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In those terms, having aired an important issue and the Government having responded, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 76A withdrawn.

Clause 23 : Filling vacant European Parliament seats in Northern Ireland

Amendment 77

Moved by Lord Tunnicliffe

77: Clause 23, page 25, line 16, at end insert—

“(aa) where the previous MEP stood in the names of two or more registered parties when elected (or most recently elected), by a person jointly nominated by the nominating officers of those parties;”

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, Clause 23 provides for regulations to be made that would permit a vacancy in a Northern Ireland European parliamentary seat to be filled by a person nominated by the nominating officer of the political party on whose behalf the vacating MEP stood when elected.

Currently, the law provides for by-elections to be held only in the event that a European parliamentary seat is vacated in Northern Ireland. Noble Lords will be aware that by-elections to fill vacancies are generally undesirable in elections where the single transferable vote form of proportional representation is used because this has the potential to distort the careful balance of seats that will have been secured by the election. Last year, the Government consulted publicly in Northern Ireland on possible changes to the current system, and there was substantial support for introducing the method set out in Clause 23 of replacing MEPs from political parties from both sides of the community.

Amendments 77 and 78 amend Clause 23 so that regulations may provide for an MEP who stood in the name of two or more political parties when elected to be replaced by a person nominated jointly by the nominating officers of those parties. The law generally

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provides for a candidate to stand on behalf of more than one political party at a European election, and noble Lords may be aware that just such a candidate was recently returned in Northern Ireland at the recent European election there.

In other areas of electoral law, where a nominating officer has a specific role we have sought to ensure that that role is undertaken jointly by nominating officers in cases in which a candidate stands on behalf of more than one party. For example, under the European parliamentary elections rules for Northern Ireland, a person may not be validly nominated to stand for election using more than one party’s description unless the nominating officer of each party concerned authorises this. In line with this approach, I believe that when an MEP who stood on behalf of more than one party vacates his or her seat, the nominating officers of each of the parties on whose behalf the MEP stood should jointly nominate a replacement.

These amendments would provide valuable clarification of how the proposed new method for filling vacant European parliamentary seats in Northern Ireland would work for MEPs who have stood on behalf of more than one political party. It is for this reason that I ask noble Lords to support the amendments. I beg to move.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I have one query on which the noble Lord can no doubt help me. What happens if the two nominating officers—presumably there will be one from each of the two parties—disagree on the replacement? They might have been in agreement at the previous election but then, as the noble Lord pointed out, lost the MEP two or three years later. The noble Lord does not think that there should be a by-election under STV, because that does not work on these occasions. That is another good reason for staying well clear of STV. So what do we do when two nominating officers who previously were on very good terms but no longer are, cannot agree on a successor?

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, in Grand Committee I moved an amendment which in a sense was overtaken by the events that the Minister explained. The noble Lord, Lord Bach, very kindly offered me the advice of officials if I sought to bring the matter back on Report. I wish to put on record that the officials whose advice was proffered could not have been more assiduous in seeking to advise me. But I decided that it would have been invidious to identify specifically in legislation my concern, and therefore I did not take up the advice.

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, if the nominating officers could not agree on a replacement and no replacement was nominated, the regulations would make provision for an election to be held.

Lord Henley: My Lords, is the position that, on those occasions, there would have to be a by-election for just one Member, under a system that the Government have admitted would not be satisfactory?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, one has to be satisfied at some point that one has done the best that one can, and I believe that this is the best we can do. As one of

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the parties concerned is the Conservative Party, I cannot see any possibility of them not agreeing. I have nothing further to add.

Amendment 77 agreed.

Amendment 78

Moved by Lord Tunnicliffe

78: Clause 23, page 25, line 17, after “(a)” insert “or (aa)”

Amendment 78 agreed.

Clause 24 : Local returning officers for elections to the European Parliament

Amendment 79

Moved by Baroness Hamwee

79: Clause 24, page 25, line 34, leave out from beginning to “subsection” in line 35 and insert—

“( ) Section 6 of the European Parliamentary Elections Act 2002 (c. 24) (returning officers) is amended as follows.

