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Agriculture Council, 16-17 February

Lord Howell asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Donoughue: My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food chaired the second meeting under the United Kingdom Presidency of the European Union Council of Agriculture Ministers on 16-17 February in Brussels. I represented the United Kingdom at that meeting.

The Council had a presentation by the Agriculture Commissioner of the Commission's proposals for prices fixed under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for the 1998/1999 year. These proposals were described by the Commissioner as broadly a standstill in present CAP support arrangements, pending the forthcoming negotiations on further reform of the CAP in the context of Agenda 2000. Ministerial colleagues in the Council commented on their key priorities within this set of proposals. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food agreed to take them forward as quickly as possible; that work will begin immediately.

The Council also held a first debate on the Commission's proposals for reform of the tobacco regime, which also form an element of the Agenda 2000 strategy. On behalf of the United Kingdom, and with support from Sweden and Denmark, I expressed concern at the relatively modest nature of these reform proposals and urged more radical steps to reduce support for tobacco production in the Community, bearing in mind the inconsistency with EU efforts to limit tobacco consumption for health reasons. Detailed work on this proposal will now begin.

The Council held a second full debate on proposed amendments to the EU banana regime in response to the recent findings of the WTO Appellate Body. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food concluded in the light of the debate that further detailed work should continue, and that the Council should resolve this issue quickly, both in order to meet WTO obligations and to give reassurance to EU and ACP banana growers about their futures.

There was a further discussion in the Council of the Commission's proposals in respect of the Community 's beef promotion scheme. Final agreement did not prove possible in view of the requirement to achieve unanimity on this proposal. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food undertook as Council President to consider the options for taking this proposal forward.

The Commissioner gave the Council a full report on the exchanges he had had with the United States on the negotiation of an EU/US veterinary and phytosanitary equivalence agreement. The Council noted that there had been positive developments in recent contacts between the two sides, and expressed the hope that the terms of an agreement would be ready for endorsement by the Council at its March meeting.

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I expressed the concerns of the United Kingdom at the recent interruption to supplies of fish from Russian freezer vessels into the UK, in particular Scotland, and the risk this created to jobs in fish processing. The Commissioner undertook to carry out an urgent examination of the problem.

Finally, the Council discussed the forthcoming OECD Agriculture Ministerial meeting in Paris in March, where consideration would be given to progress on agricultural reform over the last decade. Ministers in the Council debated the line which the European Union would take at this meeting. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food concluded that there should be co-ordination of the EU line in a High Level Group which will convene in Brussels next week for this purpose.

Rent Comparisons

Lord Dean of Beswick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are the average weekly rents currently being paid by tenants in:

    (a) council houses

    (b) housing associations; and

    (c) the private sector.[HL617]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): The most recent information available on average rents in England is:

£ per week
(a) council tenants41.18 (at 30 April 1997)
(b) housing association tenants46.74 (at 31 March 1997)
(c) private tenants76.00 (April 1996 to March 1997 average)

Council and housing association rents are from returns by local authorities and housing associations. The figure for the private rented sector is an estimate from the Survey of English Housing and, like all such estimates, is subject to sampling variability.

Disabled Tax Class Vehicle Registrations

Lord Morris of Manchester asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many vehicles have been registered in each of the last five years in the disabled class for first registration of vehicles in the United Kingdom.[HL662]

Baroness Hayman: Statistics for the number of vehicles registered in each of the last five years in the disabled tax class are only available for Great Britain.

Numbers for the last five calendar years are:

    1993: 69,200

    1994: 81,700

    1995: 94,600

    1996: 111,100

    1997: 122,100

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Lord Morris of Manchester asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What representations they have received from the Disabled Drivers' Association in regard to the fee for first registration of vehicles in the United Kingdom in the Disabled class.[HL666]

Baroness Hayman: The Disabled Drivers' Association have responded to the recent consultation exercise carried out by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. Their views have been taken into account and vehicles first registered in the disabled tax class will be exempt from the fee.

