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European Convention on Human Rights

Ms Jenny Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what issues under Protocol 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights he has assessed as being unacceptably open-ended and uncertain. [142854]

Mr. Hain: The Government's main concerns about Protocol 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights are that:

Depleted Uranium

Mr. Alan Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of (a) the health risks and (b) actual health damage to people in Iraq arising from exposure to depleted uranium used for bombing. [143502]

Mr. Spellar: I have been asked to reply.

The potential health risks of depleted uranium (DU) are well known. There is a radiation hazard, although DU is a low specific activity material as defined by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which means that its level of radioactivity is lower than most man-made radionuclides; and a chemical toxicity hazard, similar to that posed by other heavy metals such as lead.

As to actual health damage to the Iraqi people, we are aware that there have been suggestions in the media that the use of DU during the Gulf conflict has caused an increase in ill-health in southern Iraq. We have not seen any peer-reviewed epidemiological research data on the people living in this region to support these claims.

The Department for International Development has already indicated that it will consider funding for projects proposed by the World Health Organisation to improve epidemiological data on and health care planning in Iraq--provided that these meet DFID's project criteria. If implemented, these projects should provide valuable information on the health needs of the Iraqi population.


Crown Prosecution Service

Angela Smith: To ask the Solicitor-General (1) what recent advice he has given to the Crown Prosecution Service regarding notifying prosecution witnesses that it has decided not to proceed with a case; [142950]

The Solicitor-General: The 1996 Victim's Charter commits the police to keeping victims informed of significant developments in the case, including any decision to drop or alter charges substantially.

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Sir Iain Glidewell's recommendations resulting from the independent review of the CPS, and the recommendations of Sir William Macpherson's report into the death of Stephen Lawrence, proposed that the CPS should take responsibility for communicating such decisions direct to victims rather than via the police.

In order to give effect to these recommendations a study is currently taking place to identify the best practice for national implementation. This will begin on a phased basis in April 2001.

The CPS will give the reason for the decisions taken in as much detail as possible taking account of the fact that in some cases there may be sensitive and important matters which cannot properly be disclosed.

The day-to-day responsibility for keeping victims and witnesses informed of the progress of the case remains a matter for the police but the CPS will be responsible for the direct communication project, and liaison with witnesses at court.

Private Prosecutions

Mr. Corbyn: To ask the Solicitor-General what information is held by his Department concerning private prosecutions concerning the deaths of William Beausire in Chile in 1975 and Father Michael Woodward. [143408]

The Solicitor-General: The information held in the Legal Secretariat to the Law Officers consists of various representations by solicitors seeking the consent of the Law Officers to the prosecution of Senator Augusto Pinochet for the offences contrary to section 134 Criminal Justice Act 1988 and the Criminal Law Act 1977 in relation to William Beausire. In the time available it has not been possible to trace any information relating to a private prosecution relating to the death of Father Thomas Woodward. For the reasons I gave in my statement to the House on 2 March 2000, refusal of consent to various prosecutions of Senator Augusto Pinochet were on the grounds of evidential insufficiency and that the relevant provisions are not retrospective.


National Seed List

Mr. Drew: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he will carry out a review into the procedures concerning applications to join the National Seed List. [141740]

Ms Quin [holding answer 12 December 2000]: The technical and administrative procedures for considering National List applications have been reviewed as part of the review of the relevant legislation, the Seeds (National Lists of Varieties) Regulations 1982, as amended. Proposals for new National List Regulations were issued for public consultation in December 1999 and in April 2000.

We have no plans to carry out a further specific review of the administrative and technical procedures though these are kept constantly under consideration as part of our commitment to continuous improvement. Nor have we immediate plans to propose changes regarding hearings on proposed National List decisions. However,

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we will wish to consider in the light of the hearing on the proposed addition of a genetically modified plant variety, Chardon LL, to the National List whether the current arrangements are satisfactory for all parties. If changes are proposed to the arrangements for requesting a hearing, all interested parties will be fully consulted.

Set-aside Land

Mr. Cox: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what acreage of land is in set-aside in the United Kingdom. [143144]

Ms Quin: The area of land set-aside in the UK under the Arable Area Payments Scheme in 2000 was 567,212 hectares or 1,401,638 acres.

Milk Development Council

Mr. Drew: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the future of the levy paid by milk producers towards the cost of running the Milk Development Council. [143572]

Ms Quin: Ministers have received no representations from the Milk Development Council to change the rate of levy, which currently stands at 0.06 pence per litre.

Mr. Drew: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the future of the Milk Development Council. [143571]

Ms Quin [holding answer 19 December 2000]: Ministers are required to consult on the future of the Milk Development Council as part of a five-yearly review cycle by February 2003. A decision on its future will be taken at that stage in light of the views expressed.

Fisheries Review

Mr. Martyn Jones: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress has been made since the publication of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Review; and if he will make a statement. [144024]

Mr. Morley: In April 1998 the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State for Wales formed a small independent group to review existing policies and legislation in England and Wales concerning the management and conservation of salmon, trout, eels and freshwater fish. The Review Group submitted its report in February 2000, and the Salmon and Freshwater fisheries Review was published in March. Interested individuals and organisations were then invited to comment on the Review.

