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Access Funds and Hardship Loans Review

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): Copies of the report have today been placed in the Library of the House. I am sending copies of the executive summary to every higher education and further education institution which administers access funds or hardship loans in England and Wales.

The review looked at ways in which these two schemes can be used more effectively to widen access and prevent hardship, with a particular emphasis on mature students.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment attaches great importance to widening access and £87 million will be available next year through the Access Bursary and Hardship Funds. Hardship loans were introduced by this Government to provide extra targeted help for students in financial difficulty.

The review concluded that changes in the arrangements for offering help to students through these schemes were needed. The report contains a total of 20 recommendations on administration of the funds, as well as further support for mature students. Many of the recommendations addressed to the department have already been implemented or are being put in place for 2000-01.

A package of measures to provide additional help for mature and disadvantaged students was announced on 25 January. This package includes £17 million for non-repayable bursaries in 2000-01 for mature students; a new childcare grant from 2001-02; and £10 million for opportunity bursaries to improve access to higher education for bright pupils from lower socio-economic groups. In addition, we have provided £2 million to help higher education institutions with the cost of administering the bursaries for mature students in 2000-01.

Asian Longhorn Beetle

Lord Lucas asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman): Asian Longhorn Beetles and their larvae have been detected in the United Kingdom on 15 occasions. In all cases, the beetles or larvae had arrived in wooden packing material imported from China. The beetle is a native of China and has recently become established in parts of

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the USA. Extensive research is being carried out in both these countries on various forms of management, including biological control. The Forestry Commission is working with the research workers to try to find an appropriate, environmentally sound method for controlling the beetle.

Lord Lucas asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What measures are in place to deal with an outbreak of Asian Longhorn Beetle in the United Kingdom[HL2973]

Baroness Hayman: If an outbreak is discovered in the United Kingdom, the Forestry Commission will carry out detailed surveys to evaluate the scale of the outbreak. It will then take whatever action is most appropriate, which is likely to be immediate containment followed by felling and burning the infested trees. The necessary legislation to enable the commission to do this is already in place.

International Whaling Commission: UK Position

Lord Hoyle asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What the position of the United Kingdom will be at the forthcoming meeting of the International Whaling Commission.[HL3108]

Baroness Hayman: The International Whaling Commission (IWC) will be holding its 52nd Annual Meeting in Adelaide between 3 and 6 July.

At this meeting the UK delegation will be confirming that the UK remains strongly opposed to whaling and that our ultimate aim is to secure a permanent, worldwide ban on all whaling, other than some limited aboriginal subsistence whaling. We will be seeking to build upon the successful outcome of the recent CITES meeting where all whale downlisting proposals were rejected and the primacy of the IWC reaffirmed.

There will be further discussions of proposals put forward by Ireland in 1997 for a package of measures on whaling. The Irish proposals would involve a ban on all whaling, including scientific whaling, outside coastal waters (in effect creating a global ocean sanctuary), with a possibility that countries might authorise whaling under IWC rules within their own coastal waters; there would be a ban on international trade in whale products. In these discussions we will maintain our previous position on these ideas: while we are prepared to discuss constructively all ideas for improving whale conservation, and strongly support some elements of these proposals, we have significant reservations about others, in particular those relating to coastal whaling. Nevertheless, we are prepared to consider interim solutions on the way to our ultimate destination provided that these deliver very real benefits to whale conservation.

It is, however, unlikely that any progress will be made on the Irish proposals, as the whaling countries

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and their allies remain opposed to key aspects of them. Japan, in particular, has demonstrated that it is not prepared to consider ending scientific whaling or a ban on international trade in whale products. In these circumstances, the United Kingdom will continue to support the alternative ways of achieving our aims that we outlined at last year's meeting and subsequently reported to the House, 9 June 1999, Official Report, cols. 34-35.

A key element of our approach is support for the creation of regional sanctuaries, and we will be strongly supporting a proposal put forward by Australia and New Zealand to create a South Pacific whale sanctuary. The proposed sanctuary will afford greater protection to whales in a highly important breeding and feeding area and one through which many other great whales migrate. The proposal has been endorsed by South Pacific Forum leaders.