( ) In subsection (2) (returning officer for electoral region in England etc), in paragraph (a), after “the Representation of the People Act 1983 (c. 2)” there is inserted “or is the proper officer of the Greater London Authority for the purposes of section 35(2C) of that Act.”

( ) In”

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 80. I appreciate that it may seem a little impertinent, or at any rate discourteous, to intervene for the first time in the debates on this Bill at this late stage. The subject of these amendments is a discrete matter and I declare an interest in that I was asked to put forward these amendments by the Greater London Authority. I was a member of the London Assembly, which was a part of the Greater London Authority, for eight years until just over a year ago. I am also a joint president of London Councils.

The GLA has been in discussion with officials about this matter, and I am extremely grateful for their assistance. Both what I have to say and the amendments will be very familiar to those officials. Amendment 79 allows the proper officer of the Greater London Authority—that is, the Greater London Returning Officer—to be appointed by the Secretary of State as regional returning officer at a European election in any region in England and Wales. In practice, it is likely that the GLRO would be appointed only as regional returning officer for London, but there could be circumstances in which the GLRO may be appointed to a neighbouring region or, if there are boundary changes—if anyone is brave enough to address that—to a region which includes London and an area outside London. The GLRO will not be appointed automatically as regional returning officer. It will be open to him or her, alongside acting returning officers for parliamentary elections, to put himself forward for designation as the regional returning officer by the Secretary of State.

Amendment 80 provides for the GLA to place the services of its employees at the disposal of the GLRO. If he is appointed as regional returning officer, this would apply only if the GLRO is appointed as regional returning officer for the London region. To speak off script for a moment, I should like to place on record my admiration for the work done by those who have

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been running GLA elections for some years now. I should explain that the funding that the GLRO would receive under Section 6(6) of the 2002 Act if he were appointed would be calculated on the same basis as that for regional returning officers in other regions and that for the RRO appointed for London at the June 2009 European elections. In other words, the GLRO will not be treated any different from other regional returning officers.

A couple of days ago I saw briefing from the Electoral Commission which I understand supports this amendment. The commission says that the experience that the GLRO gains in carrying out the role may mean that he or she is best placed to ensure the efficient running of the European parliamentary elections in the London region and that he or she should therefore be appointed in the way that the amendment provides. I beg to move.

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, this amendment seeks to provide that the Greater London returning officer should be eligible for appointment as a regional returning officer for European parliamentary elections. The Government see merits in the proposed change and I am pleased that parliamentary counsel and Ministry of Justice officials have been able to assist the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in the drafting of the amendment. The GLRO is the chief executive of the Greater London Authority. The GLRO leads an experienced elections team which has previously run successful GLA Assembly and London mayoral elections.

At European parliamentary elections, regional returning officers are appointed to each UK electoral region and they are responsible for the conduct of the election in their region. Under Section 6 of the European Parliamentary Elections Act 2002, in England and Wales the RRO is to be a person who is an acting returning officer for parliamentary elections and is designated as an RRO by an order of the Secretary of State. The GLRO is not able to be appointed as an RRO under these provisions as he is not an acting returning officer for parliamentary elections. These amendments change that position by amending the European Parliamentary Elections Act 2002 to allow the GLRO to be designated as an RRO. It also provides that if the GLRO is appointed as RRO for London, he may call on the assistance of employees of the GLA to help him carry out his duties as RRO in addition to the London boroughs in the London region.

There is no reason to doubt that the European elections in June 2009 were effectively administered in London under the existing statutory framework. However, the GLRO has experience of running London-wide elections and the proposed change would widen the scope of suitable persons who may be considered as the RRO for the London region in future European elections and make it easier to recruit for the post. The Government are therefore content to accept the amendment.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I am extremely grateful for the acceptance of the amendments and the recognition of the experience, expertise, enthusiasm and dedication of those who have been running the elections.

