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Column 1259that it would be right to put a prohibition on development and innovation across the broad spectrum of products that are covered by the definition of "cosmetics".
I shall give some examples that might be worth thinking about. This morning the House could easily have been discussing aerosols and the threat to the ozone layer. All hon. Members are now wholly persuaded of the need to find alternatives to CFCs for use in aerosols, but many of the products for which aerosols are necessary are cosmetics. It is inevitable and right that the alternatives to CFCs must be tried for safety before they can be marketed.
I shall give another example. For reasons that are well known to the House, the House has been concerned about food safety. One question concerning the industry is the safety of preservatives used in food. The same thing applies to cosmetics because, by the nature of cosmetics, when broadly defined as I have defined them, preservatives play an important part. It is essential that we should ascertain the safety of those preservatives. We must ascertain whether chemical or microbiological degradation is likely to lead to infection or adverse reaction. Preservatives are one of the more common causes of allergic responses to cosmetic products. I do not think that we should say that we can now draw a line under our knowledge of preservatives. I find that proposition difficult to accept.
It is right that work should continue to make preservatives safe. The only way of guaranteeing that they are safe--in so far as guarantees are possible--is to carry out some tests on living animals. The testing of such preservatives counts for statistical purposes as the testing of cosmetics.
The plain fact is that similar arguments apply for a wide range of other cosmetic products. It goes without saying that shampoos must not irritate the eyes or cause hair loss, that toothpaste must not inflame the gums and that creams to protect the skin must not produce a rash.
Even substances which we may use very rarely must be tested to make sure that the workers who produce them, and are therefore exposed daily to large quantities, are not at risk. Again, such testing counts in our statistics on cosmetics testing.
Understandably, my hon. Friend raised questions of law. The point is that, if cosmetics are to be made in this country, manufacturers must comply with a common law requirement to ensure that their products are safe as well as meeting both our own and European Community legislation, in particular the Cosmetic Products (Safety) Regulations 1984, which implement the European Community's cosmetics directives, and the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. Indeed, without proper testing involving animals, manufacturers could become liable--in my view, rightly so--for heavy damages if they sold cosmetic products which seriously injured the health of their customers. Taking a broad view of the matter and having regard to the liability, or potential liability, of manufacturers, it seems to me that they simply could not establish that they had taken "all reasonable care"--which is the test in negligence actions--if in certain cases they had failed to carry out procedures on living animals. I do not see how they could satisfy their common law, not to say their statutory, duties in that respect.
We should also note that the European "Notes for Guidance for the Toxicity Testing of Cosmetic
Column 1260Ingredients" make the requirement for testing in living animals explicit, following an earlier report by the Scientific Committee on Cosmetology.
That report stated :
"some in vitro systems have been developed so that they can be used as screening tests to indicate the possibility of a long-term risk, but the results still have to be confirmed in mammals. Most of the adverse effects associated with cosmetics are such that they can only be demonstrated in mammals".
As I have told the House, we share the concern of hon. Members to ensure that this testing is kept to a minimum. The Home Secretary has specifically sought the advice of the Animal Procedures Committee about cosmetic testing. As my hon. Friend the Member for Drake will agree, that committee is an unusually distinguished and independent-minded committee.
In its annual report laid before Parliament in December the APC set out its current position on cosmetics testing. It has asked for special reporting requirements to be imposed on cosmetic project licences to enable it to carry out a thorough review of the subject in due course. We are also encouraging alternatives to the use of living animals whenever possible, and I am glad to say that the industry has responded.
At the moment, alternative methods are used to screen substances before they are tested on living animals. This is particularly important with tests such as the Draize eye test to which my hon. Friend referred. Before embarking on such tests, a safety evaluation must be carried out using published information to establish lack of irritancy. When available, tests not involving living animals must also be used. Only if those are satisfactory are tests performed using living animals, and, whenever possible, the substances are diluted for the test.
