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Written Answers to Questions

Tuesday 21 February 1995

NORTHERN IRELAND

Terrorism

Ms Mowlam: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what assessment he has made of the current extent of the threat posed by Irish terrorists by reference to the position before the recent ceasefire.

Sir John Wheeler: While terrorist organisations retain all their munitions and operational structures, the threat of violence remains, as we have seen from the murder of Mr. Kerr in Newry and continuing callous "punishment beatings". Nevertheless, the incidence of violence has diminished and the security forces have responded imaginatively to the ceasefires.

Fur Farms

Mr. Morely: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many arctic fox fur farms there have been, by region, in each of the last five years.

Mr. Ancram: There have never been any arctic fox fur farms in Northern Ireland.

Student Allowances

Mr. Watson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many students at universities in Northern Ireland received the mature student's allowance in each of the last five years for which figures are available; and what percentage of all mature students in each year these figures represent; what was the administrative cost of operating the mature students' allowance in Northern Ireland for each of the last five years for which information is available.

Mr. Ancram: The number of Northern Ireland students receiving the older students' allowance, payment of which is the responsibility of the education and library boards, is available only for the following three years:


Year    |Number       

----------------------

1992-93 |375          

1993-94 |439          

1994-95 |530          

Information about the percentage of all mature students that these figures represent and administrative operational costs is not readily available.


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DEFENCE

Hong Kong

Mr. MacShane: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has to travel to Hong Kong in 1995.

Mr. Freeman: My right hon. and learned Friend has no plans to visit Hong Kong in 1995.

Alcohol Misuse

Mr. Critchley: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will introduce an anti-alcohol programme into the armed forces as soon as possible.

Mr. Soames: Drunkenness is an offence under service law, and all personnel are made aware that the services take a very serious view of alcohol misuse. Considerable effort is put into dealing with alcohol- related problems and a comprehensive system of education and treatment, together with deterrent administrative and disciplinary action, has been developed. A series of alcohol education programmes, making use of pamphlets, films and lectures, has been produced to make all personnel aware of the dangers of alcohol misuse. Officers and NCOs are also trained to recognise symptoms so that alcohol misuse can be dealt with promptly.

Western European Union

Mr. Hardy: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement about co-operation between the member states of the Western European Union on air transport.

Mr. Soames: WEU members continue to discuss the potential for enhancing co-operation between national forces, including air transport assets, that may be made available for the range of operations that the WEU might undertake.

RAF Chivenor

Mr. Harvey: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what consideration he is giving to relocating search and rescue helicopters currently based at RAF Chivenor.

Mr. Soames: None. It remains our intention to maintain a search and rescue flight at RAF Chivenor.

Friendly Fire Incident (Normandy)

Mr. Mackinlay: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will ensure that a memorial service is held for the men killed on HMS Hussar, HMS Britomart, HMS Salamander and HMS Colsay in the friendly fire incident off Normandy on 27 August 1944; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Soames: It is for veterans' associations to organise the commemoration of individual actions if they so wish. Official events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the D-day campaign as a whole were held last year. This year will see the commemoration of victory in 1945.

Mr. Mackinlay: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if his Department will give all reasonable assistance to those wishing to organise a reunion for those sailors who survived the friendly fire incident of Normandy on 27 August 1944 involving HMS Hussar, HMS Britomart, HMS Salamander, and HMS Colsay.


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Mr. Soames: The editor of "Navy News", the official newspaper of the Royal Navy, will be pleased to publish a request for survivors of this incident to contact the organisers of any reunion.

Mr. Mackinlay: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will lift the embargo on the names of those who died in the friendly fire incident off Normandy on 27 August 1944, involving HMS Hussar, HMS Britomart, HMS Salamander and HMS Colsay, and publish the names of those who survived prior to their dispersal to other units of the Royal Navy.

