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Lord Merlyn-Rees: My Lords, will the Minister tell the House whether the story in the Sunday Times was true or false? If it were true, is there a way in which the authorities could check the rubbish to discover who perpetrated the offence?

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Earl Ferrers: My Lords, it is always dangerous to say that something which appears in the press is true, but it is based on fact. The facts have been known since last November and are under investigation by the Hertfordshire waste regulation authority. The authority has three people investigating the matter full time with a view to prosecution.

Lord Monson: My Lords, do the Government believe that the existing maximum penalties for those convicted of such a deplorable crime are adequate? Indeed, what are the existing maximum penalties?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I believe that the existing maximum penalties are adequate. If one disposes of waste without a waste management licence, one is subject to an unlimited fine, which could have a deterring effect, or to imprisonment, which could have an even more deterring effect. For breach of the duty of care there is an unlimited fine. The transport of waste by someone who is not registered as a carrier is subject to a fine of £5,000.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, is the Minister satisfied that hospitals are well aware of the proper ways of disposing of clinical waste? If not, can that be remedied?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, hospitals are well aware of the correct method of disposal. They dispose of the waste to a carrier who is registered by a local authority. In this case, the hospitals concerned correctly handed over the waste to the carrier. I understand that waste was taken from about 20 hospitals on behalf of Green Environmental, which is alleged to have contracted with the carriers to incinerate waste in a new incinerator in Cambridge. However, the incinerator was not then complete and the company was alleged to have satisfied the waste carriers, under the duty of care, about its intention to deal with the waste properly by suggesting that it went on to Cannon Hygiene at Enfield. False documents showing that the waste had been properly dealt with were produced. The regulations are adequate. One cannot prevent people breaking the law, but one can discover when they do so and punish them appropriately.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, the Minister said that the facts in the Sunday Times' article were correct. Is it the case that investigators now believe that up to 400 tonnes of clinical waste may still be missing? Is it also the case that clinical waste is defined by the British Medical Association as human or animal tissue, blood or any other body fluids, excretions, swabs, dressings and needles and other sharp instruments, and that the British Medical Association warns that such waste may cause infection to any person coming into contact with it? If those are the facts, this is a very serious matter which goes way beyond Hertfordshire. What action are the Government taking to ensure that the law, which as the Minister said is perfectly clear, is being enforced?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, inadvertently misconstrued what I said. I did not say that the facts were correct; I said that it was based on facts. The noble Lord the Opposition Chief Whip laughs--

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Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, I did not laugh.

Earl Ferrers: Well, that is a change!

Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, the Minister misread my expression.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, that is even worse. It must have been one of disbelief, which I regard as very offensive! There are facts which newspapers can embellish as they wish. The article was based on facts. I understand that a number of tonnes of waste have been missing but I cannot tell the noble Lord how many because the matter is under investigation and is being dealt with correctly. Three bodies can prosecute: the police, the waste regulation authorities and the Health and Safety Executive. Until matters have been investigated properly it is impossible to say who or how many people will be prosecuted.

The noble Lord referred to the BMA's description of clinical waste, which is similar to a description that I have seen. The materials are very toxic, and in this case random samples of the waste were tested at the public health laboratories and were found to be an extreme risk to any person coming into contact with them. I can only assure the House that the greatest effort is being made to discover why things went wrong and who were the wrongdoers.

Lord Rea: My Lords, did the private contractor which received the contract for disposing of the waste obtain the contract through compulsory competitive tendering, or competitive tendering, compulsory or otherwise?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, it is up to the hospitals to make arrangements as regards the removal of their infected and highly dangerous material. I understand that in this case it was given to a perfectly legitimate carrier who had a perfectly legitimate carrier's licence. He took the waste to where he believed was a perfectly legitimate incineration station. The incineration station had not by then been built and at that stage the incinerator operators were responsible for what happened thereafter.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, can the noble Earl confirm one of the facts on which this article is based: that up to 400 tonnes of waste is still believed by investigators to be missing? Is another of the facts correct on which the article is based; namely, that the investigation has since spread to Manchester and Wales, where more waste is believed to be hidden? Are inquiries also being made in London, Essex, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, and the West Country?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I cannot confirm the facts contained in the article until a thorough investigation has been carried out. Whether or not it is 400 tonnes, I am not in a position to say. Certainly other investigations have been taking place in, for example, Wales and Manchester as a result of what has been said.

Lord Kennet: My Lords, if the incinerators have not yet been built, how can the site have been a legitimate site to which to take the waste?

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Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the firm to which the carriers were undertaking their responsibilities for carrying waste was called Green Environmental which had built or was building an incinerator. It was not ready at the time that the waste was delivered. The noble Lord looks querulous and I do not blame him. But the carriers of the waste were then told to take it to Enfield in Middlesex, which is a site operated by Cannon Hygiene. They were told that that was where the waste would be incinerated properly. There were false documents to show that the waste had been incinerated when it had not been.


