Madam Speaker : Order. Will Members leaving please do so very quietly and quickly ? We have business to conduct. Please leave very quietly. [Interruption.] Order. There is a lady attempting to address the House.
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for tampon packaging and advertisements for tampons to carry certain warnings and information, and to require the Secretary of State to make regulations for these purposes ; to lay upon the Secretary of State duties with respect to research into, and publicity for, tampons and health ; and for connected purposes.
Toxic shock syndrome was defined by doctors in the USA in 1980 as a severe infection of the blood, identified by a collection of symptoms, including sudden high temperature, vomiting, diarrhoea, headaches, confusion and low blood pressure. Without treatment, the infection can rapidly cause fatal respiratory and kidney failure. Toxic shock syndrome strikes men, women and children.
The infection is caused by the production of toxins by common bacteria that are present on all of us. The aspect that has attracted the most attention is the fact that, in half the cases, young women have been struck by toxic shock syndrome who have been using tampons.
The bacteria are carried by 35 to 50 per cent. of adults. They are harmless, move freely over the body frequently and are not connected with how often we wash ourselves. However, when suitable conditions arise, the bacteria have the ability to produce toxins or poisons which enter the bloodstream and circulate around the body, attacking the vital organs.
The presence of the toxins in the blood stimulates the body to make antitoxins, which have the power to neutralise the poison, but in young people that immunity may not have had the opportunity to develop, so the body is overwhelmed. Most tampon-related TSS infections occur in the age group 15 to 25, and most TSS infections from wounds and bites occur in men and children.
The bacteria do not always produce toxins during menstruation, but when they do, it is almost always associated with tampon use. The exact link between the tampon and the toxin is not known. There is no simple cause and effect ; if there were, prevention could be specific and easy. Tampons have not been found to cause TSS--any one of a combination of symptoms could trigger the toxin production, but the link with tampons appears to be clear.
There are more suggested links, but what is known is that all types and brands of tampons have been linked with TSS. A particularly high absorbency tampon called "Rely" was linked to an upsurge in TSS deaths in the United States of America in 1980. The brand was withdrawn from the market, and has never been on sale in the United Kingdom, because of the recognised links.
There is currently no way of testing whether one is immune to the toxins. There is no way of carrying out checks on the levels of bacteria and their likely consequences. It is possible to avoid that form of TSS by not using tampons, but many millions of women wish to use them. My Bill seeks to make clear the precautions that
Column 684women should take to minimise the risk. It calls on the Government to take specific steps with the manufacturers to make the situation clear to women.
Three young women have died from tampon-related TSS in the past seven months. It is a rare disease, but that is no reason not to act. In Bristol earlier this year, a young woman of 32, with two small children, died tragically from TSS. Her mother wrote to me to support my Bill. She said that her daughter felt unwell on Friday, was vomiting and had a high temperature on Saturday, and had dramatically low blood pressure on Sunday. She died on Monday, after six cardiac arrests, and nobody made the connection between her illness and TSS. Toxic shock syndrome is treatable with antibiotics, as long as it is identified early enough. Scores of women who have survived the illness and suffered the results of severe blood infection are receiving counselling. Many women have had their legs, toes or fingers amputated as a result of the disease. But the Department of Health refuses to send out leaflets to doctors, on the grounds that the illness is not a high enough priority.
Many general practitioners fail to recognise the illness, perhaps understandably, because of its rareness. Two doctors took no notice of Jane Grant when she suggested that the tampon that she was wearing might have something to do with her feeling unwell. She spent 10 days fighting for her life after her symptoms were wrongly diagnosed. That is simply not acceptable.
At present, tampon packets carry voluntary warnings, but they are so tiny that many people miss them. We need to ensure that the symptoms are well known, that women are provided with the necessary health warnings, and that the Government give priority to researching the disease.
A father who wrote to me about the death of his 15-year-old daughter in 1989 from TSS, connected with the use of tampons, sums up the situation perfectly :
"We have no complaint about those who attended our daughter. All of those who treated her clearly wanted her to survive as much as we did. No apparent stone was left unturned. She died however because a few well- established and simple facts about TSS were not widely known to any of us who were in a position to influence her treatment in those crucial early hours of her illness."
Even the manufacturing industry understands the difficulty. My Bill seeks clear prominent warnings on packaging, an alert card explaining what the symptoms are and what one should do, research and information to doctors, and to ensure that the Department of Health makes TSS a notifiable disease so that we can start collecting the information truly to understand what the disease is, why it strikes women and how we can eradicate it.