My hon. Friend, in an interesting speech, talked at some length about so- called "cruelty-free" cosmetics produced by companies which claim not to test their products on living animals. I do not pretend that we in the Home Office are particularly expert in that sphere. Our concerns, as my hon. Friend will be aware, are to ensure that all procedures involving living animals are properly justified and correctly carried out.
One should approach some of the claims with a degree of caution. The term "cruelty-free" is certainly vague. It could be judged to be emotive. Like a number of similar claims for products, such as those which are described as "home made" or "organic", it is not always clear exactly what is being claimed.
The phrase "cruelty-free" may imply that the product has not been tested on living animals or that when it was, the testing did not involve cruelty. It is of course always possible for a company to market a product which is known to be non-toxic without the need for further testing--we would encourage that whenever possible--but I am told that some of the claims about "cruelty-free" substances are not always what they seem. I know that some companies claim that their finished products are not tested on animals, but that as a proposition is true for the majority of products, as, in general, it is only the ingredients which are tested, and then only when they are being developed.
I know, too, that some companies claim that the substances they use have not been tested on living animals within the last five years. But most companies could claim that with a degree of justice. Because of the time it takes to develop a new ingredient and obtain European
Column 1261Community acceptance, it is relatively uncommon for a new ingredient to be marketed within five years of its safety clearance. I share the wish of my hon. Friend that, whenever, possible and whenever it is safe to do so, the safety of cosmetics should be established without recourse to animal testing. In the meantime, we should be clearer what the claim to be "cruelty-free" means, and perhaps we would be wise not to take all these claims at face value. I am sure that this is not the last time that the House will debate these issues. It is right that there should be a continuing awareness of them. It is right, too, that my hon. Friend, with her knowledge and expertise of this issue, should take opportunities to bring the matter before the House.
The Government are concerned to ensure a correct balance. The correct balance, as we judge it to be, is the balance between, on the one hand, the proper and effective safety testing of everyday personal hygiene and toilet preparations and other cosmetics broadly defined and, on the other, the use of living animals in this testing.
We believe that the controls that we have introduced in the 1986 legislation are effective in ensuring that the only testing which is done is that which is necessary and which is required by proper regulatory authorities and testing which is properly conducted. We are keeping the matter under review and are in discussion with licensees about the conduct of their work. The public must be reassured that experiments on living animals are conducted only when there is no alternative and, equally, that the wide range of what are defined as cosmetic substances which they may use every day are safe for them and for their children.
Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Mo n) : I now understand what it means when hon. Members tell me that the timetable of the House is extremely fluid. I am reminded of the time when I was an advocate in the magistrates court, standing outside the court waiting for my case to come on, to be told that the best estimate was such and such a time, only to discover that that estimate was wildly inaccurate. I am grateful that I have not been caught out on this occasion. I am grateful to the Minister of State for being here to respond to this important debate. In normal times, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary would have been at the Dispatch Box, but unfortunately he has been indisposed of late. I trust that the Minister will convey to him my best wishes and those of my hon. Friends for a speedy recovery. Indeed, I am sure that that is the wish of the House generally.
On 3 March of this year the Secretary of State for Wales approved plans by Gwynedd health authority to close a number of hospitals in the county and to transfer some services to other sites. This could be seen as the culmination of a long period of public discussion and concern which began in the autumn of 1987 when the plans were first announced.
What else, may one be forgiven for asking, is there to say? The Secretary of State has given what some will see as the final word on the matter, save that there will be a further short period of consultation on the future of Caernarfon cottage hospital. I say that some people might come to that conclusion, but my hon. Friends and I have not. I aim through this debate to highlight the profound concerns which remain.
The Secretary of State carries the ultimate responsibility for the provision of health services in Wales. That duty is clearly set out in section 1 of the National Health Service Act 1977 which states : "It is the Secretary of State's duty to continue the promotion in England and Wales of a comprehensive health service designed to secure improvement--
((a) in the physical and mental health of the people of those countries, and--
(b) in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of illness, and for that purpose to provide or secure the effective provision of services in accordance with this Act."
