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House of Lords

Tuesday, 20th May 1997.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Hereford.

Several Lords--Took the Oath or Affirmed.

Flight Time Limitations

Lord Gainford: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. I declare an interest as president of the Air Safety Group.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what stage deliberations have reached within the European Commission and within the Joint Aviation Authorities on flight time limitations.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for the Environment and Transport (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, noble Lords will be aware that the Joint Aviation Authorities have developed a flight time limitations scheme. However, in early 1995 pressure arose from the European Commission and some member states to consider further the proposals in that scheme. The Commission subsequently formed a task force in August of last year. That task force has met a number of times. Organisations representing both airlines and crews were asked to submit proposals to the task force for discussion by May. The Commission has been asked to brief the European Commissioner for Transport, Mr. Kinnock, on progress in June.

Lord Gainford: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. Bearing in mind that in this country we have the Civil Aviation Authority, in what circumstances is it possible for that authority to act unilaterally should it be thought to be more effective than the Joint Aviation Authorities?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, at the moment the Civil Aviation Authority is the body within the United Kingdom with responsibility for safeguarding safety standards in this area. That position will continue. It is in the interests of passengers that there are widespread high levels of safety, but the position of this country has been and will remain that it will not compromise the safety standards already in place here under international agreements.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, does the Minister agree that there may be substantial benefits to the

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travelling public from harmonised flight time limitation standards provided those standards are high enough? What role does the Minister foresee for the European Commission in any future European safety authority?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Viscount's first point. I believe that it is important to understand that agreements like those negotiated by the JAA must be dealt with through the EU procedures in order to have force and a legislative framework both in this country and internationally.

Lome Convention: Future

2.46 p.m.

Viscount Waverley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they intend to support the principle of preferential access during negotiations on the successor to the current Lome Convention.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, alongside my noble friend Lady Symons I shall be replying on European Union issues in this House. The new Government regard the Lome Convention as a major part of the EU's policy towards development. Over half of the Lome countries are Commonwealth countries. The ACP includes some of the poorest countries in the world. We have a responsibility in both regards. The current (fourth) Lome Convention expires in March 2000. The EU is committed to opening negotiations on a successor by September next year. This means that the bulk of the work on the draft must be done under the UK presidency. The Government therefore have a special responsibility in this regard. Last November the European Commission issued a substantial Green Paper on the whole future and shape of the Lome Convention. The new Government will wish to consider all elements of the future relationship. Trade preferences are one very important aspect of the EU's existing relationship with its Lome partners. There are a number of other aspects. Our approach to the negotiations for a successor convention will be guided both by our existing commitments under Lome and the generalised system of preferences, which extends to other developing countries, and our strong desire to improve market access for all least developed countries as well as our commitment to multilateral trade.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, the noble Lord's response does not contain the positive message for which I hoped, but I certainly understand the Government's position. Nevertheless, will the noble Lord undertake to campaign for the undoubted benefits of transferability of quotas and be sensitive to the question of substitute crops in one-crop economies?

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Lord Whitty: My Lords, the transferability of quotas is not currently part of the Lome regime. It may well be a means of helping the producers of bananas and other crops. There is already a Commission proposal, supported by the previous Government and the present Government, to introduce an element of transferability but that has not been agreed by the Council of Ministers. It is not yet clear whether it will be so agreed. There is in any case the added complication that such arrangements must be compatible with WTO requirements. To respond to the general point raised by the noble Viscount, I hope that my earlier reply indicates that the Government regard this subject as of very great importance in relation both to our priorities in Europe and our relationships with developing countries.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, the noble Lord's reply was very positive. Can he say whether the Government view the renegotiation of Lome as a form of agreement with trade as a specific aim or whether they will widen the context to ensure that it is an agreement that targets the poorest nations?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I believe I have already said that although Lome deals essentially with preferences in trade it is also concerned with developmental and political relationships with the least developed countries in the world. We shall be looking at the whole context of our relationships in Europe and our own development policy.

The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, when the noble Lord is talking about the whole context, does he have also in mind the possibility of a common line within the Commonwealth of nations?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the Commonwealth nations' involvement in Lome is substantial. It is an area that we shall discuss with our Commonwealth partners.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, perhaps I may welcome the noble Lord to his new responsibilities. We much look forward to hearing what he has to say on the subject as we have enjoyed what he has had to say during his previous sallies in the House. Does he believe that when it comes to a competition between trade and aid the Lome arrangements could be used to ensure that, as far as possible, self-reliance will be used as a more effective way of encouraging prosperity in the Lome countries than purely the transfer of charitable aid?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the Government do not regard it as an either/or situation. It is true that under Lome development in some countries has not been sufficient to ensure self-reliance. In some countries there is too great a dependence upon particular crops. Nevertheless, aid and trade have a major role to play, and we shall continue to regard our relationships in the round both at European level and in bilateral terms.

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"Grand Theft Auto": Computer Game

2.52 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will take any action concerning the reported release for sale later this year of a new computer game entitled Grand Theft Auto.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, the Government are very concerned about violent computer games as is the public and the noble Lord who asked the Question. All computer games which encourage or assist in crime or which depict human sexual activity or acts of gross violence must be passed by the British Board of Film Classification, which can refuse classification. If there is a refusal that automatically makes their supply illegal. Grand Theft Auto has not yet been submitted to the BBFC for classification. I understand that it shortly will be.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. As this is the first occasion upon which he is speaking from the Government Front Bench, I congratulate him on his appointment and wish him well.

Is it true, as reported, that that game includes thefts of cars, joyriding, hit-and-run accidents, and being chased by the police, and that there will be nothing to stop children from buying it? To use current terminology, is that not "off-message" for young people?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for the courteous welcome that he gave me. This is the first Question that I am answering but not of course the last Question that he is likely to be asking.

I understand that the general description which the noble Lord attached to "Grand Theft Auto" is correct; but I should stress that it has not yet been submitted for classification. If it fails to receive classification, any supply would be unlawful. One has to bear in mind the vice of these computer games. They deal not just with the type of activity to which the noble Lord has referred but also with acts of gross violence. I heard a rumour that some transactions between Miss Widdecombe and Mr. Howard were going to be translated into a video game, possibly entitled "A Touch of Darkness".

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