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) : I am rising to oppose the Bill, although it seems an eminently attractive proposition. The hon. Member for Bristol, South (Ms Primarolo) has highlighted an important issue, but it needs to be represented accurately. I am not associated with the tampon industry in any way, other than having discussed the matter with its representatives.
It is important that the items under discussion, which have improved the lives of so many women, should not be misrepresented, and that the hon. Lady's actions should not be allowed to scare women unnecessarily throughout the country.
In the detail of her notice of motion, the hon. Lady has called for Government regulations to make provision for
Column 685certain warnings on packaging and advertisements. I do not believe that any such legislation is required. The tampon industry has already made adequate provision for warnings about toxic shock syndrome on its packaging. Indeed, as early as 1980, warnings appeared on instruction leaflets inside the boxes and since the beginning of 1993 on the outside. They are quite clear. I shall read the warning :
"Attention--tampons are associated with toxic shock syndrome. TSS is a rare but serious disease that may cause death. Read and save the enclosed information".
I cannot understand how the hon. Lady believes that placing warnings on advertisements, presumably even television advertisements, can contribute to health understanding.
Toxic shock syndrome, its symptoms and risk reduction factors, comprise a complex condition believed to be better dealt with in a more educational environment. I wonder whether the hon. Lady has seen the Tambrands Education Service literature or the Marion Cooper Advisory Service literature, which cover TSS, not in isolation, but in relation to the whole picture of an individual's health, including details on TSS.
Inaccurate information and misleading statistics have been circulated on TSS, and the Association of Sanitary Protection Manufacturers, which represents the majority of United Kingdom manufacturers of sanitary protection products, has compiled a detailed fact sheet on the known and established facts, which is widely circulated to GPs, among others. As GPs rarely see the condition, the ASPM has made provision to notify the clinical definition, and has recommended questions for GPs to ask patients to reduce the chance of misdiagnosis.
TSS is a very rare illness, and, as the hon. Lady said, can be contracted by men, children and women--both menstrual and non-menstrual. There were only 18 confirmed or probable cases in 1992 and 16 in 1993, out of a total population of 58 million, and of those cases five, sadly, resulted in death. The Public Health Laboratory Service indicates that, of those, one or two deaths are associated with tampon use.
The Medical Research Council is not supporting any specific research into TSS, but rather basic research into staphylococcus aureus, the bacteria which causes TSS. The bug lives quite harmlessly in more than 35 per cent. of the population, but can be triggered in a minute number of cases into producing toxins. I agree with the hon. Lady that research into this organism and its effects is desirable and should be encouraged, as it affects men and children as well as women, but highlighting its relationship to tampons alone could distort the research, which needs to be more widely based. I want to get the matter into perspective. A report in The Guardian on 21 June stated that more than 100 people a year die of paracetamol-linked kidney failure, and between 630 and 676 women die annually in the United Kingdom as a result of complications in pregnancy and childbirth, so
Column 686the risk is far greater in these cases than the one in 15 million chance of woman contracting TSS related to tampon use and subsequently dying.
This Bill is a regulation too far. As the hon. Lady is a Front-Bench spokesperson for her party, British industry should be aware that, based on her proposal, it can expect even more regulation were there to be a Labour Government.
I felt very sad, as we all did, for the families who have had someone die from possible TSS that could be tampon-related. I do not want in any way to minimise their loss. However, I must say that the tampon industry takes its responsibilities very seriously, and works to a voluntary code of practice that was developed with the Department of Trade and Industry.
Tampons have made a real and positive contribution to the way in which women can live their lives. More than 5,000 people are employed in the industry, including union members of USDAW, TGWU and AEU. The Bill could not only threaten their jobs but send the wrong message to women who choose to use tampons. While I do not for one minute underestimate a very rare, unpleasant and sometimes deadly condition, it is necessary for someone to underline the safety of the product and to set at rest the minds of millions of women who use it with no adverse effects. I am sure that some of those women are in the Chamber right now.
I do not want to make this a party political matter, so I shall not press it to a vote. However, it is important that excessive intervention such as is envisaged in the Bill should be highlighted, and that unnecessary scaremongering by the Opposition should not go unchallenged on such an important health issue for women. Like the hon. Lady, I want more research into TSS for the sake of women and also for men and children, but not at the expense of the peace of mind of women throughout the country who use or wish to use tampons.
Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No.19 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business), and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Ms Dawn Primarolo, Mrs. Maria Fyfe, Mrs. Alice Mahon, Ms Jean Corston, Ms Clare Short, Mrs. Helen Jackson, Mrs. Ann Clwyd, Ms Tessa Jowell, Ms Harriet Harman, Mr. David Hinchliffe, Mr. Ian McCartney and Dr. Lewis Moonie.
