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Working Time Directive and the Fishing Industry

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue): The Government have consulted the fishing industry on the proposals set out in the European Commission's White Paper on Sectors and Activities excluded from the Working Time Directive. The industry's views will be carefully considered in drawing up the Government's response to the White Paper.

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Agriculture Councils

Baroness Lockwood asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the outcome of the Agriculture Councils held on 22 to 23 September 1997 in Brussels and on 20 to 21 October 1997 in Luxembourg.

Lord Donoughue: My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food represented the United Kingdom at meetings of the European Union Agriculture Council on 22 to 23 September and 20 to 21 October. He was accompanied at the October Council by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Scottish Office, Lord Sewel.

At the September Council, EU Agriculture Ministers followed up their informal discussions of early September on the Commission's proposals to reform the common agricultural policy which have been made as part of Agenda 2000. On this occasion, discussion focused in particular on rural development, environmental and structural policy. Member states reaffirmed the importance of an active rural development policy to assist the transformation of European agriculture; there were however differences of view in the Council on the funding of rural and structural measures in the future. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food stressed the importance to the United Kingdom of setting the proposals on rural development clearly in the context of changes to the market mechanisms of the CAP, on which the Commission's Agenda 2000 proposals represented an important first step. He also emphasised the need to foster alternative rural enterprises as the source of new employment possibilities in the countryside in the future.

The Council of Ministers also heard reports from the Commission on progress in negotiations on veterinary and plant health equivalence agreements with third countries; and noted the Commission's intention to lodge an appeal in the WTO dispute concerning hormones in beef. In a brief discussion of BSE, my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food reported to the Council the steps he has taken in the United Kingdom, both legislative and administrative, to tighten up our measures to counter illegal exports of beef and beef products from the UK. These were welcomed in the Council.

My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food pressed the Commissioner and the Presidency to provide an early opportunity for the Council to discuss the present state of the beef market, on a basis of the Commission's promised report, to decide whether the short term market adjustment schemes agreed in 1996 were working effectively.

My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food also raised in the Council the UK's serious concerns about the impact of the recent WTO Appellate body ruling on the EU bananas regime in so far as it affects access by ACP Caribbean banana producers to EU markets. He urged the Commission to reach a rapid and equitable solution to the problems flowing from the WTO ruling which

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would not only respect WTO obligations but would allow the EU to meet its commitments to the ACP and in particular to Caribbean trading partners under the Lome agreement.

At the October Agriculture Council, discussion concentrated on the market reform proposals contained in Agenda 2000. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food argued for the removal of production controls in the form of quotas and compulsory set aside and for a lowering of support levels to bring EU prices closer to world market prices and that transitional arrangements should begin soon. The Council will resume its discussion on this crucial issue in November. A letter from the President of the Agriculture Council to the President of the European Council on employment policy in rural areas was approved by Ministers.

In a debate on the Commission's report on the beef and veal markets, my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food expressed doubts about the efficacy of the early marketing scheme for veal in reducing production on the EU market, and urged the Commission to make a further cut in the premium paid under the calf processing scheme. The Council reached political agreement upon changes to the system of support for producers of durum wheat. Under the compromise which was agreed by qualified majority (Greece, Sweden and Denmark opposing), the additional aid paid for durum wheat in traditional producing areas was reduced, and the maximum area eligible for aid in each member state determined: 5,000 hectares will be eligible in the United Kingdom.

The Council discussed the Commission's green paper on the general principles of food law in the EU, in which my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food emphasised the UK Government's commitment to attaining very high levels of food safety. The Council also took note of Commission reports on genetic resources, BSE, and the state of play on veterinary and plant health negotiations with third countries.

Northern Ireland Border Areas: Return to Vacated Property

Lord Eames asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What financial provision, support and encouragement they contemplate for those wishing to return, as part of the current peace process, to homes and property they had been forced to vacate in border areas of Northern Ireland.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs): Under Sub-Programme 6 of the EU Special Support Programme for Peace and Reconciliation, Fermanagh District Partnership has agreed in principle to award £10,000 to "Fear Encouraged Abandoning Route." FEAR, a not for profit company, seeks to support and encourage those contemplating a return to homes and property which they were forced to vacate in the border regions of Fermanagh.

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