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17 Jan 2001 : Column WA133

Written Answers

Wednesday, 17th January 2001.

Standards of Conduct in the House of Lords

Baroness Ashton of Upholland asked the Leader of the House:

    What steps she has taken to take forward the recommendations contained in the 7th Report from the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Standards of Conduct in the House of Lords (Cm 4903).[HL377]

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): As I have previously made clear, it will be for the House to decide how to proceed with the recommendations contained in the Report on Standards of Conduct in the House of Lords. In order to assist the process, I have asked my noble friend the Attorney General to chair a working group to report to me within three months, and to make recommendations.

The members of the working group will be Lord Archer of Sandwell, Lord Elton, Baroness Hamwee, Lord Kingsland, Lord Williams of Mostyn and Lord Wright of Richmond.

GM Seeds in Conventional Variety Seeds

Baroness Wilkins asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress has been made by the European Commission on legislative provisions concerning the adventitious presence of GM seeds in seed of conventional plant varieties.[HL351]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman): The Commission has recently published a working paper on the presence of GM seeds in seeds of conventional varieties. The draft proposals include provisions on GM threshold levels, previous cropping requirements, isolation distances and labelling. Copies of the working paper have been placed in the Library of the House.

We will be consulting widely on these proposals.

Environment Council, 18 and 19 December 2000

Lords Dubs asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the outcome of the Environment Council held in Brussels on 18 and 19 December 2000.[HL313]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My right honourable friends the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for the

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Environment represented the UK at the Environment Council in Brussels on 18 and 19 December 2000. One Common Position was agreed, one proposal was adopted at first reading in agreement with the European Parliament, and three sets of Council Conclusions were agreed.

The Council expressed its willingness to meet in Oslo for discussions on climate change with the Umbrella Group (including the US, Japan Canada and Australia). After a lunchtime telephone discussion between the Troika and representatives of the Group, the Presidency reported that the Oslo meeting would not take place as the Group felt there to be insufficient common ground at the present time. Council Conclusions broadly reflect the outcome of these discussions, although the UK made a minutes statement to clarify one part of the Conclusions.

Council reached agreement on a Community Framework for co-operation to promote sustainable urban development. The Council agreed on a budget of Euro 14 million over a four-year period from 2001, the same figure as finally proposed by the European Parliament in amending the Commission's original proposal of Euro 12.5 million over the same period. Since Council agreed the proposal in the same terms as voted by the European Parliament, it was adopted without the need for a second reading.

Council reached Common Position on the proposed Framework Directive on Assessment and Management of Environmental Noise. This will introduce a common EU standard for noise measurement, harmonised noise level monitoring and mapping, along with a new EU noise indicator, but does not impose an EU-wide limit value for ambient noise. Council also invited the Commission to make proposals for new or more stringent binding noise emissions limits from specific sources, including vehicles and outdoor machinery.

Conclusions were agreed on global environmental governance, essentially to strengthen the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and improve the co-ordination of international environmental institutions. The EU will look into the possibilities of increasing its contribution to UNEP, providing other contributors do likewise. Detailed proposals on these issues will be developed for discussion at the European Council in Gothenburg next June, in preparation for the Rio + 10 Conference in 2002.

Proposals for Directives on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) and Restriction of use of certain Hazardous Substances in electrical and electronic equipment (RoHS) were discussed. The Presidency explained that the EP had not given its opinion so Common Position was not achievable, but it aimed to develop a view on a common approach. My right honourable friends made it clear that the proposals had not cleared Parliamentary Scrutiny and could not, therefore, agree a text. However, a useful discussion enabled a clearer view to emerge of the possible range for agreement on the timetables for producer responsibility, and for recovery and recycling targets.

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Council adopted, without debate, brief Conclusions on the Commission's review of the Auto Oils II programme calling for further proposals on fuel specifications and the control of vehicle emissions. Orientation debates were held on: the application of the Aarhus Convention to European Institutions, as regards access to environmental information; the Commisson's white paper on Environmental Liability; and on traceability and labelling of GMOs. Over dinner Ministers received informal progress reports from the Commission on the following, as there had been no time for taking these items during Council: Sixth Environmental Action Plan; the review of the EU chemical legislation; the planned Green Paper on Integrated Product Policy; Community guidelines on State Aid for the Environment; international negotiations on the Persistent Organic Pollutants Convention; and the Resolution adopted by the General Affairs Council on 4/5 December on the Precautionary Principle.

Human Cloning

Lord Alton of Liverpool asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why the Prime Minsiter declined to meet an all-party delegation of peers and inter-faith religious leaders to discuss the scientific and ethical objections to human cloning. [HL260]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): The Prime Minister was unable to agree to a meeting due to existing diary commitments.

The Government have listened very carefully to representations made on the recommendations of the Donaldson Report and the regulations and they respect the often strongly held views (on both sides of the debate) of many people on these difficult and sensitive issues. We have arranged a number of meetings with Ministers and Professor Donaldson, to which all Members of Parliament and Peers were invited, in order to discuss these issues. A further meeting has been arranged for 4 pm on Thursday 18 January.

Substance Misuse Treatment Services

Baroness Gould of Potternewton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have for improving the delivery of substance misuse treatment services. [HL312]

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: The cross-departmental review of illegal drugs that reported as part of last summer's spending review 2000 concluded that a new national treatment agency should oversee a pooled treatment budget for substance misusers, with the aim of increasing the numbers treated and raising the standard of that treatment. The Department of Health has published a consultation document containing

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proposals, drawn up in collaboration with other interested departments, for setting up such an agency. Copies have been placed in the Library.

Water Fluoridation

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why they intend to encourage local authorities in areas of poor dental health to consider water fluoridation, given the conclusion in Section 12.9 of the report of the systematic scientific review of fluoridation, which they commissioned from the National Health Centre for Reviews and Dessemination at York, that the quality of the existing evidence was "generally low".[HL296]

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: The Systematic Review of Water Fluoridation report commissioned from the University of York found evidence that both children and adults living in fluoridated areas where overall health is poor had less tooth decay than those living in non-fluoridated areas. We want health authorities in areas of high dental decay to consider holding consultations in which local people could give their current views on fluoridation in the light of the report's findings.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why a Working Group of the Medical Research Council has been asked to provide advice on current scientific evidence regarding the health effects of water fluoridation and to consider whether further research in this area is required, given that the systematic scientific review of water fluoridation which the Government commissioned from the National Health Service Centre for Reviews and Dessemination at York, and which reported on 6 October 2000, has already provided answers to these questions.[HL297]

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: The review showed that fluoridation does reduce dental decay and found no evidence of serious adverse effects on oral health, but there was a lack of high quality research. We have, therefore, asked the Medical Research Council to suggest how it might be possible to strengthen the evidence currently available.

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