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15 Jan 2002 : Column WA145

Written Answers

Tuesday, 15th January 2002.

Sierra Leone: UN Military Force

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they consider that the United Nations military force in Sierra Leone is as effective as it should be; and whether they will inquire into its acclimatisation, mobility and training. [HL2192]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos): The military element of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) forms the largest UN peacekeeping operation in the world. Troops from over 30 nations are participating, including a small number of UK forces, working to support the headquarters' operational planning and as military observers.

The peacekeeping force was significantly strengthened by the addition of over 3,000 Pakistani troops during the latter half of 2001, and with the recent arrival of troops from Nepal has reached its authorised ceiling of 17,500. Other elements of the force have benefited from training assistance from the United States Government. We welcome the multinational nature of the peacekeeping force and recognise the difficult circumstances in which it must act. We are also conscious of the complexities in welding together a force composed of so many different nationalities.

UN forces are working well in Sierra Leone as a result of a series of measures taken to enhance general effectiveness. These include pre-deployment training and assessment visits to troop contributors, an integrated training and acclimatisation package in the mission area prior to operational deployment, better logistic sustainability and enhancement to medical and welfare support.

During 2001, UNAMSIL deployed troops throughout the country and provided crucial assistance in the area of human rights and with the disarmament and demobilisation process. They have helped to provide a level of security in Sierra Leone not seen for many years. Confidence in the peace process, stemming from their presence, is encouraging refugees and displaced persons to return home in advance of the elections, scheduled for May 2002.

UNAMSIL is now turning its attention to providing technical and logistical assistance to the Government of Sierra Leone in the run-up to and immediate aftermath of the elections. As a demonstration of its conflict prevention capacity in Africa it is vital that UNAMSIL's mission in Sierra Leone succeeds. We will continue to offer it our full support.

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Reserve Forces: Campaign against Terrorism

Baroness Golding asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the role of the reserve forces in the continuing campaign against international terrorism. [HL2307]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): Since the call-out order (Official Report, 16 October, col. 1132, in another place) was signed last October to permit reservists to support the campaign against international terrorism, 74 reservists from all three services have been called out. Reservists have been supporting the operation on other forms of service. We are immensely grateful to all of them. As a further measure to support the current level of operations, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence has authorised the compulsory call-out of up to 140 specialist Territorial Army personnel to provide intelligence support to headquarters organisations in the UK and to the UK forces deployed in Afghanistan. This action is fully in accordance with our stated intention as part of the Strategic Defence Review to make our reserve forces more useable integrated and relevant. We believe that the compulsory call-out will be welcomed by the personnel involved and their employers.

Agriculture Council, 18 and 19 December

Lord Greaves asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What matters were discussed and decisions made at the Agriculture Council held on 18 and 19 December 2001.[HL2304]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State represented the United Kingdom at the meeting of the Agriculture Council in Brussels on 19 December 2001. Agriculture Ministers of the devolved administrations in Wales and Northern Ireland were also present.

The Council reached agreement on reform of the sheepmeat regime, including a number of measures for which the United Kingdom had pressed strongly. The changes will make substantial savings in the budget for the EU's current financial year. The main ones will fix permanent rates of premium and create national envelopes which can be directed towards national or regional priorities. Different approaches will be permitted in England and the devolved administrations. We are delighted with this outcome which will give us some valuable flexibility in the operation of this important regime.

The Council also agreed to introduce a stabiliser which will cap spending in the seeds sector. The new arrangements fully safeguard UK interests. A further amendment of the banana regime was also agreed, bringing to a close a long-running dispute with certain of the EU's trading partners.

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The presidency reported the successful outcome of the international conference on foot and mouth disease at which the United Kingdom had taken a prominent part.

The Council discussed a memorandum from certain member states on the oilseeds market. We endorsed the Commission's response, arguing that further encouragement of oilseed production in the EU would be costly, unnecessary and likely to produce tension with our trading partners.

The Council took note of progress on several dossiers under the Belgian Presidency and exchanged views on a useful memorandum from the German Government on organic farming.

Prescription Charges

Lord Turnberg asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to reduce the inequities in the arrangements for prescription charges outlined in the recent report from the Citizen's Advice Bureau Unhealthy Charges.[HL1705]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): There are no plans at present to change the current exemption and remission arrangements in England. These are intended to ensure that no one need be deterred from obtaining any necessary medication on financial grounds. Eighty-five per cent. of items are dispensed free of charge in England.

In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland these are matters for the devolved administrations.

Healthy Eating among Young Adults

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have a means of assessing the ability of 16 year-olds to buy and prepare meals that constitute a healthy diet and are within their budget; and, if so, how they make this assessment.[HL1759]

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: There is no comprehensive and authoritative data on the purchasing and preparation of food by 16 year-olds. Information that is available suggests that habits depend on a range of factors such as whether they are in employment, living within a family or living independently. The Government are currently considering a campaign to promote healthy eating among young adults.


Baroness Byford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What representations they have made to the Belgian authorities following the discovery of a second incident of BSE specified risk material being found in beef imported from Belgium.HL1850]

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: The Food Standards Agency (FSA), which is responsible for food safety matters in the United Kingdom, has alerted the Belgian veterinary authorities to the incident. The FSA has asked those authorities to investigate the incident and to notify the FSA of the action being taken to prevent a recurrence. The FSA has also notified the European Commission.

Baroness Byford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Which companies have been found to have imported meat containing BSE specified risk material in the past two years.[HL1851]

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Since the introduction of harmonised European Union-wide controls on specified risk materials (SRMs) in October 2000, there have been 23 instances where consignments of meat imported into the United Kingdom from other EU member states have been found to contain SRM. In all but one case the SRM concerned was spinal cord.

In each case the importing company was not responsible for the problem. Under EU rules it is the responsibility of the slaughterhouse operator to ensure the removal of all spinal cord and other specified risk material before the meat is placed on the market or traded.

The names of the importing companies involved are set out in the following table.

Name of Importing CompanyNo. of consignments of imported meat found to contain SRM
ABP Newry Co. Down Northern Ireland 2
Anglo Dutch Meats Eastbourne Sussex 13
Blackpool Abattoir Blackpool Lancashire 1
Cumberland Meat Packers Ltd Coventry 1
Dungannon Meats Larne Northern Ireland 1
Great Harwood Food Products Blackburn Lancashire 2
Matheson Jess Ltd Dundee Scotland 1
Najib & Sons Foston Derbyshire 1 (ovine SRM)
St Merryn Meats (Victoria) Cornwall 1

In addition, there have been six instances where beef imported into Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland was found to contain SRM. In these cases the names of the importing companies have not been published.

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