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19 Nov 1998 : Column WA175

Written Answers

Thursday, 19th November 1998.

Radiotherapy Treatment for Breast Cancer: Multi-party Action

Lord Ironside asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In respect of the Legal Aid Board's multi-party action in which 41 of the remaining plaintiffs are still seeking compensation for injuries caused by radiotherapy treatment for breast cancer, whether the experts' meetings fixed for early November to consider some or all of these cases have taken place; and what the result has been.[HL3906]

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): No experts' meeting was fixed for early November. The position remains that a date has yet to be arranged. However a directions hearing did take place on 29 October 1998. At that hearing the judge ruled that:

    (a) all expert reports should be lodged in court by 15 December 1998;

    (b) the stay on proceedings be lifted on 31 December 1998;

    (c) if cases cannot be settled then the Statements of Claim should be served by 15 February, 1999;

    (d) defences to those claims should be served by 30 March 1999; and

    (e) a further administrative hearing will be held before the end of March 1999.

Civil Court Fee Structure

Lord Burlison asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What principles will underpin the new civil court fee structure that will accompany the unified rules of court to be introduced next April.[HL3925]

The Lord Chancellor: I issued a discussion paper in February 1998 and have concluded in the light of the responses that the civil court fee structure will be based on the following key principles.

Court fees should not act as a barrier to access to justice. Litigants should not expect the taxpayer to pay for the court services they use, if they can afford to do so themselves. We shall continue to provide protection for the less well-off through a system of exemptions and remissions. In addition, fees for Children Act applications, adoptions, and domestic violence injunctions will be subsidised by the taxpayer. All other fees will be set to recover the full cost of the service provided.

Fees will broadly match the cost of the service for which they are charged. Within civil proceedings, fees payable on issuing a claim will be banded according to the value of the claim and will still be used to defray the bulk of the cost of proceedings. Litigants will pay fees which match the average cost of the service for

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which they are charged, rather than the specific cost of their particular case. Fees will be paid by the claimant, or where a specific application has been made, by the applicant, and will be paid in advance.

A structure based on these principles will be fairer than the present one. It will encourage and enable litigants to make responsible choices about whether to proceed, while ensuring that the taxpayer's contribution is clearly targeted on the people who really need it.

The Court Service is publishing a consultation paper today on the charging points and the levels at which fees should be set. The paper, a copy of which has been placed in the Library of the House, includes proposals that separate fees will be set for the main stages of the new civil procedures, introducing charging points at allocation and listing.

DTI Press Notices: Electronic Distribution

Earl Attlee asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why the Department of Trade and Industry press release of 4 November entitled "Successful Electronic Commerce is My Goal" (P/98/854) did not quote the Department's e-mail address.[HL3845]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): All DTI press notices are distributed electronically to major media outlets via the Central Office of Information's electronic news distribution system. Each press notice includes the daytime telephone number of the responsible press officer and out of hours telephone numbers. At present, the media's preferred route for follow-up inquiries is by telephone. When documents are published to accompany a press notice, these are posted on DTI's website and the address is usually given on the press notice.

However, we are investigating whether a specific press office e-mail address should be added to the current information for the future.

Science and Engineering Personnel

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What proportion of British-trained scientists and engineers are currently engaged in work that is secret for (a) commercial and (b) military reasons; what is the total number in each case; and what they estimate to have been the cost to the taxpayer of the education and training of these people.[HL3606]

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: The information requested is not available centrally. A summary of available information on science and engineering personnel is set out in Chapter 8 of "Science, Engineering and Technology Statistics 1998" Cm 4006. I will send the noble Lord a copy of this document which will also be available in the Library of the House.

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Lord Hardy of Wath asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have made to carry out research into badger capture methods.[HL3899]

Lord Carter: The Bourne Group, which advises the Government on aspects of TB in cattle and badgers, recommended that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should investigate other humane capture methods for badgers, such as leg cuffs, as an adjunct to cage trapping. It also recommended that MAFF should assess the actual welfare implications of snaring carried out in accordance with proper guidelines.

My honourable friend the Minister of State of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has decided not to finance research into the use of snares. But he considers it would be prudent to examine whether leg cuffs might be a humane and efficient adjunct to cage traps. As a first step we plan to test a prototype leg cuff. If there is no evidence of harm to badgers a field trial will follow; otherwise the research will be brought to an end.

