Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am sorry to come back to the Minister but it is important to clarify the matter. Is she saying that, although her honourable friend in another place said last week that this is to be new guidance to general practitioners, it is simply a revision of a previous booklet?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, it is an updated version of a previous booklet. It is a new version. I do not see that there is a tremendous significance between

18 Mar 1996 : Column 1070

updating existing guidance, taking into account medical advances and ensuring that it is much more comprehensive, and producing an entirely new booklet.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for the information which she has just given me, in particular about the booklet to be published soon. But will she use the NHS publicity machine to make sure that all GPs are aware of the effects of organophosphates? The Minister will be aware from a sample of the letters that I have sent her recently that patients are suffering terribly because their GPs and consultants do not understand their condition.

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, yes, we shall try to do all that we can to make doctors aware of this problem.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, is it not time for the Government to consider whether the use of organophosphates is worth the threat to human health?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that organophosphates are used for many purposes. They are used not only for sheep dips but also for pesticides. That matter is under constant review by the advisory bodies from which the Government seek advice. They are keeping the matter under constant review. I am sure that sheep farmers will say that it is important to ensure that flocks are in good condition.

Business of the House: Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill

2.59 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, perhaps your Lordships will allow me to indulge in what I think will be something of a pre-emptive strike. For a reason that may not be altogether immediately apparent to your Lordships, I feel that it may be possible that some of my noble friends may be moved to oppose the Motion.

I wonder whether I could venture to suggest to your Lordships that wrangles surrounding the Motion have become a not altogether welcome feature of our debates over the past few months. Although I have the very greatest respect for a number of my noble friends who take a different view from me, I should like to point out that the matter has been discussed recently in the Procedure Committee, and that in my view--I hope not erroneously--your Lordships have expressed a pretty clear consensus on the matter.

If any of my noble friends still feel that the Motion should be disputed, I hope that they will have the confidence of their convictions and take the matter to its logical conclusion and test the view of the House.

Moved, That Standing Order 44 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with to enable the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill to be taken through its remaining stages on Tuesday, 19th March.--(Viscount Cranborne.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

18 Mar 1996 : Column 1071

Chemical Weapons Bill

3.1 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 33 [Annual reports by Secretary of State]:

Lord Peston moved the manuscript amendment:

Page 22, line 6, at end insert--
("( ) In preparing the report the Secretary of State shall take appropriate advice.
( ) The criteria by which the Secretary of State shall be guided in preparing the report shall include the need to--
(a) reassure Parliament and the public that the United Kingdom is fulfilling its responsibilities under the Convention,
(b) state the way in which the Secretary of State is discharging his responsibilities under this Act, and
(c) maintain an appropriate balance between the legitimate needs of transparency and commercial confidentiality in the provision of information in the report.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, there is only one amendment down for today's proceedings and, therefore, we have a long day ahead of us! The amendment is tabled in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. As noble Lords are aware, there is no basic dispute about the validity of the Chemical Weapons Bill or about our great desire to see it on the statute book as soon as possible. The debates that we have had in your Lordships' House, both in Committee and today, concern detail and our hope to be able to improve it; or, as it has not been my desire in such matters to divide your Lordships' House, to get the Minister to place on record the Government's view on such matters which will then make the Bill more sensible without having to press amendments to a Division.

Frankly, the amendment arises out of a feeling of irritation as regards the Minister when we debated the matter earlier. That is most unusual for me in regard to my relationship with the noble and learned Lord. However, noble Lords will recall that the Government thought it important for there to be a report on how the Act, as it would then be, is working and whether it is achieving the ends that not only Her Majesty's Government but also the international community wish to see happen more generally in the area.

I agree that the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, and I tabled a rather elaborate amendment on the matter on the last occasion. My feeling about the Minister's response at that time was that it was somewhat negative. I have tabled the current amendment in the hope that I shall be able to encourage the Minister to say something more positive in the area.

The report about which we are talking is meant to be useful. Indeed, the Government would not have agreed to having such a report if they did not think it would be useful. However, the word "useful" must certainly mean informative. As the amendment points out, there are at least two groups of people who need to be reassured about the chemical weapons convention and, therefore, the workings of the Chemical Weapons Bill. One is Parliament--that is, both the other place and indeed, more importantly, your Lordships' House; the second group is the public outside in all their different dimensions.

18 Mar 1996 : Column 1072

One aspect of the public interest was raised by the Daily Mail in its "Night and Day" section which seemed to find that it was altogether too easy to acquire chemicals which could be converted into lethal weapons. I shall not rehearse all the arguments regarding whether we should have a list which tells everyone what potentially dangerous chemicals are, so that they know what to go out and try to buy. We certainly agree that that would be going too far; but, on the other hand, one definitely needs a certain amount of transparency in the matter.

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, and I have rather changed tack here. Instead of putting down in detail exactly what ought to be in the annual report--largely we were right to do so, although not entirely--we have outlined the criteria by which the annual report would be judged. That is the exact purpose of the amendment. In particular, it refers to the point emphasised quite rightly by the Minister; namely, that in many of these cases we are dealing with matters of great commercial confidentiality. It certainly would not be my intention to undermine the economic viability of any business by revealing its legitimate commercial secrets. But, on the other hand, there is a public interest in transparency.

In that connection I am happy to say that the Royal Society of Chemistry which has advised me and the Chemical Industries Association, with which I have been in touch and which has sent me briefing material, both take my amendment to mean that the annual report should--and, implicitly, could--provide transparency while safeguarding commercial confidentiality. The Royal Society of Chemistry and the association recognise that the national authority is not expected to be the sole source of expert advice to the Secretary of State, which again confirms what the Minister said on the last occasion when we discussed the matter. Both the society and the association believe that there should be consultation with appropriate expertise, which should include trade associations and professional and learned bodies, together with individual industrial and academic expertise. The purpose of the amendment is to lead us to all those things.

In moving the amendment, what I most hope for is a more positive response on the part of the Minister, by which I mean more positive than he was able to be on the last occasion. That would certainly underline the importance which we all attach to the legislation and, as I said, it would reassure the relevant interested parties. I beg to move.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, we have before us an extraordinary amendment, especially as regards the first two lines, which read:

    "In preparing the report the Secretary of State shall take appropriate advice".
Surely every Secretary of State in preparing every report takes what he believes to be appropriate advice. It is very odd indeed suddenly to put such a provision forward as an amendment to the legislation. I can hardly understand what the noble Lord, Lord Peston, is playing at, other than the fact that his desperate need to find something that he could propose to amend has, perhaps, led him to invent this amendment.

18 Mar 1996 : Column 1073

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page