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The Earl of Gowrie: My Lords, I speak as a parent. Is the Minister aware that, if this demon strikes, a small application, externally applied, of good Scotch whisky does the trick?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, I should be very interested in the scientific evidence for that, but I believe that my noble friend may have a point.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, is the Minister aware that when there are changes of policy as regards these lotions, whether or not they reflect the opinion of the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, the voluntary organisations concerned should be informed? Is she also aware that the main organisation involved, Community Hygiene, which runs a telephone hotline on this subject, was neither informed nor supported by the Department of Health when some of the products were withdrawn, although the department then asked the organisation to deal with a number of anxious parents who had questions on the subject? Surely the voluntary organisations which act in that way should be properly resourced and supported.

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, we were well aware that when we had had a previous exercise in communications concerning the pill it was not very well handled. In this case, we were very anxious to get the information quickly to doctors, nurses and pharmacists before it became general knowledge. Therefore, we notified the voluntary organisation mentioned by the noble Baroness as soon as it was possible to do so after we had informed the professionals, which is what they had asked us to do on the previous occasion.

Lady Kinloss: My Lords, do the Government endorse the bug-busting campaign to solve the head lice problem safely? In view of the need for people to be trained properly in the procedure, will the Government consider allowing GPs to prescribe the bug-busting kit, especially in view of the fact that it could save £3.5 million per year as against prescribing the chemical treatments?

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Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, general practitioners clearly give the most appropriate advice to individuals concerned. In this case, that is usually the parents or the school. We have nurses attached to schools who are very much involved with that. As regards the bug-busting kit and campaign, we support that voluntary organisation with annual grants. Indeed, we admire some of the work that it does.

Lord De Freyne: My Lords, considering what has been said about this problem, does my noble friend agree that whisky is bad for the head?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, I have heard of vinegar being used as a shampoo but never whisky. I thought that my noble friend Lord Gowrie was providing a rather quirky solution to a quirky problem.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, if whisky does the trick, would not surgical spirit do it just as well but much cheaper?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, I think that these are a lot of lousy suggestions.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, will the noble Baroness reconsider her answers about the insecticides which are used in the shampoos and lotions? So far as I can make out, no research has been carried out as to their effect on the immune and neurological systems of young children. More and more doctors are reporting to me that patients showing ME symptoms have been using louse treatments. In one case, I heard of a mother who had shampooed the hair of her child 17 times with a particular organophosphate treatment because the lice were not responding to it. There now seems to be some resistance by the bugs to those products.

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, I should like to make it quite clear that we always act on the advice of our expert committees. The committee on carcinogenicity advised us in this case about this particular product called Carbaryl. I am aware that the committee is concerned about all the applications which people are using for all sorts of different reasons, including agricultural and domestic reasons. I believe that the committee is aware of what is going on. In this case it was not an actual risk but a theoretical risk, but we felt that we should err on the side of caution. Indeed, that is why it is now a pharmacist only product and is not available over the counter.

EU Overseas Aid Spending: Legality

2.52 p.m.

Lord Bruce of Donington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What were the circumstances in which European Union expenditure on population policies and programmes in developing countries, for which Community budget provision was made in 1990, has taken place without a legal basis; and what expenditure has so far taken place and what commitments have been entered into to date.

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Lord Chesham: My Lords, the European Parliament has the power to create spending provisions without a legal base, as in this case. We have now secured a draft regulation. Our total commitments for 1990-94 are approximately 13.5 million ecus and the payments are 5.9 million ecus. No figures are yet available for 1995.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that that is a quite extraordinary state of affairs? Expenditure under this heading was started in 1990 without there being any legal basis for it whatever, so much so that the Commission--not the European Parliament--published on 2nd October this year a proposal in order to regularise the position. How does that arise? Are we to assume that it is a matter of complete indifference to the Government whether or not money is spent on a legal basis by the European Community? That seems extraordinary.

Lord Chesham: My Lords, the UK has taken the lead in pressing for legal bases for all significant budget provisions. One result was a Commission communication in March proposing that any significant new provision should provide a legal base and that all existing provisions over 5 million ecus should be given a legal base. I should add that the actual expenditure in 1990 was zero.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, is my noble friend saying that the European Union is to legalise retroactively any amount of money that the European Parliament has spent whether or not it has a legal right to do so? If that is the case, it is a complete disgrace and an abuse of parliamentary privilege.

Lord Chesham: My Lords, the European Parliament has the last word as regards those parts of the aid budget. Therefore, the Council cannot enforce a block on spending without a legal base.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton: My Lords, my noble friend gives the figures in ecus. Will my noble friend tell us what is an ecu in currencies which we understand; for example, pounds, francs or deutschmarks?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, on the basis of the conversion that I have, 13.5 million ecus converts to about £10.2 million; and 5.9 million ecus converts to about £4.5 million.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the Commission's own proposals of 2nd October last set out the alleged justification, which is Article 130 of the treaty? But the treaty was not signed until December 1991. In any event, Article 130 provides only for aid to be organised by the Commission on a complementary basis to that already undertaken by member states. Is he aware that we have it on an authoritative basis that the aid provided by member states tends to be dealt with rather more skilfully than that provided by the co-ordination process of a Brussels bureaucracy?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, the Commission proposed in September that the regulation on aid for population programmes, which is the purpose of this Question,

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should be governed by line B7-5050. An explanatory memorandum was submitted on 26th October and the proposal is broadly along the right lines.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, surely my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington is right to say that aid programmes are administered more efficiently and better by member states rather than by the Commission. Is that not more so in the case of the £4,000 million which is to be spent for the next five years in North Africa to prevent, apparently, the North Africans invading Greece, Portugal and Spain, which the taxpayer already subsidises to a very large extent?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, there is a place for multilateral and bilateral aid. To say that one is better than another in one instance is probably not appropriate. The total Commission aid for population and reproductive health, including the EC budget and Lome, committed between 1990 and 1994 was approximately 154 million ecus--approximately £128 million. The ODA UK expenditure on population and reproductive health programmes nearly doubled between 1990 and 1994 to £43.5 million. That includes significant spending on HIV and AIDS.

British Rail: Rolling Stock Valuation

2.57 p.m.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will state the price paid by the three companies which have purchased British Rail's rolling stock, what is the book value of that stock and what undertakings have been given by the purchasers as to its continued use.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen): My Lords, the aggregate price which has been agreed for the companies is in the region of £1.78 billion. The net book value of the rolling stock at 31st March 1995 was just over £1.84 billion. The purchasers were not asked to give specific undertakings as to the continued use of the stock, since approximately 92 per cent. of vehicles are currently on lease for periods of up to 10 years.

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