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31 Oct 2005 : Column 671W—continued

Supertram (Leeds)

Greg Mulholland: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport (1) if he will make a statement on the Supertram scheme in Leeds by the end of October; and for what reasons his Department has not made an announcement previously; [23539]

(2) when he will reply to the letter from the leaders of Leeds city council concerning the Leeds Supertram scheme. [23540]

Derek Twigg: The Secretary of State made clear the position on the Supertram scheme in his oral statement last summer on 20 July 2004, Official Report, column 159. Since then we have been in discussions with West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive about their alternative proposals.

At a meeting with local council leaders on 26 July 2005, I asked for additional information on tram costs and for further work to be done on a top of the range bus option.
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The Secretary of State's principal private secretary replied to Councillor Harris, leader of Leeds city council, on 27 October.


Civil Service

Paul Flynn: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster whether he plans to allow recruitment of persons over 60 years of age to the civil service. [22394]

Mr. Hutton: The Civil Service Management Code does not prescribe any age restrictions for recruitment into the civil service. As an equal opportunities employer, the civil service is committed to ensure that all eligible people have equality of opportunity for employment based on their suitability for the work and that there must be no unfair discrimination on the basis of age.

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

Mr. Streeter: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (1) how many staff are employed by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman; [23582]

(2) what the budget is for the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman in 2005–06. [23606]

Mr. Hutton: The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman's net resource budget for 2005–06 is £21.6 million. 263 full-time equivalent staff are currently employed in the offices of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.


Queen's Ambulance Service Medal

Mrs. Lait: To ask the Prime Minister when he plans to announce the first Queen's Ambulance Service Medal award. [20414]

The Prime Minister: Her Majesty the Queen is advised by the Committee on the Grant of Honours, Decorations and Medals" on all matters to do with honours and medals. Proposals for the institution of new medals are considered by this Committee before advice is offered to Her Majesty the Queen. No proposal has been submitted to the Committee.


Mr. Carmichael: To ask the Prime Minister if he will raise the issues of Tibet and human rights abuses with the Chinese President during his state visit in November. [22770]

The Prime Minister: I refer the hon. Member to the answer given by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House of Commons to my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen) at Prime Minister's questions on 26 October 2005, Official Report, column 300.
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Animal and Plant Diseases

Mike Penning: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps her Department is taking to prevent the import of (a) animal and (b) plant disease; and if she will make a statement. [20428]

Mr. Bradshaw: A comprehensive import regime exists in European Community law to ensure that animals and animal products imported from non EU countries do not pose a risk to animal or human health. They must come from approved countries and must be accompanied by official veterinary certification in a form specified in Community law. Animal products for human consumption must also come from approved establishments to ensure that they have been produced under hygienic conditions.

Imported animals and animal products must enter the EU at designated Border Inspection Posts (BIPs) where they are subject to veterinary inspections. All consignments are subject to documentary and identity checks. A number of animals from each consignment are physically checked and a proportion of consignments of animal products undergo physical checks. EU law lays down minimum levels for physical checks, which vary depending on the product. These checks are to ensure that import conditions are met.

Emergency safeguard action, which may include a ban on imports of animals and meat from all, or parts, of the affected country, can be taken if there is an outbreak of disease in an exporting country likely to present a risk to human or animal health.

The import of products of animal origin by individual travellers in their personal luggage is judged to be a potential route by which animal disease could be introduced. Following pressure by the Government, new tighter EU rules governing these imports were introduced in 2003.

Action against illegal imports forms part of the overall Defra Animal Health and Welfare Strategy.

£25 million of new money has been made available over three years 2003–04, 2004–05 and 2005–06 to tackle illegal imports of products of animal origin (POAO) and plants and plant based goods (PBG) from third countries.

HM Revenue and Customs are the delivery agent with enforcement responsibility at the frontier for illegal imports of products of animal origin (POAO) and plant based goods (PBG) from countries outside the European Union.

Customs enforcement is based on risk. This includes information provided by Defra on the animal health disease situation around the world, including the risks from new disease outbreaks. Defra provide Customs with the 'map of the world' (informed by OIE) detailing animal health risks to assist Customs in deploying their resources according to risk.

Enforcement powers in relation to illegally imported live animals are the responsibility of the Trading Standards department of the relevant local authority.
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Defra is working in partnership with HMRC on this issue and they have been kept informed of developments. As a result Customs are being more vigilant. If they come across live animals in the course of their duties they will hand these over to the State Veterinary Service or local authority.

The importation from non-EU countries of animal pathogens and carriers is prohibited except under licence. Licences issued to authorise such imports impose conditions for their safe handling and disposal. Animal pathogens causing the most serious exotic diseases of livestock and poultry are strictly controlled under the Specified Animal Pathogens Order 1998 (SAPO). Specified animal pathogens may only be imported by those licensed to hold or work with them under SAPO. To be considered for licensing an establishment must meet the relevant Defra containment and operating requirements for the specified animal pathogen concerned and inspections are carried out to confirm this.

Imports from third countries of plants and most types of plant produce require a phytosanitary certificate issued by the plant health services in the country of origin stating that the consignment meets our plant health import rules. For movements within the EC, consignments of high risk plants must carry a plant passport". Defra's Plant Health and Seeds Inspectorate carried out 10,128 check inspections of imports from non-EU countries last year, 29,884 inspections of plants and produce moving within the EU, and 32,617 inspections of plants susceptible to Phytophthora ramorum (the pathogen which causes Sudden Oak Death in California). Where potentially damaging pests or diseases or other evidence of non-compliance were found, proportionate actions were taken to deal with the immediate risk and to reduce the possibility of recurrence.

In order to improve the effectiveness of import controls and implement recent changes to the Plant Health Directive a further nine Plant Health Inspectors have been recruited this year to be based at major air and sea ports. The UK supported the recent adoption by the EC's Standing Committee on Plant Health of a risk targeting mechanism to determine appropriate rates of inspection for import trades depending on their compliance record. The UK also plays an active role in setting international standards for plant health controls and monitoring their implementation as well as ensuring that regulatory action on plant pests and diseases is based on good scientific evidence.

Defra recently published a plant health strategy to set out: objectives and priorities for protecting plant health in England; the relative roles of government and other stakeholders in delivery of these objectives; and how activities relevant to plant health (including research) of Defra, its executive agencies and other bodies should best be co-ordinated. The strategy represents part of Defra's response to the National Audit Office (NAO) and Public Accounts Committee (PAC) reports 'Protecting England and Wales from plant pests and diseases.'
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