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29 Feb 1996 : Column WA107

Written Answers

Thursday, 29th February 1996.

Grenada, Dominica and Solomon Islands: Loans

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    On what dates Grenada, Dominica and the Solomon Islands first went into arrears with repayments of United Kingdom aid loans; on what dates new commitments of financial aid to those countries were suspended, and whether they will publish a table showing the sums of money disbursed to each of those countries since those dates, listing in the case of each disbursement the previously existing contractual commitment under which it was made.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): The dates on which Grenada, Dominica and Solomon Islands first went into arrears with repayment of United Kingdom loans were as follows:

    Grenada: 1st October 1991

    Dominica: 1st December 1992

    Solomon Islands: 21st April 1991

It is ODA's normal policy not to make new capital aid funds available to countries in arrears on aid loans. In the case of Dominica, therefore, disbursement of a £5 million allocation announced in 1993 was made subject to payment of loan arrears. However, as an exceptional measure, and in recognition of the effects of a severe hurricane in 1995, £200,000 was committed for a Community Development Programme in January 1996 after clearance with the Treasury. In the case of Grenada, the only new grant agreement signed since the date of arrears was for £465,000 in July 1994, also for a Community Development Support Grant. In the case of the Solomon Islands no new grant agreements have been signed, apart from one for £180,000 signed in May 1991 very shortly after the Solomon Islands fell into arrears.

Disbursements to Grenada, Dominica and Solomon Islands under previously existing Grant/Loan Agreements since the date of first default were as follows:-

    Grenada Loan 1985

    1991/92: £473,246

    1992/93: £826,204

    1993/94: £437,520

    1994/95: £156,660

    1995/96: £23,150

    Grenada Coastguard Facility Grant 1986

    1991/92: £109,183

    1992/93: £33,500

    1993/94: £6,909

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    Dominica Loan 1987

    1992/93: £41,757

    1993/94: £29,444

    Dominica Grant 1990

    1992/93: £1,004,487

    1993/94: £1,897,132

    1994/95: £105,042

    Solomon Islands Scholarship Grant 1989

    1991/92: £35,326

    Solomon Islands Baunani Grant 1990

    1991/92: £38,867

    Solomon Islands Electricity Grant 1990

    1991/92: £86,006

    1992/93: £80,654

    1993/94: £38,599

Flea Collars: Child Safety

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether cat and dog flea collars impregnated with organophosphates or carbonate pesticides which are stated to be effective for several weeks are considered to be safe in the presence of young children who are likely to handle their pets.

Lord Lucas: All veterinary medicines are required to be considered against the statutory criteria of safety, quality and efficacy before a marketing authorisation can be issued. Safety in this context includes the animal and those who might handle the product. The product types referred to have all been assessed against these criteria, and have been authorised for use in accordance with the instructions and warnings on the product packaging. For organophosphate and carbonate based flea collars, the warnings include keeping the collar out of reach of children and not allowing them to play with it. It is the responsibility of the pet owner or parent to ensure that these warnings are followed. In any case of doubt, advice on alternative treatments should be obtained from a veterinary surgeon.

Greece: Control of CAP Expenditure

Lord Pearson of Rannoch asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether it is the case that the European Commission has attempted to justify to the European Court of Auditors the "complete lack of inspection visits" for the control of ewe premium paid in two Greek prefectures on the grounds of "localised bandit activity", and if so, what sums are involved and what action do they propose to take.

Lord Lucas: I can confirm that the European Commission has said that no inspections were carried out in two Greek prefectures in 1991 for the reason

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stated. Under EC budgetary rules on the financing of the common agricultural policy, the Commission has the power to impose financial corrections when it cannot verify that expenditure in a member state has been carried out in compliance with Community rules. Costs are not charged to the EC budget but fall to national exchequers. For 1991, the Commission made a correction of about £0.4 million on ewe premium payments in Greece due to inadequate controls on expenditure. In total, Greece was subject to financial corrections amounting to 10 per cent. of its total CAP expenditure. Commission Decisions on the 1992 clearance of accounts are expected this year. I understand that they may include a correction of £0.6 million in respect of ewe premium expenditure because of inadequate controls and that the total correction for Greece could again be near 10 per cent. of its CAP expenditure.