I stress the word "comprehensive". It does not mean the provision of an unbalanced, incomplete or disjointed service, but that provision of services should be across the board, dealing with all aspects of mental and physical health for children, young, middle-aged and old people in the acute sector and in the community. The Secretary of State is also charged with a more specific duty in section 3 of the Act, which states :
"It is the Secretary of State's duty to provide throughout England and Wales, to such extent as he considers necessary to meet all reasonable requirements--
(a) hospital accommodation ;
(b) other accommodation for the purpose of any service provided under this Act ;
(c) medical, dental, nursing and ambulance services ;
(d) such other facilities for the care of expectant and nursing mothers and young children as he considers appropriate as part of the health service ;
(e) such facilities for the prevention of illness, the care of persons suffering from illnesses and the after-care
Column 1263of persons who have suffered from illness as he considers are appropriate as part of the health service ;
(f) such other services as are required for the diagnosis and treatment of illness."
That is the Secretary of State's remit. He fails in his duty if the Health Service in any part of Wales does not meet the general requirement in section 1 and the specific requirements in section 3 which are subject to some qualifications.
Neither the Secretary of State nor his Department have day-to-day conduct or control of the service. Under sections 13 and 15 of the Act, he has powers to direct district health authorities to carry out those functions on his behalf.
I shall outline the background leading to the rationalisation plan and seek to persuade the Minister to set up an inquiry under section 85 of the Act, having regard to the fact that the authority is not providing a comprehensive health service in Gwynedd.
The Welsh Office commissioned a firm of management consultants, Deloitte, Haskins and Sells, to report on the health authority's financial affairs. As the Under-Secretary of State admitted in a debate in the House on 14 June 1988, that was a direct result of Welsh Office concern at the way in which the authority ran its finances. The Under-Secretary of State for Wales said :
"I cannot say that I am satisfied with the level of financial management shown by the authority. That was one of the reasons for calling in management consultants. The consultants' recommendations bear out that."-- [ Official Report, 14 June 1988 ; Vol. 135, c. 549.]
The report was scathing in its condemnation of the authority's management team and its lack of financial planning, budgetary control and management accounting system. I shall quote some examples of the comments in that report, but there were many others. Paragraph 54 states :
"Insufficient management action was taken".
Paragraph 55 continues :
"We have to conclude that the authority's senior managers have not addressed the difficult but necessary task with sufficient urgency and co- ordination"
and paragraph 86 goes on :
"Planning operates outside the general management structure". The clear implication is that the Welsh Office demanded that the authority implement the package of measures proposed by Deloittes to bring it back into balance and avert a major financial catastrophe. The measures suggested by Deloittes largely formed the basis of the rationalisation plan which was ultimately backed by the Secretary of State in toto except for the hospital at Caernarfon, which had a temporary reprieve.
The part played by the Welsh Office in the plan cannot be denied. It appointed Deloittes in May 1987 to report on the authority and that was quite clear from the terms of reference it gave. Arising directly from the instructions to the consultants are the hospital closure plans. In giving the consultants terms of reference which did not mention the need to have regard to the adequacy of health care in the county, the Welsh Office effectively directed the consultants to produce a report which would recommend cuts.
The Welsh Office wrote to Deloittes on 6 October 1987 referring to assurances of continued support to the authority
"so long as they accept the need for full implementation of the programme".
Column 1264When the authority told the public during the consultation period that the package had to go through as a whole, it obviously had that stricture very much in mind.
The inevitable question which now arises is why was the authority in such a financial predicament. The clear implication is that once again the financial difficulties arose in the 1980s, partly due to the authority's failure to control the capital and revenue costs of ysbyty Gwynedd. That is referred to in Deloittes report.