Mr. Soames: There has never been an embargo on the list of casualties from this incident. Indeed, details of those from the Britomart and the Hussar, the two vessels sunk, were published in The Times in October and November 1944. Any casualty details from the other vessels involved may well have been included in more general casualty lists frequently published in the press at the time, but these could now be checked only at disproportionate cost. The names of those who survived would be scattered among any number of contemporary records, and these also could now be checked only at disproportionate cost.

Gulf War Syndrome

Mr. Alfred Morris: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on his policy in respect of alleged Gulf war syndrome.

Mr. Soames: It is my Department's policy to investigate the allegations of a Gulf war syndrome in a scientific and objective manner to establish the full facts. We are concerned to ensure that those who are ill receive proper assessment and diagnosis, and where necessary are referred for treatment to those responsible for their health care. As part of these investigations, we have established a medical assessment programme to build up a soundly based data bank of information resulting from individual clinical examination of those Gulf veterans who are coming forward with concerns about their health in response to repeated ministerial requests. We are also following scientific developments in the United States and elsewhere examining the plausibility of the many postulated causes of the alleged syndrome and making comparisons of the health problems experienced by Gulf veterans against the normal incidence of such symptoms among the rest of the armed forces and the general United Kingdom population. Our investigations to date have found no medical or scientific evidence of a Gulf war syndrome, or of any medical condition peculiar to service in the Gulf.

Mr. Alfred Morris: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many serving service personnel have reported sick claiming to have Gulf war syndrome.

Mr. Soames: To date, a total of 51 serving personnel have come forward, or have been referred, into my Department's medical assessment programme with concerns about their health as a result of Gulf war service. Of the 24 who have so far been examined and diagnosed, none has been found to have a medical condition peculiar to Gulf service.

Mr. Alfred Morris: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many service personnel from the other allied


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nations who took part in the Gulf claim to be suffering from Gulf war syndrome.

Mr. Soames: The latest figures available to my Department indicate that approximately 13,000 United States Gulf war veterans have registered with the clinical evaluation programme established by the United States authorities to examine those alleging ill health as a result of Gulf war service. Among other allies, the claims of some 30 to 40 Canadians and 20 Norwegian Gulf personnel to be suffering from the alleged Gulf war syndrome are being investigated by their national authorities.

Mr. Alfred Morris: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many non-military supporting staff are claiming to be suffering from Gulf war syndrome.

Mr. Soames: To date, my Department has received notification of 483 potential claims in respect of ill health as a result of service in the Gulf war. The information available shows that 12 are from individuals who were civilians at the time, seven of whom can be identified as non-military supporting staff paid by the MOD.

Contracts

Mr. Byers: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what was the total value of contracts awarded by his headquarters contracts branches to (a) Price Waterhouse, (b) EDS Defence Ltd. and EDS Scicon Defence Ltd., (c) Coopers and Lybrand, (d) Touche Ross Management Consultants and Touche Ross and Company and (e) Andersen Consulting for (i) 1992 93 and (ii) 1993 94.

Mr. Freeman: The value of contracts placed with these companies by my Department's central contracts branches is as follows:


1992-93                                                          

                                       |Total value              

Company name                           |£ million                

-----------------------------------------------------------------

Touche Ross Management Consultants and                           

  Touche Ross and Company              |0.6                      

Andersen Consulting                    |0.2                      

Coopers and Lybrand                    |9.7                      

Price Waterhouse                       |0.2                      


1993-4                                                           

                                       |Total value              

Company name                           |£ million                

-----------------------------------------------------------------

Touche Ross Management Consultants and                           

  Touche Ross and Company              |0.05                     

Andersen Consulting                    |0.2                      

Coopers and Lybrand                    |2.4                      

Price Waterhouse                       |1.3                      

No contracts have been placed by the central contracts branch with EDS Defence Ltd. or EDS Scicon Defence Ltd. over the periods in question.

The figures given relate only to contracts let by my Department's central contracts branches. They exclude lower value contracts placed by individual budget holders, details of which are not held centrally.