Ms Dawn Primarolo accordingly presented a Bill to make provision for tampon packaging and advertisements for tampons to carry certain warnings and information, and to require the Secretary of State to make regulations for these purposes ; to lay upon the Secretary of State duties with respect to research into, and publicity for, tampons and health ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 15 July, and to be printed. [Bill 136.]
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. At your convenience, could you reflect and rule on the entirely new practice of hon. Members speaking against a ten-minute Bill and then not pressing the matter to a vote ? As I understand it, it is a new practice and an abuse of House of Commons procedure.
Madam Speaker : It is not at all new--it is well established, and is included in "Erskine May". Any Member seeking to oppose such a Bill is free to do so. Of course, that hon. Member must raise his or her voice in opposition, but the matter does not necessarily need to proceed to a Division. That is for me to determine, depending on the voices that I hear.
Mrs. Currie : On a different point of order, Madam Speaker. It might be worth reminding hon. Members, especially women Members, that, if they want to introduce Bills that need the support of women on both sides of the House, they might invite some to become sponsors.
Mrs. Dunwoody : Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. When a 10-minute Bill is to be opposed, is it not the convention for the hon. Member opposing it to give notice to the hon. Member presenting it ? Is that not an elementary courtesy ?
Lords amendments considered.
Lords amendment : No. 1, in page 12, line 46, leave out from first ("that") to end of line 47 and insert
("(i) that person consented to the provisions of the Scheme so far as they relate to him ;
(ii) no persons to whom obligations are owed, whether in respect of contamination or other liabilities arising out of the occupation of any property used in connection with coal-mining operations by the Corporation or its predecessors, is likely to sustain loss as a consequence of the Scheme.")
(iii) any such liabilities, including environmental liabilities, arise in relation to coal mines and abandoned coal mines, in which case those liabilities shall be transferred to the Authority on the restructuring date.'.
(5A) It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State, in exercising his powers under this section to make a restructuring scheme in accordance with which any person other than
(a) a person mentioned in subsection (4)(a) to (d) above, or (b) a body of whom all the members are appointed by a Minister of the Crown,
is to become subject to any liabilities, to have regard to the fact that it would not be appropriate for the scheme to provide for the transfer of any of those liabilities to any person except where it is reasonable to believe that that person is a person who will be able to finance their discharge.'.
Mr. Bell : Opposition amendment (b) to the Lords amendment simply seeks to square assurances given by Ministers many times, but not yet acted on. It seeks a full transfer of liabilities from British Coal to the Coal Authority on the restructuring date.
We are all aware that coal mining is not like any other business. We are all aware that it leaves behind long-term liabilities ; we are all aware of its tremendous impact on the physical
environment--subsidence, polluted water and contaminated land--and know that those effects can persist for decades.
We are also aware that, in the past, British Coal has taken action to control, prevent or even remedy that legacy ; but what will happen when British Coal ceases to exist ? Where will the responsibility lie ? Will not the coalfield communities that will exist long after the pits have gone suffer unduly unless the liabilities are dealt with by another responsible body, such as the Coal Authority referred to in the Bill ?
The amendment seeks, in a limited but important way, to ensure that communities are fully protected from circumstances in which environmental damage is allowed to continue because the legally responsible party is unable to pay for the necessary remedial work. We all know of the work that has been done up and down the country--especially in County Durham--to rid the county of dereliction from its coal-mining and industrial past. It could be said--as Durham county council
Column 689says--that that has been an outstanding achievement by a partnership between central and local government going back 25 years. As a consequence of that partnership, residents and businesses have been able to pick themselves up and involve themselves in new types of investment--sometimes in overseas investment. Our amendment will ensure that the upward curve of investment and improved environment in the coal communities will continue, by providing for environmental liabilities to be transferred to the Coal Authority.
What we seek would be in line with the Minister's own commitment in a letter to the leader of Durham county council, dated 8 November 1993, to establishing a long-term framework to deal with water pollution from coal mines in the context of coal privatisation. The amendment would clarify that framework in respect of pollution related to abandoned mines of all kinds.
We know--this relates to the Government's amendment--that none of the transfer schemes will work in Durham, because there is no deep mining left there. There will be no private buyers to take on themselves the obligations laid down in that amendment. Who, then, will be responsible ? Will it be the county council, the National Rivers Authority, some other Government Department or the appropriate river purification board ? Will there be another review ? The Department of Trade and Industry moves the problem from one pair of hands to another, not even stopping to wash them, as did Pontius Pilate. I am aware of the statements made in the other place by Lord Strathclyde on 26 April this year, when he sought to assuage the anxieties of his colleagues. He recognised the concerns that arose "about the threat of water pollution from coal mines and about the effects of privatisation."
