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Antibiotics and Human Gut Flora

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Jay of Paddington: The normal bacterial flora in the gut is known to be affected by broad spectrum antibiotics, although it is likely to be re-established rapidly on completion of the treatment. A number of factors affect the ability of an individual to resist infection by food poisoning organisms, of which a normal gut flora may be one.

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E.coli 0157

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In how many cases of E.coli 0157 reported to the Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre during the week ending 19 September 1997 was the source of infection traced; and, if it was traced to a food product sold commercially, in how many instances was an order under Section 9 or Section 13 of the Food Protection Act 1990 enforced.[HL2444]

Baroness Jay of Paddington: Details of suspected sources of infection for sporadic cases and family outbreaks of E.coli 0157 are not routinely reported. Information is available on four localised outbreaks with which some of the cases reported during the week ending 19 September 1997 were associated. None of these outbreaks was associated with the consumption of a commercially available food product; three outbreaks were associated with contact with livestock on farms, and the fourth with food served at a wedding reception. Information requested with regard to the use by food authorities of powers in Section 9 of the Food Safety Act 1990 is not available centrally. No order under Section 13 of the Food Safety Act was made for any case of E.coli 0157 reported in the week ending 19 September 1997.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether all hospital laboratories routinely test specimens from patients suffering from severe diarrhoea for E.coli 0157; and, if they do not, whether they will issue a specific instruction to do so.[HL2446]

Baroness Jay of Paddington: In its 1995 Report on Verocytotoxin Producing Escherichia coli, the Government's independent expert Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF) recommended that all clinical laboratories routinely examine all diarrhoeal stool specimens for E.coli 0157. The Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS) issued instructions to its laboratories to comply with this recommendation. The Department of Health also wrote at the time of the publication of the report to all Regional Directors of Public Health, Regional Epidemiologists, District Directors of Public Health, Consultants in Communicable Disease Control and medical microbiologists, highlighting the ACMSF's recommendation. Decisions on the testing of clinical specimens rest with local laboratory managers.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether any mechanism is in place to trace the source of an outbreak of infection by E.coli 0157 where an unusual number of cases is reported to the Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre at any particular time, but from different geographical locations, which could be attributed to a widely distributed food product.[HL2447]

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Baroness Jay of Paddington: All isolates of E.coli 0157 identified by the Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS), National Health Service or private laboratories in England and Wales should be referred to the PHLS Laboratory of Enteric Pathogens (LEP) for confirmation and subtyping. LEP analyse subtyping data in order to identify, at an early stage, any clusters of cases in time, space or age group that may indicate that an outbreak is in progress. Data on such clusters are always referred to the Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre, so that epidemiological investigations can be rapidly initiated.

Investigations are usually conducted in collaboration with public health specialists at regional and district levels with a view to rapidly establishing if cases within clusters identified by LEP are linked by exposure to a common event, by the consumption of a common foodstuff or by a common water source. Whenever outbreaks of this type are identified, all relevant information is shared with the Department of Health to initiate public health interventions as quickly as possible.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether any laboratory in the United Kingdom has pulsed-field gel electrophoresis facilities for DNA analysis of E.coli 0157; and, if not, whether they would fund the necessary equipment in order to expedite strain typing of the organism so that sources may be traced in the event of a widely dispersed national outbreak of infection.[HL2448]

Baroness Jay of Paddington: Pulsed field gel electrophoresis of Verocytotoxin producing E.coli 0157 (VTEC) has been carried out in the Laboratory of Enteric Pathogens (LEP) of the Central Public Health Laboratory since 1995. The LEP is internationally recognised as a leading centre for the typing of E.coli 0157.

Gastrointestinal Disease

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What importance they attach to the early acquisition of natural immunity to gastro-enteric infections by the population; and what advice they offer, particularly to parents of young children.[HL2449]

Baroness Jay of Paddington: The Government attach great importance to ascertaining the incidence of infectious gastrointestinal disease in the population and understanding the factors which may contribute to its occurrence, and we continue to monitor available information.

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Duckett's Cheese Incident: Control Order

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    With reference to the Emergency Control Order signed by the Minister of Public Health on 20 May, when, and by whom, instructions were first given to draft the order; and when the first draft of that order was first available for inspection by:

    (a) the Food Incident Control Team dealing with the Duckett's cheese incident; and

    (b) the chairman of that team.[HL2487]

Baroness Jay of Paddington: Members of the Department of Health's Food Incident Control Team asked the department's lawyers to draft the order on the evening of 19 May and the first draft was seen by team members including the chairman in the late afternoon of 20 May.

Food Businesses: Safety Controls

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether current legislation adequately meets the different circumstances which pertain to small food-producing businesses compared with those of large producers in the event of a food poisoning incident or outbreak.[HL2488]

Baroness Jay of Paddington: All food businesses, of whatever size, have a legal obligation not to supply unsafe food to the public. The Food Safety Act 1990 provides statutory powers for food authorities and for Ministers, if needed, to take action in the event that a producer fails to meet this obligation. We believe that these powers are sufficiently flexible to address the situation of all types and sizes of business which may be associated with a food safety problem.

Minimum Wage

Lord Barnett asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When the minimum wage starts; whether cut-off levels of benefits, including council tax and council house rent levels, will be increased correspondingly; and whether they have given consideration to the impact of the minimum wage on welfare to work.[HL2405]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): The national minimum wage is a key element in a range of policies introduced by the Government to help make work pay. There are two other main measures in this area:

First, a more generous Working Families Tax Credit will be introduced, subject to the passage of the necessary legislation, to replace Family Credit from October 1999. The Working Families Tax Credit will reduce the rate of benefit withdrawal from 70p in the

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pound in Family Credit, to 55p in the pound; and is accompanied by a child care tax credit which provides significant extra help with child care costs for low and middle-income working families with children.

Secondly, the introduction of major changes in the national insurance system from April 1999 will reduce contributions for lower paid workers and simplify the system.

There are no plans to make further changes to the social security system as a consequence of the introduction of the national minimum wage.

Those on the New Deals will be treated in the same way as other workers of a similar age undergoing training. The structure which we are proposing for the minimum wage is consistent with our aim of getting people from welfare to work.


Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they have taken to encourage employers to give mothers time off work to breastfeed their babies; and whether, in order further to encourage breastfeeding, they will extend maternity allowance to a year after the birth of a baby, on production of a note from the doctor or health visitor that the mother is continuing to breastfeed a baby.[HL2394]

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Maternity Allowance is payable to those pregnant women and new mothers who have not qualified for Statutory Maternity Pay from their employer. Both maternity benefits are paid for a maximum of 18 weeks and help women take time off work around the time their baby is due to prepare for and recover from the birth. Employers must ensure that pregnant employees, or new and breastfeeding mothers, are not at risk in the workplace by adjusting working conditions, finding suitable alternative work or, if that is not possible, suspending them from work on full pay.

The Fairness at Work White Paper has set out the Government's proposals to help new mothers and fathers. In future both parents will have the right to three months' parental leave; maternity leave for all women will be increased from 14 to 18 weeks and women will have the right to take time off work for an additional period of 29 weeks after one year's employment instead of two.

The Government attach a great deal of importance to employers developing a strong family-friendly culture in their workplaces. Family-friendly employment policies are good for parents--mothers and fathers--good for children, good for business and good for the economy. We are working with employers, voluntary organisations and trade unions to promote family-friendly policies and encourage best practice while at the same time recognising the importance of striking the right balance between providing support for employees without placing undue burdens on business.

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