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Al-Yamamah Deal

Mr. Meacher: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if the money transferred to a Saudi by British Aerospace and Rolls Royce in respect of the Al-Yamamah deal was paid for out of his Department's budget; if (a) British Aerospace and (b) Rolls Royce paid for the use of these funds; and whether the funds have now been repaid.

Mr. Freeman: I know of no such payment.

Surgeon Commander D. W. Sommerville

Mr. Maclennan: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, what is the barrier to the release of Surgeon Commander D. W. Sommerville from the Royal Navy to allow him to take up the post of consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Raigmore hospital, Inverness.

Mr. Soames: Although we are giving all reasonable consideration to Surgeon Commander Sommerville's request for premature voluntary retirement to take up an appointment at the Raigmore hospital, the timing of his release must accommodate the need to maintain a satisfactory level of orthopaedic expertise to support the requirements of the armed forces.

Army Divisions

Mr. Michael Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what proposals he has for the Army's technical equipments division, Donnington, and vehicle spares division, Chilwell.

Mr. Soames: In June last year, the then Minister of State for the Armed Forces, my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) accepted, as the basis for consultation, a recommendation that the Army's technical equipments division, Donnington, and vehicle spares division, Chilwell, should be collocated within a leased building in Telford near Donnington, achieving annual savings of some £6,000,000.

During the consultation process, my Department received a number of alternative proposals for the siting of the collocated organisation. All these proposals have received the most careful and sympathetic scrutiny and have been subjected to detailed financial appraisals. However, none of the alternatives would provide a more cost-effective solution than the original recommendation to collocate in Telford. I therefore have to confirm that we shall now move to implement our plans to amalgamate the two existing divisions to form the Equipment Support Provision and Procurement Authority within a leased building in Telford by late 1995, early 1996.

We will of course continue to consult with staff and the trade unions about the detailed implementation of the collocation.

Export Finance House

Mr. Cousins: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, what was the turnover of IMS export finance house in each year it traded.

Mr. Freeman: The export finance house set up by International Military Services Ltd. in 1985 proved unable to secure finance house business and was wound up the following year. Consequently, no audit requirement arose.


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AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FOOD

Coarse Fishing

Sir Cranley Onslow: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he now expects to announce his decision on the application by the National Rivers Authority for his approval to change the regulations governing the close season for coarse fish.

Mr. Jack: In December, the National Rivers Authority applied for confirmation of new byelaws intended to rationalise the existing rules for the coarse fish close season and to produce a consistent and uniform system for England and Wales. In place of the present widely varying rules, it has proposed that a close season should apply to all rivers, streams and canals from 15 March to 15 June but be dispensed with on all lakes, reservoirs and ponds.

The Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975 specifies a statutory minimum close season for fishing for coarse fish, but current legislation also gives the NRA the power to make byelaws to alter the close season or to dispense with it altogether. This power was available to the former water authorities which, prior to the creation of the NRA in 1989, were responsible for the regulation and management of salmon and freshwater fisheries. Many made use of the power with the result that in Devon, Cornwall and Gwynedd there is now no close season at all; in northern England and Lincolnshire there is a close season on rivers and streams, but not on stillwaters; and in the rest of the country there is a close season on all waters. As a result anglers are often confused about the rules that apply and the fishing opportunities that exist, in different regions.

The NRA advertised the proposed new byelaws last September. Ministers received 256 objections. The NRA wrote to all objectors and, in the light of its explanations, six objections were withdrawn. In submitting its proposals to Ministers, the NRA stated: "there is no clear evidence that angling for freshwater fish during the period of the statutory close season will have a widespread deleterious impact on fish".

Nevertheless, it considers that, in our current state of knowledge, a statutory close season serves a useful purpose on rivers and streams, where fish stocks are rarely discrete and fish move between stretches of river. Fishing rights along a river are often held by a number of different bodies, and, in these circumstances, individual fishery owners are not able to take the steps to protect fish stocks that they feel are necessary. The NRA is therefore proposing that there should be a uniform close season on all rivers and streams. There is widespread support for this idea, and there were few objections to this element of the NRA's proposals. We intend to accept it.