At previous IWC meetings the UK, together with a majority of IWC members, has consistently criticised the whaling operations authorised by Japan under special permits--so called "scientific" whaling. It is, therefore, very disappointing that Japan has presented proposals for discussion in the IWC Scientific Committee to extend these whaling operations to cover two further species, Sperm and Bryde's whales. Under the IWC's parent convention, IWC approval for these proposals is not needed and it is for Japan to authorise whaling under special permit. The UK delegation will, nevertheless, be registering the Government's strong objection to these proposals and will be urging Japan to withdraw them.

There will be further discussion of the revised management scheme (RMS) which is being developed to regulate all aspects of any future commercial whaling. The IWC meeting will be preceded by a two-day working group focusing in particular on the inspection and observation scheme which would form an integral part of the RMS. It is important for the credibility of the IWC for it to be seen to be making progress on the development of the RMS and the UK will continue to participate constructively in this work. We will be seeking a comprehensive RMS that would ensure that, if commercial whaling was ever authorised in future, it could not pose a threat to whale conservation and that catch limits and other rules would be strictly observed. The Government will also be making it clear that our participation in this work is without prejudice to our opposition in principle to commercial whaling.

As we have at previous meetings, the UK will again be expressing its concern about the cruelty involved in whaling; we also intend to raise the inhumane methods used and lack of regulation in the hunts for small cetaceans such as dolphins and porpoises that take place in some countries. Other topics on which we hope to make progress include the impact of environmental change and pollution on whales and other cetaceans and the encouragement of whalewatching.

We will report the outcome of the meeting to Parliament.

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Lord Hoyle asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the most recent date on which an animal was born which was subsequently confirmed as having BSE.[HL3114]

Baroness Hayman: An animal born on 25 August 1996 was confirmed as a BSE case on 27 June.

The date is significant because it is after 1 August 1996, when extra control measures on animal feed containing mammalian meat and bone meal (MBM) has been implemented. The State Veterinary Service will be carrying out a special investigation into the background. However, experts have always foreseen that a few cases of BSE could be confirmed in animals born after this date. Indeed, an assessment last year on behalf of SEAC assumed that, by the end of 2000, up to 19 cases born after August 1996 might be identified.

There is no risk to food safety as a result of this case. The cow, aged 44 months at the time of slaughter, would not have entered the human food chain because of the rule which prevents animals aged over thirty months. The offspring of this case has already been traced, and will not enter the food chain either.

Furthermore, this animal would have been ineligible for our Date Based Export Scheme (DBES) not only because of its age but, in any event, also because its mother was slaughtered as a casualty--in November 1996--less than three months after the animal concerned was born. Under the DBES the dam must have survived for at least six months after birth of the calf and shown no signs of BSE.

There is an automatic cull of offspring of animals which are confirmed cases of BSE. This would not, however, prevent cases of maternally transmitted BSE where the dam was slaughtered--for reasons other than BSE--when the disease was in it pre-clinical phrase. This could have happened in this case.

Investigations into the source of infection are continuing. In accordance with standing procedures cohort animals born six months either side of this animal will be traced, placed under movement restrictions and barred from the food chain. The State Veterinary Service will investigate thoroughly the background to this case in order to establish whether anything about the BSE epidemic can be learnt from it.

This case does not change in any way our view that we have the toughest rules in place to protect public health and to eradicate the disease. The overall BSE

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epidemic continues to decline along predicted lines. Details for Great Britain are given in the table below (also lodged in the House Library).

Year of BirthTotal No. of confirmed cases

(Data as at 27 June 2000).

* Before record-keeping requirements were strengthened in 1995-96.

Millennium Dome Additional Funding: Direction

Baroness Blatch asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by the Lord McIntosh of Haringey on 7 June (WA 158), whether any political letter of direction has been issued within the Department for Culture, Media and Sport or instruction given to the Accounting Officer concerning the financing or operation of the New Millennium Experience Company in 1999 or 2000.[HL2800]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: No letter of direction has been issued within the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, or instruction given to its Accounting Officer, concerning the financing or operation of the New Millennium Experience Company (NMEC).

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