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Mr. Wilkinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what the results were of the recent EU and People's Republic of China human rights dialogue with regard to Tibet; and if he will make a statement. [114260]

Mr. Battle: The last round of the EU/China Human Rights dialogue took place in Lisbon on 25 February. The Presidency called on the Chinese Government to enter into a dialogue with the Dalai Lama on the future of Tibet, and raised the case of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the Dalai Lama's choice as Panchen Lama; restrictions on freedom of religious expression; and the preservation of the Tibetan cultural identity. They also called for better access to Tibet for non-governmental organisations and journalists. The EU/China discussions did not, however, lead to concrete results: specifically, the Chinese gave no commitment on a dialogue with the Dalai Lama, nor on access to Gedhun Choekyi Nyima whose parents, they stated, did not want to expose him to media attention.

EU Ministers will review the human rights dialogue and the situation in China, including Tibet, at the General Affairs Council on 21 March. At our most recent round of bilateral talks on human rights, it was agreed that the All Party Group could visit Tibet.


Mr. Winnick: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what approach was made to him by the makers of the ITV television programme shown on Monday 6 March on Iraq; and if he will make a statement. [114170]

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Mr. Robin Cook: John Pilger asked me to appear in the programme. My officials offered him a ministerial interview to be broadcast at the end of the programme to respond to the points raised. He refused.

During the programme itself, Pilger claimed this meant I was seeking editorial control. On the contrary, I was not prepared to allow him to edit my right of reply.

The TV companies are required to provide balanced coverage. It is normal practice for programmes to provide a right of reply when broadcasting criticisms of government policy. Though I am unsurprised, I regret that Pilger and Carlton TV were not prepared to do so.

Mr. Winnick: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what is the latest policy of Her Majesty's Government towards sanctions on Iraq. [114171]

Mr. Hain: The UN Security Council resolutions provide the framework for the Government's policy on Iraq and sanctions. Our position has always been that sanctions can be lifted only when Iraq complies with its obligations under those resolutions, including disarmament. The latest resolution, SCR 1284, which the UK was key in driving through the Security Council, sets out a clear path towards the lifting of sanctions, by allowing for their suspension while the disarmament programme is underway. I urge Saddam Hussein to accept it.


Farmed Sea Bass

Ms Atherton: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the labelling of farmed sea bass. [113079]

Mr. Morley: The Food Safety Act 1990 and the Food Labelling Regulations 1996 generally require that labelling should not falsely describe a food or be likely to mislead as to its nature, substance or quality. These provisions are to be supplemented by new European rules, which come into force on 1 January 2002. These will specifically require an indication of the production method (caught at sea or in inland waters or farmed) to be given for all fish offered for sale to the final consumer. They will also have to indicate the agreed sales name for the species and, in the case of sea fish, the catch area.

Genetically Modified Seeds

Mr. Swayne: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what genetically modified seeds he plans to add to the National Seed List; and if he will make a statement. [111967]

Ms Quin [holding answer 7 March 2000]: Applications for the addition of plant varieties to the National List are considered against the requirements of the Seeds (National Lists of Varieties) Regulations 1982 (as amended) which implement EC directives. These regulations require that varieties must be distinct, uniform and stable (DUS) and, for agricultural species, have a value for cultivation and use (VCU) in the UK. Before genetically modified plant varieties may be proposed for addition to the National List, Ministers also require that a

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marketing consent has been promulgated under Directive 90/220/EEC on the Deliberate Release into the Environment of Genetically Modified Organisms, and, where appropriate, authorisation has been given under the Novel Foods Regulation, No. 258/97/EEC.

Ministers are currently considering making a proposed decision about the addition to the National List of a genetically modified forage maize variety (CHARDON LL). The variety in question has completed the normal two years of National List tests and trials, and the trait involved has a marketing consent under Directive 90/220/EEC and an authorisation under the Novel Foods Regulation No. 258/97/EEC. As required under the National List regulations, once a proposed decision has been made by Ministers, it will be published in the Plant Varieties and Seeds Gazette together with the procedure for making representations against such a proposed decision.

