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20 Apr 1998 : Column WA177

Written Answers

Monday, 20th April 1998.

Reservists Serving in Former Yugoslavia

Lord Alderdice asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What proportion of members of the reserve forces (a) throughout the United Kingdom and (b) in Northern Ireland have served with the regular forces in Bosnia.[HL1388]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert): Since NATO operations began in December 1995, 2,520 members of the volunteer reserve forces and 744 members of the regular reserve forces have served in the former Yugoslavia. Respectively, these equate to about 4 per cent. and 1 per cent. of the average strengths of the volunteer reserve forces and the regular reserve forces. These figures include some individuals who have served more than one tour, but exclude those members of the volunteer reserve forces who left temporarily to join the regulars on special short service commissions or engagements. Reservists who have served in the former Yugoslavia have come from throughout the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland. The Ministry of Defence keeps no record of the areas of the United Kingdom from which reservists have been mobilised and the information requested could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.

TAVR Associations

Lord Alderdice asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What measures they intend to take in order to strengthen the effectiveness of the Territorial Army Volunteer Reserve Associations.[HL1390]

Lord Gilbert: The duties and responsibilities of the Territorial, Auxiliary and Volunteer Reserve Associations are set out in the Reserve Forces Act 1996. The relationship between the Ministry of Defence and the Associations has been looked at in the course of the Strategic Defence Review. No final decisions have yet been made, and I am unable to speculate on the outcome of the review.

Organic Farming: Assistance

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have to promote organic farming.[HL1410]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue): The Government are keen to encourage organic farming as a sustainable farming system that can contribute to environmental objectives and can, in particular, deliver real benefits to biodiversity while producing a product

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that the consumer wants and is prepared to pay a premium for. To this end, we have commissioned a review of the rates and structure of aid to farmers converting to organic farming. Copies of that review have been placed in the Library of the House. Decisions on the recommendations will be taken in the context of the Government's Comprehensive Spending Review but, in the meantime, we are introducing a number of measures to help organic farming.

First, we do not want farmers to be discouraged from early conversion by the prospect of a revised scheme. Subject to approval by the European Commission, farmers whose agreements are approved on or after today's date will be allowed, but not required, to switch to any revised scheme introduced as a result of this review. The total length of the agreement will remain unchanged and any switch will take place on the anniversary of the agreement. Thus, for instance, a participant might receive the year 1 payment due under the existing scheme and the year 2 to 5 payments due under a revised scheme.

Secondly, we wish to help the cash flow of those in the Organic Aid Scheme. We intend that the full annual payment will be made at the end of the first quarter of each year of the agreement. This is an improvement on the current system, where the majority of payments are made quarterly in arrears. We shall be laying a Statutory Instrument before Parliament that will allow greater flexibility in the timing of payments and, subject to its approval, we hope it will be possible to introduce this change from 1 August 1998.

If organic farming in this country is to expand, it needs a sound research base. We wish to strengthen our programme of organic R&D. We have asked the United Kingdom Register of Organic Food Standards (UKROFS) to provide advice on priorities and we will be reviewing our R&D programme in May. In the interim, we are increasing our spend by about 30 per cent. to nearly £1.5 million for 1998-99. In preparation for future work we will be commissioning additional work to: review animal husbandry techniques for maintaining animal health within organic farming; assess the causes of different profitability on organic farms; and identify the implications for organic farmers of cross contamination with pollen from genetically modified crops.

We also consider it important that organic farmers should be encouraged to maximise the environmental benefits on their farms and to participate in relevant agri-environment schemes. We intend that, when considering applications for Countryside Stewardship, land registered as organic or in conversion will normally be given extra points, and hence priority over comparable conventional land. This will be introduced for the main Countryside Stewardship Scheme in 1998 (closing date 31 May 1998) and for Arable Stewardship in 1999 (closing date 31 March 1999).

If organic farming is to expand, farmers will need advice on conversion relevant to their own circumstances. A telephone help-line and free farm visits are already available through the Organic Conversion Information Service (OCIS). For 1998-99

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we intend to increase the resources available to OCIS to meet an anticipated increase in demand.

If organic production expands, there will be a need for increased funding for the sector bodies who are involved in implementing and checking the Organic Aid Scheme. We will be discussing with the sector bodies the resources needed to compensate them for their roles in the scheme and expect to provide additional help in 1998-99 to enable them to prepare themselves for increased demand.

Common Fisheries Policy: Zonal Management

Lord Stoddart of Swindon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have discussed with the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisation and the Scottish Fishermen's Federation their joint statement of 4 February about zonal management committees.[HL1442]

Lord Donoughue: The National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations and Scottish Fishermen's Federation have produced a joint position paper on the future of the Common Fisheries Policy after 2002. UK Fisheries Ministers hope to discuss this paper with the federations in the near future.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they raised the subject of zonal management committees at the Fisheries Council Meeting of 24 March; and, if not, whether they intend to do so at the next Fisheries Council Meeting.[HL1443]

Lord Donoughue: The future of the Common Fisheries Policy after 2002 was not on the agenda of the Fisheries Council for its meeting on 24 March. The Government will decide nearer the time which issues to raise at the next meeting of the Fisheries Council on 8 June.

Fishing Quota Transfers

Lord Stoddart of Swindon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether a British fisherman who purchases track record/quota from another British fisherman will at the same time acquire a legal title to it in perpetuity.[HL1446]

Lord Donoughue: Quota allocations are issued to the UK fishing industry each year at the discretion of Ministers, who presently have regard to the fishing track record associated with the fishing vessel licences held by fishermen belonging to producer organisations and other groups. Fishermen may sell or purchase licence entitlements but such transaction do not confer a legal title either to the licences or to the track record or quota

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associated with them, and subsequent issue of any licence is subject to ministerial discretion.

Quota may also be transferred between producer organisations or other groups on an annual basis. Each transaction is subject to ministerial approval.

BSE Statistics

Lord Marlesford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will publish in the Official Report a table showing the number of BSE cases that have been confirmed during each week in 1997 and during each week to date in 1998 together with the moving annual total of cases reported in each 52 week period ending in 1997 and January to April in 1998. [HL1464]

Lord Donoughue: The following table shows the number of cases of BSE confirmed in Great Britain during each week of 1997 and during each of the first 14 weeks of this year, together with the moving annual total of cases reported.

Year 1997

Week numberNumber confirmed each week52 week total reported

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Year 1998

Week numberNumber confirmed each week52 week total reported


Week 1 is the week ending on the first Friday of the year.

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