Skip to main content

Written Statements

Volume 475: debated on Tuesday 29 April 2008

Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 29 April 2008

Defence

Kosovo Operational Reserve Force Deployment

The House will recall that on 17 February 2008 the Government of Kosovo declared independence, with a commitment to implementing the obligations contained in UN Special Envoy Ahtisaari’s comprehensive proposal for a status settlement in Kosovo. Since independence, there have been positive developments by the Kosovo Government in meeting these obligations, including the approval of a new constitution, which will come into force in June 2008. The EU and NATO have also made progress in preparing to assume their responsibilities under the Ahtisaari proposals, including the European security and defence policy, policing and rule of law mission in Kosovo and the implementation of NATO’s new tasks in relation to Kosovo’s own security forces.

During this period, the security situation has remained tense and there have been some sporadic incidents of violence. The NATO Kosovo Force (KFOR), in co-operation with the UN international police authorities, are working hard to address this and to maintain a safe and secure environment.

Against this background, the UK has received a request from NATO for the deployment of a UK battalion to Kosovo by the end of May as part of our existing commitment to the NATO/EU shared pan-Balkans operational reserve force (ORF). This is a long standing commitment that the UK meets in rotation with Italy and Germany. Since 1 January this year, it has been the UK’s turn to provide the highest readiness battalion for a period of six months. We are, therefore, well prepared to meet NATO’s request and I have agreed to deploy our ORF battalion until 30 June 2008. The task will be undertaken by 2nd Battalion, The Rifles, who have been trained specifically for this requirement.

This deployment will demonstrate our commitment to the security of the region and will provide NATO with extra flexibility in maintaining peace and stability for all communities within Kosovo. The House will also wish to be aware that our commitment to the NATO/EU pan-Balkans ORF continues until the end of this year at a lower readiness.

I would like to stress that the deployment of the UK ORF battalion confirms yet again the professionalism of our armed forces and their ability to provide essential military support at short notice. I shall make a further statement on this deployment in due course, if required.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Rabies Incident

I would like to update the House on the case of rabies in a puppy in UK quarantine confirmed last Friday evening, 25 April.

Over three successive days, thirteen dogs of various ages were brought into quarantine under UK rabies quarantine licensing rules from Sri Lanka by an animal rescue charity. The dogs were not in good health when they arrived and were receiving appropriate veterinary treatment at the quarantine facility. The condition of one of the dogs, a puppy, worsened and it died on the morning of 25 April. It was immediately sent for routine testing at the Veterinary Laboratories Agency, Weybridge. The acting chief veterinary officer then confirmed on the evening of 25 April a case of rabies in this puppy.

The case was confined to quarantine, which means that the movement of the puppy after arrival in the country was fully controlled and any public health risks were effectively contained. Nevertheless, our contingency plans for such an occurrence were immediately activated and a thorough investigation instigated. Since rabies is a public health issue, the Department of Health and the Health Protection Agency also immediately mobilised their emergency arrangements.

DEFRA and the Health Protection Agency worked closely to identify all human and animal contacts with this puppy.

Health officials identified that two individuals working at the quarantine facility and one member of the charity that imported the affected animal, were bitten by the puppy; all three have received prompt protective treatment. Even if someone has been bitten by an animal with rabies, prompt post-exposure treatment is highly effective in preventing rabies in humans. There is no such validated treatment for animals similarly exposed.

Whilst we are not aware of anyone else who has been bitten, as a precautionary measure we have also been tracing any other people who have been in contact with the puppy since its arrival in the country. Where advisable appropriate treatment has been given.

Four dogs entered the UK with the animal that died of rabies. These animals were humanely destroyed as they had been in direct contact with the animal that died of rabies and were considered to be high risk. Tests for rabies are being carried out on these animals. Initial test results are negative and indicate these animals were not in the later stages of rabies. Further tests are ongoing and results are expected before the end of the week.

The quarantine facility where these five animals were housed, and where the remaining eight dogs from Sri Lanka continue to be housed, is under restriction for the time being.

We also identified that four animals were released from the facility when they had completed their quarantine period after the dogs arrived from Sri Lanka. Three of these four animals were vaccinated on entry to UK quarantine in accordance with standard requirements, while the fourth had been in quarantine as a holding measure until it was shown to have been compliant with normal conditions of entry under the Pet Travel Scheme. These conditions require effective vaccination before entry to the UK. The level of risk associated with these animals is negligible. However, as a precautionary measure, all four of these animals have been confined to their home premises for the time being. Animal Health Agency vets are visiting these animals daily and providing the owners with advice. These animals continue to be healthy. The Health Protection Agency is content with the measures being taken and has provided advice on public health aspects to the owners.

The case occurred in quarantine and has not therefore jeopardised our important and long-standing rabies freedom in the UK. This incident particularly demonstrates the importance of following strictly the rules for entry of animals into this country and the rest of the European Union.

UK citizens travelling abroad should avoid handling stray animals, and if they are bitten should seek immediate medical treatment.

This incident shows the effectiveness of the Government’s emergency arrangements and the commitment of those who worked hard together over the weekend to respond.

EU Environment Ministers Meeting

On 11 to 13 April, Peter Unwin, Director General of Defra’s Natural Environment Group, represented the UK at a meeting of Environment Ministers from the EU member states, candidate countries, and the European Commission at an informal ministerial meeting in Brdo, Slovenia, on the theme of “Forest Biodiversity: Challenges and Opportunities for Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation”.

