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Baroness Warnock: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the number of young people between the ages of 19 and 21 seeking to go to university is dropping and that the number of mature students has already dropped considerably? Does he not agree that to disadvantage the most vulnerable students will increase this tendency, which in itself is extremely worrying?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I cannot agree that the most vulnerable students are disadvantaged because there are special arrangements for vulnerable students. Vulnerable students--for instance, students who are under 19, students who have parental responsibilities and students who have other problems--are entitled to certain social security benefits.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the maintenance grant and everything else that is provided by no means cover the whole year? Is he further aware that, although the access funds have been increased, they are far too small to cover this problem, where one is looking at a need for at least £500? Most people receive only about £250 at the most from the access funds and very many people are, for different reasons, entitled to it. I urge the Minister to consider either greatly increasing the access funds or taking action of the kind proposed by the noble Earl.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, access funds have been doubled for the coming academic year. In addition, in the coming academic year access funds will be available to part-time students for the first time. This is a matter for the academic institutions, but I note what the noble Baroness has said.

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Baroness Byford: My Lords, the Minister said that the access funds have been increased. Do the Government have any idea of the numbers of students who are affected at the moment? In looking at the problem, will they balance the responsibility on young people to try to find work for themselves with the counterbalance of providing for those who are most vulnerable and need additional help?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, the department estimates that about 60 per cent. of students had part-time work during the summer or winter vacation. Most other students seemed to manage with the help of parental gifts and other help from god-parents, companies or whatever. The matter is under consideration. When the advisory committee reports we shall have the opportunity to debate the matter in more detail.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I thank the Minister for what he said about the increase in the access funds. Is he aware that the experience of the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, that what is available is simply nowhere near enough to go round is the universal experience of every academic with whom I have spoken?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I am aware of the noble Earl's view. This is a matter which the committee is taking into consideration at this very moment.

Horses: EU Medicines Legislation

2.50 p.m.

Lord Sandberg asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are considering steps to modify European Union medicine legislation with regard to horses, due to come into effect in January 2000, in light of the tradition of horse welfare in the United Kingdom.

Lord Carter: My Lords, maximum residue limits (MRLs) are set for veterinary medicines in food-producing species in order to protect consumers. We have been guided by a statement by the European Commission that, if a horse is not destined for human consumption, MRLs are not required. We will, of course, continue to play our full part in discussions to address any difficulties. It might be helpful if I quote just two sentences from the Commission statement of March 1994. It states,

    "If national authorities are able to guarantee that a horse will not be destined for human consumption MRLs are not required. It is not the intent of the regulatory authorities to deprive veterinarians of the possibility of treating animals. When the guarantees can be given that horses will not be consumed, there is no obligation for any form of MRL".

Lord Sandberg: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that very helpful reply. I am not sure that veterinary practitioners in the country will be entirely reassured. They believe that after the year 2000 the medicines they will be able to administer to horses will be greatly reduced. They do not believe that the producers will

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have the market which will encourage them to seek the MRLs that they need. Can the Minister say what the other EU countries are doing? For instance, France has a thriving racing industry and a thriving industry in horses for consumption. Can the noble Lord say what he feels about that?

Lord Carter: My Lords, the noble Lord is correct. It is a larger problem in certain other member states where we know many more horses are kept for food production. Therefore, it is more difficult to provide a guarantee that a horse is not intended for human consumption. The European Commission recognises that. In most member states the guarantees are likely to be possible only for high value horses. It is a problem in Ireland, France, Spain and Germany in particular. Potentially, it is a difficulty for all member states. We are in discussion with the Commission and it is aware of the matter. We are relying at the moment on the statement of March 1994.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: My Lords, despite the statement of the Commission that horses not destined for the food chain can have drugs provided for them, is the Minister aware that, despite the extension of time--which has been called a "derogation"--allowed for medicinal products to comply with Regulation 2377/90 the demands of the European Commission may be such that manufacturers would rather discontinue the production of drugs than expend the amount of money required to determine an MRL, thus depriving the veterinarian of valuable drugs? In view of that, will Her Majesty's Government consider pressing further the European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products to allow MRLs developed for the major food producing species to be applied to the horse with minimal comparative data?

Lord Carter: My Lords, yes. It is a fact that the market in this country will be substantial, and for certain products it might be sufficient to encourage manufacturers to continue to produce the drugs. It is true that the European Committee for Veterinary and Medicinal Products has developed what is known as the minor species policy, which includes the horse. It allows the MRLs developed for major species such as cattle, sheep and pigs to be extended to horses and other species by providing the relatively cheap comparative data. That should ensure that a range of medicines will be available with MRLs and associated withdrawal periods for use with horses irrespective of their destination, whether or not they are intended for human consumption.

Lord Allenby of Megiddo: My Lords, will Her Majesty's Government consider setting up a working group to consider the whole question of medicines and MRLs for the benefit of horses in future?

Lord Carter: My Lords, I believe that we already have it, but it is not called a working group. The officials

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concerned are working extremely closely with the Commission, which is aware of the differing problems of the member states of the EU.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, is the Minister aware that if this directive or regulation were to be fully enforced, according to the views of the British Equine Veterinary Association, it would set back equine medicine by 40 years? For instance, treatments for colic, anaesthesia and a certain amount of antibiotics would not be allowed to be used on horses, but they could be used on their 12 year-old riders. Because in this country we have a large number of immensely sentimental horse owners who care for their horses, does the Minister agree that if Her Majesty's Government wish to retain the votes of the affluent middle classes in the South East this is something they should take very seriously?

Lord Carter: My Lords, this Government are concerned about votes in all parts of the country. This is a problem; the noble Earl is correct. The Commission has recognised that, and I have already quoted from its statement. There should be no problem if the horse is not destined for human consumption. The drugs are available and can be used as long as the vet, at the time of treatment, is satisfied that the horse is not going for human consumption. If it is, then it is correct that the controls should be applied because of the danger to the consumer.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, can the noble Lord tell the House whether this legislation was introduced as a regulation or as a directive and whether it was taken under the qualified majority vote system? If so, how did the votes stack up?

Lord Carter: My Lords, as a regulation it was introduced under QMV. I am not briefed as to the voting on that occasion, which was in 1990. I shall find out and write to the noble Lord.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the problem is not within the bounds of this country, but that it is a European problem? Fortunately, in this country we love our horses and ride and enjoy them. We do not eat them. As regards horses which are exported, there is a suggestion--I do not know whether the Minister will consider it--that the horses can be tagged to indicate that they have received drugs, or the carcass can be kept for three months after the drug was used and then the carcass would be fit for human consumption. Can the Minister say whether any of these measures has been considered?

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