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Amendment 79 agreed.

Amendment 80

Moved by Baroness Hamwee

80: Clause 24, page 25, line 46, at end insert—

“( ) After subsection (8) there is inserted—

“(9) Where functions are conferred on the proper officer of the Greater London Authority under subsection (5) in relation to the London electoral region, the Authority must place the services of its employees at his disposal for the purpose of assisting him in the discharge of those functions.””

Amendment 80 agreed.

Consideration on Report adjourned until not before 8.30 pm.


Question for Short Debate

7.30 pm

Tabled By The Countess of Mar

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I declare an interest. I was poisoned by organophosphate sheep dip in 1989. In fact, it is almost exactly 20 years since I was doused while helping to dip our sheep. Prior to that, I had been chronically exposed to a variety of OPs in common use on farms and in homes. At the time we were led to believe that OPs were safe if used as instructed. It was not until 1991, after a long process of elimination and observation after further exposures, that the cause of my illness became clear to me and to my GP. Contrary to received belief, the signs and symptoms of poisoning were not temporary and, for me, the effects are still evident today. I am extremely fortunate in that I have supportive medical practitioners whose main objective in life is not to poison me further.

Sheep dipping once or twice yearly in the UK was compulsory from 1975 to 1992 as part of the regime to control sheep scab. OPs replaced organochlorines from the early 1980s after the latter were found to persist in the environment. It was in 1992 that the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, then Paul Tyler MP, and I independently started to ask questions about the safety of using OPs as veterinary medicines and as both agricultural and domestic pesticides. Indeed, I almost said, “Welcome to the ‘Mar and Tyler Show’” because we have been together on this for so long, but perhaps I should say the ‘Mar, Tyler and Rooker Show’ because the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has also been involved for a long time. In 1992, the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and I first met John Gummer, then the Minister of Agriculture, to ask him to apply a moratorium on OP sheep dips. By this time it was becoming clear that OPs were affecting a significant number of individuals who were using them or were inadvertently exposed to them. At first, the Government assured us that these products were safe and that they presented no risk to human

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health. Since then there has been progress and their acute effects are readily acknowledged. Many OPs have been removed from the market, while stringent instructions now apply to those that are still in use. But there is still no recognition of their chronic central and autonomic nervous system effects.

Following close on the heels of the sheep farmers and other agricultural workers were some Gulf War veterans who reported very similar adverse health effects following medication with pyridostigmine bromide, a carbamate closely related to OPs, and exposure to OP nerve gas and pesticide sprays. Despite the fact that the US Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Illnesses recently concluded that some 25 per cent of Gulf War veterans—25 per cent of more than 6,000 people—are suffering the effects of OP poisoning, the British Government persist in their denial that these same exposures have had any effect on our troops. More recently, airline pilots and crew have reported ill effects following exposure to cabin air contaminated by leaking engine oil that produces very toxic OPs when heated.

In all these groups, scientific research has shown consistently that there may be a relationship between long-term, low-level exposure to organophosphates and the development of neurobehavioural problems. The first study of sheep farmers was in 1991, and the latest was published this year. As there have been very few reports of adverse reactions to OP sheep dips in recent years, it is fairly safe to assume that the problems are persistent. It is interesting that Dr Sarah Mackenzie Ross, who conducted the Defra-funded research entitled Neuropsychological and Psychiatric Functioning in Sheep Farmers Exposed to Organophosphate Pesticides, had to eliminate 60 per cent of possible subjects, all of whom were sheep farmers exposed to OPs, because they had other conditions. Among those eliminated were people with a history of acute exposure; those with a neurological condition such as Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis and those with heart conditions and lung disease, all of which are associated with possible toxic causation. This means that those in whom she did find neuropsychiatric problems were likely to have been those who had the lowest exposure to OPs.

