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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 17 January 2008

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Avian Influenza (Dorset)

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): Further to my written statement on 15 January 2008, Official Report, column 24WS, I would like to provide a brief update on the latest developments in the avian influenza cases in Dorset. On 16 January, a fourth mute swan, collected on 11 January as part of wild bird surveillance from the same area, tested positive for highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza. This is not unexpected, and our enhanced surveillance of wild birds in the area is continuing, including active patrols to look for dead wild birds.

We will also be carrying out sampling of live swans in the swannery in order to investigate whether any others are infected. In addition, we will be carrying out sampling of other species of wild bird, by testing their droppings, for evidence of virus within the area of the swannery.

Winter Flood Risk

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): Members will be aware of the significant rainfall in recent days and that as a result there has been some flooding and others areas are at potential flood risk. In the light of this, and of the events of last summer, I wanted to take the opportunity to report on the position to the House.

Heavy rain is not unusual at this time of year and the quantity we have seen in recent days has not been exceptional. However, we have experienced several bands of often intense rain falling on catchments that are now saturated. This has caused the rainfall to reach rivers more quickly than normal and those rivers have tended to rise rapidly in response.

As at 10:45 this morning, the Environment Agency had 58 flood warnings and 114 flood watches in place in England and Wales. While significant numbers of flood warnings and watches have been in place for several days, and recognising how disruptive and distressing flooding is to those affected and especially for people who were flooded last summer, the impact has been relatively limited. Government offices for the regions have had reports that around 100 properties have flooded in the past week across England, including in Gloucestershire, several locations across southern England and the midlands and in the north-west.

There may well be further flooding given that more rain is forecast over the coming days and as rivers continue to rise. However, the flooding to date is on a much smaller scale than that experienced last summer.


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The Environment Agency and local organisations are doing all they can to minimise the impact of flooding in areas currently at risk. This includes using temporary and demountable defences, and sandbags to increase protection where necessary. High volume pumps are in place to reduce water levels, where this is feasible.

Winter rainfall is not, of course, exceptional, and we would expect natural river flood plains to be inundated at this time of year. There are limits to what can be done to keep water out of these areas without making the situation worse elsewhere. River levels remain high and we should remain vigilant.

People have been taking action to protect themselves and to otherwise reduce the losses they might suffer from flooding. They have been putting their own defences in place and moving belongings out of harm’s way. I would also like to highlight the importance of people being good neighbours when flooding threatens or occurs. This is something that Sir Michael Pitt emphasised in his interim report on last summer’s floods. In my written statement of 17 December 2007, Official Report, column 89WS, I said that the Government agreed with all of his urgent recommendations; action to implement them is now proceeding. I also set out in that statement the measures that we have already put in place since last summer.

If people are concerned about flooding they should visit the Environment Agency’s website or telephone their Floodline on: 0845 988 1188.

I shall of course keep the House informed of any significant developments.

Health

Health-care Associated Infections

The Secretary of State for Health (Alan Johnson): “Clean, Safe Care: Reducing Infections and Saving Lives”, published on 9 January, set out a comprehensive strategy to tackle health-care associated infections and improve cleanliness in the NHS. This included a full range of measures from ensuring good hand hygiene, to prudent antibiotic prescribing and more specialist staff such as infection control nurses. Deep cleaning is an important part of this range of measures to improve cleanliness and tackle infections.

Further to the written ministerial statement given on 22 November 2007, Official Report, column 145 WS, that detailed the £57.5 million of funding for a comprehensive programme of deep cleaning every trust in England, Strategic Health Authorities (SHAs) have today published further information on the implementation of the deep clean of the NHS. Information provided by the SHAs shows that, as of today, out of 328 trusts, 263 trusts have started their deep clean and that the remaining 65 trusts all have agreed plans in place for local deep cleans which will take place over the coming weeks, with the aim of completion by 31 March 2008. Further information is available from SHAs.

The details and timetable of each trust’s deep clean plan will vary according to local need and the configuration of local services. For example, a recently built hospital
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may not require as intensive a programme of deep cleaning as an older hospital and trusts will have organised their programmes in order to minimise disruption to services and inconvenience to patients.

I will provide confirmation to the House once the £57.5 million programme of deep cleaning has been completed. Following completion of the deep clean of the NHS, the Department will work with SHAs to draw up detailed examples of where a deep clean has had a demonstrable effect in improving patient care and will disseminate these across the NHS.


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Prime Minister

Cabinet Committees

The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): Today I am publishing an updated Cabinet Committee list. Two new Cabinet Committees have been created, one on health and well-being and one on Africa. I have placed a copy of the new list of Cabinet Committees, their full membership and terms of reference in the Libraries of both Houses. The details are also available on the Cabinet Office website.


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