The Earl of Carlisle: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her delightful reply. Will she join with me in wishing HMS "Westminster", its captain, Commander Peter Walpole, and its crew bon voyage on their visit to Estonia in June? Is she aware that the last time the Royal Navy visited that part of the Baltic it went in force and destroyed with shellfire the one bridge over the River Narva? During their presidency of the European Union will Her Majesty's Government set in motion steps to rebuild a bridge over the River Narva so that trade with the Russian Federation can be improved and communications between Europe and Russia can also be enhanced?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I certainly join the noble Earl in his good wishes. I believe that his knowledge of Estonia is second to no other in your Lordships' House. His historical analysis of our relationship is of great interest. However, I am not in a position to make any spending commitments on behalf of Her Majesty's Government. The United Kingdom Government are doing what they can to further the application of Estonia to join the EU and using the know-how fund in the pre-accession arrangements that have been put in place.
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, given that the Foreign Secretary has said that the main concern of the British presidency is to get the negotiations on European enlargement off to a flying start, what lead are the Government taking to ensure that other EU member
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we have started the accession negotiations with the applicant countries. Those which are in the best position are starting first. Subsequent accessions will be dealt with as quickly as possible. Her Majesty's Government hope that enlargement will be a success, and we have a record for encouraging the enlargement process. To that end, we are using the United Kingdom's know-how fund to help countries which wish to join the EU to adapt their legislation and administration to meet the demands of EU membership. To that end, the know-how fund spent £86.5 million in the year 1995-96. I believe that we are encouraging our partner countries to do the same by setting a very good example.
The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, since the Minister referred to Bulgaria, can she inform the House whether that country's admission will be subject to her abandonment of any claim to Romania in the future?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the Foreign Office has equipped me with information on 50 possible supplementary questions. I regret to say that all of them deal with Estonia and not Bulgaria, but I shall write to the noble Earl on the point that he has raised.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, the Government are sympathetic to the idea of covering the Prisons Ombudsman's role in primary legislation and will consider this further after a forthcoming review of the ombudsman's office.
Lord Hurd of Westwell: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his reply. Does he agree that Sir Peter Woodhead does an admirable and necessary job but that he has to wrestle with a number of obstacles, one of which is that his office does not have a basis in law? Does he further agree that that weakens his standing and makes him subject to attempts by the Home Office to whittle away his terms of reference? As the noble Lord will be aware if he has researched the matter, this is not an idle point. If the Minister agrees with that--I believe that he does--will he now accept the recommendation of the Select Committee on the ombudsman in 1996 which criticised the present non-statutory framework? Will he go a little further than his reply so far and
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, certainly Sir Peter Woodhead does an extremely good job. He was appointed in 1994 and has a final extension until May 1999. The review to which I referred is likely to report not later than August of this year, so the timescale is quite short. I recognise that under previous governments, not this one, there was a deal of whittling away, attempts being made to draw bogus distinctions between what was administrative and what was policy. As I believe my noble friend Lord Merlyn-Rees observed on an earlier occasion, "administrative" was when things went wrong and "policy" was when things went right.
Lord Allen of Abbeydale: My Lords, I understand that few appeals by young prisoners reach the ombudsman, largely because it is not within their culture to be able to put matters down in writing, so much so that, although there is no lack of grievances, few young prisoners ever make a start under the formal complaints procedure. Is that a problem which the Minister recognises? If so, does he have any thoughts on a possible solution?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the ombudsman's regime does not begin until internal complaints procedures have been exhausted. At the moment, most complaints are on adjudications, lost property, transfers and recategorisations. Bearing in mind the terms of the noble Lord's question, I shall certainly research it to see whether further steps should be taken with regard to drawing the attention of particular groups to the opportunity of complaint to the ombudsman.
Lord Geraint: My Lords, many farmers will be disappointed by the Minister's reply to my request. Is he aware that many young farmers in this country do not realise that the Government have a policy to help them in any way, and what advice can he give those who are contemplating leaving the industry within the next few years?
The Earl of Clanwilliam: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the organic farming industry would be delighted to have a Royal Commission? Does he agree that it might take three years for anything to happen to help it, and that is taking a rather long-term view? The industry would rather see something happen immediately. In the list of farming communities being helped that the Minister mentioned, he omitted to include the organic farming industry. Does he have any views on further assistance for it?
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