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Lord Moran asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Donoughue: The Government support precautionary management for the North Sea sandeel fishery. They therefore supported the introduction of a

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total allowable catch (TAC) with effect from 1 January 1998, but pressed for the level of the TAC to be lower.

The Government are also funding a range of research projects on sandeels in order to develop new assessment and management approaches. This research includes participation in a collaborative project (ELIFONTS), ending next year, to examine the impact of industrial fishing on sandeel abundance and the effects of variations in that abundance on predators in the Wee Bankie and neighbouring fisheries. The contractors have undertaken to give early warning of any interim results which show that the fishery is having adverse effects on the various species.

The statement of conclusions of the Intermediate Ministerial Meeting on the Integration of Fisheries and the Environment in Bergen in 1997 included an invitation to the competent authorities to consider restrictions on fishing in any areas where it is judged the ecosystem requires protection. The results of the ELIFONTS project will assist in responding to this point. More broadly, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) has been examining the ecosystem effects of fishing including the identification of areas holding sandeels that need protection in order to safeguard important concentrations of birds and other wildlife. The ICES report is expected in May 1998.

Basking Sharks: Protection

Lord Moran asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, now that they have listed the basking shark as a protected species and in the light of the identification by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources of basking sharks as globally threatened, they will use their influence in the European Union to secure the early abrogation of the European Union's agreement with Norway under which Norwegian fishermen catch basking sharks in European Union waters, outside territorial waters.[HL1313]

Lord Donoughue: No basking sharks have been caught by Norway under the EC/Norway fisheries agreement since 1993. However, the Government have drawn the listing of basking sharks under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to the attention of the European Commission.

Vitamin B6 Supplements: US Sales

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What consideration they have given to the implications for freedom of trade within the European Union and between the European Union and the United States of the proposed new restrictions on the retail sale of vitamin B6 supplements; and what representations they have received on this matter from the United States Government.[HL1270]

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Lord Donoughue: Officials in the Department of Trade and Industry have received one letter from the Office of the United States Trade Representative which, among other things, notes that the Government's proposed controls on dietary supplements containing vitamin B6 would have implications for US trade in this product. The Government have also received a representation on this subject from two United States senators.

The Government consider that the proposed controls are fully consistent with World Trade Organisation rules. They are based on sound scientific principles, and would apply equally to home produced and imported food supplements. Any food supplements containing vitamin B6 which are imported into the UK from the United States would therefore have to comply with the proposed limit of 10 mg per daily dose.

The proposed controls would not affect trade between the United States and other member states of the European Community, many of which already have much lower limits on the level of vitamin B6 in supplements sold under food law. The implications for trade within the European Union will be considered by the European Commission and other member states as part of the notification procedure under EC Directive 83/189.

Al-Yamamah Programme

The Earl of Sandwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why the National Audit Office has not made public its report on the Al-Yamamah Defence Programme.[HL1263]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert): The 1992 National Audit Office report into the Ministry of Defence's involvement in the Al-Yamamah programme has not been published as it refers to arrangements which are confidential between the Governments of the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia.

Halabja: Population Ill-health

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are aware of any connection between the illnesses and birth defects suffered by the population of Halabja in northern Iraq following their exposure to toxic chemicals in 1986 (as reported on 23 February by the Channel 4 programme, "Dispatches") and the illnesses experienced by Gulf War veterans and others exposed to organophosphates.[HL835]

Lord Gilbert: The Government are aware of the "Dispatches" programme "Saddam's Secret Time Bomb", shown on Channel 4 on 23 February 1998, which concerned the incidence of ill-health among the population of the area around the town of Halabja in northern Iraq. So far as the Government is aware, there have been no epidemiological studies of this population.

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It would, therefore, be premature to seek a connection between ill-health among this group and that among other groups, such as Gulf veterans.

