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House of Lords

Thursday, 23rd February 1995.

The House met at three of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Peterborough.

War Crimes Act 1991: Cost

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What has been the cost to public funds of the administration of the War Crimes Act 1991.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): My Lords, costs to the end of the last financial year were £5.2 million.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Does she agree that that is a shocking waste of taxpayers' money which could have been better expended, for example, on improving war widows' pensions?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, on a number of occasions Parliament has determined that these cases should be pursued. As long as that is done the money must be available for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to carry out their work.

Lord Wyatt of Weeford: My Lords, does the Minister agree that were there only one person guilty of these foul war crimes it is right that he should be brought to justice and the money expended?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, it is true that they were terrible crimes. The principle which underpins the Act of Parliament is that there should not be a time-bar on searching out criminals, particularly murderers.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister confirm that although it appears from the Official Report of the other place of 12th January that the funding of this unit is to end on 31st March the investigations are going to continue just the same?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, it is true that specific funding for the unit will end on 31st March, but as long as there is a possibility of evidence being made available then those cases will be pursued.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone: My Lords, am I right in believing that since the passing of the Act no proceedings have emerged into a trial?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, that is true. Perhaps I may bring the arithmetic up to date. Out of 369 cases investigated by the Metropolitan Police crimes unit, the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute in 239 cases, in 112 instances the subject having died.

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Eighteen investigations remain with the police and the CPS is considering whether seven cases, with their evidence, should be prosecuted in court.

Lord Acton: My Lords, is the Minister aware that in 1989 the Hetherington-Chalmers inquiry reported three key cases with a realistic prospect of conviction? Is she further aware that on 11th March last year the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, wrote to me saying that one of those cases had been abandoned through lack of evidence and that a second case had been abandoned because the suspect had died? As regards the third case, on which this entire edifice is based, can the Minister say whether that case too has been abandoned? If not, can the Minister say whether a realistic prospect of a conviction in that case remains?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am not able to give a definitive answer about the specific case mentioned by the noble Lord. I shall write to him. It may well be that it is one of the seven cases under consideration at the moment. It must be a matter for the Crown Prosecution Service and the recommendations made by the Director of Public Prosecutions to the Attorney-General as to whether a case should be pursued. It must then be a matter for the courts to determine whether the evidence can be sustained.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, as regards the 18 remaining cases, can the Minister say what are the ages of the eldest and youngest person under investigation?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I believe that the eldest is 83 years of age and the youngest 67 or 68.

Viscount Caldecote: My Lords, can my noble friend say how long these investigations are going to be allowed to continue?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, as long as necessary.

Cheeses: EC Directive

3.12 p.m.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they regard the future of the British cheese making industry, and in particular small cheesemakers, as secure in view of European legislation which forbids the sale of cheese containing listeria.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earl Howe): My Lords, the EC directive in question allows member states to grant traditional products an exemption from the listeria standard. The Government will be taking full advantage of this. For non-traditional cheeses, guidance to environmental health officers will make it clear that enforcement action should be based on risk assessment and public health judgments, not on end product testing

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alone. The Government are confident that British cheesemakers, irrespective of size, will not be adversely affected by the new rules.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for that reply which may come as some solace to our larger cheesemakers. However, will my noble friend the Minister agree to meet the representatives of our cheesemakers, particularly the Association of Specialist Cheesemakers, so that there is a clear understanding of the nature of the derogation which is being applied for and that any information required from the cheesemakers to support the application can be made available in good time?

As regards my noble friend's point about environmental health officers operating this directive in an appropriate way, can my noble friend therefore give the House an assurance that those officers will not behave in future as they are behaving at the moment in Clydesdale against Mr. Humphrey Errington and his Lanark Blue cheese, whom they are happily planning to put out of business tomorrow even though that cheese has never caused the slightest tummy-ache to anyone?

Earl Howe: My Lords, my noble friend asks a number of questions and I believe that I can reassure him on all of them. Cheesemakers and other processors with a throughput of less than 300,000 litres of milk per year are eligible for a derogation from the requirements of the directive in respect of buildings and equipment. More generally, we have already consulted all sides of the dairy industry, including the small cheesemakers, on our proposals for implementing the directive. There is recognition that the Ministry has made every effort to interpret the directive in a way which minimises the burden on small businesses.

There will be a code of practice under the Food Safety Act 1990 for use by local authorities. There will also be guidelines to ADAS who are responsible for registration and inspection. Drafts of these documents were circulated as part of the public consultation on our implementing regulations during the autumn. In addition, a large number of environmental health officers will have attended Department of Health and MAFF training seminars on the regulations.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is it not rather disquieting that British cheesemakers, who have been making some of these cheeses for hundreds of years, should now find themselves subject to a derogation from Brussels before they can carry on making those cheeses? Will British cheesemakers be able to invent new cheeses in the future without begging permission from Brussels? Should not that be a matter for subsidiarity, and, if not, why not?

Earl Howe: My Lords, the measure is perhaps not as earth shattering as the noble Lord likes to suggest. The directive is needed essentially to harmonise milk hygiene standards throughout the Community. That is a laudable objective. It is essentially a single market measure. As to new cheeses, our approach will be that if a new cheese comes forward for registration we shall take that forward immediately to the Commission and

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seek to have it registered as a traditional product. Our approach throughout this exercise has been to assemble as extensive a list as possible of traditional cheeses. We believe that that is the right way forward so as to minimise any possible uncertainty within the industry.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone: My Lords, what is or are listeria? What is their relevance to public health?

Earl Howe: My Lords, listeria is a bacterium which occurs in a wide variety of environmental situations. It can cause severe illness in certain vulnerable groups of people, including pregnant women and the elderly. However, the incidence of listeria as a condition is rare. There are only a few dozen cases a year. On the other hand, when it does occur it can be serious, and it is something that needs special attention in the context of milk hygiene.

Baroness Seear: My Lords, when this new cheese is taken to the Commission, is the permission to be granted only in relation to health considerations and not whether it likes the taste, the smell, the colour or anything else? It is simply a matter of health. Is that correct?

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