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22 Mar 2000 : Column WA27

Written Answers

Wednesday, 22nd March 2000.

EU Meat Plants: Veterinary Supervision

Lord Luke asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to obtain information from the European Union member states concerning regulations in each state regarding veterinary supervision in abattoirs of both live and dead stock.[HL1425]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman): In 1998, we requested information, through Agricultural Attaches in our Embassies in member states, about the implementation of EU requirements on veterinary supervision in meat plants in those countries. The level of information received was somewhat patchy and covers only 10 of the 14 member states surveyed. The results show that supervision levels and frequencies vary between member states and that supervision levels in GB premises are not significantly higher than in other member states. Indeed, they are probably lower than in some.

In addition, the Meat and Livestock Commission's report on meat inspection charges and other enforcement costs, published in October 1999, found that most other member states operate national inspection systems under arrangements similar to those operated by the Meat Hygiene Service in Great Britain, although the role of the official veterinarian and the meat inspector varies between member states. Moreover, the MLC found that in the nine member states surveyed, official veterinarians were fully qualified veterinary surgeons who had undertaken a minimum of five years' training as required by EU law.

The results of our own survey and the MLC report have been published and are available in the Library of the House. We have also passed copies of both to the European Commission. We agree with the conclusions of the Meat Industry Red Tape Working Group that a modern hazard-based control system is the way forward and are actively pressing the Commission to progress the fundamental changes required to EU legislation. Indeed, my right honourable friend the Minister, at his meeting with Commissioner Byrne on 6 March, pressed hard the case for a review leading to its replacement with rules based on more targeted risk assessment. Member states' officials are due to discuss the Commission's proposals for a fundamental review of ante and post mortem inspection procedures later this month.

Organic Milk Quota Restrictions

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will seek to amend European Union milk quota legislation so as to free certified organic milk production from quota restrictions, given the unsatisfied demand for this commodity.[HL1531]

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Baroness Hayman: The availability of quota does not serve as a brake on those wishing to enter organic production. Our policy remains to seek an orderly removal of all milk quotas, rather than introducing further complications into the system.

Cattle Feed: Permitted Ingredients

Lord Lucas asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether gelatin, tallow, blood and protein of animal origin are permitted ingredients in feeds for cattle; and whether to the best of their knowledge any such ingredients are in current use in the United Kingdom.[HL1521]

Baroness Hayman: In the UK, a ban on feeding ruminant protein to ruminants was introduced in 1988. Since June 1994, the EU has prohibited the feeding of mammalian protein to ruminant species in all member states including the UK.

Gelatin and blood products are exempt from the feed ban in both EC and UK legislation. Tallow, being fat rather than protein, is also a permitted ingredient in cattle feed. Tallow and gelatin for inclusion in animal feed, however, must be produced to standards laid down in Community law. Such materials are not widely used in animal feed in the UK.

Press Freedom

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are satisfied that the freedom of the press is being properly and adequately maintained.[HL1393]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The combination of the force of law and the work of the Press Complaints Commission provides good safeguards against attacks on the freedom of the press.

Sudan: Oil Revenues

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they consider that arms purchases by the Sudan are likely to be funded by the oil revenues of the Greater Nile Oil Company; and if so, whether they will make representations to the governments of China, Malaysia and Canada, whose companies are partners in it.[HL1529]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): We have pressed the Government of Sudan to use their oil revenues for development projects and to show transparency in their oil accounts. They have given public assurances to this effect and we shall continue to monitor this expenditure as information becomes available. We have no evidence of such expenditure at present.

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There is an EU arms embargo on the Sudan initiated in 1994, which is rigorously implemented by the UK and we expect it to remain for as long as the civil war continues.

Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they consider that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty must be reconfirmed in April 2000; and what specific steps they are taking to put disarmament back on course.[HL1554]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: We are unequivocally committed to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons which remains the cornerstone of our non-proliferation policy. We have made a positive contribution to implementing the agenda agreed at the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference and will work for a positive outcome to this year's conference, which will advance the goal of nuclear disarmament.

Sudan: Bombing of Civilians

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What evidence they have of attacks by Sudan Government forces on unarmed civilians including the bombing of schools and hospitals; and whether they will raise any evidence at the forthcoming session of the United Nations Human Rights Commission.[HL1527]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: We have received reports of human rights violations in the Sudan, including aerial bombings. We have raised these issues with the Government of Sudan in general and on specific occasions. At last year's UN Commission on Human Rights, an EU sponsored consensus resolution on Sudan was agreed which called on the Government of Sudan to stop immediately the indiscriminate bombardment of civilian and humanitarian centres, which runs counter to the fundamental principles of human rights and humanitarian law.

We expect the EU to sponsor this year's resolution and shall continue to address these concerns.

Sudan: Displacements

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they agree with the United Nations Rapporteur, Leonardo Franco, that 4.5 million people have been displaced from their homes since 1983, as a result of internal conflict in Sudan; and whether their information shows that as many as 150,000 have been displaced since April 1999 from the oil-producing areas in and near Ruweng country.[HL1528]

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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The long-running civil war has caused great suffering to the Sudanese people, including displacement. We are aware of reports of displacement in oil-producing areas such as the recent Canadian Harker report. We shall continue to press for a peace settlement which will benefit all Sudanese.

Black Detained Patients

Baroness Whitaker asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What research is being carried out to find out why a disproportionate number of black patients are in psychiatric custody.[HL1513]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): To support its review of the Mental Health Act 1983, the Department of Health has commissioned a programme of research into the use of the Act. A number of projects within the programme are designed to identify the extent of variation in the use of the Act. They include analysis of age, gender, race and a range of socio-economic factors which may account for such variation. We have not yet received final reports from all the projects in the programme but a summary of the main findings taken from preliminary reports has been compiled. The summary report will shortly be available on the DH website at The results from this programme of research will help to identify the possible reasons for variation in use of the Act, including over-representation of black people in the detained patient population.

Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy: Sterilisation

Lord Lucas asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What level of sterilisation they believe to be necessary to rid surgical instruments of the risk of carrying transmissible spongiform encephalopathies; and whether they will place in the Library copies of the principal scientific papers underlying such belief.[HL1526]

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: The nature of the transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) agent is such that conventional methods of sterilisation such as autoclaving cannot always be relied upon to inactivate the agent completely. The Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee in September 1999 advised that rigorous implementation of washing, decontamination and general hygiene procedures were key measures in minimising the risk of TSE infection.

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The Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens (ACDP)/Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC) publication, Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy Agents: Safe Working and the Prevention of Infection, 1998, copies of which are available in the Library, provides guidance on cleaning, decontamination and waste disposal and cites the following scientific papers:

    1. Taylor D M et al (1994), Decontamination studies with the agents of bovine spongiform encephalopathy and scrapie. Arch Virol 139 313-326.

    2. Taylor D M et al (1997), Inactivation of the 22A strain of scrapie agent by autoclaving in sodium hydroxide. Vet Microbiol 58 87-91.

Copies of both papers will be placed in the Library.

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