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29 Nov 1995 : Column WA43

Written Answers

Wednesday, 29th November 1995.

European Court of Human Rights: UK Representation

Lord Spens asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Attorney General intends to represent the United Kingdom in February 1996 in the case of Ernest Saunders v. the United Kingdom at the European Court of Human Rights and, if so, whether it is usual for the Attorney General to make representations in front of this Court and how many times this has happened in the past.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern): I can confirm that it is the intention of the Attorney General to represent the United Kingdom in the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Ernest Saunders v. the United Kingdom. It is not unusual for a Law Officer of the Crown to represent the United Kingdom in the European Court of Human Rights. This has happened in 13 cases in the past, in four of which it was the Attorney General who appeared.

Divorce Petitions: Dismissals

Lord Simon of Glaisdale asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In how many cases since 1970 have the courts found, notwithstanding proof of facts referred to in Section 2(1) of the Divorce Reform Act 1969 and Section 2(1) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, that the marriage had nevertheless not irretrievably broken down pursuant to Section 2(3) of the Divorce Reform Act 1969 or Section 1(4) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.

The Lord Chancellor: No statistics have been collected of the reason for dismissal or refusal of divorce petitions. The information could, therefore, only be obtained by making a search of individual court files which can only be done at disproportionate cost.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale asked Her Majesty's Government:

    (a) In how many cases since 1970 has a petitioner alleged, under Section 2(1)(a) of the Divorce Reform Act 1969, or under Section 1(2)(a) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, that he or she found it intolerable to live with the respondent; and

    (b) In how many of those cases did the court, in pursuance of its duty under Section 2(2) of the 1969 Act or Section 1(3) of the 1973 Act to inquire into the facts alleged by a petitioner, find that the petitioner had failed to prove that he or

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    she found it intolerable to live with the respondent.

The Lord Chancellor: During the period 1975-1989, 727,977 petitions for divorce were issued for which the petitioner alleged, amongst other points, that it was intolerable to live with the respondent. Of these approximately 85 per cent. (or 617,718) resulted in the granting of a decree nisi. Consequently, in approximately 110,259 cases the facts alleged were not proven or the case did not proceed to the decree nisi stage. From the statistics it is not possible to identify the number actually dismissed nor the reason for dismissal. To obtain this information would involve disproportionate cost.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In how many cases since 1970 has the court, pursuant to Section 4 of the Divorce Reform Act 1969 or Section 5 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, dismissed a petition based solely on five years' separation on the ground that it would cause grave hardship to the respondent.

The Lord Chancellor: During the period 1975-1989, 179,519 petitions for divorce were issued based on five years' separation. Of these approximately 93 per cent. (or 166,850) resulted in the granting of a decree nisi. In approximately 12,669 cases the application was dismissed or did not proceed to the decree nisi stage. From the statistics collected it is not possible to identify the number actually dismissed nor the reason for dismissal. To obtain this information would involve disproportionate cost.

Family Law Bill [H.L.]

Lord Brightman asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the only substantive changes, as distinct from textual changes, intended to be made by Part III of the Family Law Bill [H.L.] to the Family Homes and Domestic Violence Bill of last Session are contained in Clause 31(10) and Clause 36 of the former Bill and the omission of Clause 26 of the latter Bill.

The Lord Chancellor: The substantive amendments made in the Family Law Bill to the Family Homes and Domestic Violence Bill are as stated by the noble and learned Lord, except that the amendments in Clause 31(10) is repeated in Clause 33(6), and one other amendment is made at Clause 31(7), repeated at Clause 33(4).

Human Rights Treaties: Duty of Compliance

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

    Whether they intend to amend Questions of Procedure for Ministers so as to bring it into line with the proposed Civil Service code, by providing that

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    Ministers have a duty to comply with the law, including international law and treaty obligations.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): Yes, when the document is next revised.

I regret that my Answer of 8 November [WA 213] implied that the duty to comply with the law is at present expressly stated in Questions of Procedures for Ministers.

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

    Whether they will amend Questions of Procedures for Ministers so as to provide that, when proposals are submitted to the Cabinet or a Ministerial Committee, sponsoring Ministers and, where appropriate, the Law Officers, report on the extent to which such proposals comply with the obligations and standards contained in the international human rights treaties to which the United Kingdom is party.

Baroness Blatch: The guidance in Questions of Procedure for Ministers on putting proposals to Cabinet and Ministerial Committees draws attention to issues which should be covered if applicable, including legal implications and the impact of the European Convention on Human Rights. There are no plans to elaborate these requirements.

Specified Bovine Offals

Lord Brougham and Vaux asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are satisfied with the existing measures to ensure that specified bovine offals do not enter the human food chain.

Lord Lucas: The controls in place require the specified bovine offals, the potentially BSE infected tissues, to be removed from all cattle at slaughter and be destroyed. These controls are kept under continual review. The independent Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee again looked at all the controls to protect public health from any remote theoretical risk from BSE at its meeting on 23 November. It concluded:


    "Earlier in 1995 SEAC had concluded that 'provided in the slaughtering process the removal of the spinal cord was done properly, the mechanically recovered meat (MRM) process was safe and there was no reason for the Committee to change its advice.'


    "In the light of the current audit reports [reported to Parliament in my Answer to you on 23 November (Official Report, col. WA16)] showing failure to remove parts of the spinal cord in a small number of carcasses the Committee expressed its grave concern.


    "It noted the further tightening up of controls but felt that unless and until it was clear that the removal of SBO, particularly spinal cord, was now being undertaken properly in all cases it would be prudent, as a precaution, to suspend

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    the use of vertebrae from cattle aged over six months, in the production of MRM."

Taking account of practical considerations, my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has decided to make regulations which would prohibit the use of bovine vertebral column from cattle of any age in mechanically recovered meat. Most MRM is made from poultry, pig and sheep meat. The committee made no recommendation for any other action in respect of products containing MRM. The committee also reiterated its advice that beef, including cuts such as rib of beef and T-bone steak that include backbone, was a safe product.

I must emphasise that these, like all our controls on BSE, are precautionary measures and that there is no evidence of a link between BSE and the human disease CJD.

National Air Traffic Services

Lord Brougham and Vaux asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have for the future of the National Air Traffic Services (NATS).

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport has now given approval in principle to a proposal by the chairman and board of the Civil Aviation Authority that their air traffic control operation should be incorporated as a wholly owned subsidiary of the CAA. This would help to clarify accountabilities and responsibilities and would mean that the directors of the subsidiary board would have the legal duties inherent in Companies Act status. It would achieve a greater degree of separation within the CAA between services provision and regulation and would pave the way for future privatisation, which remains the Government's longer term objective.

Detailed proposals for establishing the subsidiary by April 1996 are now being developed. In addition, the Civil Aviation Authority will be working with officials from the Department of Transport and the Ministry of Defence to ensure that the integrated civil and military air traffic control service currently provided by NATS is fully safeguarded under the new arrangements.


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