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24 Mar 1998 : Column WA237

Written Answers

Tuesday, 24th March 1998.

Local Elections and London Referendum: Guidance to Civil Servants

Baroness Gould of Potternewton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What advice has been given to civil servants on the conduct of government business during the forthcoming local elections and London referendum campaign.[HL1160]

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard): The Government have today issued guidance to civil servants on the principles which they should observe in relation to the conduct of government business in the period before the forthcoming local elections. This guidance also incorporates material on the role and conduct of civil servants during the London referendum campaign, which will coincide with the local elections.

The guidance stresses that civil servants should conduct themselves in accordance with the Civil Service Code and is based on the need to maintain political impartiality of the Civil Service and the need to ensure that public resources are not used for party political purposes.

The guidance on the London referendum will come into force with the publication of the Government's White Paper on a Greater London Authority. For local elections, the convention is that particular care should be taken in the three weeks prior to polling day.

Copies of the guidance have been placed in the Libraries of the House, and are available from the Vote Office.

Redbridge and Waltham Forest Health Authority

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    By how much the budgets of Redbridge Area Health Authority and Forest Health Care Trust were or are each being cut in:

    (a) 1997-98 as compared with 1996-97; and

    (b) 1998-99 as compared with the previous year;

    what representations they have received from Waltham Forest Community Health Council about cuts in expenditure; to what extent cuts in the two financial years mentioned will affect care in the community; and what steps are being taken to minimise the impact on the poorest residents.[HL1015]

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The Minister of State, Department of Health (Baroness Jay of Paddington): The information is listed in the tables:

General Allocation and Cash and Real Terms Increases for Redbridge and Waltham Forest Health Authority

YearAllocationCash Increase Real Terms Increase

National Health Service trusts are not set budgets but obtain income from contracts for healthcare services with health authorities and general practitioner fundholder practices. They also receive other income for non-patient care. The total income is normally used as the indication of the turnover of NHS trusts and is provided in the table.

Contracts for 1998-99 have not been finalised, therefore this information is not included in the following table.

Total income for Forest Health Care NHS Trust

1996-971997-98 (Quarter 3) Difference
Total income£121.9 million£118.3 million-£3.6 million

We have received a number of representations from Waltham Forest Community Health Council expressing concerns about the financial situation in Waltham Forest.

The health authority is considering a number of savings proposals, most of which will come through efficiency savings and management reductions.

Cuts in patient services will only be taken as a last resort. The health authority aims to minimise the impact that changes in health services have on the health needs of all patients. It is also further developing an established service to improve refugees' access to primary care and other services. The health authority is also continuing to develop a community health project which provides a primary care support service for those with the greatest need.

The Great Exhibition and the Millennium Dome

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

    Whether they have sufficient data to enable them to compare the relative costs of organising the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the Millennium Dome; and, if so, whether they will publish the comparison.[HL635]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The Government do not have detailed data on the 1851 Exhibition, and the two events are not, in any case, directly comparable.

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However, the official history of the 1851 Exhibition lists the total expenditure as £335,742 (including the building and fittings at approximately £170,000).

The New Millennium Experience Company's overall cash budget for the Experience at Greenwich and the associated Challenge programme of events and activities is £758 million. Income to cover these costs comes from a £399 million (net) grant from the Millennium Commission and forecast £359 million from sponsorship, commercial activities, visitor revenues and disposal proceeds.

Tobacco and Alcohol Duties

Lord Hardy of Wath asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the duty on tobacco products and alcoholic drinks is higher than the average in the European Union; and, if so, whether they consider that this is a cause of criminal activity.[HL1003]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The duties on tobacco and alcohol in the UK are higher than the average in the European Union. Cross-border differences in duty rates are a contributory factor to the smuggling of alcohol and tobacco products.

ECGD Debt Conversion Scheme

Baroness Gould of Potternewton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When the Export Credits Guarantee Department expects to complete its review of its debt conversion scheme.[HL1159]

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Clinton-Davis): The review is now complete. The Government have concluded that the scheme as operated between 1992 and 1997 did provide significant benefits both to the debtor country and to the UK taxpayer and that these benefits could be further enhanced by some small improvements. A revised scheme is therefore being relaunched and ECGD is, from today, able to consider offers to purchase rescheduled debts owed by up to 32 countries.