There is still no medical or scientific consensus concerning Gulf veterans' illnesses, and we are not aware of any evidence showing an increased incidence of adverse reproductive outcomes in the families of Gulf veterans. However, an epidemiological study led by Dr. David Cowan, which was published last year in the New England Journal of Medicine, concluded that there was no evidence that children born to US Gulf veterans were suffering from a higher than average incidence of birth abnormalities. An MoD-funded epidemiological study under Dr. Patricia Doyle at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine is currently examining the reproductive health of UK Gulf veterans and the health of their children.

Epidemiological research is currently underway, sponsored jointly by the Department of Health, the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food and the Health and Safety Executive, into the effects on human health of low-level exposure to organophosphate pesticides in the context of the health concerns of some farm workers.

Former Soviet Army Officers: UK Retraining Costs

The Earl of Carlisle asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How much of the £3,651,000 expended since 1991 on retraining projects for unemployed former Soviet Army officers in Russia has come from the United Kingdom defence budget; how much of the total amount has been illegally diverted by Russian organisations or individuals to other purposes; and how much money is to be expended on these projects in the financial year 1998-99.[HL1199]

Lord Gilbert: Of the £3,651,000 spent by the British Government on retraining projects for unemployed former Army officers in Russia since 1994, £3,155,000 has come from the United Kingdom defence budget and £496,000 from the Know-how Fund, currently managed by the Department for International Development. The estimated provision for such expenditure from the defence budget for 1998-99 is £1,000,000.

Over the course of the resettlement project we have taken appropriate steps to ensure that funds are used for the purposes for which they have been provided and that the interests of the British taxpayer are protected. These steps include the establishment of agreed budgets for retraining courses at each resettlement centre, and their close and systematic monitoring by the UK project officer based in Moscow. We have no direct evidence that funds have been illegally diverted by Russian organisations or individuals, but, where our monitoring suggests that funds are being managed unsatisfactorily or inefficiently, it is our policy to terminate our involvement with the centre concerned. So far this has happened on two occasions.

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Hardway Estate, Gosport

Baroness Park of Monmouth asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether it is true, as reported in The Sunday Telegraph of 8 March, that the 120 families of naval personnel serving in the Gulf, at present living in the Hardway Estate, Gosport, have been given notice to quit by September so that the whole site may be handed back to the private sector; what is the nature of the alternative accommodation which the Defence Housing Executive is reported to have offered them; whether this operation breaches an implied undertaking by the previous administration (H.L. Deb., cols. 469-473, 11 July 1996) that only empty properties would be disposed of in this way; and whether the fact that the estate occupies a prime site on the Solent contributed to the decision to dispose of it.[HL1064]

Lord Gilbert: The Hardway estate comprises 200 properties, all of which have been declared surplus to Service requirements and are being released to Annington Homes in accordance with the release schedule of the sale. Eighty two homes are currently vacant and the families in the other 118 houses have been given notice to move, but not before September 1998.

All the families affected live on the Hardway estate in Gosport. Of the service personnel involved, 13 married men are currently serving in the Gulf. On current plans, they will all have returned to the UK before the moves are due to take place. Special arrangements are being put in place to deal with personnel serving in ships about to deploy.

Although the Defence Housing Executive, DHE, need give only 93 days' notice, this longer notice period, of a minimum of seven months, enables DHE to take due account of each family's circumstances, such as likely return dates of spouses, leave periods, and schooling requirements. There are nine other Service families accommodation locations in the area and families displaced by this move will be offered suitable accommodation, although four bedroomed properties are limited to the Old Rowner Estate.

As part of the continuing consultation process, a meeting took place between representatives of DHE, the Ministry of Defence, and 27 residents of Hardway Estate. A full record of all the issues raised was made, and this is being distributed to all 118 families affected by the closure, together with responses to the points raised. In addition, an allocations officer will be located on the estate once a week, to assist families who find it difficult to get to the area office, and a regular newsletter will be issued to keep residents up to date with developments.

This release does not breach any undertaking given by the previous administration. The requirement is that the properties must be surplus to Service requirements, but not necessarily empty, when selected for release. The site backs on to Fareham Creek, not the Solent. This fact has no bearing on its release.

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