The NRA has proposed that canals should be treated in the same way as rivers. This would entail imposing a statutory close season on canals in northern England and in Devon and Cornwall, which are currently not subject to one. There has been a substantial number of objections to this element of the proposals, both from individuals and angling clubs. We have considered these, together with the case put to me by the NRA, with care. We accept that there are sound reasons for wishing to have the same rules applying to all canals, but we have seen no evidence that the current lack of a close season on the canals in question


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has had any adverse effect on these fisheries, or on fish stocks and, we have, on balance, concluded that there is not sufficient justification for extending the close season to these canals. In other parts of the country, the position may be different. In some areas it may be difficult to make a realistic distinction between rivers and canals, and there may be wider conservation arguments for retaining a close season on some canals. We would not wish to suggest, therefore, that the close season should be removed from canals which are currently subject to it without full consideration being given to all the relevant factors. If anglers or fishing owners feel that the close season should be ended on a particular canal in this category, they should take the matter up with the NRA. It will then be for the NRA to consider each case on its merits and, if it believes that a justified case has been made out, to propose the necessary change.

In contrast to most rivers, the majority of lakes, reservoirs and ponds are under single management with discrete stocks of fish. The NRA argues that, in these circumstances, management of these stillwater fisheries, including decisions on whether to impose a close season, can be left to individual fishery managers and it is proposing that the close season should be removed on all lakes, reservoirs and ponds.

This element of the proposals attracted a large number of objections. There are widespread fears that the removal of the close season would have adverse effects on spawning fish, breeding birds, other wildlife and, more generally, on the waterside environment. Both Ministers and the NRA have a duty, under the Water Resources Act 1991, to exercise their powers in respect of proposals they are formulating or considering so as to further the conservation of flora and fauna of special interest in so far as this is consistent with the NRA's statutory functions. A number of objectors felt that the proposals did not take adequate account of these wider conservation implications.

We have carefully considered the case put to us by the NRA, and the points made by objectors. Our conclusion is that there is no convincing case to be made, from a fisheries management point of view, for the retention of the close season on these waters. We have also concluded that, in general, a statutory close season is not an appropriate instrument for furthering the conservation of flora and fauna. Not all waters are of equal conservation value, nor is angling the only leisure activity to have an impact on the waterside. Boating, walking, riding and cycling, for example, all take place on or close to many waters during the close season and in our view there is no justification for singling out angling as the one activity that must be statutorily suspended.

Nevertheless, we fully accept that anglers and fisheries managers can make an important contribution to conservation, and we very much welcome the NRA's initiative in drawing up, in consultation with English Nature and the Countryside Council for Wales, guidelines to assist fisheries managers to manage their fisheries in an environmentally friendly way. We also recognise that ending the statutory close season could have an adverse impact on sensitive sites of particular conservation value, and we have concluded that, on balance, it should be retained for such sites. Accordingly, we are proposing to the NRA that its proposals be modified to retain the statutory close season on sites of special scientific interest


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which might be adversely affected by its removal. English Nature and the Countryside Council for Wales have been asked to provide advice on such sites.

We have also noted an objection from the Broards Authority to the proposed removal of the close season on stillwaters in the Norfolk broads. The authority argues that the broads form a single, and important, ecosystem, and that there are no valid reasons for distinguishing between rivers and stillwaters in the broads. We accept this argument, and are proposing that the proposals be modified to retain the close season on them.

In Yorkshire a byelaw currently prohibits the use of keep nets on stillwaters between 15 March and 15 June. The NRA has noted that such a prohibition does not exist in other regions that permit fishing to take place during the close season, and that this does not appear to lead to any problems. In these circumstances, it is proposing to revoke the bylaw in question. Although there have been objections to this proposal, we accept the NRA's arguments on this point and intend to confirm this proposal.

