HL Deb 23 November 1995 vol 567 cc411-2

3.6 p.m.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

Who was responsible for the distribution of the information contained in original Guidance Note MS17 from the Health and Safety Executive of December 1980 and in the revised version of October 1987.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, Guidance Note MS17 was published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office from 1981 to 1993. In its successive versions, it was available as a priced publication from HMSO bookshops, and since 1993 it has been sold by HSE Books.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. Perhaps I should explain that the guidance note is entitled Biological Monitoring of Workers Exposed to Organophosphate Pesticides. The guidance note states: Regular monitoring should be considered for anything more than occasional exposure to OP compounds e.g. garden use".

In view of the fact that many farmers, horticulturalists, forestry workers, contract sprayers and contract dippers use organophosphates on a regular basis, may I ask the noble Lord why the Government have never thought it reasonable to distribute the guidance note to all those who use the products? If the Government had done so, they could probably have saved an awful lot of ill health in the years after 1980.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, the guidance note is designed for health professionals. It has been widely distributed. I believe that about 30,000 copies have been purchased. I agree with the noble Countess that the guidance from 1987 onwards when it was strengthened was that biological monitoring should be considered for anyone using organophosphate pesticides more than occasionally. People excepted from that are those such as farmers dipping twice a year or people who occasionally attach flea collars to cats or dogs. However, health professionals involved with those who carry out contract dipping or who are regularly exposed to organophosphate pesticides should consider monitoring them.

The Earl of Clanwilliam

My Lords, will my noble friend allow me to expand slightly upon the organophosphate problem by asking him, first, if he will assure the House that there is no connection between the application of organophosphate compounds on the spines of beasts, cattle and dairy herds and the incidence of BSE infection in the spinal cords of those beasts, which is causing much concern? Secondly, has my noble friend taken note of the letter of Sir Julian Rose from his farm in Berkshire to The Times on 16th November in which he stated: No dairy or beef cattle born and bred on registered organic farms have ever been affected by BSE"?

Will my noble friend comment on that?

Lord Lucas

My Lords, we are satisfied that BSE in the UK is an infection from feed and that it has nothing whatever to do with OP pesticides or any other of the wild rumours which have been put around over the past few years. I have not read the letter mentioned by my noble friend, but it would not surprise me at all if organic farms were largely exempt because the feed of the cattle infected with BSE was made out of other cattle and on organic farms they may not use that type of feed.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, the noble Lord advised the House that the guidance note referred to in the Question was aimed at the relevant health service professionals. Bearing in mind that presumably all of those health service professionals would be employed by the NHS, would it not be more logical that they should be circulated with a free copy of the guidance note rather than have to buy it?

Lord Lucas

My Lords, there is a voluminous series of these notes. Most of the health service professionals have access to them nowadays through CD-Rom and other such technologies. They know that when they come across a potential health problem they should look to the relevant guidance note. They are aware that the HSE covers all such poisons, and they will look for what is required. It is entirely right that when they do so they should purchase the guidance note just as they purchase text books.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I wonder whether a non-farmer may ask the Government whether they realise how much we admire the noble Countess, Lady Mar, for the persistence of her questioning on this matter in the face of answers which are presumably not inaccurate but which in many cases are incomplete.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, I cede to no one in my admiration of the noble Countess. She has pursued a long, and in many ways entirely successful, campaign, and has achieved a great deal over the years. I have listened to her from both the Front and Back Benches with a great deal of respect. I assure the noble Lord and the noble Countess that I endeavour to give the most complete replies of which I am capable.

The Countess of Mar

; My Lords, perhaps I may thank noble Lords for their kind remarks. I am well aware that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, tries to get me accurate answers on every occasion, and for that I am extremely grateful. Does he accept that the HSE has a duty to inform employers and employees of anything like this which comes into its hands? To whom were the 30,000 leaflets sold, because I have not yet found a GP or an EMAS doctor who has ever seen it? EMAS doctors work within the HSE.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, because the leaflets were sold by bookshops there is no way in which I can tell the noble Countess who purchased them. If she believes that they are not around doctors or health professionals, I shall try to find out whether that is our view of the case. It is not what I have been told, but I shall pursue further research into that matter and write to the noble Countess.