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Northern Ireland: Lifting of Beef Export Ban

Lord Marlesford asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Donoughue: There are no plans to conduct a cost benefit analysis of the achievement in getting the beef export ban lifted. The value to Northern Ireland farmers of the export market prior to the ban was over £200 million per annum. The extent to which the Northern Ireland beef industry will regain its export markets will be dependent on a number of factors which cannot yet be evaluated.

Fisheries Council, 24 March

Baroness David asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Donoughue: My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food chaired the meeting of the Fisheries Council in Brussels on 24 March. My honourable friend the Parliamentary

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Secretary, Mr. Morley, represented the United Kingdom together with my noble friend the Under-Secretary of State at the Scottish Office, Lord Sewel.

The Council discussed the introduction of a ban on high seas drift nets. Views were divided. The UK, with a majority of other member states, argued for the phasing out of such nets because of the by-catch problems associated with them, particularly by-catches of dolphins. Several Minsters opposed a ban. However, at the end of the discussion my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was able to conclude that there was an expectation that there will be a qualified majority in support of a ban. This helps clear the way for a formal agreement before the end of June. In the meantime, the European Commission will prepare measures such as decommissioning or conversion, to be applied within existing funding provisions, for fishermen affected by the ending of drift netting for tuna, swordfish and other high seas species.

The Council agreed by qualified majority, with Belgium voting against, new total allowable catches (TACs) and quotas for the North Sea. The six new TACs will help to conserve stocks by extending the quota system to cover anglerfish, megrim, skates and rays, turbot and brill, dab and flounder, lemon sole and witch. The new TACs are precautionary and national quotas are based on historic catches, so confirming large UK shares.

Political agreement was reached, with the Netherlands dissenting, on a measure to rationalise by-catch limits for herring in industrial fisheries for other species and to limit industrial fishing for herring to part of the Baltic Sea. No other herring may be used for industrial purposes unless it is first offered for sale for human consumption and fails to find a buyer. Taken together, these measures should help to conserve sensitive herring stocks.

The European Commission presented a report reviewing the operation of fisheries monitoring under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and drawing attention to areas where enforcement needs to be strengthened by means of a three-year action plan. In an orientation debate, the UK supported the introduction of new measures to achieve more effective and more consistent fisheries enforcement. As chairman, my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was able to conclude that there was general support for improved enforcement, and the Council welcomed the Commission's intention to come forward rapidly with concrete proposals, The Council will return to the subject at its next meeting.

The Council unanimously agreed conclusions welcoming pilot regional meetings held during 1997 and calling for the initiative to be developed and extended in 1998. These regional meetings contribute to the UK's objective of increasing the involvement of fishermen in CFP discussions and developing the regional dimension of the CFP.

Finally, the Council unanimously agreed, with Spain abstaining, autonomous tariff quotas for imports of fish products in 1998.

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Livestock: Electronic Tagging

Lord Hooson asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the United Kingdom is hosting one of the nine pilot projects on the electronic tagging of livestock as planned by the European Commission; and if not, whether they intend to have their own pilot project.[HL1147]

Lord Donoughue: The United Kingdom is not participating in the IDEA project on the electronic identification of animals, principally because our resources in the area of cattle identification are already at full stretch in creating a national database of cattle movements. There are, however, a number of trials of this nature taking place in the United Kingdom.

NHS Trusts: Vacancies

Earl Howe asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many unfilled vacancies there are for chairmen and non-executives of NHS Trusts; and what is the longest period for which any of these vacancies has been outstanding.[HL1280]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Baroness Jay of Paddington): At 31 March 1998, there were 146 vacant National Health Service trust chairmen and non-executive posts out of a total of 2,580 appointments. One of these vacancies has remained unfilled for two years pending the outcome of protracted discussion on service configuration.

Department of Health: Ministerial Contact Meetings

Baroness Cumberlege asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Which members of the ministerial Health Team have, since 1 May 1997, formally met representatives of the:

    (a) British Medical Association;

    (b) Presidents of the Royal Colleges;

    (c) Royal College of Nursing;

    (d) Pharmaceutical industry;

    and on which dates the meetings have taken place.[HL1333]

Baroness Jay of Paddington: All members of the Department of Health's ministerial team have met representatives from each of these organisations or groups, at least once, since 1 May 1997. Detailed information could only be provided at disproportionate cost.

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Maternal Smoking: Child Deaths

Lord Braine of Wheatley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many children die each year as a result of breathing in their mother's cigarette smoke.[HL1119]

Baroness Jay of Paddington: Although it is not possible to attribute the death of any child directly to exposure to parental tobacco smoke, a recently published report by the scientific committee on tobacco and health (SCOTH) concluded that infants and children exposed to tobacco smoke were more likely to suffer from serious respiratory illnesses and asthma attacks, which are common--and very occasionally fatal--conditions affecting thousands of children. The committee also concluded that the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) doubled with exposure to environmental tobacco smoke. Copies of the report are available in the Library.

However, a co-author, D. Cook, of a key paper considered by SCOTH, Anderson Ross. H, Cook Derek G. Passive smoking and sudden infant death syndrome: review of epidemiological evidence, has publicly stated that one-fifth (i.e, 80 out of the 400 annual England and Wales SIDS deaths) are attributable to maternal smoking.

The Prime Minister: Security Breach

Lord Graham of Edmonton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their response to allegations of a breach of the Prime Minister's security, reported in The Sunday Times on 29 March.[HL1384]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): The planning application regarding my right honourable friend the Prime Minister's home contained details which should not have been made public for security reasons. When we were alerted to the situation, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary acted immediately to ensure that such details were no longer accessible.

The security arrangements at my right honourable friend the Prime Minister's home have been very thoroughly tested and are fully effective.

When major changes to the homes of public figures are planned on security grounds it is important that local residents who may be inconvenienced by building work are properly consulted so that their concerns can be taken into account. However, a balance needs to be struck between ensuring that local people have their say about major changes to any property and ensuring that the security of public figures is not compromised.

The Home Office, the Security Facilities Executive (SAFE) and Sedgefield Borough Council acted in good faith but the security implications of the planning

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documents were not fully identified and acted upon. TheHome Office and SAFE have introduced new procedures to ensure that this cannot happen in any future case. In addition, other planning authorities which have similar residences have been contacted to ensure that any such risks to security may be avoided.

UN Committee against Torture: Report

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they expect the United Kingdom Periodic report on the United Nations Committee against Torture to be completed and whether they will place the Report in the Library.[HL1403]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The United Kingdom's Third Periodic Report under Article 19 of the United Nations Convention Against Torture has been submitted to the United Nations by the United Kingdom Mission in Geneva. A copy has been placed in the Library and copies have been sent to organisations with a known interest in the subject area. The report is also available on the Internet.

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