Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Carter: I am grateful to the Minister for giving a clear statement about what the Government think about the 1986 Act, which was passed only eight years ago. One talks about closing off the 1986 Act and not making it indefinite, but it will be around for a very long time. We are only just about into the first generation of successors and there is a second generation of successors to come. So the 1986 Act will be around for a very long time. At a later stage of the Bill we may wish to use the opportunity of this Bill to repair a number of omissions in the 1986 Act itself.

Certainly, when I was on the Northfield Committee from 1977 to 1979, just after the 1976 Act came in, there was concern about the effect of the Act on future lettings. I remind the Committee of a point that was put to that committee in evidence. I believe that it came from the ministry, in fact. The 1976 Act, with succession of tenancy, saved as many tenancies as were going to be lost by what was happening with the taxation system in effect. At that time certainly there was an argument in the department that the 1976 Act could be seen as a means of protecting tenancies. It is likely now that the let sector is larger than it otherwise would have been because of the effect of the 1976 Act. It is an interesting point. We have all discussed the reduction in the size of the let sector and whether it is down to 35 per cent. or, as I would suggest, even less. It is a matter of simple logic that without the 1976 Act it would have been even smaller. That was certainly the view of the department when the Northfield Committee took evidence between 1977 and 1979.

We shall wish to return at a later stage of the Bill to the virtues of the 1986 Act, which the Government themselves enacted only eight years ago. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

12 Dec 1994 : Column 1153

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 25 not moved.]

Lord Gallacher moved Amendment No. 26:

Page 3, line 31, at end insert:
("(e) is granted to a person who immediately before the grant of the tenancy held a previous tenancy from the person granting the new tenancy in relation to which the 1986 Act applied and that previous tenancy has been surrendered or terminated.").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 29 with which it is grouped. There is some anxiety that less than scrupulous landlords may place pressure on tenants to accept arrangements which deprive them of the right to succession and the full protection of the 1986 Act. One such method could be to move the tenant from one farm on the estate to another, which is possibly held out to be on better land.

It may be to the tenant's advantage to make such a move, but it must be clear that he does so with his eyes open. The need for him formally to state to the agricultural land tribunal that his preference is fully exercised should act as a deterrent to the landlord who is considering using his influence over the tenant to induce a course of action which could be to the tenant's detriment.

If this amendment is accepted, a consequential amendment to the 1986 Act will be needed to place an obligation on the agricultural land tribunal to issue such certificates. I beg to move.

Earl Howe: I listened carefully to the argument presented by the noble Lord which, I take it, is based on the assumption that existing tenants will not want to accept farm business tenancies as a substitute for the tenancies that they already have.

I do not see the need for arrangements such as those proposed. A landlord can offer a tenant a long fixed term farm business tenancy, without break clauses, and can include, by agreement, many of the provisions from the 1986 Act. The tenant might well be better off legally than he is at the moment, and if the landlord agreed, the tenant would have much greater scope for diversification. If, on the other hand, a tenant did not like the terms that he was offered, he could refuse to surrender his 1986 Act tenancy. The parties would in fact be in a bargaining position. If the tenant found the landlord's initial offer unacceptable, he could say so, at the same time putting forward his own proposal. Eventually a compromise acceptable to both would no doubt be found.

I suggest that that is a much better approach than involving the agricultural land tribunals. They will not have a place under the new legislation. I hope that the noble Lord will find those remarks helpful and, as a result, will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Gallacher: I am grateful to the noble Earl for the remarks which he has had to make in respect of this amendment. We were advised that the possibilities which were envisaged in the amendment could exist. It

12 Dec 1994 : Column 1154

was to guard against that—if not their existence then the possibility of their becoming established —that the amendment was tabled.

The noble Earl said that the parties are in a bargaining situation. They certainly are. But in his opinion is it a bargaining situation in which both sides are absolutely equal? I am not a farmer and do not know what in general are the relationships between tenant farmers and their landlords. Nevertheless, the possibility of undue influence —which I think is at the heart of this amendment—does exist; and if it exists, the amendment would provide some defence against it.

The noble Earl also said that what is in the Bill is better than using the agricultural land tribunal and in fact no future is envisaged under this Bill for the tribunal. We are somewhat disappointed by that response, which will not surprise the noble Earl. Nevertheless, we shall look at what he said very carefully to see whether we are guarding against a contingency which is unlikely to arise or whether, in some revised form, an amendment of this character ought to be retabled for the Report stage of the Bill. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments No. 27 to 29 not moved.]