The willingness of the health authority to axe community hospital services because of financial pressure and its reluctance to give priority to community service development led many to believe that those with a preference for the further growth of ysbyty Gwynedd wielded real power at the expense of the outlying communities. In my opinion, the authority's current management structure contributes to the concentration of resources at ysbyty Gwynedd. The management team includes officers who represent geographical districts rather than clinical disciplines. There is a strong case for arguing that discussions on spending should be based on priorities within disciplines rather than geography. Effectively, that means that no one person is responsible for community services. As a result, weaker districts constantly lose out in the battle for cash. Cuts are nearly always made in community provision because of the geographical strength of the district in which ysbyty Gwynedd is located. It is true that Gwynedd health authority has a strategic plan which includes plans for community hospitals, but they are nothing more than academic exercise. In my view and those of my colleagues, the authority should have grasped the nettle long ago. Clwyd health authority did so in the mid-1970s and it now has a network of small community hospitals with full attendant services. I challenge the Minister to say that Gwynedd has a single community hospital anywhere in the county which meets those basic requirements. I refer the Minister to the remarks of the junior Health Minister responding to a similar debate on 21 March setting out four basic provisions which are required for community hospitals, none of which are present in Gwynedd.
Gwynedd health authority says that it does not have the resources to contemplate such a programme, yet the Welsh Office claims that it is one of the best-funded health authorities in Wales, based on the latest capital and revenue formulae. Who is right? The debate continues and while statistics and formulae are discussed ad nauseam the public suffer. The general public, who are not responsible for the authority's financial crisis, have been denied a comprehensive health service. Elderly people are being denied dignity in their old age and some are being hospitalised and institutionalised due to the lack of adequate day-care facilities and support for carers. There is a chronic shortage of speech therapists for children with speech problems and elderly people who have suffered strokes. Gwynedd has 11 speech therapists when it should have 45. There is also intense pressure on physiotherapists and occupational therapists. I have seen elderly people suffering from senile dementia shunted from establishment to establishment because of the lack of adequate facilities to care for them. Relatives of elderly people have telephoned me late at night in desperation and at their wits' end because they have been told that they must find accommodation for their elderly relative urgently as the hospital bed is required by another patient.
Column 1265I am particularly worried about the lack of provision for the elderly mentally ill. Why should Gwynedd be denied these services? Who in reality pays the price for the health authority's inability to come to terms with its financial and planning responsibilities? Why has it failed to develope a coherent strategy? The health authority seems to get away scot free--
It being 11 o'clock, Mr. Speaker-- interrupted the proceedings, pursuant to Standing Order No. 11 (Friday sittings).
Mr. Speaker : I regret to have to inform the House of the death of Robert McTaggart Esquire, the Member for Glasgow, Central. I desire on behalf of the House to express our sense of the loss that we have sustained and our sympathy with the relatives of the hon. Member.
At 9.35 yesterday an ICI Nobel's Explosives lorry of standard design, carrying 800 kg of explosives, caught fire while on a routine delivery. I understand that the driver pulled into the nearest yard, which was that of Vibroplant plc, Newark road, Fengate, Peterborough, and called the fire brigade. While in attendance, the lorry exploded, killing one fireman and injuring more than 80 people. Some have serious injuries. I want to convey the Government's sympathy to the families of the dead fire officer and the injured.
At least five premises were seriously damaged and the police declared a major emergency. The scale of this tragic incident has been major. My hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney) is at the site and will be giving us an urgent report. My noble Friend the Minister of State, Home Office is visiting the Cambridgeshire fire brigade. Two factory inspectors and two explosives inspectors are at the site to conduct an investigation. The Health and Safety Executive will be preparing a report. I will not pre- empt the conclusions of the investigation. The report will be published and a further statement will be made to the House then. The relevant legislation is the Conveyance of Explosives on Roads Byelaws which lay down rules for the carriage of explosives by road. New Carriage of Explosives by Road Regulations, to be made under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, will be laid before the House in early April. A copy is being placed in the Library. The current byelaws do not require vehicles carrying explosives to display any warning signs. For security and safety reasons, it was believed that the presence of a two-man crew should be sufficient. During the drafting of the new regulations and after detailed consultations, the Health and Safety Commission has concluded that the balance now lies in favour of secondary safety. The new regulations will require appropriate description placards to be displayed on vehicles. We accepted that judgment when I approved the regulations earlier this month. I apologise to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) for not giving him earlier a copy of the statement.
Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) : First, I thank the Minister for his statement. I extend my sympathy and that of my right hon. Friends to the family of Mr. John Humphries, the fire fighter who lost his life in the furtherance of his duty and in the service of the community. I also extend our sympathy and concern to those who were injured and those who are anxiously waiting at their bedsides. I note that the hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney) is at the scene of the accident, and I appreciate what a difficult time it is for him.
We share the admiration of the whole House for the devotion and commitment shown by all the emergency services involved and for the hospital staff, many of whom will now share the heavy burdens of trying to heal serious injury and trauma.
Column 1267Sadly, in recent months the House has had occasion to debate far too many tragic accidents involving ships, trains, planes and now, regrettably, lorries. No one can doubt that in this complex society of ours, where people and goods are constantly on the move, safety in transportation must have the highest priority. We will give every possible support to the Government in their quest for that greater safety, and in that context I welcome the Minister's statement. The issue before the House this morning is whether enough has been done to ensure the safe transport of explosive materials and whether the tragic loss of life and the injuries could have been prevented. As with all such tragedies, some immediate questions must be asked, but asking them has not been straight forward. When I first telephoned the Department at 4 pm yesterday I was told that it was not the Department's responsibility but that of the Department of the Environment. I am grateful both that the Minister has clarified the position and to have the opportunity to ask him the following questions, particularly those with relevance to the part of his statement on new regulations.
How long has the process of consultation on the new regulations for the transport of explosives taken? When were the consultations completed? At what point were they ready to come before the House? I appreciate and support the fact that they are now coming before the House in early April. Naturally, we guarantee our support for them and we are pleased that we shall have the opportunity to give that support. Does the Minister agree that, given the clear intention of the Government to regulate, it would now be possible for the industry to act immediately, thus ensuring that, should any similar emergency occur, the fire fighters would be warned that such a dangerous cargo was on board?
While I appreciate that there have been few serious accidents of this nature, as the Minister has said on other occasions, the potential for tragedy with such hazardous loads is all too obvious. Will the Minister confirm that the regulations to which he has referred deal solely with the issue of labelling such vehicles? We support clear labelling of the hazards contained in vehicles transporting explosives. Does the Minister not consider that he should make a complete review of all aspects of the transportation of explosives? Will he undertake to make such a review and will he tell the House the number of movements of such loads of explosive cocktails on our roads each year?
In so many of these tragedies, a conflict has emerged between the needs of confidentiality and security, and those of safety. We believe that the safety of the public, the communities through which the vehicles pass and particularly of our emergency services must take priority over other considerations. In these matters, the people must have the right to know.
We welcome the new regulations and we shall support their speedy progress through the House. This latest tragedy has placed a special duty on all of us again to ask : is enough being done? I think that today the House would like to call upon safety officers, workers, managers, owners and all who work in transportation, particularly those involved in the transportation of hazardous goods, to give some extra attention and thought voluntarily to reviewing their procedures to ensure that such a tragedy does not happen again.
Mr. Bottomley : I agree with nearly everything that the hon. Lady has said. I want to reinforce her message of sympathy, which I am sure comes from all sides of the House, for the fire service in particular, which gets called out to incidents, not knowing what caused the incident, what the incident may be or what consequences it will have. We know that they are brave people and we pay tribute to them. It is right to pay tribute to the medical services who cope with the consequences of injury and often, sadly, death on and off our roads.
I still believe that the last time that the road transport of explosives led to a fatality was in 1957. That is a good record over 30 years for an industry which has about 15,000 to 20,000 movements a year. That is the best estimate that I have had so far and it is subject to correction. There may be some incidents of which I am not yet aware.