The UK emphasised that climate change and biodiversity are intrinsically linked. Healthy and sustainably managed forests represent a valuable opportunity for mitigation in the fight against climate change, through the provision of vital environmental services. The UK welcomed the presidency’s focus on this issue in the wider context of adaptation to climate change. We also underlined the need for greater synergy and consistency between climate change and biodiversity policies both internationally and at home in the EU if we are to secure co-benefits. As such, next month’s meeting on the convention on biological diversity (CBD), the reform of the Common Agriculture Policy and the upcoming Commission communication on green public procurement all provide opportunities to do this.

The UK stressed that in the battle to tackle dangerous climate change, EU member states need to ensure that increased utilisation of wood for energy does not move us away from multi-purpose forest management; this is possible if done within the context of sustainable forest management. The UK also emphasised that biofuels, in particular second-generation fuels, can play an important role in reducing emissions but Member States need to ensure that biofuel targets can be achieved without adversely affective sustainability. There are growing concerns and emerging evidence of the negative impacts of biofuels and these must be taken into account before we agree the direction and level of EU policy. The UK informed Ministers of our review on these issues and that this will inform our national and EU policy. The UK welcomed the fact that the CBD is looking at the potential impacts of biofuels on biodiversity, and seeking to develop biodiversity criteria to input into more general sustainability criteria.

Finally, the UK expressed the view that the EU should ensure a level playing field for domestic and international producers, and we should offer capacity building measures to help developing countries comply with our sustainability criteria, once these have been developed, in order to prevent them from being a technical barrier to trade. The UK confirmed that we will continue to work with the Commission and other member states to reflect these principles in a consistent way as we take forward the renewable energy and fuel quality directives, and we shall do so with an open mind, informed be the evidence as it emerges. Several other member states shared this view.

Callaghan Review

I announced on 13 December 2007, Official Report, column 52WS, that the Government have accepted all of the recommendations of the review of the regulatory framework for handling animal pathogens led by Sir Bill Callaghan. That review recommended a phased approach to changes in the regulation of these materials, including transferring responsibility for inspections and enforcement to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Since January, inspections of laboratories licensed under the Specified Animal Pathogens Order (SAPO) have been carried out by DEFRA and the VLA and HSE. I informed the House on 11 March 2008, Official Report, column 9WS, that the formal legal transfer of SAPO inspection and enforcement responsibilities was nearing completion. I am pleased to now report that a revised SAPO came into effect on 28 April, meeting the timetable set by the review. This measure provides the legal means to effect the transfer of inspection and enforcement responsibility to HSE. It also provides additional powers very similar to the powers HSE inspectors have under the Health and Safety at Work Act, including the ability to issue formal improvement and prohibition notices. The order is complemented by an agency agreement which formally delegates enforcement responsibility to HSE and a memorandum of understanding that sets out the practical arrangements. These documents are being published on the HSE and DEFRA websites .

From now on, HSE will carry out all inspections and enforcement activity for SAPO. This work will be carried out in accordance with the Health and Safety Executive’s enforcement policy and principles of HSE operational procedures and its enforcement management model. This represents a significant change in the way in which this work is carried out. As recognised in Sir Bill Callaghan’s review, DEFRA will remain as the licensing body for SAPO until the next phase comes into effect.

DEFRA will continue to work closely with HSE and other interested Departments as we move towards a single regulatory framework for human and animal pathogens in the final phase of implementing the recommendations.

In addition to the processes set out here responsibility for managing risks lies with the employers and senior management of any facility where work on animal or human pathogens is being carried out. Licence holders are responsible for ensuring the safe operation of the facilities where their work is conducted, in accordance with the licensing requirements.

I note that the report of Professor Sir John Beringer’s independent study into the funding, governance and risk management at the Institute for Animal Health has been published and has been considered by the BBSRC. I will take the recommendations of this study into account in considering how we respond to Dr. Iain Anderson’s report on a review and lessons learnt on the foot and mouth disease outbreak 2007.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Correction to Oral Answer

My noble Friend Lord Malloch-Brown has made the following written ministerial statement:

On 18 March 2008, during the debate on the Second Review Conference of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), in response to a question by the noble Lord Walton of Detchant, I said that—

“it is certainly correct that there are toxic chemicals that fall outside the so-called schedule 1 to this convention. One of the issues for review and for any successor convention after 2012 will be to make sure that there is a more comprehensive list of such chemicals”.—Official Report, column 136.

I should have said that the CWC’s prohibitions apply to all toxic chemicals and their precursors, unless they are intended for permitted purposes and provided they are of a type and in a quantity consistent with such purposes. The schedules of chemicals do not limit the scope of the convention’s prohibitions, they only provide a framework for the application of verification measures. Reinforcing the comprehensive nature of the CWC has been a key UK objective for the Second Review Conference, and the subject of one of the UK’s four working papers submitted to the preparatory working group. It has also been a priority for the EU as set out in the EU’s Common Position 2007/469/CFSP of 28 June 2007.

The CWC is a key component in the disarmament and non-proliferation agreements and regimes, and will remain so after the 2012 deadline for completion of destruction of chemical weapons stockpiles. We have already started to consider how the CWC will need to adapt to face future challenges and see this as a key issue to be addressed in the years ahead.

Health

MHRA

I have received the business plan for the medicines and healthcare products regulatory agency (MHRA) which has been placed in the Library.

The agency has an important role to protect public health in the United Kingdom by ensuring that all medicines and medical devices are acceptably safe. The business plan for 2008-09 sets out specific key and high level targets for the agency for the coming year.