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Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, are not the Government already showing signs of complacency? The question my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara raised is hugely pertinent. How is it that on one side the Government state the objectives and aims of their water policy, which the noble Baroness outlined, while at the same time they hope to introduce a punitive, so-called windfall tax which will, first, cost a large number of jobs and, secondly, have a cost in relation to investment in the water industry which means that their aims and objectives will not be reached?
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that her statement that compulsory water metering is not to be imposed will be welcomed by most noble Lords on this side of the House? Is she aware also that the water companies are failing their customers because, in the first place, they are destroying what water storage there is; secondly, their delivery and infrastructure is not as it should be; and furthermore, during the summer, when drought is expected, they are often abstracting too much water from ground and river sources which dries up the rivers and reduces their flow? Will the Government do anything about that lot?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his comments. Many of the issues to which he alluded are contained in the 10-point plan. In particular, the Government will be carrying forward a review of the water abstraction licensing system, arrangements for bulk water transfer and the drawing up of drought contingency plans.
The Earl of Radnor: My Lords, has the Minister given thought to the fact that practically every lavatory system in the whole of the British Isles is twice as large as it needs to be to do a decent job? If manufacturers could be persuaded otherwise, that could represent a monumentally large saving of consumption of water.
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I have given consideration to that problem; I discussed it only this morning. There are two areas in which we can make progress. The first is in terms of the water companies encouraging customers to take action to reduce supply, particularly in older lavatory systems which use more water than is necessary.
There is also the issue of dual flush toilets which are currently banned as new installations under existing water by-laws. In making the new water regulations, which will replace those by-laws, we are looking to reverse that. The expert committee advising us has indicated already that it will recommend that dual flush toilets should be allowed and encouraged.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, there is one area of the country where the groundwater level is rising; that is, under Greater London, as I am sure the noble Baroness will know. Do the Government plan to help both situations--to stop London floating and the amount of water useable in the capital--by pressing Mr. Byatt, the director general of Ofwat, to enforce an abstraction of groundwater under London.
The Parliamentary Secretary, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue): My Lords, we have pressed the European Commission to take Community-wide action to prohibit the use in human food and animal feed of material at risk of containing potentially infective tissue. We shall be keeping up the pressure for rapid action now that it has announced its intention to introduce Community-wide measures. We welcome those plans. In addition, SEAC, which is the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee--I did not have any drink at lunchtime for that particular reason--has been asked to advise Ministers on the implications of the recent draft report from the EC Commission on surveillance and controls on BSE in the other member states which is mentioned in the article in the New Scientist. Appropriate action will be considered immediately that advice is available. I must stress that the Government and the department are firmly committed to making the protection of public health our top priority.
Lord Wyatt of Weeford: My Lords, perhaps I may congratulate my noble friend, if I may call him such, on his appointment. I am sure that he will fulfil it with distinction. However, in view of the fact that distinguished veterinary scientists on the Continent are deeply disturbed at all the secrecy and the lies that are being told, including the chairman of the advisory committee on veterinary matters and BSE in the European Union itself, is it not the case that either the ban should be completely lifted on British beef or it should also be applied to all the other European countries?
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I do not accept that as an interpretation of what was contained in the article to which reference has been made, nor do I believe that there is any firm scientific evidence of a major BSE risk from Europe. However, we have the impression that the
It is our intention to work for a Europe-wide system that is satisfactory to all of us. However, in the interim, we have asked SEAC to investigate the Commission's proposals to see whether they are adequate. We expect to receive a report from the committee within a few weeks. We shall study it and take whatever action is necessary.
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, I should also like to welcome the noble Lord to the Dispatch Box and to his new position. However, given the level of cheap beef imports which have begun flooding into the United Kingdom over recent weeks--many of them coming from countries which have a higher incidence of BSE than they are prepared to admit; indeed, some countries which the noble Lord said perhaps had inadequate surveillance systems--can the Minister tell the House exactly what proportion of the imports is checked on arrival in this country for proper documentation in order to prove that both public safety and animal health are protected?
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I should like, first, to thank the noble Earl for his congratulations, or consolations. However, as he knows, there is a proper Europe-wide system of inspection which operates at the point of entry and at destination. We operate that while bearing in mind such hazards. Should it be the case that that system appears to be in any way inadequate--and I believe that SEAC would advise to that effect--we would consider what action needs to be taken. I should point out to the noble Earl that the main reason for the growth in imports is the strength of sterling, given the great confidence in the new Labour Government that the worldwide markets are expressing. There is not much we can do about that in the short term.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, can the Minister say whether the expert committees of the Commission are satisfied that the precautions which we are taking are fully in place and working--such as the removal of the spinal cord, the prohibition on the use of offal and the whole range of regulations on abattoirs? If the Commission is so satisfied, surely it should now be prepared to admit that our beef is probably the safest in Europe.
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