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Baroness Anelay of St Johns asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: The maximum amount of £20 is not meant to reflect the commercial value of the accommodation provided but is designed to protect workers from unreasonable accommodation charges.

The Government agree with the Low Pay Commission's finding in its second report that the present amount of a maximum of £20 per week should be retained and that its level should be considered again when the commission next reports on the national minimum wage in July 2001.

Postage Stamp Themes

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: The Stamp Programme is a matter for the Post Office. I refer the noble Lord to the Answers I gave on 27 March (WA 45) and 14 April (WA 70) and to that given by Lord McIntosh of Haringey on 19 April (WA 106-7). I am advised that the Post Office received some 2000 suggestions for over 300 subjects, including those mentioned by the noble Lord.

New-variant CJD Tonsil and Appendix Surveys

Lord Lucas asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): Data from the tonsil and appendix surveys currently under way will, as they arise, be assessed at meetings of the joint Medical Research Council/Department of Health Steering Group for Studies of Detectable Abnormal Prion Protein. The department will in due course announce interim findings from the steering group's deliberations, and a copy of that announcement will be placed in the Library. Publication of the protocols and the detail of the study findings are matters for the researchers themselves.

BSE: French Ban on Pithing

Lord Lucas asked Her Majesty's Government:

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: AFSSA's recommendation that the practice of pithing should be banned in French abattoirs was based on its assessment that pithing presents a risk of contamination of the carcass by both nervous tissue, which AFSSA considered a risk factor for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), and microbiological organisms. It is for the French Government to consider that recommendation and to take such action as they consider necessary.

On the BSE risk in the United Kingdom, the Government have accepted the advice from the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC) that there is no reason to change UK practices of stunning and pithing during slaughter of cattle. In giving that advice, SEAC took into account the measures in place in the UK to protect public health from BSE, notably the prohibition on the sale for human consumption of meat from animals aged over 30 months, as a result of which the number of infected animals at the late stage of the incubation period entering the food chain is now estimated to be very low. There is no rule equivalent to the over-30 month rule in France and it would be quite understandable if a risk assessment carried out in a country without such a rule resulted in different advice. The risk of the introduction of microbiological contamination by pithing rods is small as long as good hygienic practices are followed.

Consultant Merit Awards

Lord Clement-Jones asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to review the effectiveness of the new system for consultant merit awards and discretionary points for medical and dental consultants and the funding implications.[HL2084]

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: We reviewed the distinction award scheme in 1997. We implemented changes to the scheme in the 1999 awards round to improve fairness and openness, to achieve greater service focus and to improve the composition of the Advisory Committee on Distinction Awards Membership. We are now keeping the scheme under review and will publish proposals for consultation in due course.

We have recently introduced changes to the discretionary points scheme. From April 2000 the ratio of discretionary points available for each eligible consultant has been increased to enable more consultants to benefit from the scheme and three extra points have been added to the existing scale, along with the introduction of two new service-oriented criteria, which should allow greater recognition of local service achievement. As agreed in the negotiations on a new

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consultant contract, there will be a review of local operation of the current discretionary points scheme.

Financial implications are always considered alongside any reviews that are undertaken.

Human Rights Act: Welfare of Children in Care

Lord Tebbit asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Human Rights Act 1998 limits the authority of those responsible for the welfare of children placed in their care to restrict the rights of those children to participate in any form of sex when over the age of consent.[HL2149]

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: The primary duty of the local authority is to safeguard and promote the welfare of a child who is looked after. Section 25 of the Children Act 1989 governs the restriction of liberty of children being looked after by local authorities. The Government do not expect that the provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998 will limit the ability of local authorities to safeguard the welfare of children and young people in their care. Like any person with parental responsibility, the local authority has no specific right to ban sexual activity over the age of consent but can take proportionate action to control behaviour to protect a young person's welfare.

Milk Banks

Baroness Goudie asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Given the benefits of breast milk for premature and sick babies, what plans they have to increase the number and distribution of milk banks throughout the United Kingdom.[HL2158]

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I refer my noble friend to the reply I gave her on 13 January at col. WA 134.

Food Origin Labelling

Baroness Byford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in light of the decision of the European Farm Council on 18 April that all member states will have to be separately identified over the labelling of beef, they will seek to ensure that these conditions should apply to all meat products.[HL2208]

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Origin labelling rules are harmonised at European level. The Government are actively pressing for a review of these rules and of international guidelines to improve the amount and clarity of origin information on food labels. In the meantime, new government guidance issued by my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in February this year, and placed in the Library, makes clear that origin labelling must be clearly worded and unambiguous.

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Baroness Byford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the country of origin of meat products will be identified by that country's national flag in order to assist instant recognition by the consumer. [HL2209]

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Origin labelling rules are harmonised at European Union level and we are actively pressing for their review to improve the amount and clarity of origin information on food labels. New government guidance was issued by my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in February this year and placed in the Library. It makes clear that origin labelling must be clearly worded and unambiguous. We have no plans to require the use of national flags on food labels.

Farm Attractions: Standards of Practice

Baroness Anelay of St Johns asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Which organisations or authorities inspect farm attractions that are open to the public; and [HL2170]

    What assessment they have made regarding the impact on the operation of farm attractions of the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions' Standards of Modern Zoo Practice published in March; and [HL2169]

    What representations they have received regarding the impact on the operation of farm attractions of the Secretary of State for the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions' Standards of Modern Zoo Practice published in March; and [HL2168]

    What plans they have to exempt farm attractions from the requirements laid down in the Standards of Modern Zoo Practice published in March and to introduce standards of practice appropriate to farm attractions. [HL2194]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): Farm attractions open to the public are inspected under the provisions of several pieces of legislation, including those concerned with the health, safety and wellbeing of the visiting public, staff and animals. Organisations carrying out inspections include the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and its agencies, the Health and Safety Executive and local authorities.

Revised Secretary of State's Standards of Modern Zoo Practice came into effect on 3 April 2000. It is too early to assess their impact.

In response to a Parliamentary Questions from Christopher Gill MP on 18 April (WA 452) my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State replied that there were no plans to exempt farm attractions from the provisions of the Zoo Licensing Act 1981.

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