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Agriculture Council, Brussels, 20 May

Lord Eatwell asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Donoughue: My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food represented the United Kingdom at the meeting of EU Agriculture Ministers held in Brussels on 20 May. He was accompanied by the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Scottish Office, Lord Sewel.

My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food informed the Council of Ministers of the priority which the United Kingdom Government attaches in the field of food and agriculture to protecting the health and well being of the consumer and the environment. He also made clear his intention to work constructively with our European colleagues to bring about a lifting of the ban on UK beef exports in accordance with the Florence Agreement, and to achieve further reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.

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The Council unanimously adopted an important animal welfare measure concerning the protection of animals during transport, specifically the introduction of Community-wide criteria for staging points. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food welcomed this proposal, but drew attention to the concerns of the United Kingdom, shared by Ireland and Denmark not to jeopardise the high health status of breeding pigs when in transport and thus damage a valuable trade. The Council at his insistence agreed a declaration requesting the Commission to examine the possibility of special measures to deal with this issue, and to report to the Council as soon as possible.

The Council also discussed the serious situation facing the EU beef market, and in particular the adequacy of the early marketing and calf processing schemes in reducing excess production. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food stressed the urgency of bringing forward far-reaching proposals for reform of this sector, including reductions in support prices, and emphasised the distorting effects which these schemes were having on the UK market in particular. He pressed the Commission to review them as quickly as possible. In response, the Commission presented a detailed analysis of the current situation and prospects for the EU beef and veal market, and undertook to report further on the early marketing and calf schemes as a matter of urgency.

The Commission reported on its negotiations with third countries, in particular the United States, for the conclusion of veterinary and plant health equivalence agreements. My right honourable Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food urged the Commission to resolve outstanding matters with the United States as rapidly as possible.

In the margins of the Council of Ministers, my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food held bilateral discussions with Commissioner Bonino and with several EU Ministerial colleagues. As the first member of the new Government to visit the European Parliament, he also took the opportunity to hold talks with a number of MEPs, including Pauline Green, leader of the Parliamentary Group of the Party of European Socialists, and with the Chairmen of the Agriculture Committee and the Temporary Committee inquiring into BSE. They discussed the UK

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Government's priorities for agricultural policy, and the particular issue of BSE.

CAP: Payments

Lord Lucas asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they consider that payments to United Kingdom farmers under the common agricultural policy should be proportionately greater for smaller farms.

Lord Donoughue: The Government intend to seek reforms to the CAP not to redistribute production subsidies but progressively to phase them out, thereby bringing the policy closer to market realities.

Quota Hopping

Lord Lucas asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress they hope to make at the Intergovernmental Conference on quota hopping.

Lord Donoughue: Tackling the quota hopping issue is a top priority for the Government and we shall be looking to make real progress by the conclusion of the Intergovernmental Conference.


Lord Sefton of Garston asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in the light of the lifting of the ban on the growth of industrial hemp, it is their policy to encourage its growth; and what support, in the form of grants or otherwise, they will give to those who are growing it.

Lord Donoughue: Hemp for industrial use has been produced in the UK under Home Office licence since 1993. MAFF's policy is to encourage the development of renewable raw materials, including hemp, where these have the potential to become economically viable. Work on hemp includes research and action to encourage the development of industrial markets. The common agricultural policy regime for hemp provides area payments to hemp growers, worth £645.99 per hectare in 1996. Projects to develop the industrial use of hemp may also qualify for assistance under other schemes, such as the Challenge for Agriculture Scheme in Objective 5b areas.

Prisoners: Housing Benefit

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will review current arrangements for housing benefit for prisoners.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): The Government have no plans at the

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moment to review existing arrangements for housing benefit for prisoners.

Freedom of Information: Legislation

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they intend to introduce a bill on freedom of information.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: A Bill will be introduced when a full consultation process has taken place. To this end, the Government will shortly be setting out in a White Paper our proposals for freedom of information. We then hope to publish a draft bill, for consultation, early in the new year.

Broadcasting of Religious Advertising: Prohibition

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

    Whether they will consider restoring the prohibition against the broadcasting of religious advertising.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The prohibition previously applying to all broadcast religious advertising was only removed subject to various safeguards. Such advertising must comply with codes determined by the broadcasting regulators. It must not be used to expound religious doctrine, denigrate other beliefs, play on fear, or target young or vulnerable people. Advertising may not be broadcast on behalf of bodies which practice or advocate illegal behaviour, or whose rites or other forms of collective worship are not normally directly accessible to the general public. Broadcasters are, moreover, free to refuse to carry any religious advertising if they so wish. The Government will continue to keep this area under review, but has no current plans to restore the prohibition.

Millennium Exhibition: Sponsors

Lord Sefton of Garston asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will ensure that the names of the sponsors of the Millennium exhibition will be made public before any lottery grant is given.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Lottery money for the Millennium Exhibition is being channelled through the Millennium Commission, which is independent of the Government. The Millennium Commission has already made grants for the Millennium Exhibition. The Exhibition operating company, Millennium Central Ltd., has made good progress in its negotiations with

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sponsors, but feels it would be inappropriate to name the companies involved while negotiations are ongoing.

Royal Opera House: Funding

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are the dates, amounts and uses of commitments made by lottery funds to the Royal Opera House, and what are the sources and amounts of matching funds so far committed.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The Arts Council of England announced on 20 July 1995 that it had agreed to provide an initial National Lottery grant of £55 million, plus a possible further £23.5 million, to the Royal Opera House Covent Garden development project. Both grants were approved subject to certain conditions. The Arts Council agreed on 19 March 1997 that those conditions had been met and confirmed the full grant of £78.5 million.

Of that amount, £16.5 million has so far been released in staged payments. These monies have been used to fund both the capital development at Covent Garden and some of the extra costs incurred as a result of the need to mount productions elsewhere during the closure period.

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The sources of matching funds for the redevelopment are the Public Appeal Fund, launched in December 1996, and the realisation of retail development on the site worth upwards of £35 million. The appeal has so far raised over £60 million towards its target of £100 million.

Tate Gallery of Modern Art

The Earl of Clancarty asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will take steps to ensure that public admission to the future Tate Gallery of Modern Art at Bankside (excepting admission to special, temporary exhibitions) will be free at all times.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The Government are concerned about the introduction of admissions charges in national museums and galleries, and are undertaking a review of the practice However, the decision on whether to introduce admissions charges is and will remain one for the board of trustees of each national institution to take. It is for the trustees of the Tate Gallery to decide, in the context of their statutory objectives, whether admissions charges should be levied at the Tate Gallery of Modern Art at Bankside.

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