Under the provisions of the Water Resources Act, modifications to proposed byelaws can be made only with the consent of the NRA. Provided that the authority gives its consent to the amendments I have outlined, I hope that it will be possible to bring the new arrangements into effect before the start of this year's close season on 15 March. Arrangements are in hand to ensure that those directly affected by the amendments we are proposing have the opportunity to comment on them; if necessary, further amendments could then be brought forward before the start of next year's close season.

BSE

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what percentage of compensation paid in respect of animals slaughtered as BSE carriers has subsequently been discovered to have been paid in respect of animals which were not infected in each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement.

Mrs. Browning [Pursuant to his reply, 15 February 1995, Official Report c. 712 13]: The figure in the table for 1994 was incorrect, the correct information is as follows:


            |Percentage             

Year        |unconfirmed            

------------------------------------

1990        |15                     

1991        |14                     

1992        |15                     

1993        |16                     

1994        |<1>17                  

<1> Provisional figure.             

A2 Crash

Mr. Morley: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (1) how many sheep were being carried in the truck that crashed on the A2 on 8 February; how many died; and what were the causes of death;

(2) what was the intended destination of the sheep carried in the truck that crashed on the A2 on 8 February; what subsequently happened to the sheep that survived


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the accident; and how long they were in transit without food, rest and water.

Mrs. Browning: A total of 417 sheep, intended for export via Brightlingsea, were being carried in the lorry. About half of the sheep died of suffocation and six seriously injured animals were put down by veterinary surgeons called to the scene by the RSPCA. I understand that the RSPCA states that 184 or 186 carcases were removed for disposal. The surviving sheep were taken to a lairage about five miles from the scene of the accident, where they were placed under statutory notice requiring their resting feeding and watering. The sheep were inspected at 09.30 hours on the following day by the veterinary officer who had served the notice. He considered them to be in good condition and fit to travel to the exporter's home premises near Canterbury. So the restrictions were withdrawn and the sheep were permitted to return to their premises of origin.

European Quality Beef Promotion Scheme

Mr. Morley: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what was the amount and proportion of funding given to each member state from the European quality beef promotion scheme in each year since its inception.

Mr. Jack: Community funds approved to date under the European quality beef promotion scheme are as follows:


ECUs                                                        

Member state   |1993 approvals|1994 approvals               

------------------------------------------------------------

Belgium        |1,893,858     |0                            

Spain          |984,984       |379,855                      

Germany        |2,093,618     |675,395                      

France         |4,027,536     |0                            

Ireland        |2,574,653     |0                            

Italy          |1,421,956     |1,787,093                    

Netherlands    |1,119,546     |0                            

Portugal       |0             |126,618                      

United Kingdom |2,251,200     |1,075,066                    

In each case, Community financing represents 60 per cent. of the total cost of measures to promote quality beef.

Shoreham Port (Livestock)

Mr. Morley: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (1) what factors led to the turning away of livestock from Shoreham port on the morning of 15 February;

(2) what type of livestock animals were turned away from Shoreham port on the morning of 15 February; how many of them there were; what subsequently happened to them; what overall time they were in transit; what length of time they were travelling before getting rest, food and water breaks; how long these breaks lasted; how many breaks there were; and if he will make a statement;

(3) what information was available as to weather conditions on the morning of 15 February; what consideration was given to not transporting animals to Shoreham docks on that day; and if he will make a statement.

Mrs. Browning: Taking full account of the weather forecast on the day, the master of the vessel, in


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consultation with the Ministry veterinary officer on duty, decided not to sail on 15 February. The information was relayed to the police and the drivers of six vehicles that had arrived at the collection point outside Shoreham were informed.

The lorries returned to lairages in Kent and East

Sussex--respectively, approximately two hours' and one hour's travelling time from the Shoreham collection point. All journeys would have been well within the 15 hours rest, feeding and watering interval under United Kingdom legislation. The animals involved totalled 400 sheep and 668 calves. Prior to loading, the animals had at least eight hours rest and during that period were fed and watered. The animals remained in lairage overnight and were exported through Shoreham port on the following days sailing.

