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Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, of course I am ready, as always, to acknowledge the noble Countess's role in drawing to the attention of your Lordships, and indeed of many people beyond your Lordships' House, the matter to which this Question refers. We are very concerned to look broadly at the impact of organophosphates on human health. That is why the Government decided that it was sensible to refer the findings of the Institute of Environment and Health's review of the published literature to COT in order that it should give an overall view. We shall seek to ensure that those who take part in the special sub-group looking at this matter will not be people who have already identified with a particular view on the subject.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, will the noble Baroness kindly bear in mind that the noble Countess is absolutely right--and has been for a long time--and is beginning to attract support to her cause? Will she also bear in mind that, in arranging for any further inquiries, unswerving loyalty to previously expressed opinions is not the highest of virtues? They could be wrong.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for his wise advice. As I said in answer to the previous question from the noble Countess, we are anxious to ensure that those looking in detail at the review of the published literature should not be people identified with an unswerving view on either side. My honourable friend the Minister for Public Health and I have already asked the noble Countess if she will meet us to talk about this potential exploration of the subject.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I believe that my noble friend missed what I said. In my original Answer to the noble Countess I said that the report of the original review on which COT is now proceeding is expected to be published in the summer. The report of COT and its sub-group on this review will also be published.
Earl Baldwin of Bewdley: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that it can be very difficult to change one's opinion in public on a matter like this, especially if one is part of a closely-knit group of scientists, most of whom come from the same background and have the same kinds of links with the chemical industry?
The Earl of Clanwilliam: My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that many practitioners in alternative and complementary medicine would also very much welcome the institution of such a committee as she has proposed? Is the Minister aware that these practitioners suffer considerably from having the efficiency of their products dumbed down, if I may use that phrase, by the orthodox, professional view on toxicity, particularly as evidenced by the committee on that subject to which the noble Baroness has just referred?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am sure that the views of people who represent complementary medicine will be welcomed by the advisory committee. As I understand it, what the sub-group intends to do once it has established its membership is to advertise for example in the British Medical Journal, asking people to submit their views to the working party.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, will the noble Baroness ask the committees looking at these papers to pay particular attention to the effects of organophosphates on children? Is she aware that they were originally tested on healthy six-foot marines? Is she further aware that children, pregnant women and elderly people are particularly susceptible and that that is acknowledged? Is she also aware of a major report which has just come from America about the residues of OPs in fruit and vegetables and of the concerns expressed today by the National Consumer Council about residues of organophosphates in vegetables? Will she also look at Department of Health's recommendations about eating five pieces of fruit and vegetable every day?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Countess for those specific suggestions. I hope that she and I may be able to pursue them in a subsequent meeting which, as I say, my honourable friend the Minister for Public Health and I are anxious to have with her on the subject of the working group. Perhaps it will be helpful to your Lordships if I give the terms of reference for COT on this subject. It has been asked to advise in general whether the evidence indicates that prolonged low-level exposure to OPs can cause long-term health effects in people.
The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard): My Lords, as many of your Lordships will no doubt be aware, a Motion was moved in the House last night that the Clerk reads Standing Order No. 30 on asperity of speech. This standing order dates from 1626. It has been read only three times this century. I believe that on one of those occasions the Peer moving the Motion came to the House the day after and apologised for having moved it.
The proceedings last night were thus somewhat unusual, to say the least. I hope that the House will feel that it deserves some comment from me today. I have this morning read Hansard to see what was said last night on the debate that preceded the Motion. I do not myself see that anything personal or offensive was said that would justify invoking that standing order. Strong things are said in Parliament and even in your Lordships' House. I am reliably informed that the grandfather of the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition once referred to a Labour Peer as being, "redolent of oleaginous hypocrisy". However, he went on to say, "without any desire to be personally offensive to the noble Lord for whom I have such high respect".
The House will be aware that many of those who voted last night, including myself, had not heard what had been said and therefore, by definition, could not have taken offence. But having said all that, the House clearly decided last night that something untoward had occurred and that our procedures should be invoked.
In the light of those events, however, it seems to me that there is an argument that this procedure might not be the most efficacious way of dealing with the cases it is intended to address; namely, unparliamentary language and behaviour. The House might like to be made aware, therefore, that I am actively considering whether the Procedure Committee should be asked to look at Standing Order No. 30. The fact that it has been used so rarely tends to support the point of view that it is perhaps worth looking at. I hope the House will agree that discussions through the usual channels to this effect will now be appropriate.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, it is an agreeable and an extremely sensible convention in your Lordships' House that the House as a whole should follow the advice of the Leader of the House in matters which affect not legitimate political debate, but the
I hope, too, that the House will feel that it is the business of both Front Benches at all times to be mindful that one of the reasons that this House works so well is, paradoxically, that there is no Speaker as in the other place. That means that it is very much the responsibility of both Front Benches to ensure that the House is reminded that it proceeds by agreement and that due decorum should be observed.
It is for that reason that I was so particularly admiring of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, last night. Like the noble Lord the Leader of the House, I was not in the Chamber so I have had to rely entirely on the invariably accurate reflections in Hansard. Although that deprived me of the opportunity to drink in the atmosphere that prevailed at the time, it was clear that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, felt that he was right to stand his ground. In view of what I have just said, if I may say so, I thought that it was typical of the noble Lord that he was able to hold his nose and say what he did in pursuance of ensuring that the House could get on with its business with the minimum of difficulty. I am sure that the whole House appreciated that. That is why I am sure that the noble Lord will want to persist in the view expressed then that there was nothing personal in what he said.
As your Lordships will have observed, one of the agreeable features of your Lordships' House is that although we may disagree politically, it is extremely gratifying how many of us get on personally in private. We do not cast aspersions on the personal motives of any Member of your Lordships' House. If I may say so, I thought the tenor of the noble Lord's remarks entirely sensible and appropriate. I hope that he will not take this as a patronising remark, but I have genuine admiration for the way in which he handled the matter.
I strongly advise the House to follow the advice of the noble Lord the Leader of the House. If the noble Lord wishes to consider referring Standing Order No. 30 to the Select Committee on Procedure, I am sure that that will be raised through the usual channels when it will receive a sympathetic hearing from this side.
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