I doubt whether he reassured many of his noble Friends. There is no legislative commitment to meet the residual liability for British Coal's past actions. There is no legal obligation upon British Coal to continue to pump and there will be no private buyers.
He recognised that
"continued pumping is required to prevent a serious pollution incident ; or at all events, to give an assurance that such an incident can be avoided."
He was certain that there must be a commitment to maintain pumping for as long as it was needed in order to prevent the risk of serious pollution. Again, we have no legislative commitment. Those who sat on the Committee considering the Bill asked for such commitments repeatedly, but we were never given them.
According to Lord Strathclyde, we were soon into the area of spending-- limited resources, Exchequer restraints and the hand of the Treasury over- arching across the Bill, as it does so many other measures.
We have all read the speech made in Spain by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. It seems that, if we want to know what the Government are thinking, we must look at speeches made as far away from these shores as possible. That is what the Chief Secretary did. He told the Spaniards that markets should be controlling Governments. Here at home, there will be no resources, or at least only limited resources, to decide whether pumping continues in County Durham and elsewhere. The noble Lord Strathclyde said :
Column 690"noble lords on all sides will recognise that its resources will be necessarily limited."
He wanted to assure the other place that the Coal Authority would "in due course have a specific budget earmarked for these purposes".--[ Official Report , House of Lords, 26 April 1994 ; Vol. 554, c. 541-42.]
We have a liability that pumping will continue, contingent upon there being resources. Again, we have no legislative commitment, we have nothing in writing, nothing in the Bill and nothing on the statute book.
I know that the noble Lord Strathclyde is not in the second-hand car business. However, I have read how one of the candidates for the deputy leadership of the Labour party buys himself a new car every 18 months and drives 40,000 miles in a few weeks. I am sure that he would not buy such a car from the noble Lord Strathclyde. If we would not buy a car from him, why should we believe anything that he or the Government say when it is not written down on the statute book ? Why should those who may have to live with the consequences of water pollution believe them ? Why should the people of Durham believe them ? Why should the people of other coalfield communities where there are no longer deep mines believe them ?
Dr. Kim Howells (Pontypridd) : If anybody doubts my hon. Friend's description about what is going to happen in Durham, I invite them to visit my constituency to see the filth that is pouring out of abandoned mines now. Pumping has already ceased in that area. Ferrous oxides are staining the rivers and killing all the life. Incidentally, those rivers have been cleaned up through the heroic efforts of local authorities.
Mr. Bell : The Government's amendment misses the point completely, and would not deal with the situation described by my hon. Friend and others. Their amendment is based on the premise that there will be a licence, and that there will be a Coal Authority. It does not take into account what happens when there is no longer extraction and the deep mines no longer exist. When the Coal Authority is gone, everything is gone.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Has my hon. Friend considered the fact that there has always been concern about the safety and pollution of beaches ? When there are no pits left in coalfields such as south Wales, Durham, Derbyshire, and so on, there will be a problem of river pollution that could be 10 times worse than the problem with the beaches. The National Rivers Authority found nothing in the River Doe Lea, because it never looked for anything until the Coalite business occurred and there was dioxin contamination. It is conceivable that the rivers will be heavily polluted, particularly when the mines are closed. Nobody is responsible for them. The NRA will go only if there is a serious complaint, as was the case with Coalite. Unless something is put into the Bill, we will face a problem with all the rivers and streams in coalfield areas such as that which arose with the beaches before the European directive.
Mr. Bell : I am grateful to my hon. Friend, whose vast knowledge of the coal industry goes back many years, and whose interventions in the House have helped the Opposition but have irritated Conservative Members.
Mr. John Cummings (Easington) : I represent the former coal-mining area of Durham, whose beaches have gradually become despoiled in the past 50 years and are now perhaps the worst in the United Kingdom. The pit at Londonderry and the Joicey Coal Company are no longer with us. The National Coal Board became British Coal, which will have gone by the end of the year and will be replaced by some nondescript shapeless body called the Coal Authority, which will be devoid of form and financial substance when it carries out its works. Despoiled water is percolating into the grounds of Auckland castle, the palace of the Bishop of Durham. The problem has been increasing over a number of years. No one appears to want to take responsibility for dealing with it. I agree that the Minister is an honourable gentlemen, but I doubt whether he will still be in his job to honour assurances that were given in Committee. We want our proposals to be included in an Act of Parliament to give us some protection. 4 pm
Mr. Bell : I testify to the despoliation of the beaches near Horden colliery in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Cummings). As a child, I spent my holidays walking along those beaches ; seeing coal on the beach is not a sight that I will forget.