When the Labour Party came into Government in 1997, Ministers from all the departments involved agreed that an interdepartmental group of high-level officials should be formed to report to Ministers on the continuing public debate over whether OPs damage human health. This was the Official Group on Organophosphates, also known as the Carden Committee, although I understand that Mr Carden has since retired. The group reported in 1998 and a number of its recommendations, including a research programme, were implemented, for which I am grateful. I understand that the group has met occasionally since then, the last time being 26 June 2007. As the minutes of its meetings are not published, we have no means of knowing the detail of their discussions.

What is clear is that the science has moved on considerably since 1998. The Carden report gives at paragraph 2.2 a simple explanation of the manner in which inhibitors of acetylcholinesterase function, stating:

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“In the case of most OPs and all medicinal and pesticidal anticholinesterase OP products the effect is either reversible or recoverable”.

It also reminds us that some non-OPs are anticholinesterases and that they have similar toxicity to anticholinesterase OPs, to which I shall come later. There appears to be a genetic susceptibility to OP poisoning. It is recognised that cytochrome P450 enzymes, Paraoxonase-1 and butyrylcholinesterase play important parts in the detoxification of anticholinesterases. It has also been recognised for some time that there are flaws in the traditional methods of assessing exposure to OPs by measuring metabolites for specific OPs in the urine or measuring levels of red blood cell acetylcholinesterase. The scientific paper Identification and Characterisation of Biomarkers of Organophosphorus (OP) Exposure in Humans by Kim et al,2009, details,

The authors go on to state:

“We feel these methods are optimal for filling the void of diagnosing and treating long-term exposures to several ubiquitous OPs”.

In the UK, the Government have funded a few neuropsychological function studies and epidemiological studies of shepherds exposed to OPs. None of these has gone into the detail of the US research on sick Gulf veterans. The US neurocognitive studies found similar significantly poorer performance results on veterans who had been exposed to anticholinesterase chemicals to those conducted in the UK on shepherds. Six out of seven projects that evaluated brain structure and function using highly specialised equipment found significant differences between veterans with Gulf War illnesses and healthy controls, although they qualify their results by stating that additional research is needed. I could go on, and those interested in the detail will find it in the US RAC report of last November. In view of the fact that providing scientific proof has been a virtual impossibility for those who are suffering the effects of OPs, may I ask the Minister how many of the most recent developments have been accepted in the UK?

I cannot express adequately the effect that the somewhat apathetic attitude of those who are responsible for ensuring our health and safety over the past 20 years has had. By failing to study individuals who report symptoms after more than a minute exposure to OPs in the initial stages and by failing to conduct longitudinal studies, they may well have exposed many sick people to at least a poor quality of life or at worst an early death. My own experience has taught me that there is an almost total lack of understanding of the life-threatening heart and lung function damage and of the effects of administering drugs that act on the acetylcholine system. The Health and Safety Executive’s leaflet MS17, Medical aspects of work-related exposures to organophosphates, warns of the effects of repeated absorption of small doses of OPs. However, I can find no warning to the medical profession of the effects of administering any of a wide range of drugs that may have a similar action. First-line drugs for bladder incontinence, asthmatic symptoms and

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glaucoma are all in this group and the first two are, to my knowledge, also caused by OP damage to the autonomic system.

Is the Minister able to say how much research has been conducted into the effects that drugs which act on the acetylcholine system have on patients who have reported illness following exposure to organophosphate pesticides? If he knows of none, does he agree that this is an important consideration for a large number of agricultural workers, Gulf War veterans and aircrew? Should this not be an urgent consideration?

I have made a brief outline of some of the reasons why I believe that the Official Group on Organophosphates should reconvene. I have barely touched on recent developments in this field. I have asked that it should give the matter priority. I also ask that on this occasion it produces a report on the lines of its 1998 report.

7.41 pm

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I support the noble Countess. Basically, the simple answer to her question should be yes. I am not going to go into all the background details because I am not as up-to-date as I was when I was one of the Ministers responsible in 1997-99 and then again from 2006-08 in one department, but the fact that this issue goes across departments is the central point that I wish to make.

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