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Lord Marsh: My Lords, does the Minister agree that Hong Kong and some of the demonstrations that take place there are a matter of considerable concern to China within whose territory Hong Kong now is? Whether it be right or wrong, these propositions are highly sensitive and it really does not help to try to treat one of the world's major powers as if Hong Kong were still a colonial offshoot.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, of course these are matters of major concern to China. Her Majesty's Government recognise the sensitivities in that respect. Her Majesty's Government also recognise that it would be quite wrong not to acknowledge the importance of the agreed handover arrangements that laid down specific rights and freedoms for the people of Hong Kong. This is a matter for the Hong Kong SAR to pursue but, as with any mature relationship, the British Government have felt it necessary to register some concerns. We acknowledge that the position of China is extraordinarily important in this respect.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, do we not have a continuing obligation under the Sino-British Joint Declaration to ensure that legislation passed in the Hong Kong SAR is compatible with the international covenants and thus with the Basic Law? Will the Government therefore suggest to the Hong Kong SAR that the draft legislation be submitted for an opinion to the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva before it is laid before the legislature?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as I hope I made clear, as a co-signatory to the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong we in this country have a responsibility to ensure that the rights and freedoms enshrined in the Joint Declaration are maintained. We take the Joint Declaration responsibilities very seriously. They include freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of speech among other issues. I reiterate that two senior Cabinet Ministers, my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor and my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, have made our concerns clear. We hope that we shall be able to resolve this matter satisfactorily in the discussions that we hope to have.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many people in Hong Kong will derive comfort from the representations that the British Government have made on this issue? I applaud that. Will she also ensure that we are kept informed of the outcome of further discussions with the authorities in Hong Kong and in Beijing?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am of course aware that many people in Hong Kong take comfort from that. That is why I made a particular point of referring to these issues yesterday evening when I made a speech that was largely about commercial issues. I felt that it was important to focus on current matters of concern.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, following the tragic death of a 55 year-old male from rabies, a review of the procedures for handling such rabies cases and of the implications for public health has been put in place. The advice of an expert group of the Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens on the assessment of the risks to health is also being sought.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for that reply. David McRae's tragic death is, I understand, the first recorded death in this country for more than 100 years as the result of a bite from an animal infected with the rabies virus. Does the Minister have any idea how the rabies virus came to be in a Daubenton's bat in Tayside? I understand that last month a case was recorded in which the same virus was present in a bat in Lancashire. Should there not be a comprehensive survey of all species of bat to establish the degree of infection and how it is spreading? Finally, given that bats are a protected species and that people are required to be licensed to work with them, should it not be a mandatory part of licence approval that such workers are vaccinated against the virus infection? What are the implications of those cases for our rabies-free status in the United Kingdom?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, there are no implications as such for our status because the status does not relate to the particular virus affecting bats; it relates to the classic category of viruses affecting dogs and cats. There can be no room for complacency. I agree with the noble Lord that we need to step up our surveillance. DEFRA is planning to conduct a survey on live bats next year. Originally, it was going to be concentrated in the South of England but, in light of the incidents in Lancashire and Scotland, officials are now considering ways of extending that survey.
On the issue of licence holders, I very much agree with the noble Lord's sentiments. My understanding is that that is under review by the body that issues licences in Scotland. In England, the body concerned has moved to make it mandatory.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, my understanding is that the population of bats is estimatedit has to be an estimateto be about 2.5 million to 3 million. It is a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. We need to establish whether we can find out more about the habits of the bat. On migration, bats may be able to fly across the Channel, and they have been found on oil rigs and put into quarantine. It is possible that they could land on a ferry coming into this country. There are a number of avenues by which bats could come from other countries to this country.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, we are dealing with the European bat lyssavirus. Some noble Lords will no doubt use that to fuel their suspicions about all things European being undesirable and rather nasty. We all very much sympathise with David McRae and his friends and family. Is it not the case that this is the first instance in the past 100 years in which anyone has caught this virus? The testing of bats has been taking place over the past 15 years, and out of 3,000 tests only two bats have been found to possess the virus. Will the Minister give us an assurance that the Government will do all that they can to dampen down any hue and cry about bats in the popular press? Bats are a protected species. They are not, by and large, a danger to human beings. Will the Government tell us what they are doing to ensure that local authorities and other local organisations know what advice to give and where to send people for advice if they ring up and say that they have found bats in their belfry, attic or wherever?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, so far as advice is concerned, there is information, as ever, on the DoH website. The Public Health Laboratory Service also has advice. I would also recommend persons concerned to contact the Bat Conservation Trust. I agree with that sentiment. The risk to the general public is very low. A vaccination is available. If anyone is bitten by a bat they should seek immediate advice from their general practitioner. However, we should keep this issue in a certain degree of proportion.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I live within seven miles of Guthrie, where this unfortunate man was bitten. The farm buildings by my house are full of several hundred bats. There is nothing that we can do about that. I do not know what type they are. A number come into my house every summer and I have
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, my advice is that cross-species infection is extremely unlikely in the case of a particular virus affecting bats, although one could not absolutely rule it out. On the bats in the noble Baroness's sheds and belfries, I advise her to wear protective gloves. I shall seek advice and write to her about whether her garden gloves are sufficiently strong; I should imagine that they are. If she were bitten by a bat, she should immediately clean the wound with soap and water. Additional cleansing of the wound site with an alcohol base or other disinfectant is also recommended to the noble Baroness. She should then go and see her general practitioner.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, following the "Braer" and "Sea Empress" oil tanker incidents in the 1990s, the Government have been active in safeguarding the United Kingdom's seas and coasts. For example, we have introduced ship routing and reporting measures. We have cover all the year round from emergency towing vessels and we have the Secretary of State's representative for maritime salvage and intervention to co-ordinate emergency action.
For the future, we are working to implement the recommendations of the National Audit Office's report Dealing with Pollution from Ships; we will soon issue a consultation document on marine environmental high-risk areas; and internationally we are working to ensure that all existing maritime pollution compensation and liability conventions come into force as soon as possible.
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