Over 700 individuals and organisations sent in comments, and these have been taken into account in deciding the Government's response to the Review. The great majority strongly supported the Review's recommendations and conclusions, although concern was expressed about some individual recommendations, in particular one relating to the coarse fish close season on rivers.

The Government intend to respond to all the 195 recommendations in the Review in relation to England, and this detailed response will be placed in the Library of the House, and sent to all hon. Members who have expressed an interest in the Review, after the recess.

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The National Assembly for Wales will be responding separately. In the meantime, I would like to outline the key elements of our response.

The Government welcome the Review, which we consider to be a major contribution to the development of modern policies on salmon and freshwater fisheries. It endorses the Review's recommendations on the rationale for Government involvement in the conservation and management of salmon and freshwater fish and accepts the great majority of the Review's recommendations relating to salmon and freshwater fisheries legislation. When parliamentary time permits the Government intend to introduce proposals for new salmon and freshwater fisheries legislation to implement the agreed changes.

The Review recommends a substantial increase in grant-in-aid to fund the Environment Agency's fisheries function. The Government have considered this recommendation with particular care. We note that pressures on the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food budget made it necessary to reduce grant-in-aid in England by £1.5 million in 2001-02; grant-in-aid paid to the Agency by the Ministry next year will therefore fall to £3.2 million.

The Government have, however, now decided, in the light of the Review's recommendation, to increase grant-in-aid in England by £3 million a year for the years 2002-03 and 2003-04; this will mean that grant-in-aid for each of these years will be set at £6.2 million--an increase of 30 per cent. on the level of grant-in-aid in the current year. It will be for the Environment Agency to decide how these additional funds should be spent, but the Government have identified two priority areas: conserving and restoring salmon stocks and improving controls over unauthorised transfers of coarse and non-native fish.

Salmon stocks in England are currently at historic low levels and the Agency will use the extra funds to further the implementation of the Salmon Action Plans on all 47 main salmon rivers in England, with the aim of increasing the number of rivers in which salmon stocks meet the conservation limit.

Coarse fish imported illegally from outside the UK and unauthorised fish transfers can spread fish diseases to wild stocks; unauthorised introduction into waters in England of non-native fish species also poses a threat to native species and to biodiversity. The Agency will aim to secure a significant reduction in the number of unauthorised transfers of fish.

In allocating additional grant-in-aid to the Environment Agency the Government accept the Review's conclusion that the Environment Agency's fisheries functions continue to be funded from both grant-in-aid and rod and net licence income. We also endorse the Review Group's view that the Agency's work on coarse fish and on trout should benefit from grant-in-aid, in particular when new work is being undertaken. We expect the Agency to devote around one third of the £3 million increase in grant-in-aid to work on coarse fish.

As the Review Group points out, Government spending on salmon and freshwater fisheries is not restricted to Environment Agency Grant-in-Aid; these fisheries also benefit substantially from other forms of Government expenditure. Projects for habitat improvement and to

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develop salmon and freshwater fisheries are, for example, eligible for assistance under agri-environment schemes and the England Rural Development Programme. The Environment Agency and Sport England are continuing to liaise closely to identify any specific projects where two organisations can collaborate together.

The Review recommends that the existing phase out of mixed stock salmon net fisheries should be accelerated by offering compensation to netsmen to encourage them to leave these fisheries on a voluntary basis as soon as possible. It also recommends that the Government should provide substantial pump-priming funds to launch the necessary compensation arrangements.

The Government welcome the Review's endorsement of its policy on mixed stock fisheries. We agree that it would be desirable to speed up the current phase out, on a voluntary basis, and have decided to contribute to the cost involved. We will contribute a maximum of £750,000 for this purpose, payable in the years 2002-03 and 2003-04. However, the Government share the Review Group's view that those who benefit from the phasing out of mixed stock fisheries, particularly riparian owners and anglers in both England and Scotland, should contribute a major share of the cost. The Government's contribution to the costs of a compensation scheme will, therefore, be conditional on private interests raising a matching sum.

The Government will discuss the details of the proposed compensation scheme with interested parties. We propose that the scheme should initially focus on the largest mixed stock fishery, the north-east salmon drift net fishery.

The Review contains a number of recommendations on angling close seasons; these attracted more comments than any other changes proposed by the Review Group. A substantial majority of these expressed opposition to the recommendation that the coarse fish close season should be abolished on rivers. The Government endorse the general approach on close seasons proposed by the Review Group, and have already, in line with the Group's recommendations, confirmed byelaws lifting the close season in most canals. As to the coarse fish close season on rivers, the Government agree with the Environment Agency's view that any change to the coarse fish close season on rivers should be based on science, that at present there is inadequate information on rivers and that no decision on lifting the close season should be considered until further evidence is available.

The Review makes recommendations on a variety of other matters that can affect the conservation of fish in freshwater, including agriculture, forestry, water abstraction, land drainage and flood defence, and predation, most of which the Government have accepted.

A number of the recommendations in the Review relate to the duties of the Environment Agency. The Government note that the Agency is currently subject to a Financial, Management and Policy Review. This will be a comprehensive review that will ask fundamental questions on the purpose, functions and organisation of the Agency. In these circumstances, the Government have not yet reached a decision on the recommendations in question; we will determine our response to them in the light of the outcome of the FMPR.

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