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House of Lords

Wednesday, 18th January 1995.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Lichfield.

Lord Steyn

The Right Honourable Sir Johan van Zyl Steyn, Knight, a Lord Justice of Appeal, having been appointed a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary and thereby created a Baron for life, by the style and title of Baron Steyn, of Swafield in the County of Norfolk—Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Roskill and the Lord Mustill.

Organophosphates: Post Dipping Exposure

2.49 p.m.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why they will not publish in full the final report entitled CVLS 50/93 DIAZINON: Post Dipping Exposure in Humans.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earl Howe): My Lords, the report referred to by the noble Countess was commissioned from the ministry's Central Veterinary Laboratory by the National Office of Animal Health as part of a commercial contract. The report is therefore its property and it is for the National Office of Animal Health to decide on publication and not the Government. I understand that copies are available from it on request and I have asked for one to be sent to the noble Countess.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that reply. But does he recall that on 26th May 1994, in a Written Answer to my Question asking for the definition of a freshly dipped sheep, he said that:

    "A sheep is regarded as being freshly dipped for the short period which follows immediately after dipping, when the sheep is still wet from the dip bath"?—[Official Report, 26/5/94; col. WA 57.]

The paper to which I refer states that diazinon is still present in the sheep's fleece after 10 weeks. One of the problems we have had is in ascertaining for how long protective clothing should be worn when handling sheep. Should not this information have been put in the public domain in November 1993 when the report was formulated?

Earl Howe: My Lords, a preliminary paper was presented to the Veterinary Products Committee as part its review in October 1993. The final version of the report is currently being considered by the committee along with other papers on the subject. The Government are awaiting its expert advice.

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The leaflet issued to sheep farmers last year by the Health and Safety Executive and Veterinary Medicine Directorate called Sheep Dipping contains clear advice on post dipping procedures.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos: My Lords, the House and the agriculture industry generally should be grateful to the noble Countess for pursuing this important matter in the way she has done. Can the noble Earl give an assurance that the report now under consideration will be published?

Earl Howe: My Lords, publication is a matter for the National Office of Animal Health as it is the office's property, as I explained. However, we understand that copies are available from it on request and in essence the report is already in the public domain.

Lord Carter: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether advice was sought from the Chief Medical Officer of Health before deciding whether there was a public interest element that required full publication of the report?

Earl Howe: My Lords, we have not yet reached that stage. Until Ministers receive a report from the Veterinary Products Committee, which they expect to do in the not too distant future, it is impossible to take a view of that kind. We shall certainly bear the noble Lord's suggestion in mind.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: My Lords, in view of the range of medicaments which are now available for the treatment of sheep scab and which are much safer for humans than the organophosphorous compounds, will my noble friend the Minister consider the provision of an information document on alternative medicaments that can be used by owners of sheep when dipping them?

Earl Howe: My Lords, my noble friend raises a very important point. Advice is published by the Health and Safety Executive which draws attention to the products that are available apart from organophosphorous products. OP dips are, however, the only type of dip which in a single application can treat sheep scab and blow fly at the same time.

Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994: Costs

2.53 p.m.

Lord Hughes asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their latest estimate of the cost of implementing the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Fraser of Carmyllie): My Lords, in his 1995 public expenditure plans my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland made provision for local government reorganisation costs of £41 million in 1995-96; net costs of £40 million in 1996-97; and net savings of £20 million in 1997-98.

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The costs of water reconstruction in 1995-96 are estimated to be £11.4 million.

Lord Hughes: My Lords, given that the figures for the estimated costs given by CoSLA range between £124 million and £199 million, does the Minister agree that the figure likely to arise will be at the very best somewhere between the £41 million that the Government are allowing and the minimum £124 million stated by CoSLA? If that is the position, what do the Government intend? Will they make an additional payment if it becomes obvious that £41 million is inadequate; or will they expect the shadow authority to go into business a year later on borrowed money?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I do not for a moment accept the figures that CoSLA has put forward. I shall explain very simply. For example, in Tayside, where there are to be three unitary authorities—Dundee, which the noble Lord once headed; Perthshire; and Angus—each of those unitary authorities estimate that they will be able to perform the task more cheaply than Tayside Region, covering the whole, can at present. I therefore do not accept CoSLA's figures. CoSLA allowed for a quite extraordinary number of redundancies and early retirements. It would be foolish and impractical if it were to follow that course.

I can tell the noble Lord, and I announce today, that the provision for the cost of local government reorganisation in 1995-96 includes £36 million for the funding of shadow councils. When my right honourable friend announced the provision on 13th December he said that he was still considering whether the funding would be provided by grant or by borrowing consent, as allowed for in Section 25 of the Act. I am glad to announce today that my right honourable friend has now decided that the shadow councils should be funded by grant—which was of course the option preferred by CoSLA.

Lord Hughes: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for the last part of that Answer.

Lord Renton: My Lords, is it not a fact that the cost of the changes to local government in Scotland would be much greater if some of the amendments that were proposed on the other side of this House had been accepted? Is it not also a fact that, in the long run, the ratepayers of Scotland will have benefited from these changes?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I have no doubt that after the third year—that is to say 1997-98—the council tax payers of Scotland will find that there are net savings to be achieved. What we cannot predict accurately is just how responsibly local councils, left to their own independence, will react. There is absolutely no reason why they should not achieve that saving by the third year. About £500 million to £600 million should be saved over the next 15 years.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, if, as the noble Lord, Lord Renton, says, there will be tremendous savings to the Government and to taxpayers in Scotland as a result of local government reform in Scotland, can

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the Minister explain why, if all those savings are about to accrue, the Government have decided not to proceed with local government reorganisation in England?

Can the Minister also comment on the disappointment that was felt by people throughout Scotland today on reading the press headline in the Scotsman that Lang had entered the race for the presidency of France—only to discover that it was not Ian Lang but Jack Lang, the former socialist environment Minister?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I am bound to say that when I read that headline this morning it caused me a tremor of concern as well. However, I was pleased to see that it was Jack.

So far as Scotland is concerned, we are confident that if local authorities behave responsibly these very substantial savings will be achieved. A very real tremor of concern will have been felt throughout the business industry in Scotland at the announcement by the shadow Secretary of State, Mr. Frank Dobson, that if there were to be a Labour government he proposed to reintroduce business rates at local level. I cannot think that a single small business in Scotland will welcome that threat.

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