Under the revised scheme, ECGD will, as before, be able to receive an immediate cash benefit for debts rescheduled through the Paris Club arrangements. The purchaser of the debt will be repaid by the debtor country in local currency subject to the funds being invested in a suitable project in that country. As a result, the debtor country benefits both from being able to convert a hard currency obligation into a local currency debt and also from securing additional investment.

During the period when the earlier scheme operated, ECGD sold some US$133 million of debts to a number of organisations investing in a range of projects, including in the fields of education, agricultural rehabilitation and healthcare.

The improvements to the scheme involve certain administrative changes, notably the requirement that the

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potential purchaser should pay a commitment fee to secure the purchase price and exclusive negotiating rights for specific debt for a given period.

Agriculture Council, 16-17 March

Baroness Nicol asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the outcome of the Agriculture Council held in Brussels on 16-17 March.[HL1105]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue): My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food chaired the third meeting under the United Kingdom Presidency of the European Union Council of Agriculture Ministers on 16-17 March in Brussels. I represented the United Kingdom. My noble friend Lord Dubs, Under-Secretary of State in the Northern Ireland Office, was also present.

The Council agenda included two very important issues relating to BSE.

The Council first considered Commission proposals for amending the terms of the export ban on UK beef, with tighter controls over beef and beef products imported into the UK and then re-exported, but with significant easing of the ban through a Certified Herds Scheme to be operated in Northern Ireland. This proposal, which narrowly failed to receive a qualified majority in the Standing Veterinary Committee earlier this month, was adopted decisively by the Council, a qualified majority voting in favour. Only Germany and Belgium voted against, with Spain and Luxembourg abstaining. This decision represents the first step in lifting the world-wide ban on UK beef, and has been welcomed by farming organisations not only in Northern Ireland but in the United Kingdom as a whole.

The Council returned to the important issue of specified risk material (SRM). The Standing Veterinary Committee earlier this month rejected a Commission proposal for a Community system of rules on the removal of risk material from cattle and sheep. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food explored with Council and Commission the possibility of finding support for alternative arrangements which would not only reflect the varying incidence of BSE in different member states but also the need for member states with high levels of protection against BSE--notably the United Kingdom and France--to safeguard this level of protection for public safety in any future system. The Council confirmed by a majority (from which only Finland, Spain and Sweden stood aside) the rejection of the Commission's latest formal proposal. The Council invited the Commission now to propose to the Standing Veterinary Committee that its earlier Decision on SRM, which would provoke trade problems, should not come into force on 1 April as previously decided, but should be deferred to allow further time for discussion. At ministerial level a qualified majority was established for this next step.

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The Council agreed unanimously a Decision to approve the equivalence agreement on trade in animals and animal products between the European Union and the United States. The agreement will be signed when a qualified majority in the Council establishes that the US has published satisfactory draft legislation recognising the distribution of animal diseases in the EU. The Council's Decision represents a decisive stage on the part of the EU in concluding an agreement which will be important for trade in animal products between the EU and US, to the economic advantage of both sides.

Commissioner Fischler introduced a proposal to update and extend current EU legislation on the welfare of laying hens. The proposal would substantially increase the minimum welfare requirements applying to laying hens throughout the Union. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food welcomed this proposal on behalf of the Council and undertook that the UK Presidency will now arrange for the necessary discussions at technical level.

Finally, the Council discussed a communication from the Commission about food, veterinary and plant health control and inspection. The Commission took note of concerns voiced by several member states about aspects of the present arrangements, and undertook to act on them.

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Missing Army Weapons

Lord Burton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Which of the weapons stolen from, or unaccounted for by, the Army in the last 10 years, and subsequently recovered in Northern Ireland, were known to be in the possession of: (a) Loyalists; (b) Republicans; (c) others; and what was the total number of weapons recovered.[HL995]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert): The information requested is set out below for all British Army weapons lost, stolen or otherwise unaccounted for in Northern Ireland in each of the past 10 years:

Total Number of weapons recovered from:
1992 312--

(1) Others--Non-terrorist/criminal/not known.

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