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The Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety (Ms Hazel Blears): I am pleased to announce that the Criminal Records Bureau annual report and accounts 200304 has been published today and I am pleased to say that copies of the report have been placed in the Library of the House.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Caroline Flint): The statistics for 1 April 2003 to 31 March 2004 show that the number of police operations in which firearms were issued was 16,657. The number of times a conventional firearm was discharged by police was eight which covered four incidents. A baton round was discharged on 15 occasions and a Taser was fired on 13 occasions as less lethal alternatives to conventional firearms.
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The Minister for Trade and Investment (Mr. Douglas Alexander):
The Government promised to report back to both Houses 12 months from my predecessor's statement
27 Jan 2005 : Column 34WS
to the House on 28 January 2004, Official Report, columns 1112WS on the alleged import of domestic cat and dog fur into the UK.
The Government understand the ethical abhorrence felt about this issue. Our priority remains to establish the facts about the extent of this alleged trade and to act in a measured way. To this end, we encouraged interested parties to come forward with hard evidence of such fur being on sale in the UK and we undertook work to establish a reliable scientific test to identify between different species of fur.
In July 2003 the Government invited interested parties to produce hard evidence of a problem in the UK, but to date there is no substantive evidence that such fur is entering the UK in significant and commercial quantities, if at all.
The Government have been working in parallel to establish a scientific test to make it possible to reliably ascertain what species of animal any given fur sample has come from. Such a test is essential to enable trading standards officers to address allegations of mislabelling arising under the existing Trade Descriptions Act and to help establish whether domestic cat and dog fur is on sale in the UK.
Last January we reported back on work commissioned on the mass spectrometry means of distinguishing the furs of domestic cat and dogs from that of other animal species. Scientific experts at the former Laboratory of the Government Chemist (LGC Ltd.) concluded that mass spectrometry was not yet sufficiently reliable.
The database of fur samples on which the mass spectrometry method relies, together with the search algorithms used in testing were improved in the year since the last tests were commissioned. On the basis of new tests commissioned in autumn 2004, LGC Ltd. has concluded that from this limited trial, the use MALDI TOF Mass Spectrometry to identify domestic dog and cat hair from other species is a viable option, although a question mark remains on identifying fur which has been chemically treated.
The UK keeps in touch with officials in several countries where the possible trade in domestic cat and dog fur is a concern, including the USA, Australia, France, Belgium and Sweden. We will be sharing our findings from the "mass spectrometry" trials with these governments and with all our European partners.
The Government position remains that without hard evidence of such imports at commercial levels to the UK, we will not consider legislation and that any action would be most effective if taken at EU level. The Government continue to welcome input and evidence from interested stakeholders and will continue to share information with other Governments, particularly those in Europe.
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