The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) links with that made by my hon. Friend the Member for Easington. In the past few years, the Government and local government have tried to rectify the environmental damage. In the House, in Committee or in the other place, we have heard bland statements that somehow, someone, somewhere will deal with pollution. When one reads the fine print of the Bill, one does not find a definitive promise, commitment or assurance that someone, somewhere will be specifically liable to continue the work of cleaning up the environment.
Mr. Eric Clarke (Midlothian) : The problem exists not only in coalfields in England and Wales but in Scotland. We are still tackling problems that arose before nationalisation. I want to add my weight to the appeal to the Government to include concrete provisions in the Bill. They should not do a Pontius Pilate. I know that the Minister is not listening. I hope that my hon. Friend will insist that Scotland is covered and that the amendment will be written in tablets of stone rather than left to the discretion of some unknown person.
Mr. Bell : We are trying, if not to get commitments in tablets of stone, then to get them on the statute book, but vague promises and statements have been made on the subject. In his wind-up speech, the noble Lord Strathclyde said in the other place :
"Civil liabilities of the corporation will stay with the corporation on the restructuring date. When the corporation is ultimately wound up, those liabilities will be transferred elsewhere in the public sector before British Coal is dissolved. British Coal cannot be left with liabilities when it is wound up. We must find a home for those liabilities and we shall do so under the restructuring scheme."
That will not be done under the Bill. The Government have not given commitments to the House, to the other place or to coalfield communities, which are looking to hon. Members to ensure that such commitments are written, if not in tablets of stone, then in the Bill.
Lord Strathclyde continued :
Column 692"By becoming the freehold owner of coal and coal mines, the authority will automatically acquire the responsibilities, including environmental liabilities, running with that ownership, which it will pass on to mine operators under the terms of the lease in respect of areas which it licenses for coal mining."--[ Official Report , House of Lords , 21 June 1994 ; Vol. 556, c. 208.]
That misses completely the point about the deep mines that no longer exist, and from which coal is no longer extracted, but where mine water still needs to be pumped.
Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley) : In Blyth Valley, as in all the other constituencies, we have a problem. Unfortunately, that problem is not so much water but gas. When Bates colliery--our last pit--was closed, we found underground workings filled with water, which pushed out the gas. We had to drill and put shafts in to relieve the air pressure, because people were being gassed. We had a bit of a job to persuade British Coal to take responsibility for that at the time, although eventually it did. But what will happen in the future we do not know. There is nothing in the Bill. If those workings are not maintained and fall into disrepair, gas will escape and gas everybody in Cramlington and Blyth Valley.
Mr. Bell : I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention. He will remember that we first met at Bates colliery one Saturday morning in 1978 ; I cannot remember the time or the exact date. He has made a good point about the uncertainty. The Bill engenders uncertainty among coalfield communities and people who wish to protect the environment, and uncertainty for individuals. Lord Strathclyde missed the point completely, because, where the deep mines are no longer extracting coal, there is no successor authority to British Coal. That is the problem that faces the House, and the Opposition are trying to define it clearly.
It all boils down to nothing more than guidelines. We have Government assurances, and they mention broad objectives and reasonably practical standards ; protection is to come second best to resources, and an enhanced environment is to be dependent on everybody from the National Rivers Authority to "appropriate river purification boards", but not on the Government.
Of course, as the Opposition have strongly argued, if the Bill had contained strong environmental safeguards and a proper environmental framework, the Government would not need to rely for safeguarding the environment on voluntary agreements over which they have no legal control, and we would not have had to table the amendment to the Lords amendment.
This is not a party political point ; it is not high politics or high drama ; it is a sensible decent amendment designed to alleviate the worries of people in coalfield communities and provide proper assurances for the future of those communities. There would be assurances concerning the control of mine water, and people would be less likely to suffer the consequences of mine water pollution. If the amendment were accepted, it would make the Bill clear. To eradicate doubt and uncertainty is one of the functions of the House, and the House will be at its best today if it accepts the amendment.
Mr. Martin Redmond (Don Valley) : I shall be extremely brief, but it would be remiss of me not to add weight to the case for the amendment so ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell). His speech was well structured but, regrettably, the Minister was too busy gobbing when he should have been listening.