The work to protect both the public and those who work with explosives, which are a necessary part of our industrial life, is maintained to a high standard. Clearly, when things go wrong, and yesterday things did go wrong- -we do not know what, why or who, and I do not want to prejudge any of that --we must learn the lessons. We must learn how to make existing regulations work and how to ensure that regulations can be modified at least to maintain and if possible to enhance safety. I notice the presence of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who got that clause into the Health and Safety at Work Etc. Act, which only allowed regulations to be made which would maintain or enhance safety. I am sorry : I mean the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer). The House must forgive me for mixing the two up.
The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) said that we should look at the major hazards of transport of dangerous substances. Within the Health and Safety Executive, there is an advisory committee on dangerous substances which I believe for a number of years has been considering the updating of the regulations. The regulations came to the Department of Transport towards the end of January and within two months--after settling some of the questions--I approved them, a week and a half ago.
As far as I know, no other country is carrying out such good work on the issue of major hazards of transport than Britain. We look forward to the sub-committee looking at the major hazards of transport and presenting a report on all forms of dangerous goods and all modes of transport of them. It will be looking at loading and unloading, in movement and when resting up, whether on trains, in lorries or any other way. Therefore, all the information that the hon. Member for Deptford requested will be provided.
I apologise, however, if at 4 o'clock it was not possible to give a clear definition of responsibility. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Employment for being on the Front Bench. From my time at the Department of Employment, I know the necessary links of the Health and Safety Executive with many Government Departments. That does not mean that we can always define boundary problems straight away, but there is no ducking of responsibility.
I would ask those people who are ringing my office and jamming the switchboard over a potential option for a road scheme in north London, to please stop doing so immediately. It has been virtually impossible for anyone
Column 1269else to ring in for the past two hours, which is one of the reasons for my coming rather late to the House with the statement. Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Malcolm Moss (Cambridgeshire, North-East) : This is indeed a great tragedy for the people of Peterborough and surrounding constituencies, such as mine in north-east Cambridgeshire. In the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney) who was on duty in Northern Ireland when the tragedy occurred but who flew immediately this morning to be with his constituents, I wish to make a few comments with which he wishes to be associated. First, there is no praise high enough for the emergency services of Cambridgeshire--the fire service, the police and the members of staff of the Peterborough district health authority. We would like to offer our condolences to the widow of John Humphries and our sympathy to all those who have been seriously injured. We wish them a speedy recovery.
Many jobs on the Fengate industrial estate are now at risk. About 40 small businesses are now devastated by the event and I ask the Government to make every move possible to ensure that the security of those jobs is not put at risk.
Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro) : On behalf of my party, I would like to extend our sympathies to the family of John Humphries and also to all those who were injured in this terrible incident. I would like to extend our thanks for the brave work put in by the emergency services.
The Minister has not said whether he has any information about why the emergency services were not informed of the nature of the load. I would appreciate it if he could comment on that, although I realise that it is very early. Can he also say whether there are any rules regarding notification of such large loads of explosives as they travel around the country?
Mr. Bottomley : The view has been that that would not be appropriate. As I have said outside the House, a balance must be struck between security and such notification. I do not believe that any hon. Member needs reminding of what the effect of explosives in the wrong hands could be. Secondly, there is the issue of safety, which is labelling the outside so that the fire service or other emergency services can know what they are dealing with. After due consultation, the decision has been made to reverse the emphasis. Only time will show whether that is right or wrong. I say to all those involved in risk assessment in this and other areas that we are grateful for their work, because these issues are not easy.
Column 1270possibility of a national emergency number being established? We have had the crises of Clapham, Lockerbie and others, and now a further one in Cambridgeshire. It causes great distress to the relatives involved, at a time when they are under much pressure, to remember a special telephone number. If there was a three-digit number appropriate for such accidents, I am sure that not only would British Telecom deal with that, but my hon. Friend's own staff would not have the difficulties to which he has alluded.
Secondly, as I am sure that the House will wish to have those regulations at the earliest opportunity, would my hon. Friend invite those companies which are involved in the transport of explosives to advise between now and then their movements to the services concerned, so that they can learn from the lessons and we will not have a repeat of this incident in future?
