Lord Stallard: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer. Is she aware that my Question was prompted by reports of an interview with the Secretary of State for Health on about 19th January when he said that he would welcome a change in the law to make early abortions easier to get? As we already know that he has the support of 16 out of 20 members of the Cabinet, we would be grateful for the Minister's assurance that the Government have no plans for a change in the law.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. The views expressed by the Secretary of State for Health were his personal views. The Government's position is as I stated in my Answer.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, as I have said, every noble Lord and every Member of Parliament is entitled to his or her personal views on the subject. If it came to a question of renewed legislation, I am sure that we would have animated discussions on the matter which the noble Earl has raised.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, it is difficult to say whether anybody would use abortion as a form of contraception. I suspect that for most women involved in a termination of pregnancy it is a difficult and often tragic decision to take and that probably, if
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, may I declare an interest as president of the Family Planning Association? Does my noble friend agree that the current provision of abortion services in the NHS is extremely variable in terms of access and quality? Does she see the new health improvement plans to be developed by health authorities as a way in which those services could be improved in the future?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, my noble friend is aware that one of our primary concerns in the NHS White Paper is to make more even the provision of all services across the NHS. I am aware that there are great differences in people's experiences in different parts of the country--not only with regard to abortion but in the whole area of reproductive health.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question on the Order Paper standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Clanwilliam. I have been specifically requested to do this. The House will wish to know that my noble friend was taken ill this morning, but he made arrangements for my name to be included on the Order Paper in due time.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. What steps are the Government taking to let consumers know about the Beef Assurance Scheme and to encourage the major supermarkets to use beef from the scheme?
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, the scheme is devised for a specialist niche market. It is for herds which are raised naturally. It is not the Government's view that it is appropriate for a major marketing exercise. It is for
Baroness Nicol: My Lords, did my noble friend happen to hear an item on this morning's "Today" programme which indicated that a junior researcher had identified a spongiform difficulty in cows in Kent 18 months before BSE was formally identified? If that report had been acted upon, would it have made the problem any less?
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I saw the report and I thank my noble friend for drawing it to our attention. Of course, what was reported occurred under the previous administration and we do not have access to the details. However, we are conscious of the terrible cost that has arisen--the cost to taxpayers, the most terrible trouble for farmers and many difficulties for a new regime inheriting the situation. That is why we set up the commission of inquiry under Lord Justice Phillips. I should like to encourage anyone who believes that he or she may have evidence which would be helpful in explaining the sad programme of events to submit it to the commission.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, I understand from the Minister's earlier reply that the scheme in question has no connection with the attempt to get the European ban lifted. What progress is the Minister making with the Commission? It is apparent to everyone apart from the Commission and its scientists that the precautions taken in this country probably make British beef the safest in Europe.
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, it is our view that the way to get the ban lifted is to demonstrate to Europe and the world what we believe; namely, that our beef is the safest in the world. For that reason we have introduced all the controls that have been introduced, not all of which have been popular with the noble Lord. We believe that that is the way to get the ban lifted. As the noble Lord said, the Beef Assurance Scheme had nothing to do with the ban; it was in existence to provide an extra market in the domestic market.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, is the Minister aware that according to the Algerian ambassador, who was good enough to see me for over an hour on Friday afternoon, the reason that the troika was not successful in persuading the Algerian authorities to invite the rapporteurs on torture and extra-judicial executions was their belief that a resolution of the Commission of Human Rights was necessary before any such invitation was issued and that they would go to the commission this year with a statement, following which it would be possible to discuss the terms and conditions of such a visit? Further, will the Minister seek to persuade the Algerian authorities that that is the wrong way round and in order to arrive at a conclusion on these dreadful massacres that have taken place the commission first needs the advice of the rapporteurs, and if they cannot visit Algeria they should seek to report to the commission on such evidence as is available from such exiles, journalists, and any NGOs with an interest in the matter?
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