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25 Jul 1996 : Column WA147

Written Answers

Thursday, 25th July 1996.

Council of Europe: Russian Membership

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they consider that the accession of the Russian Federation to the Council of Europe is in accordance with the Vienna Declaration of 9th October 1993, which "presupposes that the applicant country has brought its institutions and legal systems into line with the basic principles of democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights".

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): The decision to admit the Russian Federation to the Council of Europe was a political judgment as well as a judgment on whether or not Russia qualified for admission in advance in accordance with the terms of the Vienna Declaration. In that sense admission was not achieved solely in terms of the Vienna Declaration. We considered that in Russia's case it was more likely to meet Council of Europe standards as a member of the organisation than if it was kept outside. Early experience suggests that Russia is making efforts as a member, along with others who use their membership to reinforce their commitment to democratic principles and human rights, to meet its obligations to the organisation.

Former Yugoslavia:Arrest Warrant Enforcement

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why the alleged war criminals Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic have not been arrested, despite the presence of 60,000 IFOR troops in Bosnia, and whether they consider that free and fair elections can be held according to the Dayton Agreement while these and other perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity remain at liberty, frustrating the establishment of the "politically neutral environment" which the agreement demanded.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: IFOR troops are under instructions to detain indicated persons (including Karadzic and Mladic) if they encounter them in the course of their mission, and as circumstances allow. IFOR is increasing its patrolling throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina in preparation for the national elections in September. As a consequence, indicated persons are now at greater risk of arrest.

No one expects Westminster-style conditions to prevail. We will continue to press the parties to ensure that sufficiently free and fair elections take place in September. But social conditions have already

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improved, and we expect further progress to be made before the elections. The parties must now ensure that no-one indicted of war crimes is in a position to undermine those elections.

Lords' Attendances

Lord Mason of Barnsley asked the Chairman of Committees:

    Whether he will institute a more effective system for recording Lords' attendances.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): Experiments are taking place to collate records of Lords' attendances automatically using OMR (Optical Mark Reader) technology and the Clerks have experimented with the use of a personal computer at the Table. To automate the actual recording of attendances in the Chamber, for instance by the use of smart cards, is not under consideration at this stage.

"Hansard" Reporters

Lord Mason of Barnsley asked the Chairman of Commitees:

    Whether he will ask the appropriate committees of the House to consider moving the Hansard Reporters from the floor of the House to a Gallery as in the House of Commons to create space for disabled Lords in wheelchairs.

The Chairman of Committees: The issue was discussed in the light of the temporary displacement of the Hansard reporters for the Disability Discrimination Bill. It was apparent from the experiment, which revealed difficulties of access for the disabled and an adverse impact on the Official Report, that the case for change had not been established.

Agriculture Council, 22nd-23rd July

Baroness Carnegy of Lour asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the outcome of the Agriculture Council held in Brussels on 22nd to 23rd July.

Lord Lucas: My right honourable Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food represented the United Kingdom at this Council. Unanimous agreement was reached on measures to reform the EU fruit and vegetable regime, and on agricultural prices and related measures for 1996-97. The Council also discussed recent developments on BSE.

Agreement on the reform of the fruit and vegetable regime after 18 months of negotiation represented a significant further step in the reform of the EU common agricultural policy. The outcome is consistent with the objectives of the United Kingdom in as much as the reformed regime will reduce significantly the role of withdrawal and destruction of produce as instruments

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of market support. United Kingdom fruit and vegetable producers will stand to benefit from the reform measures in so far as they provide funds to promote the better marketing and processing of horticultural produce, and protect the future of specialised producer groups which are characteristic of the United Kingdom market.

The 1996-1997 agricultural price proposals were also agreed on a basis satisfactory to the United Kingdom. In the arable sector, the Council agreed to fix the 1997-1998 rate of set-aside at 5 per cent. and to lift the possibility of penalty set-aside during that year. Set-aside arrangements are to be simplified through a merger of rotational and non-rotational set-aside at a uniform rate of 17.5 per cent. Separately, my right honourable friend obtained assurances from the Agriculture Commissioner that steps will be taken to permit the non-lucrative use of set-aside land by non profit-making organisations such as charities. We welcome this as a sensible rationalisation of the set-aside rules which responds to public concerns. The Council also agreed that monthly increments for cereals going into intervention should be cut, as well as sugar storage refunds. Aid rates in the flax sector are to be cut by 7.5 per cent. for 1996-1997 and a detailed examination carried out of future support arrangements for this sector on a non-discriminatory basis. An extension of the deadline for carryover of C sugar was agreed for the United Kingdom, a change which had been actively sought by the British sugar industry in order to reflect the longer processing campaign in the UK.

In the livestock sector, the Council placed particular emphasis on the need for urgent measures to help support the EU beef market this autumn because of continued difficulties in the wake of the BSE crisis; there will also be wider-ranging measures later in the year to reduce excess beef production and help producers adapt to changed market circumstances. The Council also committed itself to a reform of the milk regime with a review of the full range of options taking place in 1997. Mindful of the particular problems facing United Kingdom dairy producers faced with the accelerated cattle slaughter scheme as part of the BSE eradication programme, the Commission gave welcome assurances on the flexible operation of milk quota leasing up to the end of the milk quota year at 31st March 1997.

The Agriculture Commissioner confirmed that the costs of the prices package could be met within the agricultural guideline for 1996-97.

Linked to the agreement on prices, the Council agreed upon revised income aid rates for hops, a limited extension of transport subsidies for Greece, and an increase in Portugal's sugar quota. The Council also adopted by qualified majority (Spain abstaining) arrangements for implementing agreements under GATT Article XXIII and XXIV.6 in the rice sector. My right honourable friend was able to support these proposals. In addition, he obtained assurances from the Commission that early proposals would be made in respect of charges for pesticide evaluation and of uniform principles for authorising plant protection products.

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The Council also discussed the latest information regarding BSE. I have reported separately to the House on measures which we are taking in relation to sheep in the light of advice received from SEAC. My right honourable friend reported his intention in this regard to the Agriculture Council. The French Minister similarly informed the Council of certain health protection measures taken in France as a result of advice received from their equivalent scientific committee. The Council unanimously endorsed the Commission's view that the right way forward was to put all available scientific information before the appropriate specialist committee with a view to establishing common EU rules for the removal of certain tissues of ruminant animals from the human and animal food chain. My right honourable friend welcomed this approach.

Beef Producers: Compensation Payments

Baroness Carnegy of Lour asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How they would propose to allocate the 34 mecu of aid for UK beef farmers agreed by the Agriculture Council at its meeting on 24-26th June.

Lord Lucas: Agriculture Ministers have agreed to distribute this money to beef producers in respect of the number of adult clean cattle marketed in the period 20th March to 30th June for slaughter for human consumption. We plan to issue claim forms to producers in the week beginning 5th August and begin payments in late September. Payment will be at a flat rate per animal, to be set once the number of valid claims has been determined. Firm evidence that the animals concerned were on their holding before 20th March and were marketed for slaughter no later than 30th June will be required. In addition to the £29 million (34 mecu) available to farmers under this one-off measure, supplementary payments worth up to £81 million will be made to farmers who received Suckler Cow and Beef Special Premium for the 1995 Scheme years. I welcome the further assistance that will thus be given to hard-pressed beef producers.

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