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Set-aside: Evaluation

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Donoughue: In 1995 MAFF commissioned a three-year agronomic and environmental evaluation of set-aside in England from a consortium including the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, the British Trust for Ornithology and ADAS and this has now been completed. The evaluation concluded that for most farmers the agronomic costs of set-aside are small, with if anything a yield benefit to crops following set-aside and few increases in pest, weed or disease problems.

Many farmers have observed positive environmental effects from set-aside and studies indicate that set-aside has benefited some species of farmland birds whose numbers have been in decline in recent years. Field studies showed that set-aside was an important habitat for these birds, providing breeding sites and valuable food resources. The Government will consider how voluntary

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set-aside and the agri-environment schemes can be used to help to retain these benefits if the rate of compulsory set-aside is reduced as a result of EU Commission CAP reform proposals.

I am placing copies of the full report of the evaluation in the Library of the House.

International Whaling Commission

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the outcome of the recent meeting of the International Whaling Commission.[HL2060]

Lord Donoughue: The International Whaling Commission's 50th annual meeting was held in Oman from 16 to 20 May. The United Kingdom delegation was composed of officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, assisted by officials from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and by representatives of environmental organisations.

At this meeting our delegation emphasised that the UK remains strongly opposed to all whaling, other than some limited subsistence whaling by indigenous people. We made it clear that we would like to see all other forms of whaling, including so-called "scientific" whaling, brought to an end and a permanent, comprehensive international ban on whaling introduced.

It is with these objectives in mind that we are participating in consideration of ideas put forward by Ireland at the IWC's last annual meeting in Monaco last October. These ideas are intended to provide the basis for a compromise solution acceptable to both countries opposed to, and those in favour of, whaling. There was only limited further discussion of the Irish proposals in Oman. The UK delegation made it clear once again that while we were prepared to discuss these proposals, and all other possible ways of improving the conservation of whales, we continued to have serious reservations about some aspects of them, in particular those concerning coastal whaling. We and a number of other countries also stressed that further progress on them was unlikely unless the two whaling countries, Norway and Japan, indicated a readiness to end pelagic, and in particular so-called "scientific", whaling and to accept a ban on international trade in whalemeat: this they declined to do. Nevertheless, the Irish Commissioner, who is the current chairman of the IWC, said that the proposals would remain on the table and that he would continue to try to advance them.

Throughout the meeting, the UK delegation stressed our strong support for the current moratorium on commercial whaling. We opposed a request by Japan for a quota of 50 minke whales, which I am pleased to say was again defeated, and we supported resolutions criticising Norway and Japan's continued whaling activities; although these do not conflict with the letter of the IWC's rules, we and many others believe that

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they are contrary to their spirit and undermine the credibility of the IWC and of the moratorium.

In recent years the UK has been arguing that environmental pollution and climate change may pose significant long term threats to whales and other cetaceans, and urging the IWC to devote more effort towards assessing these threats. At this meeting, two significant resolutions were adopted. The first confirms that environmental issues are central to the IWC and directs the IWC's scientific committee to continue its work on the development of long term research programmes on the effects of pollution and climate change on cetaceans. The second deals with the financing of these programmes; it records an agreement in principle to find the necessary funds, drawing if need be on the IWC's financial reserves, and to consider establishing a dedicated Environment Research Fund. We very much welcome the increased emphasis that the IWC is now placing on this important area.

The UK delegation again expressed our concern about the cruelty involved in killing whales. It was agreed that a workshop comprising scientific and veterinary experts would meet next year, immediately before the next annual meeting, to consider ways of improving the humaneness of whale killing methods. The UK will be playing a full role in the workshop.

Small cetaceans continue to be threatened by human activities in many parts of the world. We took the lead in putting forward a resolution which drew attention to the number of beluga whales killed in subsistence hunts in West Greenland and to doubts among scientists that the current level of exploitation may not be sustainable. The IWC Scientific Committee will be examining this issue at its meeting next year. We also drew attention to the numbers of Dall's porpoise killed in directed takes in Japan.

Other important issues were discussed at this meeting. We and a number of other delegations expressed concern at evidence presented to the IWC's Scientific Committee suggesting that illicit trade in whalemeat may be taking place, and a resolution was adopted reaffirming the need for close co-operation between the IWC and CITES on trade issues and calling on all IWC members to respect previous resolutions on illegal trade in whalemeat. There was a positive debate on whalewatching. The UK highlighted the continuing expansion of this popular tourist activity and underlined the importance of the IWC's role in preparing guidelines and overseeing development in this area. Finally, Japan's proposal to amend the IWC's rules of procedure to allow secret voting on policy issues was heavily defeated

Overall, we believe that this was a successful meeting for the UK. We achieved the majority of our objectives: in particular the moratorium on commercial whaling has not been weakened and there was further recognition of the increasing importance to the IWC of environmental issues. We will now be working with the environmental organisations and government departments represented on the Consultative Forum on Whaling to formulate our objectives for the IWC's next annual meeting, which will take place in Grenada in June 1999.

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