However, the Government's recent agreement with SCIMAC (representing the seeds, farming and biotechnology industries in the UK), precludes the general commercialisation of GM maize until 2003 at the earliest, subject to the results of the UK farm-scale evaluation programme.

Ministerial Meetings

Mr. Matthew Taylor: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on how many occasions ministers in his Department have held meetings with ministers and officials of the Irish Government since 17 June 1999, indicating the dates and locations, the ministers involved, and the names of the Irish ministers and officials at each meeting. [113089]

Mr. Nick Brown: There have been no formal meetings between MAFF Ministers and Irish Ministers since 17 June 1999. Informal contacts have taken place in the margins of EU Agriculture Councils, on 19 July, 15 November, 14 December 1999 and 24 January 2000, and Fisheries Councils on 26 October, 22 November and 16 December 1999.

Drift Nets

Mr. Paul Marsden: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will list by coastal area the number of (a) dolphins, (b) whales and (c) basking sharks caught by coastal drift nets within six miles of the UK coast for each year since 1992; and if he will make a statement. [113274]

Mr. Morley: This information is not available. Inshore drift nets are not considered to represent a significant threat to these species.


War Pensions

Mr. Crausby: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many people are in receipt of war and war widows' pensions in (a) Bolton, North-East parliamentary constituency and (b) Bolton. [111579]

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Mr. Bayley: The administration of war pensions is a matter for the Chief Executive of the War Pensions Agency, Mr. Gordon Hextall. He will write to my hon. Friend.

Letter from Gordon Hextall to Mr. David Crausby, dated 8 March 2000:

    I am sorry to advise you that this precise information is not readily available and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost. The war pensions computer system does not separate details of war pensioners into Parliamentary constituencies or local authority areas.

    However, the computer system does provide statistics showing the numbers of war disablement pensioners and war widows resident in Welfare Office regions. Pensioners and widows living in Bolton fall within the Preston welfare region, which also covers Blackburn, Preston, part of Wigan and some parts of Greater Manchester.

    The statistics held for the area that includes Bolton are:

    War disablement pensioners--6953

    War widows--858

    If I can be of further assistance then please do not hesitate to contact me.

Funeral Expenses

Mr. Pond: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what is the average length of time taken between receipt of invoice and payment of funeral expenses by the Social Fund. [113634]

Angela Eagle: The administration of benefits is a matter for Peter Mathison, Chief Executive of the Benefits Agency. He will write to my hon. Friend.

Letter from Peter Mathison to Mr. Chris Pond, dated 10 March 2000:

    The Benefits Agency (BA) does not record the date of receipt of funeral invoices in connection with claims for funeral payments, as an invoice or bill is not required in every case. For example, applications made in advance of the funeral may be determined using a "contract" between the customer and the Funeral Director.

    We do however collect information about length of time taken from the date the application is received in the office to the date a decision is issued. This data does not distinguish between decisions making a full award, a partial award or a refusal. The Performance Indicator for Funeral Payments is that 90% of applications should be determined within 35 days. For the period April 1999-February 2000 BA received 62,557 Funeral Payment applications. 60,411 (96.57%) of these applications were determined within 35 days.

    I hope this is helpful.

Mr. Pond: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will estimate the cost of increasing the amount allowable for funeral expenses under the Social Fund to (a) £800 and (b) £1,000. [113632]

Angela Eagle: The Social Fund Funeral Payment scheme aims to cover the reasonable cost of a simple, dignified funeral. Therefore, under current legislation, where an eligible person is deemed to have good reason for taking responsibility for funeral expenses, the scheme allows for the fees levied by the burial authorities and crematoria (in so far as it is necessary to incur them), specified travel expenses and up to £600 for any other

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funeral expenses. If this £600 for other funeral expenses were to be increased to £800 or £1,000, it is estimated that the net programme expenditure would increase by £7.4 million and £12.8 million respectively.

Mr. Pond: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what proportion of applications to the Social Fund for funeral expenses are refused (a) in whole and (b) in part. [113633]

Angela Eagle: Statistics compiled so far for 1999-2000 indicate that of the total number of claims made to the Social Fund for Funeral Payments, 37 per cent. are wholly refused and 56 per cent. result in a partial award.

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