Clause 4 agreed to.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Lord Inglewood: I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

CBDE Porton Down

6.59 p.m.

The Countess of Mar rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are satisfied that the departments responsible for the Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment at Porton Down have shown a proper degree of responsibility for the health and safety of volunteers engaged in medical research.

The noble Countess said: My Lords, may I say how grateful I am to the noble Lord, Lord Henley, to the Chief Whip and to the usual channels for enabling me to change my Question at such short notice? I have given the noble Lord the Minister notice of the ground I intend to cover. He has kindly written to say that he will not respond to any questions which fall outside the scope of the Question I have tabled on the Order Paper. In return I would ask him to note that my Question relates to "the departments responsible" and that questions are addressed to Her Majesty's Government and not to a particular Minister. I will understand if he does not have all the answers to my questions tonight, and that he will write to me.

Noble Lords can hardly fail to be aware that for the past two and a half years I have been trying to persuade the Government to take measures to prevent any further damage to human health from exposure to organophosphates. It is my understanding that the only

12 Dec 1994 : Column 1155

tests on the effects of this group of chemicals on humans have been carried out at the Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment at Porton Down. Inquiries to manufacturers of organophosphate pesticides have revealed that, while they have made tests on animals, they regard tests on humans as too dangerous.

From a series of Questions for Written Answer, I have established that the tests done on human volunteers at Porton Down are categorised as biomedical research and that they are ethically conducted. The principles upon which those ethics are based are enumerated in the 10 principles of the Nuremberg code. After the discovery of the horrific experiments conducted by German physicians and professors during the Nazi regime and the doctors' trial at Nuremberg, the judges, concerned that never again should humans endure such suffering in the name of science, wrote the code into their final judgment. The Nuremberg code has become the cornerstone of the Declarations of Helsinki in 1964, 1975, 1983 and 1989. On 6th February 1990 the Committee of Ministers to Member States concerning Medical Research on Human Beings adopted Recommendation No. R(19)3. This incorporated the principles of the Declarations of Helsinki. I have established that Her Majesty's Government accept all the principles of the recommendation, that they apply equally to civilian and service volunteers and that the scientists at Porton Down are bound by their principles; or are they?

My information would indicate that at least four of the principles are not adhered to. It may be helpful if I detail those principles. Principle 2.1 states:

    "In medical research the interests and well-being of the person undergoing medical research must always prevail over the interests of science and society".

Principle 3.1 begins:

    "No medical research may be carried out without the informed, free, express and specific consent of the person undergoing it".

Principle 3.2 states:

    "The person who is to undergo medical research should be given information on the purpose of the research and the methodology of the experimentation. He should also be informed of the foreseeable risks and inconveniences to him of the proposed research".

Principle 13.1 states:

    "Potential subjects of medical research should not be offered any inducement which compromises free consent. Persons undergoing medical research should not gain any financial benefit. However, expenses and any financial loss may be refunded and in appropriate cases a modest allowance may be given for any inconvenience inherent in medical research".

And principle 14 states:

    "1. Persons undergoing medical research and/or their dependants should be compensated for injury or loss caused by medical research.

    2. Where there is no existing system providing compensation for the persons concerned states should ensure that sufficient guarantees for such compensation are provided".

These principles leave no room for doubt or misinterpretation. Why then am I concerned? The organophosphates currently used in agriculture were developed from extremely toxic organophosphates developed first by the Germans prior to and during World War II and later by the British and other nations for chemical warfare purposes. These so-called nerve

12 Dec 1994 : Column 1156

gases were tested on human volunteers at Porton Down. Some were exposed directly and others through protective clothing which was being tested. There is a group of 300 men, at least one of whom was not a volunteer, who underwent experiments with nerve gases between 1951 and 1977. Never were these men told what the chemical was or of its effects. Many were misled to the extent that they believed they were testing a cure for the common cold and that any effects would be minor and temporary. In retrospect, they all believed that these were the acute effects of exposure to organophosphate nerve gas, and in many cases they were severe and prolonged. Not one of these men has been followed up by Porton Down or the Ministry of Defence, and when they have asked for help the shutters have been pulled down. One remarked to me:

    "It was as if we had never been near Porton Down".

They were offered inducements in the form of extra pay, very tempting to the poorly paid National Service conscript, or extra leave. This practice continues today. I have an advertisement headed:

    "41/94 Volunteers for studies at Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment Porton Down (R)".

