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House of Lords

Wednesday, 25th June 1997.

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

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Oxford.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry

The Right Honourable Ronald Timothy Renton, having been created Baron Renton of Mount Harry, of Offham in the County of East Sussex, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Renton and the Lord Howe of Aberavon.

Lord Hurd of Westwell

The Right Honourable Douglas Richard Hurd, CH, CBE, having been created Baron Hurd of Westwell, of Westwell in the County of Oxfordshire, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Lloyd of Berwick and the Lord Gillmore of Thamesfield.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden

The Right Honourable Sir Patrick Barnabas Burke Mayhew, Knight, QC, having been created Baron Mayhew of Twysden, of Kilndown in the County of Kent, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Glenarthur and the Lord Elton.

Sheep Dips: Safe Disposal

3.5 p.m.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What measures they will take to ensure that farmers required to dip their sheep under the Sheep Scab Order 1997 (S.I., 1997, No. 968) carry out the correct procedures for safe dipping and for disposal of spent sheep dips.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, in answering for the first time in your Lordships' House on a health and safety issue, I should like to pay tribute to the tireless efforts of the noble Countess in drawing attention to the hazards associated with organophosphorus sheep dips.

In publicising the sheep scab order, the Government will emphasise the importance of human and environmental safety. Farmers are subject to legislation governing the safe use and disposal of sheep dip, inspectors enforce it, and guidance is available to help farmers comply with it. To coincide with the summer dipping season, the Health and Safety Executive last week placed advertisements in the farming press about

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key rules when dipping. On disposal, which may affect the aquatic environment, the Government will consult in the near future on draft regulations to provide additional protection for groundwater.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her kind remarks; indeed, I do not know where to put myself when people make such remarks.

I appreciate the fact that the certificate of competence is a tremendous help to farmers who are using organophosphate sheep dips; but there are serious problems with disposal both as regards organophosphate sheep dips and the synthetic pyrethroid dips. That applies particularly to the latter, because they take so long to neutralise if lime is put with them. Therefore, can the Minister ask manufacturers to put the neutralising solution in the pack with the sheep dip as they used to do with disinfectants before they were withdrawn? Further, can the Minister ask the manufacturers to develop something which breaks down the pyrethroid dips more quickly so that farmers are not tempted to take risks when disposing of their sheep dip?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, we are very aware of the hazards of disposal of these potentially extremely dangerous substances. We are also aware that some manufacturers are developing hypochlorite solutions to degrade spent sheep dip. However, we have not received any applications to vary the marketing authorisations. If, for example, an application for a double pack is received, all of the data submitted will be carefully assessed. However, even when such an agent is used, the spent wash should be disposed of in the same way as the untreated dip as the treated solution is still not suitable for unrestricted discharge to watercourses. We do not want the supply of neutralising agents to be taken as a justification for a relaxed approach to disposal.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that the unions which organise agricultural workers are most concerned about the effect upon farm workers of the use of these organophosphates and similar substances? Therefore, would my noble friend be prepared to say that the unions will be consulted about the operation of the 1997 order referred to in the Question?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am very happy to give my noble friend that assurance. I am aware of the anxieties throughout the workforce of the agricultural industry regarding such issues. We shall be consulting about draft regulations for disposal, and I shall ensure that the unions are consulted on those proposals.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, is it not the responsibility of the Government to provide rather more incentive for companies to develop detoxification procedures for spent sheep dips by threatening or bringing in regulations which would make such procedures compulsory? Will the Minister consider moving in that direction because, otherwise, companies will have very little incentive to leap over the very large regulatory hurdles that she has just outlined? Will the Minister also

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consider assisting companies to develop pour ons rather than dipping procedures for sheep scab, which would carry much lighter environmental impacts if they could be developed? Again, there are very high costs involved when developing such alternatives. Therefore, unless there are incentives, and perhaps help from the Government's research budget, these may be a long time coming.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, there is a temptation to ask if such incentives should have been made available previously and, if it was so urgent, why this Government should suddenly take on that responsibility. However, this is a serious area and we shall look at all developments. I understand that there are alternatives to OP dipping about which farmers should be made aware and the use of which they should consider.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, was right to some extent in what he said, and so was the noble Baroness. Does she agree that the alternatives to OP sheep dips are much more expensive--in some cases twice as expensive--and that it is important that if farmers are using injectable substances, they should inject sheep twice and not take risks by just injecting them once? The sheep should be injected properly. Can the noble Baroness say what supervision the Health and Safety Executive offers?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, this is an area where it is important that there is proper supervision. The Health and Safety Executive, through its inspectorate, is responsible for ensuring that the sheep scab order and its implications for operator safety will be reinforced; and it will reinforce the importance of correct procedure as part of its inspection duties. Inspectors will also take appropriate enforcement action where there have been breaches of the regulations governing sheep dipping products and their alternatives as regards the sheep scab order.

Lockerbie Air Disaster

3.10 p.m.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their policy concerning the prosecution of those responsible for the murder of those on flight PanAm 103 and of residents of Lockerbie in December 1988.

The Lord Advocate (Lord Hardie): My Lords, the Government's policy in relation to the prosecution of any crime is that those allegedly responsible should be brought before the courts having jurisdiction for such matters in order that the accused may receive a fair trial.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord has not quite answered the Question that I put to him. As the new Administration takes

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up office and as the noble and learned Lord as the new Lord Advocate takes over responsibility for these matters, it would be helpful if a clear signal were given not only to this country but also to the rest of the world that the policy pursued by previous Lord Advocates will be maintained. Even in the absence of a clear answer from the noble and learned Lord, I hope I may ask him two questions. First, he will appreciate that as the public prosecutor in Scotland in that respect he does not share a collective responsibility with other ministerial colleagues but has a singular and possibly rather lonely duty to determine whether or not there should be a prosecution. Will he guard against any attempt, however well intentioned, to fetter that discretion for foreign policy or trade reasons?

Secondly, if the noble and learned Lord should determine at any stage that there should not be a prosecution in this matter, will he give an assurance that he will explain that to your Lordships' House? It is not just the relatives of those 270 people who died at Lockerbie who would like to know on what evidence the original decision was taken, but those of us who were involved in the prosecution and the original investigation, who have had our integrity impugned as conspiracy theory has piled upon conspiracy theory, would like the opportunity to reflect on how we would wish to take the matter forward.

Lord Hardie: My Lords, I assure the House--as I did in my maiden speech--that I intend to guard the independence of the office which I hold. I assure the noble and learned Lord that I shall not allow anyone from any side of the House to fetter my discretion in any way. As regards reaching any decision, as the noble and learned Lord will be aware, I was involved, along with him, in the public inquiry into the Lockerbie disaster. Since taking up office I have had access to much information that was not available to me at that stage and which is not in the public domain. I can assure the House that I am satisfied on the information available to me that there is no reason not to proceed with the petitions. The noble and learned Lord will be aware that the situation is still fluid in the sense that if additional information becomes available any decision would have to be reviewed. I can also assure the noble and learned Lord that should it be decided that no prosecution will take place I shall return to the House and make a Statement to that effect.

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