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Lord Molloy: My Lords, will my noble friend encourage local authority teachers to take their pupils to these libraries to show what a school can offer and to enable the children to understand that libraries form an important part of their education?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, my noble friend's question underlines the importance of the school library service run by local authorities. If schools sign up to their school library service, there will be an opportunity for collaboration between schools and, when appropriate, visits to other schools and their libraries.

The Earl of Carlisle: My Lords, although the Minister's first reply was promising, and although this

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Question deals with children, there are many young people in detention centres or who are disabled. Will our library facilities be available for these groups who most need them?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I know that I ought to know the answer to that question but I do not know whether the library service in detention centres is run by the Prison Service or whether it is run by the education department. I shall have to find that out and write to the noble Earl.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, will the noble Lord inform the House how the Government will use the annual library plan which has just been published to ensure that local authorities improve their books, in particular children's books?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, local authorities have a statutory duty to provide a public library service, which of course includes the maintenance of book stocks and of children's book stocks. However, it has proved extremely difficult-- I do not think that it will ever prove possible--to specify by law what the exact standard of a library service should be. That is why there are so many local complaints--at least in my area--about the closure of libraries. Any plan which encourages local authorities to increase library expenditure is very welcome.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that more children would be encouraged into libraries if we had more serialisation of books on the radio? Is it not a tragedy that the BBC is planning to phase out the book serialisation, already a meagre half-hour a week, from Radio 4?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I myself am a hot media man. I like to read things rather than hear them or see them in the McLuhan sense. I do not have personal sympathy with what my noble friend says. However, I understand that for many people having a book serialised and read out is valuable. I am quite sure the BBC will take account of what my noble friend says.

Beef Industry: Assistance

3.30 p.m.

Lord Monro of Langholm asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to relieve the current difficulties of the United Kingdom beef industry.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue): My Lords, since taking office the Government have pressed vigorously in Brussels for the lifting of the export ban and for the adoption of European Union-wide measures to ensure that beef produced in Europe is subject to the same strict controls as that produced in the United Kingdom. The Government are currently

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considering how and whether further support can be offered to this hard pressed sector, given the constraints both of European Union rules and of limited UK financial provision.

Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, I declare an interest as a farmer and thank the noble Lord for his reply. Does the Minister understand how serious the situation is at present for beef and hill farmers? They expect a lead from the Government. Will the noble Lord be able to help through the livestock grants or compensation to the green pound? Finally, can the Minister say firmly that British beef is the best and that there is no worry about safety whether it is on or off the bone?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, yes, we believe that, given the current controls including the latest ones we have introduced, British beef is safe. We are of course aware of the sufferings of those sections of the farming community. They are not backward in coming forward, I may say, to make their feelings felt. We are looking at whether it is possible, and in what way it would be possible, to assist. But the noble Lord will be aware of the enormous assistance--£1.4 billion a year--that already goes to the beef sector. That is paid for by the British taxpayer.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is the Minister aware that not only the farmers but also the British public are completely and utterly confused and bewildered as to what is going on in relation to beef and now lamb? Is it a fact that the risk factor from eating beef off the bone is 600 million to one? Is it also a fact that as regards lamb and lamb cutlets there has been no case of CJD related to BSE? Indeed the scientists are unable to find a link. Is it not awful that people in this country should be frightened and farmers' livelihoods affected by such junk research? Are these people vegetarians who are trying to impose their way of life on all of us?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I do not know whether they are vegetarians. When I took office The Times accused me of being a vegetarian. We have taken the measures on beef because our top priority is the safety of the public. We received advice from the official advisory committee that there was a risk. It is one thing to sit feeling inconvenienced because one cannot order one's T-bone steak. However, when a Minister is confronted with the risk that someone will die, he takes the decision from a different point of view. The Minister acts from the precautionary principle. He decided that he was not prepared to risk people's lives.

On lamb, the noble Lord refers to a report from an advisory committee in Europe. No decisions have been taken in Europe. The evidence was considered by our advisory committee which reported to Ministers that it

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saw no reason for action. So British lamb is safe, and, as my right honourable friend said, there is no reason not to eat British lamb.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, do the Government foresee the export ban being lifted first from Northern Ireland, given its system for tracing individual animals and the very low incidence of BSE in Northern Ireland?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I visited Northern Ireland. We are aware of the circumstances there and the fact it has the lowest incidence of BSE. Northern Ireland has a cattle traceability scheme. Responding to the Florence Agreement, we submitted two proposals to try to get the beef ban lifted. One is the certified export scheme. That is for herds certified free of BSE. But the Europeans require full traceability. If they agree the scheme would apply mainly to Northern Ireland until our cattle traceability scheme is up and running which should be in the late spring. Our second proposal is a born-after date scheme. If we can get that accepted, it would be of benefit to the whole of the United Kingdom.

Lord Geraint: My Lords, I am sure the Minister is well aware that beef producers' profits are down by 40 per cent. this year. What does the Minister envisage will happen next year?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, on the figures before us, the squeeze on virtually all sectors of the farming community will be severe. We do not have the figures for the near future. That is why I have said that we shall look at ways in which we can help within the constraints I have stated. However, I should point out that other sectors of the economy suffer and they do not always expect to be bailed out.


3.38 p.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m. my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that has been made in another place on the White Paper, Freedom of Information.

I should like to take this opportunity to remind the House that the Companion indicates that discussion on a Statement after the end of the Minister's initial reply to the Opposition spokesman should be confined to,

    "brief comments and questions for clarification".

There is a mandatory limit of 20 minutes from the end of the Minister's initial reply to the Opposition spokesmen.

Social Security Bill

Brought from the Commons, read a first time, and to be printed.

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Liaison: Select Committee Report

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the first report from the Select Committee be agreed to (HL Paper 39).--(The Chairman of Committees.)

Following is the report referred to:

Future Committee activity

1. The Committee's First Report, Session 1996-97, recommended the re-appointment of the Committee on the Public Service in the new Parliament, on the understanding that it should complete its work by Christmas 1997. We have therefore considered whether another ad hoc Committee should be appointed after that Committee has reported to the House, but we have decided to defer a decision until the new year. This will enable us to take account of any proposals which may have emerged by then.

The European Union budget

2. We have considered the suggestion, made during Starred Questions on 4 November (Official Report, cols. 1317 18), that an additional Select Committee might be appointed to examine the European Union budget and perhaps other aspects of European Union expenditure.

3. We understand that the difficulties encountered by the European Communities Committee in scrutinising the annual budget proposals arise from the tight timetable, allowing little time for scrutiny, and that this problem is being actively pursued by the Committee, in particular in correspondence with Treasury ministers. We consider that it would serve no useful purpose to appoint a separate Committee. Nor would it be right to set up an additional Sub-Committee of the European Communities Committee, when only a year ago the number of Sub-Committees was increased from five to six for an experimental period of two years.

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