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Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that all our undertakings on BSE followed strict scientific advice? Is he happy and confident that other European countries are proceeding in the same way as we have always proceeded?
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, to the best of my knowledge that is the case. We act only on strict scientific advice. When my right honourable friend announced on 5th June that we were applying the same controls to imports that we applied to our own meat, it was based on the SEAC report. The European Commission takes independent veterinary advice and acts upon it. I have no reason to believe that that is not independent and highly qualified advice.
Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, can my noble friend say whether or not I misunderstood him? I believe he said that the Government were adopting a ban which they would not enforce. What is the use of an unenforced ban?
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I do not believe that that is what I said, or anything like it. I said that we were not introducing a ban. However, we are applying controls to imported meat of the same kind that we apply to ourselves. That will be strictly enforced.
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, the controls apply to all countries where it is suspected that there is BSE. They do not apply to countries such as the United States; to some what I would call old Commonwealth countries; to one or two countries in Africa; and to one or two countries in South America, where there is no reason to believe that there is BSE. If there is reason to believe that there is BSE, the controls will be applied.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, in the light of the report in the Sunday Times and the risk of BSE infected meat now entering this country, will my noble friend have conversation with firms such as McDonald's and Burger King and with food manufacturers which rushed to ban British beef, which is now recognised to be the safest in the world? Will he have words with them now and ask them to reverse their ban and include British beef in their products?
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, is it not the case that all these measures were taken because of the fear that BSE was transmissible to humans? Can he say whether there has been any confirmatory scientific evidence of the work of Professor Collinge, which precipitated the announcement by Mr. Stephen Dorrell last March bringing in all these extra measures?
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I wish I knew what was ultimately confirmatory scientific advice. We can only take the best advice we get and be as cautious in applying it as we can. That is what we are doing.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that we are delighted by what the Government are doing? Can he tell us whether the European Commission is similarly delighted? Can he also clear up a little confusion in my mind from the Statement last Thursday? Was the noble Lord saying then that the Government are contemplating continuing the 30 months' scheme for a considerable period into the future but reducing--perhaps even substantially reducing--the compensation paid to farmers under it?
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, on the latter point, our proposals for compensation will emerge in due course. On the other point, it would only be honest to say that not everyone on the Continent welcomed with complete glee what we said. The Commission itself is troubled by the situation on the Continent in terms of surveillance and control of BSE and has, first last December and again on 14th May of this year, put forward proposals
Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that it is only the existence of an adequate compensation scheme for farmers in this country that ensures that infected animals are brought forward for slaughter? It is the absence of such a scheme across most of mainland Europe which means there is doubt as to whether infected animals are brought forward. Will he bear that in mind in any review of the compensation scheme the Government might undertake?
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I wholly agree with the noble Lord. The need to avoid fraudulent evasion and the need to ensure that all cases are brought forward and disposed of will be the main factors behind our decisions on compensation.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the Standards Task Force announced by the Secretary of State will bring together interests throughout our education service and beyond and it is part of our drive to raise standards in schools. The task force will advise the Secretary of State on the developments and implementation of policies, it will keep him informed of best practice and be an advocate of the spread of good practice. The task force will work with national agencies and with others to achieve the national targets for literacy and numeracy that have already been announced.
Lord Quirk: My Lords, I naturally welcome, as who would not, any further initiative to raise educational standards and I am grateful to the Minister for the further detail he has given on this one. But may I ask him for a little more detail? Will the new task force publish periodic reports on what it is doing? Will it make recommendations; for example, to individual schools, to institutions, or more broadly? Is it the case that the task force will address itself to one particular educational level--say, primary level--or will it spread right throughout the education system? Furthermore, will it address perhaps particular curricula areas, such as literacy and numeracy? In all those connections, if I may sum them up, what will be the new task force's relation to existing task forces, such as those on numeracy and literacy, to the newly established task force, the Standards and Effectiveness Unit, in the Department for Education and Employment, and of course to Her Majesty's Inspectorate in Ofsted?
Lord Henley: My Lords, bearing in mind that two vice-chairmen with what one could call widely differing views have been appointed to this task force--the noble Lord will be able to confirm that--can he give an assurance that those different views can be accommodated? Bearing in mind what seems to be a road-to-Damascus conversion towards traditional classroom teaching standards, can the noble Lord again give an assurance, having agreed that their different views can be accommodated, that that road-to- Damascus conversion is not merely illusory? Can he also tell us how often the committee will meet?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, it will lay down its own frequency of meeting but it will meet at least once a month. Because it is bringing in a wide range of opinion, both in its own membership and in the bodies it consults, the intention is that we will reach a consensus, albeit that some people come to that task force with widely differing views. As to a conversion on the road to Damascus, it has always been the view on this side of the House that standards in schools are central to our education policy. We intend that the task force will point the way to achieving some very basic standards of literacy, in regard to which, unfortunately, the inheritance from the former government has left something to be desired.
Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, is the Minister aware of moves now being made towards the establishment of a college of teachers? In the light of the Government's pledge in their manifesto to establish a general teaching council, can the Minister give any indication as to when such a council is likely to be established? Surely those two major initiatives could play an important role in improving standards in the teaching profession?
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