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Spanish in Schools

Baroness Hooper asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Lord Henley): Information on the numbers of schools or teachers teaching Spanish in the United Kingdom is not collected centrally. Last year, nearly 40,000 school students were entered for GCSE or SCE standard grade examinations in Spanish in the United Kingdom.

Equal Opportunities Policy within EOC

Lord Stoddart of Swindon asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Henley: The Equal Opportunities Commission operates an equal opportunities policy and keeps it under review. An equal opportunity statement is placed in all advertisements for posts. The commission's recruitment practices are designed to ensure that no groups are unfairly excluded from applying for posts and that appointments are made solely on merit. The Government, therefore, see no need to institute any such inquiry.

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EOC: Gender Mix

Lord Stoddart of Swindon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in the interests of equity and good equal opportunities practice and reported evidence of increasing discrimination against men, they will re-constitute the Equal Opportunities Commission to provide that it has an equal number of men and women and that its chairmanship and vice-chairmanship rotate annually between a man and a woman.

Lord Henley: The Government have no plans to reconstitute the Equal Opportunities Commission or to alter its procedures as regards chairmanship in order artificially to introduce a different gender mix.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What method of appointment to the Equal Opportunities Commission has resulted in 10 women and three men being appointed to the commission.

Lord Henley: Members of the Equal Opportunities Commission are appointed according to the usual procedures and criteria for appointment of members of non-departmental public bodies, which have recently been updated. The criteria for fitness to be a commissioner include interests, knowledge and relevant experience. The chairman and latest deputy chairman were appointed as a result of open competition for the posts. The other commissioners were appointed following full consultation with appropriate bodies.

Iraqi Chemical Weapons:Destruction of Bunkers in 1991

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their response to the reports from the Pentagon that the contents of the bunkers at Kamisiyah in southern Iraq, destroyed by US troops in March 1991, contained chemical weapons, including sarin and mustard gas.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Earl Howe): The Iraqi chemical warfare capability was well known at the time of the Gulf War and has been subsequently confirmed by UN investigations. The incident at Kamisayah is being investigated by the US authorities, but it is understood that US troops involved were 5km from the bunkers when they were detonated. A preliminary study of the health of those involved shows that there is nothing at present to suggest they were exposed to chemical agents. No British forces were in the vicinity of the Kamisayah bunkers.

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Greenwich:Maintenance of Naval Connection

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to ensure that the Navy's centuries-long connection with Greenwich is maintained in the future and is not broken on account of the movement elsewhere of staff courses.

Earl Howe: Once Greenwich ceases to be a naval establishment, the continuing naval connection will be in the historical importance of the site. My right honourable friend the Defence Secretary announced on 28th March (Official Report, cols. 689-90) that he would expect a future trust "to pay particular regard to the college's historical associations with the Royal Navy". We intend that the naval heritage of the site should be given prominence in the objectives of a trust and that the trustees should include naval expertise. Various proposals have been made by the National Maritime Museum and others for the interpretation and celebration of the naval past of the site. It will be for a trust to take such ideas forward with interested parties. The historical association with Greenwich Hospital will be strengthened by the reversion of Trafalgar Quarters to the charity for conversion to sheltered accommodation in keeping with its founding objectives.

HMSO: Preferred Bidder

Lord Geddes asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When a preferred bidder will be announced for the sale of Her Majesty's Stationery Office (HMSO).

Earl Howe: Following the first phase of analysis of the bids for HMSO, the Government have invited three of the shortlisted bidders to continue in the competition. These are: an independent consortium backed by Mercury Asset Management, 3i and Capita; National Publishing Group, a consortium led by Electra Fleming; and Westminster Information Systems led by NatWest Ventures.

It is the Government's intention, subject to meeting the safeguards required by Parliament, to identify one of these three as preferred bidder by early August and to complete the sale as planned during the summer, when an order will be introduced under Section 6 of the Government Trading Funds Act 1973, as amended, to wind up the HMSO Trading Fund.

EU Programmes to Discourage Use of Tobacco

Lord Tebbit asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will list the activities and state the cost of European Union programmes to discourage the use of tobacco.

The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege): Most European Union actions to discourage the use of tobacco take place within the framework of the Europe Against

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Cancer Programme. Planned funding for actions to reduce smoking in a five-year action plan (1996-2000) totals 64 million ecu. In addition, the Community Fund for Research and Information on Tobacco has provided 5.54 million ecu for projects on the dangers of smoking.

West Coast Main Line: Upgrading

Lord Wade of Chorlton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they expect that work will begin on the upgrading of the west coast main line.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen): Options for the west coast main line upgrade are still being evaluated.

Railtrack expects to let the bulk of the contracts for work related to the renewal, involving the power system, track and infrastructure, in 1996. It has recently let two development contracts for a transmission-based signalling system.

Lord Wade of Chorlton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the upgrading of the west coast main line will bring it to a standard to allow speeds of up to 140 mph, so making possible a journey time of two hours between London and Manchester and four hours between London and Glasgow.

Viscount Goschen: This is dependent on the outcome of Railtrack's appraisal of the various options for upgrading the west coast main line. This appraisal is not yet complete.

InterCity West Coast Trains

Lord Wade of Chorlton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the contract for the franchise for the InterCity west coast trains will include the provision that the trains will be required to provide a journey time of two hours between London and Manchester and four hours between London and Glasgow.

Viscount Goschen: The terms of the InterCity West Coast Franchise Agreement are a matter for the Franchising Director to discuss with bidders for the franchise when invitations to tender are issued in due course.

British Beef: Import Restrictions by US, Hong Kong and Australia

Lord Harris of Greenwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When the United States, Hong Kong and Australia imposed any form of restriction on the importation of British beef and on what dates representations were last made to these countries concerning their policies.

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Lord Lucas: The United Kingdom had not received formal notification of restrictions on the importation of British beef from any of these countries prior to the export ban imposed by Commission Decision 96/239 on 27th March 1996. The United States of America, however, has not accepted imports of British bone-in beef since 1989. After 1989, negotiations concentrated on securing access to United States markets for boneless beef, and these were successfully concluded in July 1994 when an export health certificate was raised to accompany exports of boneless bovine meat and meat products to the United States of America. A copy of this export health certificate is enclosed and a copy has been placed in the Library. From August 1994 to March 1996 inclusive, some 6 tonnes of boneless beef and beef products, with a value of around £108,000, were exported to the United States of America as recorded in the Overseas and Trade Statistics. These data are provisional.

Negotiations continue on securing wider access to United States markets, although in regular discussions with representatives of industry the USA has not been identified as a priority market for the export of beef.

Hong Kong introduced an import ban on 28th March, the day after Commission Decision 96/239. The Hong Kong authorities have made it clear that the decision had been taken in the light of the Commission decision and specifically to restore confidence in the beef market in Hong Kong.

While Australia had not formally notified import restrictions on British beef before Commission decision 96/239, it only imported beef in the form of canned cooked meats and bovine meat in hermetically sealed containers. When an exporter finds a potential market he will obtain export health requirements from the country in question. These requirements are forwarded to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which raises the necessary export health certificate, provided that the requirements are reasonable, negotiating with the authorities in the importing country as required. The ministry therefore only becomes aware of import restrictions when a potential new market (product or country) is being explored. It has not been approached by exporters to agree export health requirements with the Australian authorities for the export of fresh beef or any beef products other than those already mentioned.

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