December Fisheries Council

Sir Teddy Taylor: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, pursuant to his answer of 18 January to the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), Official Report , columns 543-44 , what amount of additional financial aid was provided to Ireland at the December Fisheries Council meeting.

Mr. Jack: The amount of aid to be provided to Ireland was not specified in the agreement reached at the December Fisheries Council.

Specialist Calf Abattoirs

Mr. Morley: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will list the number of specialist calf abattoirs in Britain in (a) 1971, (b) 1974, (c) 1984 and (d) 1994.

Mrs. Browning: Information about the number of specialist calf abattoirs in the years concerned is not available. However, we believe that in 1994 approximately 45 abattoirs in England, Scotland and Wales handled calves, or had handled them in the recent past.

Veal Calves (Export)

Mr. Martlew: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many letters he has received in favour of the banning of the export of veal calves to the EU.

Mrs. Browning: In the past six months we have received more than 20,000 letters on the subject of the transport of live animals for slaughter or further fattening, a high proportion of which call for such a ban.

LORD CHANCELLOR'S DEPARTMENT

Legal Aid Certificates

Mr. Miller: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what plans has he to suspend legal aid certificates held by prisoners who have absconded.

Mr. John M. Taylor: Decisions in respect of civil legal aid in individual cases are a matter for the Legal Aid Board. It must consider whether, in the light of all the


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relevant circumstances, it is reasonable, within the terms of the Legal Aid Act 1988 and the regulations made under it, for an individual to receive, or continue to receive, civil legal aid. The fact that an assisted person is imprisoned and absconds is not, of itself, a specific ground for discharging a civil legal aid certificate.

Mr. Miller: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department if he will make a statement on the use by Roy Higginson of a current legal aid certificate after he absconded from prison.

Mr. John M. Taylor: Mr. Higginson was granted civil legal aid in 1989--before he was imprisoned--in order to pursue a claim in respect of damage caused to his house. That certificate continues in force and will continue for as long as Mr. Higginson continues to meet the criteria for the grant of civil legal aid as laid down in the Legal Aid Act 1988 and the regulations made under it.

Mr. Miller: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department how many escaped prisoners have current legal aid certificates.

Mr. John M. Taylor: The information requested is not available.

TRADE AND INDUSTRY

Consumer Credit

Mr. Riddick: To ask the President of the Board of Trade what action he proposes to take in respect of the Director General of Fair Trading's recommendation on consumer credit deregulation.

Mr. Ian Taylor: Our consumer credit legislation provides valuable and necessary consumer protection. That does not mean that it is perfect or unalterable. The Government share the director general's view that, while the basic framework has stood the test of time, some aspects of the legislation need to be changed.

The Government are minded to accept the director general's proposals for changes to the consumer credit legislation. However, the Government have not closed their mind to other options and we shall wish to pay particular attention to further information on the costs and benefits of what has been proposed.

The director general also proposed that some provisions of section 104 of the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 should be implemented and the necessary accompanying regulations made. Having considered this carefully, the Government have decided that they should not, at present, bring forward more regulations. However, they will keep the position under review and will reconsider the case for legislation should circumstances change.

The director general also recommended that we should not proceed with previously announced proposals concerned with tightening the rules on the marketing of consumer credit. The Government propose to accept this advice, but in this case we shall keep the need for additional measures under review.

The director general's report contains many proposals on consumer credit. It is not practicable to introduce them all at the same time. We shall given priority to the proposals on excluding lending and hiring to unincorporated businesses from regulation; revising the monetary limits and amounts in the legislation; restricting


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the statutory obligation to notify the director general about changes in the officers of businesses operating under standard consumer credit licences or among those in a position to control them; achieving greater fairness in the rebates to be paid if credit agreements are settled early; and with repealing the regulations on quotations. Other consumer credit deregulation measures will be brought forward in due course.

The Government wish to reiterate that the intention is to improve the legislation. By providing for consultation on the basis of detailed proposals, they expect that there will be ample opportunity for representatives of consumer interest, enforcement authorities and the credit industry to contribute to this process.


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