HC Deb 25 June 1998 vol 314 cc604-5W
Mr. Ainger

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he will be able to publish the report of his official group on organophosphorous products; and if he will make a statement. [48003]

Dr. John Cunningham

With the agreement of my colleagues, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Secretaries of State for Health, for Defence, for Scotland, for Wales and for Northern Ireland, I am today publishing the report from the official group on organophosphorous (OP) products. The group was set up at the end of last year to review the processes for sharing information and achieving co-ordination between Departments, to draw together scientific evidence and identify any gaps to be remedied; to examine those processes by which OPs are licensed, and to advise whether procedures should be changed.

The group's report is the most thorough review of all the issues relevant to the safety and control of these products ever carried out by Government. It is evidence of how seriously we take the public concern about organophosphorous compounds and their use.

The existence of the groups has brought about more effective co-operation between the many Government Departments involved. This is in itself an important step forward, and the group will continue to serve this purpose. The group has formed two networks of Departmental contacts to liaise on exchange of information and the planning of research projects. The aim is to ensure that Departments work on complete and up-to-date information, and avoid conflicting decisions.

The group has made recommendations for early action to improve licensing procedures, the flow of information within Government and to the public, and the range of expertise of the advisory committees from which Government draw scientific advice. We intend to act on all these recommendations. To this end, the Freedom of Information Bill team has been alerted to the need for a clear legal basis for the sharing of information relating to the licensing of medicines and pesticides, and action has begun to alter the membership of the advisory committees.

One important recommendation relates to a comprehensive literature review by the Institute for Environment and Health (IEH) of the scientific evidence on the effects of OPs on human health. The report on that study is also being published today. This review presents a complicated picture; there remains uncertainty about the health effects of OPs. This uncertainty led the official group to recommend that Government should seek views on this study from the Committee on the Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COT), the Advisory Committee on Pesticides (ACP), the Veterinary Products Committee (VPC) and the Committee on Safety of Medicines (CSM). Government accept this recommendation and have set up a special sub-group of COT to start the process. We are asking the committees to give their opinions by the end of 1998. Taking into account the advice from these committees, Government will consider whether any new precautionary measures might be appropriate, in addition to the safeguards in force now. It is our intention to subject every piece of available evidence on OPs to rigorous and transparent scrutiny. We are far from complacent about the continuing concerns about possible health effects of OPs.

Copies of both reports will be placed in the Library of the House.

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