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MEANS-TESTED BENEFITS: HABITUAL RESIDENCE TEST

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: 1,053 British citizens did not satisfy the habitual residence test when claiming income support in the three months from 1 August. Figures for housing benefit and council tax benefit refusals are not available. I am informed by the President of the Independent Tribunal Service that the information about appeals from British citizens is not collected centrally and could only be obtained at disproportionate cost. The Government do not keep records of the reasons for British citizens leaving the UK.

MORTGAGE PAYMENTS ASSISTANCE: CEILING

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The limit of £100,000 will be applied equally throughout Great Britain.

MORTGAGE PAYMENTS ASSISTANCE: AMENDMENT PROCEDURE

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The rules providing assistance with mortgage interest in Income Support will be amended using secondary legislation.

PART-TIME WORKERS: PENSIONS EQUAL RIGHTS

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: In response to recent rulings of the European Court of Justice, the

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Government propose to legislate to bring domestic legislation into line with European law, to prohibit sex discrimination in occupational pensions. The proposals were included in the Pensions Bill put before the House on Thursday 15 December 1994. Clauses 55–59 provide that schemes must comply with an equal treatment rule which relates to the terms on which persons become members of the scheme and terms on which members of the scheme are treated.

SOCIAL FUND FUNERAL PAYMENTS: UPRATING

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the cash limit on grants paid for funerals through the Social Fund will be uprated in line with means-tested benefits.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Like other Social Fund payments, funeral payments are not subject to the annual uprating of income-related benefits. However, we keep the level of all Social Fund payments under review.

HORTICULTURAL MARKETING

Lord Gallacher asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Where organisational responsibility now rests for promoting horticultural marketing co-operatives since the change of focus in activities of the Food From Britain Organisation.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earl Howe): The Government encourage better horticultural marketing through the Marketing Development Scheme and the Processing and Marketing Grant, which are administered by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, but do not promote one particular type of marketing organisation rather than another.

AGRICULTURE COUNCIL, 12-15 DECEMBER 1994

Lord Pearson of Rannoch asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the outcome of the Agriculture Council held in Brussels from 12 to 14 December.

Earl Howe: My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food represented the United Kingdom at this meeting of the Council, which lasted from 12-15 December.

The Council's major achievement was agreement on ground rules for implementing the GATT Uruguay Round agreement on agriculture. This package, including the Framework Agreement on bananas, will now pass to the Foreign Affairs Council on 19/20 December for formal adoption along with all other GATT implementation texts. This is a very important agreement for Britain in itself. In addition, I am glad to report that my right honourable friend achieved a range of measures designed to meet specific British interests, notably in relation to cereals, bananas, and commitments

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of benefit to the processed food industry. My right honourable friend also made clear to the Commission that the eventual arrangements for rice, which are not yet in place, must not disadvantage UK millers of high quality rice.

The Council also discussed a Commission proposal to revise the agrimonetary regime. In the absence of an opinion from the European Parliament, no formal decision could be taken. But it was established that a qualified majority of the Council existed in favour of a Presidency compromise proposal which the Commission was prepared to support. My right honourable friend voted against this revised proposal because, although it abolished the potentially expensive and inflationary switchover mechanism which my right honourable friend strongly welcomed, it also introduced unduly complex and potentially costly replacement arrangements to protect farmers in strong-currency countries against currency-induced falls in incomes. Denmark also voted against. The Commission tabled a proposal to prolong the present regime until 31 January 1995 pending a European Parliament opinion on the substantive proposal.

The Council held a further discussion of the Commission's proposal on the welfare of animals in transit, but was unable to reach agreement. My right honourable friend will continue to press for strong and effective Community measures. But meanwhile my right honourable friend is introducing improved national measures to help fill the gap resulting from the absence of agreement by the Council.

My right honourable friend voted against a Council Decision to continue the moratorium on Bovine Somatotropin until 31 December 1999 as this was without scientific justification. The Decision was however adopted by qualified majority.

The Agriculture Commissioner, René Steichen, tabled a report supporting the case, for which the UK has long argued, for allowing land entered into environmental set-aside or woodland to be counted, under certain conditions, against the farmer's compulsory market set-aside requirement. The Council committed itself to taking an early decision on this matter.

The Council adopted unanimously proposals providing for continuation of New Zealand butter access to the United Kingdom and for continuation of sheepmeat imports from various third countries under existing Voluntary Restraint Agreements. In both cases, these regulations apply until 30 June 1995, when they

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will be superseded by the GATT Uruguay Round provisions.

Directives amending the Fresh Meat Hygiene Directive and Milk Hygiene Directive were agreed by qualified majority. On meat hygiene, my right honourable friend abstained, whilst the Dutch and Portuguese delegations opposed. The outcome on milk hygiene was generally highly satisfactory; however, my right honourable friend abstained because there were no provisions to permit the continued double pasteurisation of skimmed milk.

Finally, I am particularly delighted to report that the Council agreed unanimously a new Directive on Minced Meat and Meat Preparations which protects traditional British products, including the British sausage.

SHEEP SCAB

Lord Stanley of Alderley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many cases of sheep scab have been identified by their officials at livestock markets; what action has been taken and how many cases have been taken to court in (a) England and (b) Wales.

Earl Howe: From figures received up to 19 December, only eight of 1,348 market visits conducted since 1 September 1994 have resulted in sheep scab being detected. Of the 181 animals discovered with sheep scab, 78 sheep were withdrawn from sale and treated and 103 were sent for slaughter, as planned.

Seven cases of scab found at markets necessitated welfare visits to the vendor's premises but we are not yet aware of any cases where local authorities are considering prosecution.

BBC WORLD SERVICE: NORTHERN IRELAND REFERENCES

Lord Monson asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will ask the BBC World Service, in its news and current affairs programmes covering Northern Ireland, to refrain from using the phrases "Protestant paramilitaries" and "Protestant terrorists", bearing in mind that care is taken to avoid references to "Catholic paramilitaries" or "Catholic terrorists".

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of National Heritage (Viscount Astor): This is a matter for the BBC, taking account of its obligation to treat controversial subjects with due impartiality.

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