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The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Henley: This is a matter for the Chief Executive of the Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment. I have therefore asked him to reply.

Letter to the Countess of Mar from the Chief Executive of the Chemical and Biological Defence

8 Dec 1994 : Column WA103

Establishment, Dr. Graham Pearson, dated 8 December 1994:

    1. Your Parliamentary Question to Her Majesty's Government asking what is the colour of mustard gas observed by the naked eye, and what signs and symptoms would they expect to observe in an individual exposed to a few droplets of liquid mustard gas agent within five minutes of exposure has been passed to me to answer as Chief Executive of the Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment.

    2. The colour of liquid mustard gas varies slightly according to the production process and the degree of purity. When chemically pure it is colourless but is generally yellowish in colour when produced for use in weapons.

    3. No symptoms or signs would be observed in the first five minutes after exposure to a few drops of liquid mustard. Eye and skin effects are typically delayed by several hours after exposure. A very high concentration of mustard gas may cause immediate cough and irritation, but such a concentration would not be produced following exposure to a few droplets.


The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Under what circumstances members of Her Majesty's Armed Forces may find themselves liable to disciplinary action for refusing drugs or vaccines in a war situation, and whether such action would contravene an individual's human or civil rights.

Lord Henley: In operational circumstances where it is regarded as reasonable to issue an order for Service personnel to receive vaccines or drugs to protect them against the threat of biological or chemical warfare agents, refusal of such a lawful order might render members of the Armed Forces liable to disciplinary action. Whether the order was reasonable, and therefore lawful, could be raised as an issue in the disciplinary proceedings, and the individual's rights would be taken into account. Each case would turn on its own facts and merits, including the fact such drugs and vaccines could be life saving in operational circumstances.


Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the average delay in the payment of student loans, whether there are any plans to improve this figure, and whether the Student Loans Company has given efficiency priority over effectiveness.

Lord Lucas: In its recently published annual report, the Student Loans Company reported that, in the academic year 1993–94, it had paid 91 per cent. of loans within 21 days of receipt of the application.

For the academic year 1994–95 my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education has set a target of payment of 92 per cent. of loans within 21 days. The Student Loans Company estimates its performance as at 30 November at 88 per cent. As at the same date the company had issued over 180,000 loans for the academic year 1994–95, as compared with 120,000 at the same time last year. Over 111,000 have been paid to existing borrowers, and over 69,000 to new borrowers.

8 Dec 1994 : Column WA104

The company has been experiencing difficulties associated with the introduction of a new repeat application procedure intended to increase efficiency and effectiveness. Forms were sent in May 1994 to existing borrowers to enable those who wished to take out another loan this academic year to make a simplified application before the start of term. Out of 320,000 students eligible for this procedure, only 60,000 returned their forms during the summer. The company made arrangements to process the large volume of outstanding applications which they expected to arrive when the academic year began. Plans were also made to deal with students who had lost or misplaced the simplified application forms.

In the event, many more students had lost or misplaced their forms than anticipated. Many telephoned the company for replacement forms, exceeding the normal call handling capacity. The company accelerated the normal programme of recruitment of temporary staff, moved staff from other areas of activity, doubled the telephone answering capacity, extended the hours of business into the evening and weekends, and gave priority to loans processing.

The company has written to all higher education institutions (HEIs) to apologise to all students, their parents and HEIs for the inconvenience caused. It has explained how the difficulties arose, and has informed them that the backlog should be cleared by Christmas.

The company's letter also explains how it proposes to prevent a recurrence of these difficulties in the future. I am sending a copy to the noble Earl and I have placed a copy in the Library.


The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many irregularities under the Medicines (Veterinary Drugs) (Pharmacy and Merchants' List) (Amendment) Order 1994 have been detected, and whether there are any prosecutions pending.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earl Howe): Inspectors of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain are responsible for monitoring compliance with this order.

I understand that since 1 April 1994, seven instances of sales of OP sheep dips to unregistered purchasers have been formally reported to the Society. A further nine cases of possible breaches have been noted. The inspectors have, in addition, given informal advice to suppliers of OP sheep dips, but the numbers are not recorded for this activity. No prosecutions are currently pending.

8 Dec 1994 : Column WA105


The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many reports of suspected adverse reactions to exposure to organophosphate sheep dips were recorded by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate in 1993 and 1994 to date.

Earl Howe: The information requested, relating to human exposure to organophosphorus sheep dips, is as follows:

1993 181
1994(1) 47
(1) to 30 November


The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are conducting any research into the effects of chronic low level exposure to organophosphate pesticides and herbicides on workers and residents in market gardening and fruit growing districts with a record of high usage of these chemicals; and

    Whether they are conducting any research into the health effects on people of long term, low level exposure to organophosphate pesticides used in domestic or workplace premises for pest control.

Earl Howe: We are not conducting any research into these precise areas. However, the possibility that cumulative exposure could carry a risk to health is taken into account when considering applications for pesticides approval.


Lord Stanley of Alderley asked Her Majesty's Government:

8 Dec 1994 : Column WA106

    Whether they have discretion to refuse an application for (a) the Sheep Annual Premium Scheme; (b) the Environmentally Sensitive Scheme; and, if so, on what grounds.

Earl Howe: Sheep Annual Premium Scheme claims are subject to Community rules which are directly applicable in the UK. Member states may take steps to protect the environment and the Government have recently introduced measures to reduce or withhold payments from producers who overgraze their land or who use unsuitable supplementary feeding methods. Otherwise the Government have no discretion to refuse a claim which is properly made.

Agreements under the Environmentally Sensitive Areas scheme are generally available to anyone who has an interest in agricultural land within a designated ESA such that they can ensure that the conditions of the agreement are met. However Section 18(3) of the Agriculture Act 1986 gives the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food discretion to refuse an application for an agreement. Situations in which this discretion is exercised include where he considers that the proposed agreement is unlikely to facilitate the objectives of the scheme or offer a cost-effective use of public money; where an applicant has carried out work contrary to the objectives of the scheme shortly before applying to join or rejoin; and where an applicant has acted in a manner which would be in breach of the proposed agreement before it has been signed.


The Marquess of Ailesbury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they accept that the public was led to believe that 50 per cent. of the National Lottery's receipts would be paid out in prizes every week.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of National Heritage (Viscount Astor): Over the course of Camelot's seven-year licence to run the National Lottery, the prize payout percentage is expected to be 56.5 per cent. of net sales after deduction of lottery duty. At current levels of duty (12 per cent. of gross sales) this is indeed equivalent to 50 per cent. of gross sales. The percentage being paid out in different years and on individual games promoted during that period will, however, vary. Almost two million people won prizes in the first two weeks of the lottery.

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