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Single Regeneration Budget

Mr. Healey: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what arrangements he proposes for funding the successor to the Single Regeneration Budget in 2001-02. [153475]

Ms Armstrong: The Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) will continue to be able to allocate funds from the Single Regeneration Budget (SRB) expenditure line in 2001-02. Schemes approved up to the end of that year will continue to receive funding for the agreed period of the scheme, which may be up to seven years.

In SR 2000, RDAs were given considerable additional funding and flexibilities to deliver their regional strategies, whose primary purpose is to enhance the region's competitiveness through sustainable economic development, regeneration and business growth. A key flexibility is the introduction of a single budget from April 2002, which will subsume all current RDA funding streams. There will not, therefore, be a national SRB bidding round for new schemes in 2001-02. We have invited those RDAs with sufficient resources, after commitments from earlier SRB rounds are taken into account, to put forward proposals for using funds from the SRB line in their corporate plans for 2001-02. Each RDA will be able to decide on its own approach, which will contribute to the development of the RDAs' regional strategies. The RDAs will be expected to meet their commitments to schemes from SRB Rounds 1 to 6 from their single budget.

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Imported Meat

Mr. Yeo: To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) if the Government will make the import of over-30-months beef illegal; [144247]

Ms Stuart: The Fresh Meat (Beef Controls) (No. 2) Regulations 1996 prohibit the sale of any meat from cattle over 30 months of age for human consumption (the over-30-months, or OTM, rule). The only exceptions are meat from cattle registered in the beef assurance scheme (which can be sold up to 42 months of age so long as they have tested negative for BSE) and meat from a list of 14 countries, of which none are European Union member states. The OTM rule does not apply to processed or treated meat or products that contain meat.

There is, however, no ban on the import of OTM beef--it would be against European Union rules on free movement of goods to introduce unilateral measures under article 30 of the European Commission treaty restricting intracommunity trade where, as in this case, the legislative field has been occupied by the Community.

The Food Standards Agency is investigating allegations that companies are importing cow beef (which would be likely to be from OTM animals) for sale for human consumption. Allegations are always followed up, including with the authorities of EU member states, but no evidence of illegal activity has been found to date.

The Meat Hygiene Service (MHS), which is an Executive agency of the Food Standards Agency, enforces the OTM rule in licensed plants. If an Official Veterinary Surgeon (OVS) suspects that meat is from an over-age animal he may ask to see evidence to satisfy him that the meat is from an animal which was not over 30 months of age at slaughter. Local authorities are generally responsible for enforcement in other premises, and the checks which they carry out are determined by the authorities involved. Last November, the Food Standards Agency instructed them and the MHS to step up checks of imported beef. High levels of compliance with the OTM rule have been found and a renewed awareness of

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its importance has been generated in the trade which resulted in some companies tightening their procurement practices.

It should be born in mind that the over-30-months rule is only the first defence against BSE and that the most risky parts of the animal, the specified risk material (SRM), such as the brain and spinal cord, are removed at slaughter. This greatly reduces the amount of infective material from older cattle, including any that could be included in imported beef products.

The EU requirement, from 1 January, that over-30-months-old cattle must test negative for BSE before being allowed into the food chain will provide some additional protection, though the tests are only likely to pick up infection close to the time when clinical signs of the disease appear.

The agency's advice to those who may continue to feel concerned is that consumers should buy their beef and beef products from reputable sources and that they should ask their supplier for details of the origin and the source of the meat.

Variant CJD

Mr. Harvey: To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many vCJD sufferers received a red cell blood transfusion before they were diagnosed with the condition; and if he will make a statement. [150431]

Mr. Denham: Eight people with vCJD have been reported to the CJD Surveillance Unit as receiving blood components. After checking medical records, three of these have been confirmed as receiving a red cell blood transfusion. Of the remaining five, two reported transfusions occurred too long ago to allow checking against medical records, two have no history of transfusion and one report is still being investigated.

There is no indication at present that the donors of the blood used in these cases have themselves developed vCJD.

Mr. James Aldridge

Mr. Mitchell: To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what threat to public health was posed by the Duckett's cheese in the possession of Mr. James Aldridge; [151312]

Ms Stuart: The threat to public health posed by Duckett's cheese in the possession of Mr. Aldridge was from the bacterium E coli 0157. E coli 0157 is known to cause severe illness and death in previously healthy people. Infection can occur from ingesting a very small

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number of bacteria. E coli 0157 was found in samples of Duckett's cheese produced using the same methods, under the same conditions and in the same place as Duckett's cheese in the possession of Mr. Aldridge.

It is not usual to publish the advice available to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State during the course of litigation. The Court of Appeal accepted the legal arguments put forward on the Secretary of State's behalf and they are set out in the published report, (1999) 3 C.M.L.R. 123. After the litigation the Specialist Cheese Makers Association questioned the Court of Appeal decision and so further legal advice was sought last year and given to them. If there had not been an appeal, the decision of the High Court would have left in doubt the circumstances in which future emergency control orders could have been made to protect the public from the risk of food related illnesses.

No compensation was payable to Mr. Aldridge for the effects of the Emergency Control Order made in May 1998 in respect of Duckett's cheese. Investigations revealed several possible sources of contamination in the production plant. It was not therefore possible to determine when contamination started and if it had stopped. The safety of any batch could not have been demonstrated except by testing to destruction.

Post Mortems

Mr. Wilshire: To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many items retained after post mortem have been found at (a) Ashford Hospital, Middlesex and (b) St. Peter's Hospital, Chertsey. [151565]

Mr. Denham: Information is not available in the form requested. Reliable data at hospital level about the amount of organs and tissue retained following post mortem will not become available until all National Health Service trusts and medical schools' information systems have been validated under the supervision of the new Retained Organs Commission.

Autistic Children

Mr. Arbuthnot: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will commission a study to replicate the clinical studies carried out by Dr. Wakefield into autistic children with inflamed bowel disease and the possible link with the MMR vaccination. [152015]

Yvette Cooper: We have ensured that Dr. Wakefield's hypothesis suggesting an association between measles, measles vaccine, measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, inflammatory bowel disease and autism has been thoroughly looked at. Rigorous scrutiny by the Department and a number of independent expert advisory groups has concluded that the evidence does not support any such association.

The Committee on Safety of Medicines (CSM), an independent expert committee, set up a Working Party on MMR vaccine in 1998 to review the suggested link between MMR and MR (Measles/Rubella) vaccines and autism and inflammatory bowel disease. This Working Party conducted a detailed review of reports from parents of suspected side effects in children vaccinated with MMR or MR vaccine, received by the Medicines Control Agency via a firm of solicitors. The Working Party

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reported in June 1999 and concluded that, despite the difficulty of coming to absolute conclusions on the basis of the information they had,

Independent researchers have already tried to replicate or confirm Dr. Wakefield's findings regarding epidemiology, virology or links between MMR, autism and bowel disease, but they have been unable to do so.

The Government's independent expert advisory committees--the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation and the CSM--have reviewed the evidence as it has emerged. Their view remains that, on the scientific evidence available, there is no causal link between MMR vaccine and long-term health problems such as bowel disease or autism. This view is supported by the World Health Organisation which recognises MMR as being a

The Government will continue to ensure this subject is carefully reviewed by independent experts and any new evidence looked at. The evidence shows that MMR remains the safest way for parents to protect their children against these potentially very serious diseases.

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