Agriculture Council, 26th February

Lord Brougham and Vaux asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the outcome of the Agriculture Council held in Brussels on 26th February.

Lord Lucas: The Council had a first discussion on the 1996 farm price proposals. The UK regretted that the Commission had not taken this opportunity to propose a move towards the more market orientated CAP which their recent report had recognised was inevitable for the longer term. In particular, the UK regretted the failure to address the over-compensation of the arable sector which resulted from high Community and world market prices for cereals and unchanged area payments.

The Council also discussed Commission proposals on the use of hormones and so-called beta agonists in livestock farming. Most member states remain opposed to any use of hormones and, with few limited exceptions, beta agonists. The UK stressed the desirability of avoiding the adoption of a policy which would run serious risks of adverse judgments in the World Trade Organisation. However, this approach was supported only by Spain and the Netherlands. The President announced that he expected to take final decisions at the next meeting in March.

The Commissioner outlined his proposals to improve the welfare of calves used for veal production. The UK welcomed the proposal but criticised the proposed 12-year transitional period as being much too long.

Arable Area Payments

Lord Brougham and Vaux asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they have taken to strengthen the regional organisation following the delays experienced in 1995 in payments under the arable area payments scheme.

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Lord Lucas: With the aim of avoiding any such delays on this or other schemes, and despite a general reduction in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's running costs budget of over 5 per cent., the regional organisation (which makes payments under the arable area payments scheme) will benefit from an increased level of provision for the financial year 1996/97 compared with the current year. Various improvements in information technology and in management procedures are also in train.

Multi-media and Information Technology

Lord Brougham and Vaux asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How they intend to ensure that the United Kingdom derives maximum benefit from opportunities in developments in multi-media and information technology.

The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne): The Government see the development of multi-media and information technology as an exciting area of opportunity for the UK in which much is already being achieved. These technological innovations are having an important impact on all aspects of our way of life. In the future there will be further opportunities for business to develop new products, services and ways of working; for individuals to adapt their work patterns; for consumers to improve their quality of life with new electronic products and services; and for the providers of services such as health care, education and training to strengthen their quality and delivery.

The Government have been committed to the comprehensive development of these technologies since the early 1980s. By freeing up the market for our telecommunications and broadcasting industries through privatisation and deregulation and promoting the use of computers in schools we have made sure that the UK is in the vanguard of technological change. We are now undertaking a further range of initiatives, most recently through the Information Society Initiative launched last month.

A strong lead is rightly being given by the private sector's enterprise and initiative. That will continue to be supported by a focused and complementary partnership with Government. In order to reinforce that focus and driving force across Government, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has asked the First Secretary of State and Deputy Prime Minister to convene a Ministerial Group with the following terms of reference:

"To identify and take forward significant cross-departmental initiatives to ensure that developments in information technology are exploited to the full in the national interest."

In addition to the chairman, members of the group will be as follows:

    President of the Board of Trade

    Chief Secretary, Treasury

    Secretary of State for National Heritage

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    Secretary of State for Education and Employment

    Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. David Davis)

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Science and Technology, Department of Trade and Industry (Mr. Ian Taylor).

Other Ministers will be invited to attend for items of which they have a departmental interest. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister's Efficiency Adviser and Chief Scientific Adviser will also attend.

The work of the group will build on the Information Society Initiative and the separate activities of the Central Information Technology Unit recently set up in the Office of Public Service to plan the Government's own use of technology. By these means the Government will ensure that there is strengthened stimulus and co-ordination within and beyond government to enable the UK to derive maximum benefit from the new technology.

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