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Immigration Centre, Croydon: Visa Backlog

Lord Norton asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Hoyle: The Government are committed to reducing the Immigration and Nationality Department (IND) casework backlog to fractional levels by 2001. How this will be achieved is set out in the Government's White Paper Fairer, Faster and Firmer--A Modern Approach to Immigration and Asylum. (Cm 4018).

The Earl of Haddington asked Her Majesty's Government:

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The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue): Government-funded research to determine whether crops modified to be insect-resistant have any effect on bees is under way at the Scottish Crops Research Institute. The research is due to run until March 2001 and the results will be reported once the work has finished.

Bovine TB: Research

Lord Winston asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have to sequence the genome of the bacterium which causes TB in cattle; and if they will make a statement.[HL1469]

Lord Donoughue: We were pleased to announce that MAFF and the Wellcome Trust have recently agreed joint funding for a three-way collaboration between the Veterinary Laboratories Agency, the Sanger Centre and the Institut Pasteur in Paris to sequence the complete genome of Mycobacterium bovis. MAFF's contribution will be around £800,000, payable largely in the current financial year.

This is an exciting and important new development in our fight against the rising tide of TB in cattle. Determining the genetic code for the bacterium which causes cattle TB is undoubtedly the best means of catalysing vaccine research and development. The prospect that by March 2000 we will have a completely defined genome sequence of Mycobacterium bovis, the organism which causes TB in cattle, is very encouraging and represents a major advance.

The time is undoubtedly right for this research to be taken forward. The genome sequence of the human TB strain has already provided valuable leads for vaccine research. Unravelling the secrets of the bovine TB genome is of the highest relevance to the development of an effective cattle vaccine and a diagnostic test which will distinguish between vaccinated and infected animals.

Lord Winston asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What research they intend to conduct into cattle tuberculosis during 1999-2000.[HL1470]

Lord Donoughue: The Krebs review concluded that there is no single solution to the problem of TB in cattle. It made a number of recommendations designed to provide a firm scientific basis for future policy. Many of the recommendations were proposals for further research, and it was these that the Government acted on first. We completely reviewed our TB research programme, and on 20 April last year published a document setting out new research requirements for the year beginning on 1 April 1999. Researchers wishing to participate were invited to submit bids by 3 July. Thirty-six bids were received and were appraised by a panel of internal and external experts from Britain and overseas. A subsequent notice invited bids to analyse

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TB risk factors. Successful bidders were informed last autumn, and we have since been engaged in negotiations. We hope to sign research contracts shortly.

The new research programme will comprise 19 separate projects and will cost around £3.4 million in 1999-2000, although most of the projects will be carried forward into future years. Many of the projects are integrated into the badger culling trial and epidemiological survey which take forward other recommendations in the Krebs report and will yield extensive information for analysis.

There are three main strands to the new programme.

First, there is work to develop improved control strategies. Although we shall also spend £55k on examining the possibility of using bacteriophages to control Mycobacterium bovis in the environment, the most important work here is on vaccine development. This will be undertaken at the Institute of Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency, with a number of sub-contractors, including experts in New Zealand, and will cost £1.4 million. If successful, this will also lead to the development of a better test to diagnose TB in live badgers.

Although improved TB vaccines have eluded researchers for many years, recent advances in molecular biology offer new hopes for success. The genome sequencing project which we are co-funding with the Wellcome Trust is a particular example. This work will be taking place at the frontiers of scientific knowledge. It is important that the various projects contributing to the vaccine programme are taken forward together, and that full account is taken of parallel work in other countries and in human medicine. We have therefore appointed Dr. Jo Colston, the Head of Mycobacterial Research at the National Institute for Medial Research, Mill Hill, as external consultant for this programme.

Secondly, there is work to improve our understanding of herd breakdowns. We are reanalysing the information in our existing databases on TB risk factors. We shall develop new transmission models and examine a wide range of possible transmission and risk factors, including a variety of possible wildlife reservoirs of infection other than badgers. We shall be looking at better ways of detecting Mycobacterium bovis in clinical and environmental samples. We shall be developing molecular fingerprinting techniques to categorise Mycobacterium bovis strains more precisely. This work, which will cost £1.5 million in total, will be undertaken in a variety of research institutions in Great Britain, and will also draw in expertise from Northern Ireland, the Netherlands and New Zealand.

