy it because he bought it abroad. But he can then still use it. Is that the case?
My Lords, he may use it on his own animals. What he may not do is sell it on to other sheep farmers or users of the product.
§ The Countess of Mar
My Lords, does the noble Earl appreciate that I am extremely grateful to him and to Her Majesty's Government for all that they have tried to do to prevent people from suffering ill health? 540 However, I am still very concerned about the number of people who are purchasing in bulk and who perhaps do not realise, despite all the literature that they have been sent, that OP dips contaminate when they stand on the shelf and that the contaminants are very much more dangerous than the original OP dip? Can anything be done to inform those people of the dangers?
My Lords, the Government regularly review their publicity efforts. As I am sure the noble Countess will know, an HSE leaflet on sheep dipping was circulated in May to all sheep farmers. A claim form for the sheep annual premium scheme which will be going out shortly will have an accompanying note about sheep dipping. The leaflet on sheep scab which was published this autumn contains a note on dipping. That is not the end of the story. We are ready and more than willing to consider other messages if they are needed.