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Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that in areas such as the one in which I live where we have red squirrels, and love them dearly, a policy of keeping out grey squirrels is essential for the survival of the red squirrels? Why does she not revert to a policy of paying for the tails of grey squirrels? That would keep the numbers down.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I have to stress that the area of conservation and management under biodiversity protection is not one which has an easy or universally acceptable result. With the Forestry Commission's sponsoring of a three-year testing project at Sheffield University, we hope that we will develop a successful sterilisation project which would avoid the measures mentioned by the noble Lord.

Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, although we are investigating ways of increasing the number of red squirrels while doing nothing to control the grey squirrels, we must revert in the meantime to a policy of shooting on sight to control the numbers? I accept that we will not wipe them out, but that is the best form of control that we have found.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I cannot agree with a policy that involves the indiscriminate shooting of any wild animal. I speak for myself as well as for the Government on this. I am conscious that parents who derive enormous pleasure from taking their children to feed grey squirrels would write to me in their thousands were I to agree with the noble Viscount.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, does the Minister agree that starvation has been one of the main causes detrimental to red squirrels? Can the noble Baroness give a little more information about the success of planting trees from which red squirrels can eat? Furthermore, does she agree that it is a great pity

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that a sterilisation programme for those squirrels is not carried out in the London parks, with the introduction there eventually of red squirrels?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I agree that that issue is important. That is why the Forestry Commission is committed to introducing a wider range of trees which form the right habitat for the red squirrel. Grey squirrels eat smaller nuts; and there can be a conflict if the nuts are not large enough for the red squirrels. I appreciate the concern. However, I return to the point: many people in the country would fail to recognise the necessity for totally eliminating grey squirrels and would seek to protect them in a way that they may not wish to protect, for example, rats.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, can the Minister tell us whether any birds or beasts prey upon red squirrels? If so, which are they?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I am not aware of any birds or beasts which prey on red squirrels. However, it occurs to me that there are those with two legs and guns who appear to wish to do so.

Lord Renton: My Lords, will the noble Baroness bear in mind that in parts of south-west Scotland red squirrels are coming back thanks to a determined policy of destroying grey squirrels?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, yes, I shall bear that in mind and ensure that my right honourable friend the Minister for the Environment is aware of the success of that policy.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, is the Minister aware that squirrel pie was, I believe, a delicacy during the war? I recall having a discussion with the noble Baroness about shoots for the table. Would she promote the delicacy of squirrel pie in an effort to get rid of some of the grey squirrels?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, there are unexpected pitfalls when standing at the Dispatch Box! I understand that squirrel pie, along with hedgehogs baked in earth, are delicacies enjoyed by some people. If any cookery book writer were to find a range of those recipes, I am sure that they would receive invaluable assistance from the noble Countess, Lady Mar.

Lord Ironside: My Lords, have the Government consulted the fur breeders trade association based in Newcastle-on-Tyne? It has members from all the northern hemisphere countries and has great experience and knowledge on how to preserve and conserve endangered species, in particular mink. As the Minister will agree, her party is trying to banish mink farmers.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I am aware that those who have agricultural and rural community interests are often in conflict with the existence of mink. It is not only those concerned with the fur trade who have an interest in mink.

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As regards advice and expertise that can be given, I refer to my original Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood. It is a serious question which needs tackling. I am sure we would welcome any advice that the fur traders association can offer.

Tuberculosis in the United Kingdom

2.53 p.m.

Viscount Long asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the underlying trend in the incidence of tuberculosis in the United Kingdom has increased or decreased since 1990.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, there has been a small increase in the number of cases in the United Kingdom since 1990, when there were 5,897. That increase peaked in 1993 at 6,564. The figures have now levelled out just below that number. Drug resistant TB remains at low levels in this country. This success reflects the excellent record of TB control which we have and are determined should continue.

Viscount Long: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her Answer. Recently fizzy drinks were withdrawn from sale because a cancer ingredient was suspected. Does the Minister agree that chewing gum could equally be suspected of being a carrier of tuberculosis and other diseases, especially those from the eastern European countries, India and Persia? Who is monitoring the situation? Is it the EC matrons of Europe or some of our noble medical associations?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I shall deal with the different strands in that question. The high rates of TB in Asia and Africa impinge on other countries. The noble Lord asked about the European Union. A collaborative pilot study of surveillance of TB in member states has been successfully completed and extended to include drug resistant TB. A series of annual meetings on TB has addressed best practice. Several east European countries are participating and contributing to that exercise.

As regards chewing gum, there is no medical or scientific linkage with TB. TB is spread by bacteria in droplets coughed out by an infected individual. Anything spat out by an infected person might have an effect, but it would contain saliva rather than droplets from the lung. I hope that your Lordships will forgive my being so explicit. There is no direct link between TB and chewing gum.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, is the Minister aware that it is within the memory of most noble Lords present that tuberculosis was virtually extinguished in the United Kingdom? Have not social conditions--those affecting the very poor, the homeless, those who are on the receiving end of most of the disabilities of modern life--been a significant cause of the recurrence of the disease which at one time we boasted we had almost eliminated?

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Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, there was a decrease in notified cases from around 50,000 in 1950 to 5,745 in 1987. The number then peaked in 1993 at 6,564. However, the figures are still comparatively low. In 1996 there were 6,238 cases. The provisional figure for 1997--the numbers are always high because doctors register suspected cases and the figures have to be sorted out afterwards--was 6,430.

The noble Lord mentioned social conditions and poverty. The groups which are considered at risk of TB in Britain today are certain ethnic minority populations, especially from the Indian sub-continent and black Africa, older white people who were exposed to TB when they were young, homeless people and HIV infected individuals. Many of those groups are hard to reach. Homeless people often do not complete their treatment or are lost to the health service. Any social condition which reduces the level of people's health and their ability to withstand infection will increase a disease like TB which is transmitted by bacteria.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, if it is right that drug resistant TB spreads, does the noble Baroness believe that there are sufficient specialised rooms with negative and positive pressurisation in which to treat infected patients?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, we are alive to the problem of drug resistant TB, although in Britain the number of cases is comfortingly low--43 were registered in 1994, 49 in 1995 and 60 in 1996. A programme is in place throughout the country; there are specialist clinics in every area; and TB patients are kept separate.

TB is the only disease whose exact timing of treatment was worked out a considerable time ago by British scientists. The treatment lasts six months. I am sure that the noble Baroness is well aware from her background and her membership of the Science and Technology Committee of this House that multi-resistant TB often occurs because people do not complete their prescribed programme of drugs. In Britain, we have several safeguards against that happening. I repeat that we have in place a concentrated programme and that we are alive to the problem of drug resistant TB. We are confident that we are still on top of the problem.

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