§ 2.47 p.m.
§ The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ When they propose to respond to the House of Commons Agriculture Committee fifth report on the Pesticides Safety Directorate and Veterinary Medicines Directorate.
§ The Countess of Mar
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware of one recommendation from the committee? I shall quote it:We recommend that the responsibility for the monitoring and subsequent investigation of human suspected adverse reactions to veterinary medicines should be removed from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate: this responsibility should be carried out instead by an independent research institute or university department".
In view of the excellent infectious diseases surveillance and control set-up in this country, will the Minister's boss consider handing over the surveillance of chemical exposures to those people? It would take only a little 967 training and there could be no question of any bias. Will the Minister pass that message on for me? I should be grateful.
Yes, my Lords, I will pass that message on. I shall respond to the noble Countess's question at the same time as the response to the report as a whole is published.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, in their response will the Government take into account that besides the broad and general commendation the committee gave to the two directorates, it also mentioned illogicality in operation, delay, duplication, lack of commercial awareness, over-charging, lack of commercial understanding, over-regulation, unnecessary bureaucracy and a lack of communication? Do the Government regard the pesticides safety and the veterinary medicines directorates as good examples of executive agencies in practice?
My Lords, I must not be drawn into offering a reply in advance of that which is due to the committee in another place.The Earl of Clanwilliam: My Lords, the committee recommeded that OP drugs should be on prescription only. Do Her Majesty's Government accept the precautionary principle that where there are serious concerns relating to the safety of a particular pesticide its use should be withdrawn or restricted until a new risk/benefit analysis can be made? Or are we to wait until the ending of the present epidemiological study, research project No. 3304, at Edinburgh University, which I understand will not be completed before 1999, before any further restrictive action is taken?
My Lords, we take the precautionary principle very seriously. It is evident from a number of recent announcements on other types of pesticide that we act when there is thin evidence rather than waiting until the case is absolutely proved. So far as the long-term effects of continued exposure to small amounts of organophosphates are concerned, our evidence is that there is no effect. However, we have been convinced by the noble Countess, Lady Mar, and others that we should re-examine the matter in a long-term study to establish whether, in spite of nothing being evident at the moment, there actually is something to be seen. Were we to believe at the moment that there was evidence beyond what we know to be the effects of acute exposure, we would take action. However, at the moment, we believe there is none.
§ The Countess of Mar
My Lords, is the Minister aware that the reason why no evidence exists is that no research has been done? Again, will he and the health Minister study those who believe that they are suffering the chronic effects of long-term exposure to OPs? We are still getting nowhere so far as they are concerned. Some are very ill and desperate for treatment.
My Lords, a good deal of research has been done. However, it has not proved conclusive. It produced no evidence of long-term effects. I am aware that the noble Countess wishes us to look particularly 968 at those who claim to have been affected in this way. Unfortunately, that would not provide the right basis for a scientific evaluation as to whether or not there is such an effect. A study must be made of the population as a whole to see whether these effects are more common in those who have been exposed to organophosphates as opposed to those who have not. So far as the treatment of such people is concerned, I will draw the remarks of the noble Countess to the attention of my noble friend.