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Beef Imports

Mr. Luff: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will list the countries from which the import and sale of beef is considered unsafe on human health grounds; and if he will make a statement. [156383]

Ms Stuart [holding answer 30 March 2001]: Fresh meat, including beef, may be imported into the European Union only from specific third countries which have been approved by the EU on the basis of compliance with a range of animal health and public health criteria. Moreover, fresh meat imported from such countries must have been produced in plants specifically approved for the purpose by the EU. The list of approved countries and approved meat plants (by category) is published by the European Commission on its website. Fresh meat may not, therefore, be imported from meat plants and/or countries not appearing on the approved list.

All consignments of fresh meat imported from third countries must be accompanied by appropriate veterinary certification confirming that the meat has been produced in accordance with EU animal health and public health requirements.

Mr. Luff: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if beef over 30-months-old from (a) Argentina, (b) Australia, (c) Botswana, (d) Brazil, (e) Mauritius, (f) Namibia, (g) New Zealand, (h) Paraguay, (i) Poland, (j) South Africa, (k) Switzerland, (l) Uruguay, (m) USA and (n) Zimbabwe is considered safe for importation into and sale in the United Kingdom on human health grounds; and if he will make a statement. [156380]

Ms Stuart [holding answer 30 March 2001]: The hon. Member is referring to the list of countries that are exempt from the generally applicable ban on the sale for human consumption of beef from cattle aged over 30 months at slaughter. They are countries that traditionally supplied the United Kingdom and in which there was no history of BSE. There have been no confirmed cases of BSE in any of them and I am advised by the Food Standards Agency that any risk to public health from over 30-month beef from these sources would be very small.

However, the FSA is currently reviewing the list of exempt countries in the light of recently strengthened European Union BSE controls, including assessments of geographical BSE risk. A further statement will be made when I receive the FSA's advice.

NHS Student Support Arrangements

Ms Walley: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will review NHS student support arrangements; and if he will make a statement. [156856]

Mr. Denham: As a result of the review we considered a range of options for change to the existing arrangements taking full account of representations received from students, their representative bodies and others. Following the announcement in the Budget of a substantial package of additional funding for the National Health Service over the next three years, the decision was made to provide additional help for students using an across the board increase in the NHS Bursary. From September 2001 student nurses studying at diploma level will receive a £500 (10.4 per cent.) increase in their bursary, the biggest increase since introduction of bursaries in the late 1980s.

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This increase contrasts sharply with practice through much of the 1990s when the bursary was frozen, before the present Government introduced a policy of annual uplifts in 1998.

My ministerial colleagues and I continue to take a close interest in the effective operation of student support arrangements, including the NHS Bursary scheme.

Pharmaceutical Pricing

Mr. Peter Bradley: To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what assessment he has made of the prevalence in the pharmaceutical sector and the cost to the NHS of the practices criticised by the OFT following its investigation of Napp Pharmaceutical's pricing policies; and if he will make a statement; [157089]

Ms Stuart: The investigation carried out by the Office of Fair Trading relates to one product from one company, which was the subject of a specific complaint. Ministers are examining closely the implications of the decision of the Director-General of Fair Trading and of the direction which he may give to correct the practices which he has criticised, taking into account any appeal which the company may make.

The Department keeps the level of competition in the pharmaceutical sector under review, and has mechanisms in place to prevent profiteering. It secures value for money through the Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme (PPRS) which controls the profits which companies make from the supply of branded medicines to the National Health Service. Under this scheme a high price for one product may be balanced against a low one for another, provided that the company's overall profits remain within the limits permitted by the scheme.

European Food Authority

Mr. Mitchell: To ask the Secretary of State for Health when proposals to establish a European Food Authority were published and by whom; what steps Her Majesty's Government have taken to publicise this decision; when it agreed to it; what consultations it has had; and on what Treaty base the Authority is expected to be established. [157326]

Ms Stuart: The European Commission introduced a proposal, dated 8 November 2000, for a "Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down the general principles and requirements of food law, establishing a European Food Authority (EFA), and laying down procedures in matters of food safety (COM (2000) 716 final)."

In December 2000 the Food Standards Agency began a formal consultation on the EC's proposal. This consultation is open and ongoing and details may be found on the FSA's website The FSA has held meetings with stakeholders and sends out letters reporting on negotiations in Brussels.

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The establishment of the EFA is not yet agreed. Negotiations on the EC's proposal are continuing in Brussels.

As drafted, the EC's proposal gives the Treaty base for the establishment of the EFA as Articles 37 (Common Agricultural Policy), 95 (internal market), 133 (common commercial policy) and 152(4)(b) (public health).

Fuel Poverty

Mr. Don Foster: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what research his Department has carried out into the links between fuel poverty and excess winter deaths; and if he will make a statement on links between the level of winter deaths and the number of households in fuel poverty since 1997. [157453]

Yvette Cooper: It is estimated there were some 5.5 million fuel poor households in the United Kingdom in 1996. Further analysis suggests this may have fallen to around 4.5 million by 1999. In 2000 every pensioner household received £200 winter fuel allowance providing further help to cut fuel poverty. In the UK from December to March, there are on average between 20,000-50,000 excess deaths compared to the rest of the year. We are committed to ending the blight of fuel poverty for vulnerable households by 2010 and launched our fuel poverty strategy as a consultation document on 23 February 2001.

Links have been established between cold, damp housing and increased ill-health. However, the relative contributions of cold homes, outdoor temperatures and other factors to excess winter deaths are complex and not fully understood.

The Department has commissioned a systematic review of the effect of cold on otherwise healthy individuals, particularly older people. It will address: 1) the effect of cold exposure on mortality and morbidity; and 2) the effect of cold exposure on physiological changes and risk factors associated with coronary heart disease.

Additionally, the Department, together with the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, has funded a pilot project to look at the impact of cold homes on health. This will help determine what further research may be considered.

The Department of Health has already initiated a number of measures to help combat excess winter deaths. The "Keep Warm, Keep Well" campaign, which runs from October to March each year, gives advice to the public and health professionals on staying warm in winter. Additionally, this winter the 'flu vaccine on the National Health Service was extended to include everyone aged 65 and over. The vaccine can prevent complications from influenza. There is also a vaccine against pneumococcal disease which can be given at the same time as the 'flu vaccine to people in high-risk groups which can help prevent pneumococcal pneumonia among other conditions.

General Dental Council

Mr. Simon Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what assessment he has made of the extent to which the composition of the General Dental Council reflects the interests of patients. [157448]

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Mr. Hutton: We have welcomed proposals from the General Dental Council for increasing its lay membership. Amendments to the Dentists Act 1984 would be required which we plan shortly to submit for scrutiny and debate by Parliament under section 60 of the Health Act 1999.

Mr. Simon Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement about the General Dental Council's decision not to allow dental patients access to professionals complementary to dentistry, with particular reference to clinical dental technicians. [157447]

Mr. Hutton: Currently only two groups of professionals complementary to dentistry are registered by the General Dental Council (GDC): Dental therapists and dental hygienists. The GDC has agreed that additional groups should be registered including clinic dental technicians whom the GDC proposes should be allowed to work remote from the dental practice, but to the prescription of a dentist. Amendments to the Dentists Act 1984 would be required which we plan, in due course, to submit for scrutiny and debate by Parliament under section 60 of the Health Act 1999.

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