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The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Ms Joyce Quin): Cattle TB is a complex and serious animal health problem that is on the increase in many areas of the country. Previous control policies have not worked, and the Government are committed to pressing ahead with extensive research and field trials to identify more effective control measures.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: The Minister will know that the latest figures for October, showing a 20 per cent. year on year increase in TB cases, show that this serious problem is getting worse. She will also know, from the new case
Ms Quin: We recognise the increase in cases. My noble Friend Baroness Hayman gave evidence on this issue to the Select Committee yesterday. We have increased spending on the TB strategy to £45 million this year, and further increases have been announced in the spending review. As the hon. Gentleman may well know, we raised the compensation payments to farmers from 75 per cent. to 100 per cent., which he will presumably welcome. We have to proceed with the trials on the basis that has been recommended to us, and we have held firmly to that, even though, as he knows, there are criticisms of the trials from the opposite point of view to the one that he has expressed. We have to be guided by the trials in determining what action needs to be taken.
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Does my hon. Friend agree that the real solution to the problem of bovine TB lies not in the tests being held but in the development of a suitable vaccine? I asked in the House four years ago when such a vaccine would be ready and whether the necessary resources were being put in. Can my hon. Friend give the House a positive answer today?
Ms Quin: We are putting the resources in, but developing a vaccine is a difficult task, and it is still not near completion. I would love to be able to promise my hon. Friend that it was on the verge of being introduced, but it is not, so we have to accept the recommendations of the Krebs report and proceed with the trials.
Although the development of an effective vaccine would be tremendous news for all concerned, farmers are being encouraged to take other practical measures--such as adopting better husbandry techniques--to avoid some of the obvious risks of spreading TB. We are trying to make farmers aware of those other measures.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): Cattle with TB have to be slaughtered, but slaughterhouse costs are high and getting higher. Will the Minister implement as a matter of urgency the recommendations of the Maclean report?
Ms Quin: My right hon. Friend the Minister answered that point a little earlier, but perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman did not hear it. Clearly, we are considering the Maclean report recommendations, and hope to make an announcement very soon.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Ms Joyce Quin): The Ministry spends around £0.6 million per annum on energy crops research, concentrating on the development of higher- yielding crops and of improved crop protection which avoids the need for the use of pesticides. Furthermore,
Dr. Starkey: I welcome the Government's commitment to funding research on energy crops and biofuels. Does my hon. Friend agree that such crops have the potential to provide more environmentally friendly alternatives to fossil fuel, and that they can be a very useful diversification opportunity for farmers? Will she outline any measures that she is proposing to build on the pre-Budget report to look at ways of improving the economic competitiveness of biofuels?
Ms Quin: My hon. Friend makes some important points. This is an exciting area for agriculture and for the general economy. MAFF is very keen to play its part in the examination of new alternative energy sources. A number of Departments are interested. A fund exists in the Department of Trade and Industry for alternative energy sources, there is the new opportunities fund announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and there are also the resources announced in the pre-Budget report.
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): Does the Minister agree that the most valuable innovation would be a serious tax incentive for biodiesel? Is the Ministry giving the Chancellor of the Exchequer the evidence that he needs to take a step that would be in the interests of the Government's environmental policy and their agricultural policy?
Ms Quin: We have had discussions very recently with the Treasury on these matters. It is obviously important to look at the economics involved in biofuels, to determine the most viable prospects for such alternative crops. We are very keen to take the work forward. There are possibilities, and the new developments happening all the time alter the previous economic appraisals of viability. For that reason, it is important for Government Departments, including MAFF, to look at the issue very closely.
The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Nick Brown): The Government are studying the report's findings with care, and looking closely at the lessons that flow from them. Some of the issues have already been addressed through the creation of the new Food Standards Agency, the appointment of consumer representatives to advisory committees, the placing of scientific advice in the public domain and the switch from deregulation to better regulation. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and I also announced on 26 October that there will be a new national fund for the care of variant CJD victims and financial arrangements to benefit sufferers and their families.
The Government's substantive response to each of Lord Phillips' points will be published in the coming months and the House will have an opportunity to debate the report in Government time. I promise that I will provide the House with an update on progress before the end of the year.
Mr. Russell Brown: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, especially the reference to better regulation. Will he confirm that the very culture of deregulation under successive Tory Governments made it much more difficult to ensure that important protection measures were enforced? Is it not obvious from the recent comments of the Leader of the Opposition about bonfires of food safety regulations that these people have just not understood and learned the lessons of BSE?
Mr. Brown: The whole culture of calling for bonfires of regulations rather than for better regulations is wrong. That is the view of the Government; it is also the view of Lord Phillips. In the report, Lord Phillips makes some very sharp points about those who harass public regulators when they are trying to do an important job to protect animal health, particularly--in the case of BSE--when there are important human health implications.
The Solicitor-General (Mr. Ross Cranston): The Serious Fraud Office continues to deal successfully with an increasing case load. The Government have allocated increased funds of £3.6 million, £4.6 million and £5.6 million in the financial years 2001-03. In respect of those funds, the SFO has entered into a service delivery agreement published on 3 November, which sets challenging targets of increasing case load and reducing investigation and trial times.
Mr. Kidney: Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that there appears to have been no conviction for insider dealing for the past three years and that statistics for other financial crimes such as fraud and money laundering are not even kept separately from all other fraud offences? Does that not convey the impression that officialdom is not serious about the fight against financial crime? Will my hon. and learned Friend assure the House that the prosecuting authorities for whom he is responsible are unbending in their determination to root out financial crime? Will he talk to his ministerial colleagues who also have responsibility for law enforcement to ensure that they share the same attitude?
The Solicitor-General: I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. I think that there have been successful insider dealing prosecutions--perhaps my hon. Friend should talk to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. My hon. Friend, who has been heavily involved with the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, knows
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that juries are more likely to convict if the trials can be kept simple? That suggests the absence of conspiracy charges but the presence only of substantive charges and few counts.
The Solicitor-General: The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right that the offences have to be put in a simple way to a jury. The SFO has had considerable success in doing that, demonstrated by the number of convictions that it has obtained in recent times. This involves introducing technology into the courts, and the Lord Chancellor has done a considerable amount in that regard as well. The director of the SFO has argued for a general offence of fraud on the basis that that would make prosecutions more efficient, and the matter is being considered.
Mr. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): Is my hon. and learned Friend aware of the excellent work that north Yorkshire trading standards department is doing in that area of crime and of the successful prosecutions that have been brought? Is he content that a local authority organisation should have to take the risk of bringing these cases to court? If he is not aware of the matter, will he have urgent discussions with the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor's Department to review the position of authorities that have to proceed with such prosecutions?
The Solicitor-General: Local authorities certainly play an important role in that area. They prosecute under a range of legislation, such as the Trade Descriptions Act 1968, the Consumer Credit Act 1974 and so forth. I am not aware of the north Yorkshire department's success, but I know that trading standards officials throughout the country play an important part in rooting out fraud.