It states:

    "Volunteers could earn pay up to £250 (less tax) or in special cases more for a 3 week study and proportionately less for shorter studies".

There is no mention of refund of expenses or an allowance for inconvenience.

There is no doubt that these men are chronically sick. As I have said, they believe their illnesses are due to exposure to nerve gas. They have no means of establishing the truth because neither Porton Down nor the Ministry of Defence will admit they exist. During the screening of a film entitled "The Secrets of Porton Down", broadcast on 11th October 1994 on Channel 4 Television, the Director General of CBDE Porton Down was asked about follow up tests on volunteers. He said:

    "There is no evidence to suggest that there is a need to call back volunteers on a regular basis".

When pressed, he said:

    "It's a question of what is the best and most appropriate use of resources and one endeavours to use resources to best effect to ensure that our armed forces have effective protective measures. There are a lot of things that you could carry out research on but it would be wasting the Government's money to put effort into things that have little prospect of any benefit to those concerned".

So much for principles 2 and 13!

May I ask the noble Lord the Minister whether the Government really believe that these men, who innocently volunteered to undertake tests which one was told,

    "wouldn't harm a mouse",

have been treated in accordance with the principles of the Declarations of Helsinki and Recommendation No. R(90)3? If not, would he please take urgent action to enable them to be recompensed?

There is another group, possibly a very large group, of servicemen and women and members of the ancillary services who are receiving short shrift from the Ministry of Defence. These are the men and women who served in the Gulf in 1990 and 1991. They may not be classed as volunteers in the strictest sense, but some of the

12 Dec 1994 : Column 1157

medication administered to them at the time of Operation Granby was developed and tested at Porton Down and in two instances was unlicensed in the United Kingdom. These people received vaccines of two types of anthrax, botulinus toxin, bubonic plague (which was unlicensed), cholera, hepatitis B, polio, typhoid, whooping cough and yellow fever, all within about four days. They were also ordered to take 30 mgs of pyridostigmine bromide, also unlicensed, every eight hours for all the time they were in the Gulf. This drug is a carbanate, closely related to organophosphates. It has been used successfully to treat patients with myasthenia gravis, a neurological disease when given in much higher doses. It enhances the release of acetylcholine, one of the chemical messengers in the blood. I understand that this drug, known as nerve agent pre-treatment set or NAPS, was only tested on volunteers for two to three days and was designed for use in acute situations. A former senior scientific officer at Porton Down has described the prospect of prolonged use as "terrifying". It is known that when too much pyridostigmine bromide is given to a healthy person a cholinergic crisis is precipitated. This is the acute effect of poisoning. Nobody knows what happens when the drug is administered at a low level over a long period of time, but it is suspected that the neuromuscular junctions become modified and do not return to normal when the drug is no longer taken.

Most of the troops took NAPS on a regular basis for two months, but some members of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service who arrived in the Gulf in September 1990 took them for much longer. Their officers were in almost daily contact with the MoD asking whether it was all right to take NAPS for so long. They received no advice. There has been no research conducted on the effects on the human neurological or immune systems of a combination of vaccines with NAPS in the contaminated stressful situation which prevailed in the Gulf. Many of the members of the armed services who left for the Gulf in complete fitness have since their return fallen ill with a wide spectrum of symptoms, many familiar to sufferers from exposure to OP sheep dips. I understand that fully informed consent was not obtained from the troops prior to the administration of the medication and that they were given no opportunity to refuse. They were simply marched into a room and ordered to roll up their sleeves. They were aware that refusal would result in disciplinary action.

Why is it that the American Department of Defense has acknowledged that its troops, who saw action in the same theatre of war and received a similar spectrum of vaccines and NAPS, are suffering an unusual amount of illness after their Gulf service? They have given their sick veterans ex gratia payments and have set up a full epidemiological study to investigate cause and effect. Our Ministry of Defence says that very few Gulf servicemen and women have come forward for medical examination and the few who have, although they are ill, are not displaying any unusual signs or symptoms—certainly nothing which could be called a Gulf syndrome.

12 Dec 1994 : Column 1158

I know that many of the men and women affected have not presented for examination because they are career personnel and are afraid that their future prospects will be blighted. They are, nevertheless, extremely worried about their health and, following reports from America and Canada of babies conceived by the wives of Gulf servicemen after the conflict who are showing a higher than normal incidence of deformity and congenital illness, they are worried for their families. There has been no teratogenetic research done on the medication given to the troops.

The chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, Senator Jay Rockefeller, said last week:

    "On far too many occasions the Pentagon has shown a reckless disregard for the health and wellbeing of service members. Soldiers who are exposed to dangerous substances without their knowledge or consent become veterans who do not receive the medical care and compensation to which they are entitled".

I believe that that statement applies equally to our troops.

I know that the conflict in the Gulf presented dangers never before encountered by any troops. I know too that the action taken at the time to protect them was taken in the belief that it was in their best interests. What I find unacceptable is the flat refusal of the Ministry of Defence to admit that there may be something wrong and their failure to conduct a proper study of those who are ill.

I ask the noble Lord the Minister to ask his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence to arrange for the publication of Regimental Part I Orders ordering personnel to submit for medical examination without fear of prejudice. If that is done the extent of the problem will be known and measures taken to treat and compensate those affected.

I now come to the point which caused me to alter the subject of my Unstarred Question. In a Question for written Answer I asked whether the results of the research into the chronic effects of long term, low level exposure to organophosphate sheep dips conducted by the Department of Occupational Medicine at Birmingham University on behalf of the Health and Safety Executive would be published. The reply from the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, was:

    "The findings of the project are being analysed and the results will be submitted early next year to a scientific journal for publication".

It is my understanding that the research project was completed in June 1994.

Two hundred sheep farmers who had been exposed to organophosphate sheep dips were compared with a similar number of quarry workers matched for age, sex and region. The researchers looked at the neuro-psychological effects and the neurological effects, using standard tests. Three of the neuro-psychological tests have been analysed statistically. They show significant evidence of deterioration among the farmers. In one of the three tests there was a dose response relationship which is extremely significant because it eliminates other causes. Despite their lack of sophistication, the neurological tests demonstrate significant differences between the farmers and the controls.

12 Dec 1994 : Column 1159

It is inconceivable that such important evidence should be withheld pending publication in a scientific journal. Never before have the representatives of workers' organisations on the Chemicals in Agriculture Committee been denied access to this kind of information once it is held by the Health and Safety Executive. This research ties in with that done at Edinburgh University upon the effectiveness of the recommended protected clothing. Their conclusion was that the clothing was impractical, especially during the summer, and that dippers were exposed to significant amounts of chemicals.

This is an occasion when the scientists should put aside the privileges associated with publication in a scientific journal in the greater interest of humanity. The implications behind the results of these studies are enormous. There are over 430 organophosphate compounds in use in agriculture, horticulture, for pest control in commercial and domestic premises and in human and veterinary medicine. I have reports of illness from people concerned with all these. With a few notable exceptions, the medical profession has shown an abysmal lack of expertise, or even interest, in patients who have been exposed to organophosphates. In too many cases I have heard first-hand stories of doctors and consultants laughing at their patients if mention is made of OPs. They simply do not believe that such toxic chemicals would be let loose on the general population and prefer to send the patient to a psychiatrist or psychologist, often to the detriment of the patient's health.

I believe that the effects of chronic exposure to organophosphates have been suspected for a long time. The Department of Health adviser to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—an expert on organophosphates and a former Porton Down scientist—said in front of a room filled with farmers that he knows that there is long term damage and that he does not need persuading. Why will he not say so publicly?

We have three groups of people who would appear at first sight to have nothing in common. I hope that I have demonstrated that there is a thread which draws them all together. Each group is suffering ill health which is chronic and untreatable by orthodox medicine. Each group believes that they know the cause of their illness but no one will listen to them or do anything about it. Why should these sick people have to take recourse to the courts, with all that that involves, in order to gain compensation which is rightly theirs in the case of the Porton Down volunteers and the Gulf servicemen and women and, in the case of the others, should be recognised by the governments which have licensed the pesticides responsible?

The noble Lord the Minister has listened to me very patiently. I am grateful. I ask him to take the action necessary to ensure that all these victims are recognised and compensated. I also ask him to ensure that her Majesty's Government review the whole procedure for licensing chemical pesticides and medicines and that they consider introducing experienced lay people to the licensing committees.

12 Dec 1994 : Column 1160

I realise that I have asked questions which may be beyond the wording of my Question. I am convinced that the questions I have asked tonight are vitally important. I shall be grateful to the noble Lord if he will provide the answers. Finally, perhaps I may remind him of Toyber's dictum:

    "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence".

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page