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12 Nov 1997 : Column WA27

Written Answers

Wednesday, 12th November 1997.

Seismic Event, Kara Sea

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What information they have about the CIA's report some weeks ago of a Russian nuclear weapons test in the Arctic.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): It is for individual governments to announce their own assessments. We believe that the seismic event in the Kara Sea in northern Russia on 16 August was an earthquake measuring about four on the Richter Scale.

Democratic Republic of the Congo: Assistance to Refugees

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they will take, bilaterally and with the EU, to persuade the Democratic Republic of the Congo to rescind the ban on the UN High Commissioner for Refugees' operations in North and South Kivu; and how many refugees from DRC still remain to be repatriated from Tanzania.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: On 9 September 1997, Mrs. Ogata, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, suspended UNHCR activities in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on the grounds that DRC actions had made it impossible to carry out their protection mandate. On 5 October the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo issued an order expelling UNHCR from North and South Kivu. Implementation of the expulsion order in South Kivu is uncertain, and UNHCR are seeking written clarification of the situation. We have given full support bilaterally, through the EU and in the UN, to UNHCR efforts to fulfil their mandate in the DRC. At this stage, however, UNHCR regard the negotiation of their re-entry to the country as their own responsibility. A new draft Memorandum of Understanding has been prepared, which UNHCR are currently discussing with the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

UNHCR estimate that the original number of DRC refugees in Tanzania was 74,000. Of these, 35,000 had registered for repatriation and 7,000 had been repatriated to the Democratic Republic of the Congo before the suspension of UNHCR operations.

Cattle Traceability System

Lord Graham of Edmonton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress has been made in establishing a cattle traceability system for Great Britain.

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The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue): We are continuing to make good progress towards getting this system in place. My honourable friend the Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food announced to the House on 30 July that the organisation responsible for administering the system, the British Cattle Movement Service, (BCMS), will be based in Workington, Cumbria. He also announced subsequently that BCMS will take over responsibility for cattle passports. There are now two further developments to report.

First, the Government consider it very important for there to be as much reporting of cattle movements to the new cattle traceability database by electronic mail as possible. This should reduce the paperwork burden on businesses which move large numbers of cattle, such as livestock markets and abattoirs. To help such businesses, we are issuing a protocol today for them to follow in order to communicate with the database by e-mail. Copies are being sent to all livestock markets and abattoirs in Great Britain. We very much hope that markets and abattoirs will invest in the relatively small changes needed to their IT systems over the next few months. This work needs to start now if it is to be completed by the time the new computerised system goes live in 1998.

Second, the Government have decided to charge for the cattle traceability system via cattle passports. Farmers applying for cattle passports will pay a fee which will cover the costs of the new computerised system. This follows consideration of a wide range of alternatives, including charging on the basis of the number of movements for which a business is responsible, charging via eartags, charging at slaughter and charging via an annual registration fee for cattle producers. Charging via passports was chosen because it should be easy to enforce, since cattle without passports cannot go for human consumption. Because it is simple, administrative costs will be kept down, so benefiting industry directly. The fee is expected to be in the range £5 to £10 per animal. The livestock industry will be involved in how this method of charging will be implemented, for example through its representatives on the Project Board which is managing the introduction of the computerised system.


Lord Morris of Castle Morris asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What they propose to do to make quangos more open, accountable and effective.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The Government are determined to make quangos more accountable for what they do, more open in how they do it and more effective in achieving their aims. My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has today announced the publication of the consultation paper "Opening up Quangos", which builds on the valuable work done by the Committee on Standards in Public Life under Lord Nolan's chairmanship.

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These proposals mark a new phase in opening up quangos to public scrutiny and making them more accountable to the people they serve. The Government's devolution policy will help to bring quangos in Scotland and Wales under the proper level of scrutiny that a modern democracy demands. Our purpose is the same for public bodies which operate on a United Kingdom or Great Britain basis, or an England or England and Wales basis. The proposals in the consultation paper will help to achieve this.

Copies of the consultation paper are being widely circulated and placed on the Internet, as well as in the House Libraries. Copies will also be made available in the Printed Paper Office. The results of the consultation exercise will be taken into account in the preparation of the Government's White Paper on Better Government, due to be published next year.

My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has also announced today the publication of The Executive Non-Departmental Public Bodies 1997 Report, which summarises for the first time the main objectives and achievements of the larger executive non-departmental public bodies, charting their performance against key targets. This is the first of a series of annual publications that will develop in detail and coverage in future years and improve measurement of the performance of public bodies.

Ministers' Letters to Newspapers

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the recent record of Ministers in writing frequently to newspapers is consistent with paragraph 102 of the Ministerial Code which says that Ministers "are advised not to engage in controversy in the correspondence columns of either the home or overseas press" except to correct serious errors or misstatements of fact, when such letters should be brief.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Ministers have a duty to explain government policies to the public. If these are being misconstrued in the media it is wholly consistent with paragraph 102 of the Ministerial Code for the record to be set straight.

Cabinet Office Committees

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

    Further to the Answer of Lord McIntosh of Haringey given on 27 October (WA 230), what are the reasons for withholding information about the terms of reference and membership of the Cabinet Office official committees which investigate issues, assemble material and present options for ministerial decisions.

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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The reason is to avoid the risk of politicisation of the Civil Service by publicly associating civil servants with specific policies.

Unemployment Comparisons

Lord Acton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the rate of unemployment in May 1997 in (a) the United Kingdom; (b) Canada; (c) France; (d) Italy; (e) Japan; (f) the United States of America; (g) Germany; (h) the former West Germany; and (i) the former East Germany.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The information requested falls within the responsibility of the Chief Executive of the Office for National Statistics. I have asked him to arrange for a reply to be given.

Letter to Lord Acton from the Director of the Office for National Statistics, Dr. T. Holt, dated 12 November 1997.

I have been asked to reply, as Director of the Office for National Statistics, to your recent question on the rate of unemployment in May 1997 in various countries.

Figures based on the internationally recognised International Labour Organisation (ILO) definition of unemployment provide an appropriate basis for international comparisons. The ILO measure of unemployment, as derived from the Labour Force Survey, defines somebody as unemployed if they are: (a) without a job at the time of interview; (b) were available to start work in the two weeks following their interview and (c) had either looked for work in the four weeks prior to interview or were waiting to start a job they had already obtained. The ILO unemployment rate gives the number of the ILO unemployed as a percentage of the economically active.

Standardised unemployment rates are published monthly by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). These rates are calculated by taking the latest available ILO measure from each country's Labour Force Survey and projecting the results forward using recent movements in their particular administrative measure (the claimant count in the case of the UK).

The data requested are shown in the attached table. Data for the former West and East Germany are not available.

Seasonally adjusted standardised unemployment rates May 1997

Rate (per cent.)
United Kingdom7.2
United States of America4.8

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