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Genetically Modified Organisms

Mr. Baker: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list the occasions since 1 September 1998, when (a) he, (b) his advisers and (c) staff in the Cabinet Office have (i) received communications from and (ii) had discussions with (1) representatives of the US Government and (2) companies with a commercial interest in the development of GMOs, in respect of genetically modified organisms, indicating the nature of such communications and meetings. [57703]

The Prime Minister [holding answer 2 November 1998]: I, Ministers, advisers and other civil servants receive representations from and meet many people in the course of their work. This properly includes meetings with representatives from foreign governments and with interest groups outside Government. By convention it is not the practice of governments to make information on such meetings or their content publicly available.

The Government's position on GMOs was explained on 21 October 1998 by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment to the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Communities, Sub-Committee D. Ministers have made it

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clear that public health and the protection of the environment are the Government's first priority on GMOs. On the same day I announced the establishment of a new Cabinet Committee to oversee developments in the area of biotechnology.


Mr. Colvin: To ask the Prime Minister (1) if he will make a statement on the proposed transfer of political powers from Her Majesty's Government to the WEU; [57918]

The Prime Minister: This was an informal meeting of the Heads of Government at Portschach, in preparation for the full European Council in Vienna, at which a broad range of issues were discussed. No formal decisions were taken.

I refer the hon. Member to the Answer I gave today, Official Report, column 473, to the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. Trend). The Government have not proposed to transfer political or military powers to the WEU.

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Mr. Trend: To ask the Prime Minister (1) if the proposals set out by Her Majesty's Government at Portschach on the establishment of a closer EU defence formation included extension of qualified majority voting; [58010]

The Prime Minister: This meeting of the Heads of Government was an informal meeting in preparation for the full European Council in Vienna, at which a broad range of issues were discussed. No formal decisions were taken.

At the meeting, I made clear my wish to see Europe examine ways of developing its defence identity. I did not put forward any detailed proposals and did not propose the extension of Qualified Majority Voting. The Government have not distributed any documents to other Member States of the European Union on closer defence co-operation. I stressed that NATO should remain the foundation of collective security. I made clear it that the starting point for discussion should be the 1996 Berlin decision on the European Security and Defence Identity and the Treaty of Amsterdam.

Animal Experiments

Mr. Nigel Jones: To ask the Prime Minister if he will establish a Royal Commission to review the effectiveness of and justification for animal experiments. [57875]

The Prime Minister: The Government are committed to ensuring that animals are used in scientific procedures only where this is fully justified. Furthermore, we are working to ensure that the highest possible standards of animal welfare are implemented.

We have, for example, already announced:

    an end to the test of cosmetic products on animals;

    that we are exploring the possibility of extending this ban to cover cosmetic ingredients--in the meantime, no new licences to test cosmetic products or ingredients have been issued since May 1997;

    a ban on the use of animals to test tobacco or alcohol products;

    that further funding has been secured to increase the complement of the Inspectorate from 18 to 21, seven new inspectors recruited to fill these and other vacancies;

    that, through the European Commission, we are putting pressure on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to delete the LD50 test from its list of regulatory safety tests;

    that ethical review processes will be required in all establishments from April 1999;

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    a ban on the use of Great Apes (gorillas, chimpanzees, pygmy chimpanzees and orang-utans);

    that the use of ascitic animals in monoclonal antibody production will be phased out; and

    an increase to the number of animal welfare experts on the Animal Procedures Committee.

We have not ruled out a Royal Commission. The Government believe, however, that it is best to use the available resources to make immediate improvements to the operation of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 until such time as we are able to make a considered judgment about the merits of such a proposal.

Civil Servants

Mr. Salmond: To ask the Prime Minister (1) what changes have been made to the arrangements for pre-election contacts between senior civil servants and opposition parties since the evidence by the then Head of the Civil Service to the Treasury and Civil Service Committee on 27 November 1985; [57954]

The Prime Minister: The current arrangements for pre-election contacts between senior civil servants and Opposition parties do not differ significantly from those in place in 1985. The only substantial change since 1985 was agreed after the 1992 General Election to take account of the fact that, under our electoral arrangements, it is only the last possible date for the next General Election that is known in advance. At the suggestion of the then Leader of the Opposition, the then Prime Minister agreed that it should be possible for such contacts to take place from 16 months before the 1992 Parliament would complete its maximum five-year term. Previously, contacts had been allowed to begin in the last six months of a five-year Parliament, an arrangement which was considered to have precluded effective contacts before the 1983 and 1987 General Elections.

The format for such contacts remains essentially the same as that set out by the then Head of the Home Civil Service in 1985. The purpose of the meetings is to allow Opposition parties to inform themselves of factual questions of departmental organisation and to inform senior civil servants of any organisational change of Government. Such meetings are confidential on both sides. These were the arrangements governing all contacts in the run-up to the 1997 Election.

Task Forces

Mr. Burstow: To ask the Prime Minister if he will make it his policy to require all task forces and equivalent bodies to publish their working papers and minutes on the Internet. [57774]

The Prime Minister: The Government encourage greater openness of public bodies, wherever practical and appropriate. The extent to which the records of any specific task force or review group are published or placed on the Internet is a matter for the relevant sponsoring Department.

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Inter-ministerial Committees

Mr. Burstow: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list each of the inter-ministerial committees, indicating (a) when it was established, (b) who chairs it and (c) the frequency of its meetings. [57775]

The Prime Minister: I refer the hon. Member to the Answer I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke) on 21 October 1998, Official Report, columns 1123-35.

Council of Europe (50th Anniversary)

Mr. Flynn: To ask the Prime Minister what proposals he has to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Council of Europe. [56917]

The Prime Minister: We intend to mark the 50th anniversary of the Council of Europe in London on 5 May 1999 with an evening reception in St. James's Palace where the Statute was signed. We shall invite key representatives of the Council of Europe from Strasbourg and from foreign Governments, as well as a broad range of people from UK organisations most closely involved in Council of Europe activities. My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor will also be making a speech in the Palace of Westminster on the same day. We have separately invited Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede to chair the UK National Committee which will organise other events independently of Government.

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