Mr. Bottomley : I am grateful for my hon. Friend's interest. One of the reasons why we have the safest roads in relation to population within Europe--possibly within the motoring world--is that we do not use the ministerial voice as a microphone to give an instant response to every suggestion, however well intended. The reason that we kill so many fewer than in other comparable countries, such as France and Germany, is that we rely on the collaborative work within, for example, the network of the Health and Safety Executive and the Health and Safety Commission, which is a tripartite body. We try to rely on the assessment of risk by those involved, together with the health and safety inspectorate. I pay tribute to its work, too. I know that an emergency number is under consideration. Can I separate the point that I was making earlier about my own office? I may not be important, but the work of my office is on a day like this. If people could avoid using the private office number as a way of registering protests which they could make in other ways, it would be easier to obtain the information that I want to give to the House.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) : The Minister will be aware that in a series of answers since the M6 crash, about the carriage of dangerous goods, he has told me that he believes that the existing legislation is adequate, but that there are increasing numbers of accidents in which heavy goods vehicles are involved. By definition, a percentage of those will carry dangerous, if not explosive, substances. Will he undertake that the regulations will not only be laid before the House the minute it resumes, but that they will contain checks and balances? If the men driving lorries, and the emergency services, are always informed of the nature of the goods being carried, they will be able to take appropriate action when an emergency arises.
Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South) : The Minister will be aware that, in the chemical-producing areas such as my own, there is widespread concern about the packaging of dangerous substances which are carried on the roads. He will undoubtedly remember that I wrote to him on 28 January about a specific incident in which marking had been removed from a lorry on the instructions of the
Column 1271police. Subsequently, my hon. Friend will remember that he wrote to me on 9 March saying that the Government were reviewing the whole question of hazardous and explosive packaging. He then gave me the welcome news that the Government intend to act on that very soon. That letter was also warmly received in the chemical-producing area of Teesside and my hon. Friend's statement will also receive a wide welcome. I urge him to bring forward the proposals as soon as possible to ensure that those hazard markings are improved.
As has been said outside the House, there will be a European dimension, and we have asked the secretariat of the ADR system to review the decision that it wants to take, which is that there should not be marking.
Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) : I welcome the tentative tone of what the Minister has said--he is always reasonable--in the hope that we will see the shock of yesterday as a great warning. There are many circumstances in which, if the incident was repeated, the devastation would have been far more severe--for example, if a lorry had been fully loaded, if it had been in a confined space and in a built-up area. Does the Minister recall the more than 50 questions I tabled more than a year ago following the conviction on a breathalyser offence of an ammunition lorry driver who was to pick up a load in my constituency. As a result of those inquiries it is known that there have been three fires on ammunition lorries in Britain and numerous collisions and other incidents over the years.
With all the possibilities of accidents not just from explosives but from chemicals and gases carried under pressure on lorries and the possibility of a cocktail accident, are we saying today that we see yesterday as a warning and a lesson? Will our best memorial to the brave fireman who died yesterday be our realisation that our long-accepted practice of allowing tons of explosives, plus loads of inflammable fuel, plus a combustion engine to pass unguarded, unmarked and unprotected along our roads at great speed within a few yards of our homes represents a combination of risks that we can no longer tolerate?
In terms of risk management, I agree that we need to ensure that we have the best possible reduction of risk and that we put our efforts into the areas that will bring the greatest return. The record of the transport of explosives in this country is good. I have suggested what I believe the figures are for the past 30 years, they may be wrong, but they are certainly in the right order. It is also important to consider this matter in a both/and sense rather than an either/or sense. If yesterday was an average day, 14 people died on our roads and 5,000 will die this year--and many of them are likely to go up in fires caused by the petrol in their cars, let alone as a result of a collision with other vehicles.
I pay a general tribute to the drivers in the heavy goods vehicle industry, whose involvement in casualty accidents has been coming down at twice the rate of car drivers.