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9 Jun 1997 : Column WA51

Written Answers

Monday, 9th June 1997.

Corruption in Public Life

Baroness Nicol asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they propose to take to reform and consolidate the law on corruption, with particular reference to the bribery of Members of Parliament.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): The Government are committed to tackling corruption in all areas of public and private life, including the bribery of MPs.

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is publishing today a statement on reform of the corruption statues for consultation. A copy is available in the Library. The Law Commission will be producing proposals for reform of the law in this area later in the year.

My right honourable friend will consider carefully the results of all of these exercises, together with any further recommendations which the Nolan Committee may make in relation to the criminal law.

He expects to make a further statement on the reform of the law in this area early next year.

BSE: Additional Controls

Lord Gallacher asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they will take in the light of the EU Commission's statement that other member states are not taking enough precautions against the risks of BSE in cattle or sheep, and the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee's latest advice.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue): In August 1996 the previous Government introduced a ban on the consumption of the heads of sheep and goats, following a recommendation from the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee, which had considered whether BSE could exist naturally in sheep. The committee had also advised that the Government should continue to consider this issue further with its EU partners and implement a programme of further research.

Discussions took place during the latter part of 1996 in the European Union. The Commission proposed EU-wide controls on the use of spleen of all sheep and the brain and spinal cord of sheep which were more than about a year old, based on checking the number of permanent incisor teeth of the sheep. Unfortunately, despite support from the United Kingdom and a few other countries, the majority of member states rejected this proposal.

My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has raised this issue

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again with Commissioners Fischler and Bonino. The Commission announced on 14 May that it would be making further proposals.

In the light of this, SEAC have reconsidered the question. There is still no scientific evidence indicating that there is any BSE in the national sheep population. But SEAC has recommended that it would be prudent for the Government to take early action, if Community-wide measures are not agreed quickly, to extend controls, as proposed by the European Commission, to the spinal cord of sheep more than a year old--which account for around a sixth of annual consumption of sheep meat in the UK--and to the spleen of all sheep. Similar action has already been taken by the Irish, French and Dutch Governments. This is a precautionary measure, designed to ensure that, if BSE has been transmitted to sheep, all reasonable steps are taken to avoid any possible risks to consumers no matter how remote.

On the basis of the advice from SEAC, which my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is placing in the Library of the House, the Government are today opening consultations on legislation which would extend the existing controls on the heads of all sheep and goats to the spleen, and would require the removal of spinal cord of sheep and goats with at least one permanent incisor erupted (the most practical means of ageing sheep over one year old). It would also ban the use of the vertebral column of sheep and goats in the production of mechanically recovered meat.

The SEAC statement also recommends reinforcing the existing arrangements for scrapie surveillance. The Government's intention is to reinforce the existing legal requirement on farmers to notify all cases of scrapie by providing new powers for the compulsory slaughter of affected animals, with payment of compensation, and by initiating a survey of brains from abattoirs and a postal survey of farms. The results of these surveys will be published. We are today opening consultation on this compulsory slaughter and compensation scheme.

Research into the epidemiology of the disease in sheep and goats is now under way. The new measures will significantly aid this research by providing further incentives for reporting disease, and additional material for research. In addition sheep are currently being selected from New Zealand, one of the few countries generally accepted as being free of scrapie, for use in a number of key long-term experiments. These sheep will provide a valuable resource for future work on scrapie.

The SEAC statement also includes advice on imported cattle. SEAC have advised that action should be taken to extend specified bovine material (SBM) controls to imported central nervous system (CNS) tissues or bovine material containing them. At present the legal requirement for the heads, spinal cord and certain other tissues of cattle to be removed from the food and animal feed chain, prohibited for use in pharmaceutical, cosmetic and medical products and disposed of under controlled conditions, applies only to carcases of bovine animals which have died or

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been slaughtered in the United Kingdom. The Government are opening consultation on proposals which would means that the requirement to remove and dispose of specified tissues would apply not only to such carcases but also to bovine material which has been imported into the UK.

Beef Production Subsidies: Readjustment

Lord Gallacher asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action is being taken to recover overpayments of aid to beef producers based on premium claims in 1996.

Lord Donoughue: Regulation (EC) No. 1357/96, the subject of Explanatory Memorandum 7811/96 of 3 June 1996, was cleared by the Select Committee on European Communities on 4 June 1996 and adopted by the Council of Ministers on 8 July 1996. It contained a range of special measures to assist beef producers and included provision for supplementary payments to producers pro rata to their entitlement to subsidies under the Beef Special Premium and Suckler Cow Premium schemes in the 1996 scheme years. Provisional payments could however be based on 1995 claims so as to provide urgent financial support. At the time of payment it was made clear to producers that adjustment would follow to reflect the position relating to 1996 subsidy claims. Beef producers who are being paid these subsidies on fewer animals in 1996 than in 1995 will be required to repay the supplement relating to the difference in numbers. Wherever possible, such overpayments will be deducted from balance payments due under the 1996 beef schemes. All moneys recovered under this exercise will be redistributed to those beef producers who qualified for subsidies on more animals in the 1996 scheme years than in 1995.

British Library

Earl of Clancarty asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will take steps to ensure that the British Library does not introduce an admission charge.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The Government's view is that in principle it is desirable for free access to the British Library's reading rooms to be maintained wherever possible. I note that the Board of the British Library has been considering whether any charges for access to its reading rooms might be introduced, and is currently in the process of conducting a survey of users on this question among others. Any proposal by the board to introduce charges for access to reading rooms would require the approval of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. My right honourable friend would want to consider any such proposal in the light of all relevant factors, including the views of users.

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Nuclear Reprocessing

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are the purposes of nuclear reprocessing in this country and where is it carried out; what percentage is United Kingdom waste and why it has to be reprocessed; what percentage is from other countries; whether all the latter is returned to the country of origin after reprocessing; and whether the quantity of nuclear material being reprocessed in this country has increased and if so by how much.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Clinton-Davis): Nuclear reprocessing has been carried out in the United Kingdom for nearly 40 years for both UK and overseas customers. Reprocessing involves chemically dissolving used (or spent) nuclear fuel to recover the plutonium and unused uranium which will be available for later use. Reprocessing is carried out by British Nuclear Fuels plc (BNFL) at their Sellafield site and the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) at their Dounreay site. Operational details are a matter for BNFL, and the UKAEA. Since 1976, all contracts for reprocessing used fuel from overseas have contained options for the UK to return waste to the countries of origin and the Government have made it clear that these options should be exercised.

Prion Homologues

Lord Lucas asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are aware of any research aimed at identifying homologues of the "prion" gene and, if so, whether any such homologues have been found.

Lord Clinton-Davis: Research has established that the prion gene appears to be a single gene. It is not part of a gene family and there is no homology with other genes within the same species.

There is work on identification of prion protein genes in a variety of species, including hamsters, marsupials, cattle, mice and sheep. More generally, homologues of the prion protein gene have been found in marsupials and birds, although they are very different from humans.

BBSRC are funding research to identify genes which could compensate for prion protein absence of PrP gene, in other words a homologous function but not necessarily a homologous gene.

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