Third, we need to examine the role of badgers in TB more closely. We shall be spending £475k on work on estimating badger numbers, and understanding the role of badgers in disease transmission.

Details of the projects, contractors and costs have been placed in the Library of the House.

Although this programme is extensive, and will provide answers to many of the questions identified by the Krebs and Bourne Groups, and by people who have written to us, it is not exhaustive. We shall be taking

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forward a project started in 1998 to use geographical information systems to provide better spatial analyses of TB risk factors, and are currently identifying gaps for new projects which we might be able to finance from next year. We are also consulting external appraisers about a project to be commissioned from the Central Science Laboratory to assess the ecological impact of badger culling.

Intervention Board: Performance

Baroness Thornton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How the Intervention Board performed against its targets for 1997-98.[HL1493]

Lord Donoughue: The Intervention Board's performance against its key targets in 1997-98 was as follows:


Target %Performance %
Percentage of claims processed within deadlines99.091.3
Percentage of claims processed correctly98.599.5
Cumulative running cost efficiency gains2.50.4
Improvement in index of productivity6.0-3.7
Ratio of disallowance to EAGER funds handled0.400.06
To maintain expenditure within vote provision, cash and running cost limits--Met
New value for money savings in procurement of goods and services6.511.0
Yield: cost ratio of anti-fraud activities3.0 : 1.05.8 : 1.0

BCMS Passport Numbers

Baroness Thornton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many cattle now have passports issued by the British Cattle Movement Service.[HL1494]

Lord Donoughue: The British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS) has now provided more than a million cattle with passports since its launch on 28 September 1998. In addition BCMS has processed more than a million passports of slaughtered cattle, entered more than 600,000 live cattle movements on to the Cattle Tracing System database, and dealt with around 140,000 phone calls from farmers to its Helpline.

These are impressive achievements. As a result of BCMS' work, it will be much easier to check where cattle have been during their lives. This will help to trace animals during disease outbreaks, and is an important factor in rebuilding confidence in British cattle and beef, at home and abroad.

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Genetically Modified Oilseed Rape

Lord Beaumont of Whitley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether any monitoring has taken place on the effects of growing in the United Kingdom the genetically modified oilseed hybrid seeds for which Plant Genetics Systems NV were granted in 1996 a marketing consent for seed production only; if so, who carried out the monitoring and when the results will be published.[HL1345]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): Releases of the genetically modified oilseed rape hybrid system have been monitored since spring 1995, whilst the crops were being grown under an experimental research consent, and after a consent was granted to Plant Genetics Systems NV in February 1996 to allow the crops to be grown for the purposes of seed production only. It should be noted that this material is not allowed to be sold or grown commercially for any other purpose. A contract was let to the National Institute of Agriculture Botany (NIAB) through competitive tender in 1994 to carry out monitoring of releases until autumn 1997. The purpose of the monitoring was to confirm the assessment of the risk to the environment made in the application for consent, which concluded that the impact of the genetically modified oilseed rape will be equivalent to that of conventional oilseed rape cultivars. A detailed report of the outcome of the first contract is currently being prepared for publication and it is anticipated that it will be available in July this year.

NIAB reports that the results of the first monitoring contract indicate that there is no enhancement of the ability of the genetically modified oilseed rape to establish volunteer, weed or feral populations and no abnormal behaviour was observed. No evidence of gene flow or gene introgression into other crucifer species was detected in the many hundreds of plants tested. The observed behaviour of the genetically modified oilseed rape equated with that of conventional oilseed rape, and the risk assessment carried out by Plant Genetics Systems in their application to place this product on the market for seed production was verified.

A subsequent contract was awarded to NIAB in 1998 to continue monitoring the sites where this genetically modified oilseed rape was planted and to monitor further sites where it may be grown. This will continue until autumn 2000. A further report on the outcome of this monitoring will be prepared on completion of this work.

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