Murder Statistics for Major Cities

Lord Mason of Barnsley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many murders were committed in Glasgow, Cardiff, Liverpool, London and Belfast during the calendar years 1996 and 1997.[HL593]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): The available information for Cardiff, Liverpool and London relates to recorded offences of homicide (i.e. offences of murder, manslaughter and infanticide) and has been provided by the appropriate police forces in England and Wales. In 1996, there were six homicide offences recorded in the Cardiff area, 14 recorded in the Liverpool City area and 144 recorded in the London area (covering the Metropolitan Police District and the City of London). There were 24 homicides recorded in Glasgow in 1996. There were 17 homicides recorded in Belfast in 1996 and 28 offences recorded in 1997.

Comparable information for the cities other than Belfast is not yet available for 1997.

Prisoners: Shackling

Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to ensure that First Step Agencies within the prison system are observing the Prison Service's guidelines, in the light of the shackling of a 30 year-old pregnant woman from Brockhill Prison, Worcestershire, to a radiator at Leek Magistrates' Court.[HL594]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The decision to secure the prisoner concerned to the radiator at the court stemmed from the lack of secure custody facilities there, but it was still wrong. The Prison Service and the escort contractor involved, Premier Prison Services, regret what happened. Premier's staff otherwise looked after the prisoner well while she was in their custody and the company has an excellent record of prisoner care generally.

All escort contractors have been reminded in writing that prisoners should not be secured to fixed objects. In addition, the Prison Service will be reviewing with

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contractors their operational procedures to see whether, in the light of this case and the inadequate facilities at many courts, any further changes are necessary.

Institutional Child Care Costs

Lord Northbourne asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their estimate of the daily cost of providing high quality institutional child care for a nine-hour day for a child in its first, second, third, fourth and fifth years respectively.[HL645]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Baroness Jay of Paddington): There are no centrally collected statistics in the form requested on the cost of providing institutional child care for young children. This is due in part to the huge diversity in the types of provision available. The gross cost per child per annum (excluding capital charges) of day care, mainly for children in need, provided by social services departments in England in 1995-96, as estimated by the Chartered Institute for Public Finance and Accountancy, was £6,293. Families in receipt of Income Support or Family Credit would not be charged for this service. It has also been estimated by the Daycare Trust that in 1997 the typical childcare costs for parents for a full time place for a child under 5 at a private day nursery were between £70 and £180 per week.

Health Improvement Strategy: Consultation

Lord Morris of Manchester asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will ensure that the forthcoming Green Paper on public health strategy will contain a commitment to raising health standards of those over the age of 65; and whether specific health targets will be set for older people.[HL559]

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health launched the Government's Green Paper Our Healthier Nation with a statement in another place on 5 February. The Green Paper sets out a new strategy for health in England. The strategy's two key aims are:

    to improve the health of the population as a whole by increasing the length of people's lives and the number of years people spend free from illness; and

    to improve the health of the worst off in society and to narrow the health gap.

Those two aims clearly apply to people over 65. The strategy also proposes four national targets for improving health. Two--for reducing accidents and suicides--are not couched in age-specific terms. The remaining two--for reducing mortality from heart disease and stroke and from cancers--are both proposed for people aged under 65. Death cannot be prevented indefinitely, so these targets have been set to recognise the fact that it is amongst younger people that the earliest signs of progress are likely to become apparent.

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The targets will therefore provide a sensitive early indication of progress overall. Efforts to reduce heart disease and cancer mortality will not be restricted only to those people aged under 65 years.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland published the Green Paper Working Together For a Healthier Scotland on the same day. The Green Paper sets out proposals for improving the health of the population in Scotland.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales will shortly be publishing a consultation paper on a health strategy for Wales.

The strategy for improving the health and social well-being of the people of Northern Ireland, Well Into 2000, was published in December 1997.

Consultation on both the English and Scottish Green Papers runs to 30 April.

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