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Fur Farming

Mr. Livingstone: To ask the Prime Minister how many letters he has received in the last three months urging him to ban fur farming in the United Kingdom. [22522]

The Prime Minister [holding answer 12 January 1998]: I have received a number of representations.

Maze Prison (Escape)

Mr. Maginnis: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list those (a) Ministers and (b) participants in the current Northern Ireland talks process with whom he has discussed the escape of Liam Averill from HM Prison, Maze. [22792]

The Prime Minister: I have discussed with colleagues and others as appropriate.

Honours (Surcharged Councillors)

Mr. Winnick: To ask the Prime Minister if he will make it his policy to recommend that titles be removed in cases where local councillors have been surcharged. [22569]

The Prime Minister [holding answer 12 January 1998]: Holders of honours and awards who are subsequently found to have conducted themselves in a way that would be perceived to bring the honours system into disrepute may be considered for forfeiture of their award. Each case is treated on its merits once all the relevant legal proceedings have been completed. The necessary action differs according to the honour or award. I do not propose to adopt a different system.

Strategic Communications Unit

Mr. Corbett: To ask the Prime Minister when he will establish the Strategic Communications Unit, as recommended by the report of the Working Group on the Government Information Service published in November. [23559]

The Prime Minister: I am today launching the new Strategic Communications Unit which will be based in No. 10 and answerable to me (working through the Chief Press Secretary).

The Mountfield Report, a copy of which was placed in the Library, said that more needed to be done to improve strategic communications so that the key Government messages are better communicated across Government. Departmental initiatives and events need to be presented in such a way as to show their coherence with the main themes of the Government's strategy.

To achieve this, Departments must be properly informed of Government activity, Ministers must be properly briefed on key Government issues at all times, and initiatives must be properly prepared and co-ordinated.

The Strategic Communications Unit will work to achieve that. It will be responsible for the implementation and operation of the new electronic information system which will provide a future diary of Government events (Mountfield recommendation 2.3). It will be responsible for managing strategic communications across all

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departments and will produce the Government's Annual Report on their performance and achievement of their objectives, as announced in August 1997.

The Strategic Communications Unit will comprise six people, two Special Advisers and four civil servants. They are:

The aim of the unit is to make sure events are scheduled, launched and followed through to maintain impact and to convey the central story and themes of the Government in all their communications.


Meat Hygiene Service

Mr. Letwin: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what review he has carried out of the effectiveness of the National Meat Hygiene Service; and if he will make a statement. [21033]

Mr. Rooker: Since the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) was established in April 1995 as an Executive Agency of the Department, its effectiveness has been the subject of constant review. It took over responsibility from over 300 local authorities for the enforcement of hygiene controls and subsequently those for the removal of Specified Risk Material (SRM) in licensed slaughterhouses and cutting plants in Great Britain. As an Agency, it has been set demanding annual targets by Ministers in respect of its financial performance, efficiency and quality and delivery of service. These targets have all been achieved to date. Full details are set out in the MHS Annual Report and Accounts for 1995-96 and 1996-97, copies of which are available in the Library of the House.

In addition, the performance of the MHS is subject to continuous audit to establish whether its operations, practices and activities comply with the instructions issued to the Service by the Ministry in the MHS Operations Manual. This audit is carried out by Veterinary Meat Hygiene Advisers from the Joint Food Safety and Standards Group in England, and by the State Veterinary Service in Scotland and Wales. The results are published. Details of MHS enforcement activity are included in the monthly Meat Hygiene Enforcement Report and BSE Enforcement Bulletin. Copies of both are available in the Library of the House.

These all demonstrate the continuing effectiveness of the MHS in driving up hygiene standards and enforcing SRM controls in licensed premises.

Livestock Industry

Sir George Young: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what assessment he has made of the impact of the current crisis facing the livestock industry on its medium-term future. [21375]

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Mr. Rooker: The beef sector is in long-term structural surplus and this has been exacerbated by consumers' concern over BSE. The majority of UK producers have had negative returns on beef in 1997 and clearly cannot endure these for many years together. There is thus an urgent need for reform of the sector to bring supply more nearly into line with demand and for some restructuring of the sector in the UK and Europe more generally to improve competitiveness. The Government will be pressing for fundamental reform of the Beef Regime in forthcoming negotiations. Although sheep prices have fallen recently, they were firm for much of 1997. We will be seeking to ensure that the sheep sector is taken into consideration in negotiations on reform in related areas.

Specified Risk Material

Mr. Opik: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans he has to harmonise the situation between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, relating to the costs incurred by farmers disposing of SRM; and if he will make a statement. [22442]

Mr. Rooker: The cost of disposal of Specified Risk Material (SRM), other than that arising under the Over Thirty Months Scheme, which is the responsibility of the Intervention Board Executive Agency, whether in Northern Ireland or the rest of the United Kingdom, is a commercial matter between the abattoir and those who collect this material. Similarly, any recovery of those costs from its farmer suppliers is a commercial matter for abattoirs in the light of their own individual circumstances. I have no plans to intervene.


Police Officers

Mr. Jenkin: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the number of police officers in Scotland for each year since 1978-79. [22420]

Mr. McLeish [holding answer 12 January 1998]: The information is set out in the table and has been taken from strength returns supplied by forces since 1978-79.

Number of police officers

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Crime Clear-up Rates

Mr. Jenkin: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will list for each year since 1978-79 the clear-up rates for crime in Scotland relative to levels of recorded crime. [22397]

Mr. McLeish [holding answer 12 January 1998]: Information on the number of crimes recorded and the clear-up rate in each calendar year since 1978 is provided in the table.

YearTotal crimes recordedClear-up rate (per cent.)

Sheltered Housing

Mr. Jenkin: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will list for each year since 1978-79 the number of sheltered houses provided by public agencies in Scotland.[22398]

Mr. Macdonald [holding answer 12 January 1998]: The available information, as supplied by local authorities, is as follows:

Sheltered housing stock of public agencies in Scotland 1979 to 1997


Information is as at end March each year. The figures refer to the housing stock owned by local authorities or Scottish Homes in 1997, and in previous years also include dwellings owned by the former New Town Development Corporations and the Scottish Special Housing Association.

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