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Margaret Beckett: I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman what advice will be given, as that is a matter not for me but for the veterinary and scientific experts. I can assure him that we are in touch with people who are engaged in wild bird fairs and so on, and with the poultry industry. He made a valuable point about the scale of the facilities available. That is exactly the kind of thing that is being discussed. I assure him that my Department and our officials will do everything we can to maintain the balance of proper protection and proper security precautions with understanding for the commercial necessity. I can also tell him that there is a great deal of contact with, as he rightly says, countries where disease is more endemic. I believe I am right in saying that various expert scientific advisers, not from my Department but more independently and outside, are in contact with such countries and there is discussion with them to try to help them deal with some of the issues.
Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): Can the Secretary of State assure the House that, should a cull be required, we are adequately prepared for the disposal of carcases? This is not a party political or polemical point. The experience in rural and remote north-west Wales relating to the introduction of the fallen stock scheme does not inspire confidence within the agricultural industry.
Margaret Beckett: I can reassure the House that that is one of the issues that is part of our contingency plan. I take the hon. Gentleman's point about some of the early handling of the fallen stock scheme, because some concern was expressed. Although we may be talking about large numbers if a commercial flock, for example, were affected, we are not talking about animals or birds of quite the same size.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con):
Are not the Government in danger of being seen as gravely complacent on the matter, given that from that very Dispatch Box yesterday we heard Ministers say that they would commit £17 million of taxpayers' money to promote electoral reform, yet all we have heard about
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today is a few leaflets being sent out? Is the Secretary of State not in danger of sending out a very weak message when the country needs a strong one?
Margaret Beckett: No. Of course there is always a danger in life and in government of being accused, particularly by people who want to make the accusation whether or not it is valid, of being complacent or of not doing enough, but I do not think that the hon. Gentleman will find that those who are affected by the precautions on which my Department is insisting feel that that is the case.
Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): I am sure the Minister will agree that fears, especially unfounded fears, need to be allayed and that openness is what we need in the matter. I welcome her statement today, as far as it goes. Have orders been issued in the civil service that jabs should be taken by all civil servants? My information is that in Northern Ireland that has happened, which has led people to ask whether there will be favouritism if we are faced with a pandemic. That fear needs to be allayed.
Margaret Beckett: No, there is no recommendation that all civil servants should be vaccinated. Indeed, we do not have an appropriate vaccine at present, because nobody knows what vaccine would be needed, since we do not know what virus we might be dealing with. It is certainly the case, however, that we have advised those who are poultry keepers that they should consider both their own biosecurity and their own precautions. That is important. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about openness, reminding me that I did not address that when the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) raised it. We must keep a balance between what will help us to maintain proper precautions and biosecurity, and clarity of information. It has never been the practice of my Department to be explicit about precisely where a disease outbreak might have taken place, because one does not want a lot of people tramping over a potential disease site.
Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): May I press the Minister on the question of a vaccine, particularly for those working in the poultry industry? I appreciate that there is some uncertainty because of the science around a vaccine, but can she be clearer about under what circumstances a vaccine would be made available to employees in the poultry industry, and what steps she is taking to ensure that, were that deemed necessary and appropriate, it is readily available.
It is part of our contingency plan that, if there were an outbreak, consideration would have to be given to that and whether there is an appropriate vaccine in all the circumstances is kept under review. One of the first things that we did when we heard about the event in secure quarantine was to ensure that the work force dealing with that facility was advised to take antiviral measures.
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Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): With other hon. Members, I am concerned about the management of the quarantine centre in Essex and general quarantine practice, particularly that birds that died during the quarantine period were put into cold storage, waiting for a convenient time for a veterinary investigation to take place. Birds could have been released from quarantine, showing no symptoms but incubating the disease that they caught from the birds that died. Surely birds that die during quarantine should be investigated immediately.
Margaret Beckett: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, so let me try to make matters as clear as possible. I take his point about the investigation on the birds being carried out straight away, but it is standard procedure, and has been for many years, that they should be frozen until examination. However, there has been some misinformation on the point. If, as happened in the quarantine facility that we are discussing, one set of birds is in quarantine and another set of birds is brought in, the quarantine period for the whole lot restarts when the second set arrives, and no birds are released until that quarantine period has expired. In addition, apart from that extended quarantine period, if there are any outstanding teststests are carried out on birds that die in quarantinethe birds are still not released until the results of those outstanding tests are confirmed. All of that, and whether it is a good thing to pool the samples and so on, will be considered in our review of how our quarantine facilities operate. It is understandable because it is not always easy to follow matters through, but there has been quite a lot of reporting about the birds having been released early. No, they were not near the end of their quarantine period, and while tests were outstandingwhich there would be if there were dead birdsthey would not have been released until the test results were known.
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): The Secretary of State said that bird shows will be banned until further notice, but she knows that we are fortunate in having a large number of bird sanctuaries, zoos and bird exhibits in botanical gardens. How will such organisations be affected by the ban and can she assure me that, in the event of an outbreak or a decision to close the exhibits, any compensation scheme would cover those organisations and the loss of revenue to them?
