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The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that helpful reply. Is he aware of a recent American research paper entitled Overexposed which indicates that about 1 million American children every day are overexposed to organophosphates in their food and that about 100,000 of them have 10 times the reference dose of organophosphates each day? Are tests conducted on all fruit and vegetables which come from the American continent in view of the fact that many are sold on stalls and therefore are probably not monitored by the supermarkets? In the light of a Written Answer in which the noble Lord informed me that only four tests were conducted on 46,000 tonnes of apples imported from America, does he believe that the testing is satisfactory?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I thank the noble Countess for her comments. I am indeed aware of the American report. The Food and Drugs Administration has issued a response to the report. It found some aspects of the report helpful but questioned a number of the assumptions. As regards our own sampling, there is no historic reason to have concern about imports from the American continent. I assure the noble Countess that

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we are bearing in mind the American report. We shall take into account its implications for our sampling procedures.

The Earl of Clanwilliam: My Lords, does the Minister accept that organophosphates are a systemic pesticide and therefore cannot be removed by either scraping or washing? The preparation is inherent in the product to which it is applied. Once it is in the product, it cannot be got out.

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, we are aware of the disadvantages of organophosphates. That is why we have introduced a number of measures limiting their use. We continue to recommend using a knife to peel carrots, for example, and not to depend simply on washing.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley: My Lords, will the noble Lord confirm what he has just said? I was going to ask whether the official advice from two or three years ago still stands; that not only should we peel carrots, but in the case of young children it is advisable to peel fruit as well.

Lord Donoughue: Yes, my Lords, that is still our advice.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, do the same strict rules apply to pesticide information in the European states as in this country? Can the noble Lord give any guarantees that the application of those rules will be encouraged, if they are not applied at present?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, the noble Baroness is correct. There are problems concerning variations in international controls. We are pursuing the matter--for instance, through the Codex Alimentarius Commission. We are hosting a conference on such specific issues later this year.

Baroness Anelay of St. Johns: My Lords, I take note that the UK has suspended the use of phorate on carrots and parsnips. I recognise that carrots may not be your Lordships' favourite vegetable. However, they perform a valuable service and when mashed up form the mainstay of some baby and infant foods. When UK consumers buy products from other European Union states, what guarantee can the Government give that the same measures will be taken in EU states and that those consumers will be protected?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, we have a regular monitoring programme, in relation to children's food in particular. Hitherto that has not revealed risk at a level that concerns us. However, the question the noble Baroness asks is appropriate. I assure her that we shall pursue the points with all vigour.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, if our partners in the European Union do not apply the same restrictions to their carrots and turnips, can we ban those vegetables from this country?

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Lord Donoughue: My Lords, on the whole the levels have not justified that action. We are concerned where the safety margin has been eroded. If at any point there was risk to human life, whatever the source of the product we would take the appropriate action.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, the whole population of this country may not be aware of government advice to peel carrots. When do the Government envisage being able to lift that instruction so allowing people to eat carrots without peeling them?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, we allow people to eat them in any way they wish. We continue the sensible advice of the previous government. If at some point the level of pesticide residues was such that there was no danger whatever, we would make the appropriate statement. However, that is not immediate.

Lord Glenamara: My Lords, the Minister gave the impression that peeling vegetables is sufficient. Surely it is not contact with the soil which transmits the chemical. The systemic chemical becomes embodied in the whole substance of the vegetable. There is as much inside the carrot as in the peel.

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, that is correct. I did not say that peeling was sufficient; I said that it was helpful. We test the whole product. Currently the pesticide residues within the whole unit do not justify any action other than that that we are taking to reduce the overall use of organophosphates.

Social Exclusion and Information Technology

2.53 p.m.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What estimates they have made of the extent of social exclusion arising in contemporary information- based society.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Prime Minister has set a target that by 2002 a quarter of citizens' dealings with Government will be able to be done electronically. It is an important aspect of our fight against social exclusion. This will require major changes not only to the way government operates, but to the ability of citizens to receive and understand electronic communications.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux: My Lords, is the Minister aware that a proportion of British society is socially excluded due to limited access to information technology? Is my noble friend also aware that no one has yet attempted to measure the extent and nature of that social exclusion? That includes the two social exclusion units in the London School of Economics and the Cabinet Office.

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What steps will the Government take to reduce the gap between the information "haves" and "have-nots"?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the measurement of social exclusion arising from lack of understanding of information technology is clearly a complex question. It is not that we have not tried to measure it; we have. We know that 18 per cent. of adults, for example, say that they feel excluded from information technology. The difficulty is to relate that to other ways in which they may be socially excluded.

However, as did the previous government, the Government have a number of programmes to try to deal with the problem. The IT For All programme set up by the previous government has been increasing the number of public access points for information technology. The Information Age project launched by the Prime Minister only recently is directed at understanding information technology, in particular in schools and the workplace. We are not letting the grass grow under our feet.

Viscount Chelmsford: My Lords, is the Minister aware that recently I invited 580 MPs to attend a theatre nearby for a morning presentation on how electronic commerce can be used to reduce social exclusion? Among the audience on the day was the noble Lord, Lord Randall, and the DTI was well represented. But of those 580 MPs--they were circulated twice-- 22 accepted and only four attended. Clearly I failed to achieve the objective: to try to reduce social exclusion--an issue in which we thought all MPs, not least those of the government party, were interested.

Can the Government give some advice on how we shall get MPs interested? Unless the leaders of the nation are interested, we shall not achieve much in terms of reducing social exclusion.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I have heard favourable reports of the noble Viscount's seminar. I had not heard, and I am sorry to hear, that the acceptance from Members of Parliament was so poor. I understand that Mrs. Barbara Roche, the Minister for Small Firms, was present. I hope that that will give the noble Viscount the encouragement that Government are indeed concerned about the problems to which he refers.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, is the Minister aware that I am socially excluded from a whole host of issues in this country? But that has nothing to do with my lack of understanding of technology. It is because of my rebellious nature.

Will the Minister accept that we should congratulate my noble friend Lord Randall on tabling the most obscure Question I have ever seen on any Order Paper in either House of Parliament? How on earth did the ministerial team decide which Front-Bencher should answer it?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, my definition of "social exclusion" does not include the

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voluntary social exclusion to which my noble friend Lord Ewing has condemned himself. But we had no difficulty in understanding the Question and its importance, nor in recognising that it should be answered on behalf of the Cabinet Office, which is responsible for information technology and communication between government and the citizen.

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