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Written Answers

Tuesday, 2nd July 1996.

Nuclear Weapon Free Zones

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What internationally designated nuclear-free zones exist; whether further such zones are proposed; and whether the nuclear powers have all undertaken not to use nuclear weapons against countries in such zones.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): The Latin America Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (NWFZ) was established in 1967 by the Treaty of Tlatelolco; the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone in 1985 (Treaty of Rarotonga); the South East Asian NWFZ in 1995 (Treaty of Bangkok); and the African NWFZ in April 1996 (Treaty of Pelindaba).

Other possible NWFZs which have been subject to recent UNGA resolutions include zones in South Asia and the Middle East. In line with the Principles and Objectives document agreed at the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference, the UK supports the establishment of nuclear weapon free zones on the basis of arrangements freely arrived at among the states concerned.

Under the existing NWFZ treaties, signatories within the zones undertake not to develop, manufacture, acquire or possess nuclear weapons and those Nuclear Weapon States which have ratified the relevant protocols undertake not to use or threaten to use nuclear explosive devices against them. All five Nuclear Weapon States have ratified the relevant protocols to the Treaty of Tlatelolco and signed those to the Treaty of Rarotonga. The UK, US, France and China have signed the relevant protocols to the Treaty of Pelindaba. In adhering to these protocols, the UK has made clear that we will not be bound by our undertaking in the case of an invasion or other attack on us, our dependent territories, our allies or a state to which we have a security commitment which has been carried out or sustained by a party to one of the treaties in association or alliance with a Nuclear Weapon State. France has stated that the protocols will not undermine its right to self defence as recognised in Article 51 of the UN Charter.

BBC World Service

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will ask the BBC not to make fundamental changes in the operations of the Overseas Service until both Houses of Parliament have had a full opportunity to consider and debate the restructuring proposals made by the Director General.

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Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: We have received assurances from the BBC that the quality of World Service programmes will be unaffected by the proposed new arrangements, that clear separation between the grant-in-aid funded World Service and the BBC's other activities will be maintained, and that we shall be fully consulted on the implications of the proposals for the World Service so that the World Service continues to meet its obligations under the Agreement.

Contaminated Land: Capital Grants to Local Authorities

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What arrangements they have made in regard to the allocation of capital resources for local authorities to tackle contaminated land in 1996-97.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Earl Ferrers): We have today written to 44 local authorities and waste disposal authorities informing them of the Secretary of State for the Environment's intention to issue Supplementary Credit Approvals (SCAs) of nearly £7.4 million for 1996-97 in respect of capital expenditure on 83 new projects to deal with contaminated land problems.

This makes a total of £14.1 million being made available under the contaminated land SCA programme this year, as the Department of Environment has already written to 35 authorities about making SCAs of £6.7 million in respect of 94 on-going projects from previous years and two new projects.

Since its inception in 1990-91, this programme has provided some £67 million of SCAs for work to be undertaken on contaminated sites.

The SCA programme for contaminated land is aimed at tackling problems on sites in local authority ownership or where they have responsibility to take action and cannot recover their costs. The department operates an assessment and prioritisation procedure to ensure that the available funding goes to projects representing the greatest threat to health or the environment.

Residential Provision for People with Learning Disabilities

Lord Swinfen asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have received the results of the evaluation of different types of residential provision for people with learning disabilities which they announced on 19th December.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege): We have received the report of the first phase of the evaluation and we are considering the recommendations, including those for further work in this area. The report includes information which will be helpful to

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commissioners of services for people with learning disabilities, and copies are therefore being sent to health and local authorities and other interested organisations. Copies of the report have been placed in the Library.

CJD in Young People

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the BSE Advisory Committee has considered alternative links between the cases of CJD in young people, such as exposure to toxic chemicals used in agriculture or domestic situations and, in particular, combinations of toxic chemicals, or exposure of their mothers to toxic chemicals during pregnancy.

Baroness Cumberlege: On current data, and in the absence of any credible alternative, the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee's (SEAC) advice is that the most likely explanation is that Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease in young people (18 years and over) is linked to exposure to Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy before the introduction of the Specified Bovine Offals ban in 1989. The Chairman of SEAC has also said that "other causes are possible, and we are continuing to try to identify possible candidates".

Legal Aid System Reform Proposals

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they intend to publish their conclusions on the reform of the legal aid system in England and Wales.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern): I have today published a White Paper, Striking the Balance, which sets out the Government's policy for the reform of legal aid in England and Wales. Copies of the White Paper are available in the Printed Paper Office.

Cancer Incidence in the Farming Community

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the incidence of soft tissue sarcoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in the farming community for each year since 1985; and how this compares with the incidence among the general population.

The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish): The information is not available in the form requested. A detailed analysis of cancer incidence and occupation data (which are sparse and of variable quality) was published in Chapter 7 of Occupational Health, Decennial Supplement, OPCS Series DS No. 10; a copy is in the House Library.

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Veterinary Laboratories Agency: Targets

Lord Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What targets have been set for the Veterinary Laboratories Agency in 1996-97.

Lord Lucas: My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has set the Veterinary Laboratories Agency the following strategic performance targets for 1996-97:

    Financial performance

    full cost recovery for all Veterinary Laboratories Agency services; to comply with budgetary controls resulting from the public expenditure survey and the supply estimates;


    an overall efficiency gain of 3 per cent.;

    Service Delivery

    85 per cent. of ROAME R&D milestones achieved;

    Service Quality

    achievement of a satisfactory report from a Visiting Group;

    achievement of laboratory accreditation for Bacteriology Department (salmonella and E. Coli serotyping) and Analytical Chemistry Unit (extension of the scope of accreditation to include additional tests).

Details of performance in 1995-96 will be set out in the agency's Annual Report and Accounts to be published during July 1996.

BSE: Scientific Consensus

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether "consensus of scientific opinion" is an accurate or reliable indicator of scientific truth and whether, in the absence of incontrovertible evidence as to the cause of BSE, any such consensus is an adequate substitute.

Lord Lucas: Scientific theories cannot be proved to be true. Science is all about accumulating evidence to test the adequacy of theories, to refine theories or to disprove theories. All that can be said about any theory (even the most widely accepted) is how well it explains all the currently available evidence, and how good it is at predicting events. A subsidiary but important concept is that of Occam's razor, that a theory should involve no more than the minimum number of assertions.

The strength or weakness of a theory essentially relates to the extent to which it explains the facts, not to the number of people who adhere to that theory. Nevertheless, in the absence of an absolute arbiter, a general consensus of views of those scientists and experts who have studied the subject and have weighed up the evidence for and against the various theories is an important factor for the Government to take into account in determining their policies.

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