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4 Feb 2004 : Column WA103

Written Answers

Wednesday, 4 February 2004.

GM Crops

Lord Turnberg asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In the light of the recommendations of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics in its report The Use of GM Crops in Developing Countries, whether the investment in publicly-funded research into genetically modified crops is adequate to fulfil the United Kingdom's obligations to third-world countries.[HL1022]

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): The Government welcome the report from the Nuffield Council on Bioethics on The Use of GM Crops in Developing Countries. The report offers a constructive contribution to the on-going debate on genetic modification technologies. The Government share the report's conclusions that achieving food security and reducing poverty in developing countries are complex issues, that GM crops are unlikely to feed the world but that in some circumstances they could make a useful contribution to improving the livelihoods of poor people in developing countries.

The Department for International Development is currently preparing a new strategy to guide its future research investments. Under this, the department expects to maintain a substantial programme of agricultural research. In support of this intention, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development recently announced an additional £30 million over the next three years for the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, a major part of the global effort to mobilise agricultural science to reduce poverty. Some of this funding may support research on genetic modification technologies provided that they have the potential to benefit poor farmers if used safely and responsibly and that developing countries themselves are able to make their own informed choices on whether to adopt these technologies. DfID seeks to ensure that all technologies that it promotes are safe, affordable, appropriate and respond to demand from poor people.

Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe and River Danube

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans for major economic investments have been agreed as a result of the Stability Pact for south-eastern Europe; and whether by now the Danube Commission has been successful in reopening the river to full navigation and restoring damaged and destroyed bridges.[HL916]

Baroness Amos: Since 1999 the stability pact has worked to enhance the economic investment environment in south-east Europe by establishing an

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infrastructure steering group. This group includes the European Investment Bank, World Bank, European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, Council of Europe Bank and is chaired by the European Commission. Under the framework of the stability pact, 57 infrastructure projects in phase 1 have received a total of 3.68 billion euros in three sectors: regional transport, energy and environment. The next phase will also focus on infrastructure investment and is on-going. The stability pact has also encouraged foreign direct investment by helping to create free trade in the region.

Details are available at http://www.stabilitypact.org/investment/default.asp

The river Danube is open for navigation. All of the debris from the bridges destroyed in 1999 was cleared from the river by May 2003 and almost 7,000 vessels passed through Novi Sad in 2003. The Danube Commission is not responsible for rebuilding the bridges. However, one bridge has been replaced by a pontoon bridge (river traffic is allowed through every second night), one by a temporary bridge and one bridge is being rebuilt, with completion expected by the end of 2004.

Police Service: Staff Support Associations

Lord Stoddart of Swindon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Gay Police Association and the Black Police Association are officially recognised by the Metropolitan Police and other police forces in the United Kingdom; whether they have any negotiating rights of representation; and, if so, whether the same recognition and rights would be extended to other police associations seeking to promote interests involving race, colour, sexual preference or particular lifestyles.[HL969]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): None of the staff support associations, including the Black Police Association and the Gay Police Association, is formally recognised by the Metropolitan Police Service for collective bargaining purposes; nor do they have the representational or negotiating rights of the Police Federation, Superintendents' Association or the recognised constituent trade unions. The staff support associations are however consulted regarding policy changes, particularly with regard to diversity issues.

The Government have a shared interest in working collaboratively with these and other staff associations, including the British Association for Women in Policing. They are represented on a number of Home Office groups and are consulted on a wide range of policy initiatives to improve diversity in the workplace and to ensure effective delivery of policing services to all communities. The National Black Police Association, for example, is represented on the Lawrence Steering Group, contributing to diversity issues and providing a vital perspective on the link between communities and police.

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Faith Communities Unit

Lord Janner of Braunstone asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How the Home Office Faith Communities Unit relates to the Government's review of their interface with faith communities, which was due to report back at the end of 2003.[HL976]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Members of the Faith Communities Unit form the secretariat of the steering group which is taking forward the review, and of the working group which reports to the steering group. This role includes drafting papers and report chapters, arranging and minuting meetings, and making arrangements for the publication of the review report which is due in March 2004.

The conclusion of the review was delayed for one month by a decision of the chair, Fiona Mactaggart, to accede to a request from the faith community representatives on the steering group to be allowed more time to finalise the report.

Cannabis

Lord Acton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What proportion of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is found in:


    (a) most cannabis; and


    (b) skunk cannabis; and[HL987]

    What proportion used in the United Kingdom they believe to be skunk cannabis.[HL988]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The THC content of different cannabis products has varied and continues to vary widely. The Forensic Science Service (FSS) regularly analyses drug seizures and indicates that new growing techniques since the 1990s have led to some new products, such as skunk, coming onto the market with average THC levels two or three times greater than for other cannabis products.

There is no accurate estimate available for the proportion of skunk available as a proportion of all cannabis used in the U.K. The FSS has little recorded information on the type of herbal cannabis encountered. However, anecdotal information from FSS scientists suggests that there has been an increase in "skunk" type cannabis in both police and customs seizures.

Lord Acton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in cannabis can produce a psychotic reaction.[HL986]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner): Research suggests that cannabis, especially in high doses, can produce a "toxic psychosis" in individuals who have no history of severe mental illness, and that one constituent delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) itself has dose-related effects producing acute symptoms and signs. These resolve themselves once the effect of the drug wears off.

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Fungal Diseases

Lord Turnberg asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps are being taken to prevent and treat diseases due to fungal infections.[HL1019]

Lord Warner: Fungal infections range from common, mild superficial infections such as athlete's foot to serious life-threatening diseases such as invasive aspergillosis which normally affect immuno-compromised patients. Antifungal drugs are available but reducing the number of invasive cases is especially important in hospitals and guidance 1 is available.


    1 Department of Health. NHS Estates. Infection control in the built environment: design and planning. London, The Stationery Office. Second edition 2002.

Lord Turnberg asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the budget allocated to research into the causes and treatment of fungal diseases.[HL1020]

Lord Warner: The Department of Health has recently commissioned a £120,000 study into the relationship between antifungal drug use, salivary gland dysfunction and antifungal drug resistance in patients with advanced cancer. The department also supports fungal disease research carried out within the National Health Service. South Manchester University Hospital NHS Trust and Salford Royal Hospitals NHS Trust have an ongoing programme of research on invasive fungal diseases. The two trusts spent £227,000 on this programme in 2002–03. In addition, the department supports fungal disease research carried out by the Health Protection Agency.

The Medical Research Council has supported research on fungal diseases and is currently funding one grant.

The total value of grants and studentships awarded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council since 1997 for research into the causes and treatment of fungal diseases is approximately £3.5 million. This figure relates to animal and human fungal pathogens.


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