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25 Jul 1997 : Column WA185

Written Answers

Friday, 25th July 1997.

Northern Ireland Peace Policies

Lord Tebbit asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the cause of peace has been advanced by their policies since 1 May.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs): Yes. The Government have sought to do everything possible to advance the achievement of a lasting settlement through dialogue among all the political parties in Northern Ireland who are committed to exclusively peaceful methods. We have reaffirmed our commitment to the fundamental principle of consent. With the Irish Government we have put forward proposals on decommissioning which provide a basis upon which the multi-party talks could move on to substantive negotiations in early September. We have taken steps to establish whether Sinn Fein are prepared to make the transition to democratic politics and join in the talks process. We welcome the declaration of a ceasefire; we shall over the next six weeks carefully assess its quality.

Conservation Areas: Demolition Consent

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether conservation area consent is no longer required unless the complete or substantial demolition of a building in a conservation area is proposed?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): Whether works are for demolition or alteration is a matter of fact and degree in each case. It is our understanding of the law that conservation area consent is only required for complete or substantial demolition.

"Family": Definition

Lord Tebbit asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How they define the word "family" when used by Ministers in relation to social, taxation or economic policies.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: This will normally be made clear by the particular context in which the word "family" is used.

Freedom of Information Legislation

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

    Whether they will have regard to the provisions of the Irish Freedom of Information Act 1997 in

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    preparing their proposals for similar legislation in the United Kingdom.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Yes. In developing our proposals for freedom of information legislation we shall look at the experience of a number of countries, including the Republic of Ireland.

Cabinet Responsibility and Policy Announcements

Lord Hooson asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they accept the traditional view of Cabinet responsibility, and what steps they have taken to change procedures particularly in relation to the announcement of their policies.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: As regards collective Cabinet responsibility, the answer is, yes. As regards announcement of policies, the Government seek to ensure that the reasons for, and basis of, their policies are clearly understood and available to the public.

Prescription Charge Comparisons

Lord McColl of Dulwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In view of Baroness Jay of Paddington's statement of 19 June 1997 (H.L. Deb., Col. 1346) that prescription charges today are 28 times more expensive than they were in 1979, whether they will express prescription charges as a percentage of the total expenditure on the NHS, for each year since 1949, when the principle of a prescription charge was first introduced.

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Baroness Jay of Paddington): Full United Kingdom data on the proportion of National Health Service expenditure net from prescription charges are not readily available for the period prior to 1987-88. The following table shows the proportion for the period 1987-88 to 1995-96, the latest year for which full data are currently available. It also includes an estimate of the proportion in 1953-54, the first full year after the introduction of prescription charges in 1952, and in 1978-79.

YearIncome from Prescription Charges as a percentage of NHS Expenditure (UK)
1953-541.5 (estimated)
1978-790.4 (estimated)

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Electronic Smog

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action, if any, they intend to take to investigate the phenomenon of electronic smog from the perspective of public health.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: The Government obtain advice from the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) on the risks to health of exposure to electromagnetic fields and radiation--referred to by some as "electronic smog".

The NRPB's advice is based on its own research and careful assessments of published scientific studies by its Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation under the Chairmanship of Professor Sir Richard Doll, the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation and the World Health Organisation.

Advice on limiting exposure to electromagnetic fields and radiation can be found in Documents of the NRPB--Board Statement on Restrictions on Human Exposure to Static and Time Varying Electromagnetic Fields and Radiation, Volume 4, No. 5, (1993). Copies were placed in the Library.

Anti-Smoking Summit

Lord Stoddart of Swindon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many people attended their Anti-Smoking Summit (ASS) on 14 July; how many persons and organisations present are in receipt of government subsidy or other public support; what was the total cost of the event; and which persons or organisations were present to represent the 15 million people in the United Kingdom who smoke legally.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: A total of 313 delegates attended the Anti-Smoking Summit on 14 July. At least 50 of the organisations represented by those attending are likely to be in receipt of central or local authority support. Further detail could only be available at disproportionate cost. The cost of the event was £55,748.00 (excluding value added tax). The Office of National Statistics findings (ONS (97) 182) show that 69 per cent. of current smokers say that they would like to stop smoking. The summit was held to examine options for reducing smoking, controlling tobacco consumption and helping those who want to stop smoking to do so. A wide range of interests were represented at the summit--from the media, business, the arts, and sport, to the medical professions and health charities. Also present were representatives of interests likely to be affected by the Government's manifesto commitment to ban tobacco advertising. In addition, national and international experts in tobacco control were asked to examine in detail the options for reducing smoking by pooling their knowledge and experience on what strategies work in practice. The conclusions of the summit will inform the development of a White Paper, to be published later in the year. The White Paper will set out in full the Government's plans for

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legislative and other action to reduce smoking prevalence and tobacco consumption.

Cattle Tracing: Computerised System Development

Lord Gregson asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What proposals they have for a computerised cattle traceability system.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue): We intend to introduce such a system as soon as we can. Work is now under way, including discussions on detailed points of implementation with the livestock industry.

BSE: Report

Lord Glenamara asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will place in the Library of the House a copy of the latest progress report on bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

Lord Donoughue: A further report on BSE in Great Britain was placed in the Library of the House today.

The report outlines the measures which have been taken to protect public health since November 1996, including the Government's proposals for a new Food Standards Agency and the consultation on new proposals for legislation on specified materials from sheep and goats, specified bovine materials in imported beef, and scrapie. It summarises the results of action to enforce existing public health measures, and outlines the action which has been taken on cattle traceability. An update on the number of cases of nvCJD is included.

There is a section on the protection of animal health covering the controls on animal feed and the selective cull.

The European perspective is reported in a section covering progress towards lifting the export ban, the European Parliament Temporary Committee of Inquiry, Commission proposals on Specified Risk Materials and recent Commission reports.

The epidemiology section shows that the epidemic of BSE in the UK continues to decline. The number of clinically suspect cases of BSE reported in Great Britain has continued to fall and at 30 June 1997 was 56 per cent. less than at the same time in 1996 and 70 per cent. less than at the same time in 1995. A continued improvement is expected for the future.

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