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21 Mar 1996 : Column WA105

Written Answers

Thursday, 21st March 1996.

Dunblane: Inquiry

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove asked Her Majesty's Government:

    On what basis the inquiry into the Dunblane shootings will be established and what will be its terms of reference.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (The Earl of Lindsay): The inquiry will be established under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921. This procedure, which was followed in the case of the Aberfan inquiry, will enable evidence to be taken on oath, as Lord Cullen wishes, and will attract the provisions of the Contempt of Court Act 1981. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland proposes that the inquiry's terms of reference should be:

"To inquire into the circumstances leading up to and surrounding the events at Dunblane Primary School on Wednesday 13th March 1996, which resulted in the deaths of 18 people; to consider the issues arising therefrom; to make such interim and final recommendations as may seem appropriate; and to report as soon as practicable."

It is important that adequate preparation time is allowed as this will enable the inquiry itself to be shorter and more focused. My right honourable friend anticipates that, after initial procedure, the inquiry will begin to take evidence in public in June with a view to reporting by about the end of September.

Meanwhile work will be carried forward within Government to review relevant aspects of firearms legislation, school security and the supervision of adults working with children so that we will be in a position to respond promptly to recommendations from the Inquiry.

Nitrate in Vegetables: EC Legislation

Lord Willoughby de Broke asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to Lord Lucas's Written Answer of 8th March (H.L. Deb. col. WA 40), what are the proposals which the United Kingdom has agreed to support in the European Commission's document VI/3080/93 Rev 7, and what will be the effect of these proposals on the British lettuce growers.

Lord Lucas: The European Commission's document VI/3080/93 Rev 7 is the latest version of a European Commission proposal to introduce limits for nitrate in lettuce and spinach. Earlier versions of this proposal were considered unacceptable because the proposed limits were unachievable in the UK owing to our climate. However, the main provisions of the most recent draft are more realistic and achievable, with

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limits of 3,500 mg/kg and 4,500 mg/kg for glasshouse-grown lettuce in summer and winter respectively, and 2,500 mg/kg for lettuce grown outdoors during the summer. It also allows member states to take advantage of a derogation which exempts crops produced for the domestic market from these limits for a transitional period. The main effect of this proposal will be to encourage all British lettuce growers to follow good agricultural practice.

Agriculture Council, 18th-19th March

Lord Mountevans asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the outcome of the Agriculture Council held in Brussels on 18th and 19th March.

Lord Lucas: My honourable friend the Minister of State represented the United Kingdom at the Agriculture Council meeting in Brussels on 18th-19th March 1996.

The Council had before it three proposals relating to beef hormones, which together re-enacted the ban on growth promoting hormones and the import of meat treated with such hormones; introduced rules on the use of so-called beta-agonists; and strengthened controls on the illegal use of these substances. On behalf of the UK, my honourable friend the Minister of State argued against enacting these proposals in view of the imminent negotiations in the World Trade Organisation framework between the European Union on the one hand, and the United States and other complainants on the other. However all other member states were able to agree. He indicated our intention to vote against the measures when formally adopted for the reasons which he had stated in the Council.

The Agriculture Commissioner introduced a proposal to amend the Council regulation on the common organisation of the market in bananas, principally to increase the tariff quota to provide for the market requirements of the new member states of the EU, but also to introduce other changes. My honourable friend the Minister of State made clear the UK's willingness to remedy operational deficiencies in the present banana regime, but not to accept fundamental changes to the regime to the detriment of ACP banana producers. Work will now begin on this proposal at technical level.

The Presidency and Commission conducted bilateral meetings with member states on the proposals for reform of the common organisation of the market in fruit and vegetables and in products processed from fruit and vegetables. My honourable friend the Minister of State made clear the importance which the UK attaches to reform of these regimes. He stressed the need for measures to reduce dependence on intervention, to allow specialist producer groups to flourish, and to prevent market arrangements of an anti-competitive nature. The Presidency indicated that these proposals would be discussed further at the Council in April in the light of conclusions drawn from bilateral contacts.

Finally the Commissioner indicated, in response to UK questioning, that work was underway at technical level on the proposal to improve the welfare of calves

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used for veal production, and expressed the Commission's hope that this would proceed as quickly as possible.

Former Yugoslavia: UK Army Reservists

Lord Ironside asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have to replace those members of the Territorial Army and Army Reserve who were called out last December and February to support the UK's contribution to the NATO implementation force in former Yugoslavia.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Earl Howe): Work has commenced to trawl for suitably qualified volunteers from the Army Reserve and Territorial Army who are willing to be called out for service in former Yugoslavia, and also to identify those reservists currently called out who are prepared to extend their period of service.

Operation Granby: Chemical Warfare Agents

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether detection equipment in service at the time of Operation Granby was capable of identifying the presence of Soviet V gas (Substance 33).

Earl Howe: Yes.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether it is possible that Iraq had stocks of Soviet V-gas, also known as Substance 33, at the time of Operation Granby.

Earl Howe: The United Nations Special Commission has not so far reported that Iraq has, or ever has had, stocks of the Soviet V-gas, Substance 33.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether it is possible that members of HM armed forces serving in Operation Granby may have been affected by solid particles of chemical warfare agents absorbed by toxic combustion products resulting from incomplete combustion of the agents either before or during the operation.

Earl Howe: There is no evidence that chemical or biological weapons were used during Operation Granby.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether protective clothing including gas mask filters used by members of HM Armed Forces during Operation Granby was collected and sampled for the presence of chemical warfare agents including Soviet V-gas (Substance 33): and, if so, with what results.

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Earl Howe: No such tests were conducted, since there is no evidence that chemical or biological weapons were used during Operation Granby.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are the known chronic health effects of low levels of exposure to modern chemical warfare agents.

Earl Howe: There are no known chronic health effects arising from exposure to low levels of chemical warfare nerve agents.

Chemical Warfare Agents: Detection

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether Her Majesty's Armed Forces are provided with equipment capable of detecting absorbed particles of chemical warfare agents also known as "dusty agents".

Earl Howe: Yes.

Recruitment and Assessment Services: Staff Transfers

Lord Harris of Greenwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether any officials of Recruitment and Assessment Services (RAS) have applied for transfer to other posts in the Civil Service since 1st January 1996; what were their grades; and how many applications for transfer are outstanding.

Earl Howe: Seven officials of Recruitment and Assessment Services (RAS) have applied for transfer to other posts in the Civil Service since 1st January 1996. Their grades are: Three Administrative Officers; One Executive Officer; One Personal Secretary; One Senior Personal Secretary; and One Grade 7.

Transfer dates for two staff have been agreed, two applications have not been pressed and two applications are outstanding.


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