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Mr. McNamara: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what was the reason for the delay by the Transfer Desk in his Department in transferring a letter regarding an immigration matter sent to him by the hon. Member for Hull, North on 5 September; what is the (a) average, (b) shortest and (c) greatest length of time taken for a letter to be transferred from his Department to another department; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Straw: I apologise for the delay in dealing with the letter sent by the hon. Member. This was referred to the Immigration and Nationality Directorate immediately upon its receipt in the Home Office on 5 September. That Directorate subsequently advised that the correspondence would more appropriately be dealt with by the Joint Entry Clearance Unit. Unfortunately, the transfer to that Unit was not completed until 25 October. This was due to a recent and regrettable failure of our normal procedures, which we have since rectified.
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Miss Widdecombe: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans have been drawn up by his task force to deal with a recurrence of fuel protests; how many times the task force has met; what its membership is; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Straw: The Fuel Task Force has met four times so far. For further details I refer the right hon. Member to my reply to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell) on 24 October 2000, Official Report, columns 115-16W, and to my statement today.
Miss Widdecombe: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to deploy armed forces personnel in the event of a recurrence of fuel protests; what functions they will perform; what discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Defence concerning these plans; and if he will make a statement. 
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Mr. Straw: I refer the right hon. Member to my reply to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell) on 24 October 2000, Official Report, columns 115-16W, to replies made by the Minister for the Armed Forces during MOD oral questions on 30 October, and to my statement today.
Although the Department of Trade and Industry monitors price levels for fertilisers, competition investigations are generally matters for the Office of Fair Trading (OFT). We are aware that the OFT has received complaints from farmers and their representatives about the prices of fertilisers in the UK. It is now awaiting submission from interested parties in order to determine whether a formal investigation is needed.
|Year of birth||Total number of confirmed cases|
(23) A third case of BSE in an animal born in 1996 was confirmed on 30 October 2000. The animal was born in May 1996, before the feed ban is considered to have been fully effective.
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Mr. Nick Brown: The Government are adopting a precautionary approach and have for some time been operating a risk reduction strategy in this area in line with advice from SEAC and, more recently, the Food Standards Agency. This includes an ongoing research programme, including development of rapid screening methods, a national scrapie plan to eliminate scrapie from the national sheep flock (on which the Government initiated consultation in August) and the removal of the specified risk material from the food chain.
Genotypically susceptible sheep dosed orally with infected brain material from cattle have developed BSE in scientific experiments. To date, however, BSE is not known to have occurred naturally in sheep, although this possibility is being checked by an ongoing research programme. The Government have in hand preparation of a contingency plan setting out actions that might be taken in different scenarios if in the future BSE is found to be present in sheep.
Mr. Llwyd: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make arrangements to permit researchers seeking to provide a live test for bovine spongiform encephalopathy to have access to BSE diagnosed cattle. 
Ms Quin: Arrangements are already in place to provide tissues and body fluids from cattle with BSE and cattle incubating the disease. The Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA) holds an archive of material from BSE-infected cattle. Scientists may apply directly to the TSE Office at the VLA to request samples of these tissues for use in research. Applications are approved by the TSE Research and Surveillance Unit in MAFF on the basis of the supplies available and the merit of the research. Scientists also need to show that they have the containment facilities available to perform the research and any necessary Home Office or import licences. Where sufficient supplies exist, reasonable requests will be granted and the tissues will be released once funding for the research is secured.
Mr. Llwyd: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many of the research projects submitted to the 1996 open competition to find a diagnostic test for bovine spongiform encephalopathy produced a live test; and if he will make a statement. 
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Ms Quin: All of the projects funded as a result of the 1996 open competition have finished. None has resulted in the development of a test that can be used in the live animal. One project has resulted in a diagnostic test (called DELFIA) which has been submitted for validation by the EU Commission. Tests which pass the EU assessment may be used in national surveillance schemes. This test uses brain samples and so can be used only on dead animals. MAFF is now funding the assessment at Ames in the United States. The test is performed on blood samples and early results suggest that it can diagnose sheep with scrapie. MAFF is funding its further development as a diagnostic test in the live animal.
Mr. Llwyd: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many of the unfunded proposals submitted in 1996 to the open competition for a diagnostic test for bovine spongiform encephalopathy were developed further; and if he will make a statement. 
Ms Quin: To our knowledge, none of the unfunded proposals submitted under the 1996 open competition has resulted in a diagnostic test that can be used in the live animal. Swiss researchers who submitted a proposal under the competition have since developed a test called the Prionics test. However, this is not the same test as that submitted under the open competition. The Prionics test has been assessed by the EU Commission and has met their criteria. The test is currently being used in abattoir surveys of cattle in Switzerland and France. It is also used in the UK for the confirmation of clinical cases. This test uses brain tissue and cannot be used in the live animal.
Dr. David Clark: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many cases have been brought before the courts in each of the last five years relating to breaches of regulations relating to BSE. 
Ms Quin [holding answer 30 October 2000]: There were no cases brought before the courts in the calendar year 1995 relating to breaches of regulations and orders relating to BSE. For the years 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999 the figures are:
|Fresh Meat (Hygiene and Inspection Regulations 1995||3||6||16||14|
|Fresh Meat (Beef Control) No. 2 Regulations 1996||0||0||1||0|
|Specified Bovine Offal Order 1995||4||1||0||0|
|Specified Bovine Material Order 1996||2||2||0||0|
|Specified Bovine Material Order 1997||0||0||3||0|
|Specified Risk Material Regulations 1997||0||0||7||11|
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