Expert Group on Vitamins and Minerals

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What new appointments they have made to the Expert Group on Vitamins and Minerals.[HL3898]

Lord Carter: Ministers from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Department of Health and the territorial departments recently approved the appointment of Professor Michael Langman as the new Chairman of the Expert Group on Vitamins and Minerals. MAFF has also appointed Professor Andre McLean, Ms Clare Shaw and Dr. Lesley Rushton as additional members of the group to serve alongside those appointed in May. Details of those appointments were given in a reply given to the honourable Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) on 7 May 1998 Official Report, cols. 456-457.

Navy Bean

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they know of genetic modifications carried out on the Navy Bean (the raw material for baked beans); if so, in what countries; whether such modified beans are being imported; and if so, whether they are segregated and labelled.[HL3810]

Lord Carter: Before any GM food can be sold in the EU it must be rigorously assessed for safety in accordance with the requirements of the EC Novel Foods Regulation (258/97). No applications for a GM Navy Bean have so far been received and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is not aware that such a bean is being produced anywhere in the world at the present time.

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The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the incidence of E.coli 0157 in humans infected by beef and dairy products, sheep products and pig products; what is the incidence of the organism in the United Kingdom beef and dairy herds, sheep flocks and pig herds; what means they employ to detect the level of infection; to what sources they attribute the infection; and what measures they take to prevent the spread of infection in farm animals.[HL3772]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue): Most cases of Verocytotoxigenic Escherichia coli (VTEC) 0157:H7 infection are either sporadic or associated with family or household incidents. Details of the suspected sources of infection associated with such incidents are not routinely reported. As part of ongoing surveillance of outbreaks of infectious intestinal disease in England and Wales, 31 of the 55 general outbreaks of VTEC 0157:H7 reported to the Public Health Laboratory Service Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre between 1992 and 1997 were found to have a foodborne route of transmission. In Northern Ireland, no general outbreaks of VTEC 0157:H7 associated with beef, dairy, sheep or pig products have been reported.

In England and Wales a survey in 1995 of bovine faeces samples routinely submitted for diagnostic purposes to veterinary investigation centres found VTEC 0157:H7 in 0.86 per cent. of 6,495 samples. No association with season or herd type (beef or dairy) could be found. No surveys have been carried out on samples from sheep or pigs. Examination of faeces sampled from livestock submitted over a year between April 1995 and March 1996 to a single abattoir showed that almost 15.7 per cent. of cattle and 2.2 per cent. of sheep were excreting VTEC 0157. The same research project identified non-toxigenic E.coli 0157 in 0.14 per cent. of pigs, but this would be unlikely to be a source of infection for man.

In Scotland a study during 1991 to 1995 of cattle faeces samples submitted to Scottish agricultural colleges veterinary investigation centres demonstrated a prevalence of 0.27 per cent. (14 positive from 5,273 sampled).

In Northern Ireland, a survey carried out between November 1994 and December 1995 examined specimens of cattle faeces submitted for diagnostic investigation to DANI's Veterinary Sciences Division for E.coli 0157. The prevalence of 0157 was 2.2 per cent. (11 positives from 508 samples). While this survey was going on, a survey on carcasses in the nine principal abattoirs was carried out. E.coli 0157 was not detected in the 780 specimens examined. As part of an investigation into the microbiological quality of cattle carcasses in abattoirs, the level of 0157 contamination was ascertained on 210 faecal samples. Seven abattoirs were visited on three separate occasions between May 1997 and February 1998. Faeces samples from two animals were positive. DANI is currently investigating

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the possible links between 0157 related disease in farm families and the carriage of the organism in cattle on the farm.

Because VTEC 0157 is not considered to cause significant disease in animals, it is not routinely looked for in samples sent to VI Centres for diagnostic purposes. However, surveys at abattoirs throughout Great Britain are being planned to monitor the prevalence of VTEC 0157:H7 in rectal contents of cattle, sheep and, in association with the industry, pigs. A longitudinal study of faecal excretion of VTEC 0157:H7 in cattle to determine epidemiological patterns is also in preparation and will provide information on how the infection is spread. In addition, SOAEFD is currently funding a prevalence study in fattening cattle in Scotland.

VTEC 0157 is able to survive for long periods in the environment. It has been isolated from a number of livestock species, wild animals and birds. On farm, cattle are considered to be a main reservoir of infection but current knowledge of the epidemiology of the organism is limited and further research is being funded.

When animals on farm are suspected of being the source of infection in humans, veterinary officers will assist with the investigation and advise on best hygienic practice on farm for the prevention of the spread of the organism. Generally, the observation of good farm hygiene should help to reduce infection. In the current state of knowledge, however, attested practical measures to eliminate VTEC from farms are not available.

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