3.31 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m., my noble friend Lord Lindsay will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is to be made in another place on the Dunblane incident. I should add that if the Statement is not received from another place before my noble friend Lady Blatch rises to move the Second Reading of the Asylum and Immigration Bill, then we shall break into that debate after the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill.

I understand that the Statement has already begun in another place. Therefore, I am rather hoping that my noble friend Lord Lindsay will arrive in your Lordships' House so that we may take the Statement before the start of the Second Reading on the Asylum and Immigration Bill.

Since standing at this Dispatch Box, I have looked to see whether my noble friend is in the process of arriving before your Lordships. He may well have come to the conclusion that we are not to have the Statement until after the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, and he may be working on his notes.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, I saw the noble Earl only a few moments ago and I cannot believe that he would be working on notes which were prepared for him some time ago. I imagine that he would prefer to take the Statement now. On the other hand, we are ready to observe the wishes of the Government Chief Whip. I see that the noble Earl is now just about to take his place. After he has got his breath back, I am absolutely certain that this is the right time at which to take the Statement.

Dunblane School Tragedy

3.34 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (The Earl of Lindsay): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement on the Dunblane incident which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. The Statement is as follows:

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    "It is with profound sadness that I have to report on the tragic event that took place at Dunblane, which is within my constituency, yesterday. Honourable Members will understand the deep shock and distress afflicting the people of Dunblane. Our first thoughts must be with the families of those who have been killed and injured. Our deepest sympathies go out to them at this terrible time.

    "The House will appreciate that police inquiries into the matter are continuing and therefore I shall confine my remarks to the facts surrounding the incident so far as they have been established. At approximately 9.15 a.m. on Wednesday, 13th March, an armed man, identified by police as Thomas Hamilton, entered Dunblane Primary School and opened fire on children and staff who were in the school gymnasium. Fifteen of the children who were shot and their teacher died within the school. One child died later in hospital. Three adults and 12 other children were wounded. The gunman shot himself and died within the school.

    "As soon as I was informed of this dreadful event, accompanied by the honourable Member for Hamilton I went to Dunblane where we were joined by my honourable friend the Member for Aberdeen South. What we witnessed there encompassed both the worst and the best of which humanity is capable. In contrast to the stark evil of the crime, doctors, teachers, police, ambulance personnel and other caring professionals, Church leaders and volunteers worked unsparingly to save life and console the bereaved.

    "In particular, I want to pay the highest possible tribute to Mr. Ron Taylor, headmaster of Dunblane Primary, for his heroic efforts to save the lives of his dying pupils in circumstances too harrowing to be recounted in detail. Honourable Members will wish to join me also in a tribute to Mrs. Gwen Mayor, the dedicated teacher who was gunned down in the midst of her charges. Mrs. Mayor was an exceptionally gifted teacher who had given 10 years' service to the school. Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to her husband Rodney and their two daughters. I would also like to extend the sympathy of the House to Aileen Harrild, the PE teacher, and to the teaching assistants, Mary Blake and Gwen Tweddle, who were all injured. Our teachers carry the immeasurable responsibility of moulding the character of the next generation. In this tragic case a teacher lost her life in the course of fulfilling that responsibility.

    "I would also pay tribute to the Chief Constable of Central Scotland Police, William Wilson, and his officers, to the procurator fiscal at Stirling and to the medical teams supervised by Dr. Jack Beattie, as well as the staff in the hospitals at Stirling, Falkirk and Yorkhill who carried out their duties superbly in the most distressing circumstances. All the public services involved deserve the praise of the House and our recognition of the trauma that will continue to live with them.

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    "The Lord Advocate and I believe that this terrible tragedy should be fully investigated. We believe that it is desirable and necessary that an inquiry should be undertaken by a senator of the College of Justice, a senior Scottish judge. Lord Cullen, who conducted the public inquiry into the "Piper Alpha" disaster, has agreed to undertake this responsibility. The Lord Advocate plans to meet him and the Lord President of the Court of Session tomorrow to discuss the procedures the inquiry should follow.

    "Her Majesty the Queen yesterday sent her condolences to all those affected by this unspeakable deed. The Queen and the Princess Royal have both expressed a wish to visit Dunblane as soon as circumstances make this appropriate and I can tell the House that they will be going there on Monday.

    "Honourable Members will share my sense of the inadequacy of any attempt we in this House might make to offer consolation to the families devastated by this vile crime. The cold-blooded slaughter of tiny children is beyond atrocity. I know that I speak for the whole House when I say to the stricken families of Dunblane: our deepest sympathy and our prayers are with you and for you. You have the support of countless people around the world in your grief.

    "Tomorrow night, the people of Dunblane will be holding a vigil for their dead, their injured, and their bereaved. I know I speak for the whole House when I say that the prayers and thoughts of all honourable Members will be with them. The whole nation mourns".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

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