It is my understanding that, at present, birds in zoos and so on are not affected, but we are in discussion with stakeholders from a range of facilities with a range of concerns and the hon. Lady has identified a new one. I am grateful to her for raising the issue of compensation because her right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) asked about that and I did not get round to the answer. Compensation is not available in the circumstances that she describes. With regard to an incident of disease where some birds die but others are not affected, compensation is available only for birds that do not have the disease. That is an incentive to keep birds healthy and to have strong biosecurity, because there would not be compensation for birds that get a disease and have to be culled.
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That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require internet service providers and other commercial organisations providing access to the internet to declare whether or not they have taken steps to prevent access to web sites containing indecent images of children; and for connected purposes.
The effect of the Bill is to require every internet service provider to declare in its company's annual reports and on its corporate website whether it is actively pursuing measures intended to prevent its customers from obtaining access to known child pornography websites. The Bill would not compel ISPs to take such measures, but would require them only to say whether they are taking such measures.
Let us not be under any illusion. The situation surrounding internet child pornography is appalling. Just two years ago, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children estimated that 20,000 new images of child pornography go online every week20,000 new cases of child abuse and rape every single week. There are now hundreds of pay-per-view child pornography sites and thousands of free sites filled with images that would make most people physically sick.
Operation Ore, the massive police investigation into child internet pornography, identified over 7,000 people in the UK, including judges, doctors and teachers, who used their credit cards to download images of children being abused or even killed for their gratification. Police believe that that is the tip of the iceberg. Those who download such images say that they have committed no crime, but every single vile picture that includes babies and children being raped and tortured has destroyed an innocent life. Through the internet, criminal gangs are making money out of this misery. That has gone unchallenged for too long and the time has come to right this wrong.
Until recently, the technological challenges to solving all or part of the problem have been formidable. Yet thanks to recent advances, the end of child pornography on the net is now in sight. Over a year ago, BT proved conclusively that the technology now exists to allow ISPs to block access to child pornography on the internet. This effective filtering system, called Cleanfeed, has been live for over 18 months, and allows the user to enjoy the full advantages of the internet minus illegal websites. By blocking the connection between the site and the user, child pornography becomes inaccessible. Instantly, supply will be cut off from demand and the illegal act of producing child pornography will become unprofitable.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber) asked the Prime Minister about BT's Cleanfeed last July, he answered positively, welcoming her efforts and BT's efforts and stating his intention to act on the issue by meeting the ISPs. I am pleased to be part of a Government who have taken such a strong stance against child pornography. By increasing the maximum penalties for making, distributing and showing indecent photographs of children, as well as
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investing in high-tech crime fighting solutions, the Government have repeatedly shown that they are committed to tackling this repugnant crime.
While I commend the Government on their approach in trying to prevent access to these sites, we need more urgency in ensuring that ISPs act now. I commend those ISPs that have used the available technology to block such sites. AOL, BT, Yahoo and Vodafone are models of good corporate citizenship. However, too many ISPspossibly as many as 20 per cent.have not responded to the challenge and still do very little to block child pornography sites. For every day that they delay, more children are being abused, so the Bill is a wake-up call to them. It is not designed to force ISPs to adopt the technology or tell us what technology they use. We want them only to state whether or not they have taken the simple and effective steps necessary to block child pornography
The Bill is intended primarily as a public accountability mechanism. All UK companies have to make a range of declarations in their annual reportsfor example, on health and safety issues or carbon emissions. From that perspective, this is not a revolutionary idea. Although I am interested in a company's policies on global warming, if it happens to be an ISP, there is at least one other aspect of its activities that is more immediately relevant and of interestwhat it is doing to end the terrible trade in illegal child sex abuse images.
If an ISP had good reason for not doing everything that it reasonably could to block access to illegal child abuse images, the Bill would not compel it to change its policies. I am sure that the ISP concerned would stand ready to explain its stance to its customers. Nevertheless, I wonder how many company directors or shareholders would be happy at the thought that they are required to declare publicly that they are doing nothing to stop child sex abuse images reaching their customers. The public, parents and policy makers are all entitled to know who is trying to kill off the trade in illegal child abuse images and who is not.
Some have argued that this is about the freedom of the net. The Bill is not a pretext for state censorship of the net, but child abuse and rape are illegal. As the head of the NSPCC's specialist investigation service says,
The Bill is not a magic button to eradicate child pornography, but the technology exists to limit access, and it is effective. Users have a right to know whether it is being used so that they can make informed choices. I believe that peer pressure and parent power can prevail. BT, the NSPCC, NCH and others believe that child abuse can be severely reduced, but we have to it make happen. It is our responsibility and we need to act now. This is a wake-up call to the slow learners in the ISP community. We will continue to put pressure on them and to name and shame as necessary. I, and many hon. Friends from other parties, stand ready to press for regulation if action is not taken.
The prize on offer is a great one. If people cannot reach the websites to buy child sex abuse images, the gangsters who are behind the trade will stop
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systematically arranging for children to be raped purely so they can photograph or film it in order to get new supplies for sale. These guys are only in it for the money that they get by exploiting our children. We need to deprive them of that shop window, and that is what the Bill seeks to do. I commend it to the House.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Margaret Moran, Anne Snelgrove, Helen Goodman, Kitty Ussher, Sandra Gidley, Ian Stewart, Judy Mallaber, Lynda Waltho, Ms Sally Keeble, Mr. Paul Burstow, Sir George Young and Martin Salter.
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