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Expert Group on Vitamins and Minerals

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Donoughue: The Government are considering whether any change is required to the arrangements for the Expert Group on Vitamins and Minerals in the light of the recommendations made by the Agriculture Select Committee in its report on Vitamin B6. As regards the chairmanship, I refer the noble Lord to the reply given by Baroness Jay on 9 July 1998 (WA 153).

Conditional Fees

Lord Burlison asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): I have today placed in the Libraries of both Houses a summary of the responses to the consultation paper. The Government remain committed to achieving the aims set out in the consultation paper of extending access to justice and beginning the process of refocusing legal aid to where it can do most good. I am grateful to all those who responded, all of whose comments have been carefully considered.

The Government have received wide support to extend conditional fees to all civil proceedings other than family cases and we are keen to proceed as quickly as possible. I have today laid a draft order for the approval of this House to extend conditional fees to all proceedings not excluded by statute. The draft order will be debated as soon as time can be found. For the longer term, the Government continue to believe the operation and fairness of conditional fees would be enhanced by making the success fee and insurance premium recoverable. We wish to consider this further before reaching any final decision but I am minded to seek the legislation to allow the success fees and insurance premiums to be recoverable as soon as possible.

Legal aid is in urgent need of reform and we shall begin the process of reform in a number of ways. First,

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we will ensure that assisted persons have access to suitably competent lawyers in medical negligence cases by using existing powers to direct clients towards specialist lawyers who hold franchise contracts with the Legal Aid Board. It will be a condition of holding a contract that the lawyers have shown themselves to be competent in this area of law. I have asked the Legal Aid Board to press ahead with putting in place the necessary contracts. I wish to see these contracts in place by January 1999. I have also directed them to establish a panel of lawyers of proven experience and expertise to whom preference would be given in awarding contracts for group actions and other related changes, as canvassed in the board's consultation paper When the Price is High published in June 1997.

In addition, I have asked the board to complete, by the end of 1999, not only the provision of civil advice and assistance exclusively through contracts, but also all family legal aid, including representation.

Finally, to achieve the maximum benefit from the money available, the Government are determined to ensure that legal aid is not spent in purchasing legal services where a suitable alternative exists. They believe that conditional fees provide a suitable alternative, particularly in a range of money claims. They recognise, however, that this alternative would be more attractive if the success fee and insurance premium were recoverable. For that reason, the Government are considering how quickly to move to a position where the kinds of money claims described in the consultation paper--in particular personal injury claims--are financed principally by conditional fee agreements. The Government would like to be able to move to this position by October 1999.

National Curriculum

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are (a) the core subjects and (b) the foundation subjects of the National Curriculum; and whether there are any proposals to change these subjects.[HL2680]

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): In England, mathematics, English and science are designated in the Education Act 1996 as core subjects. The other foundation subjects designated in the Act are technology, physical education, history, geography, art, music and a modern foreign language.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State formally asked the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority on 11 May to begin the review of the National Curriculum in England for the year 2000. He set out clear parameters for that review: it must be very limited in scope and address what has to be changed to allow schools to concentrate on raising standards; it must ensure the primacy of literacy and numeracy skills across the curriculum; it must maintain a broad and balanced curriculum entitlement for all pupils, while allowing greater flexibility and reduced prescription,

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especially at key stages 1, 2 and 4; and it must make room for the Government's new agenda of education for citizenship and teaching democracy, personal, social and health education and the spiritual, moral, social and cultural dimension.

QCA will be presenting draft new National Curriculum Orders to my right honourable friend in April 1999. There will then be public consultation with teachers, parents, employers and others. The new National Curriculum will then be made available to all schools in autumn 1999 so they can prepare for its formal introduction in September 2000.

Curriculum matters in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are the responsibility of my right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Teaching and Higher Education Bill and European Human Rights Convention

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

    Whether, in their view, the provisions of Clause 19 of the Teaching and Higher Education Bill are compatible with Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights read with Article 2 of the First Protocol.[HL2664]

Baroness Blackstone: We take the view that Clause 19 of the Teaching and Higher Education Bill [Bill 145 as first printed for the Commons] as amended, is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. Clause 19--which applies only to England and Wales because of the separate legal systems for Scotland and Northern Ireland--provides for the Secretary of State to make regulations giving him a power or a duty to make grants or loans for prescribed purposes to eligible students, but does not require the provision of such financial support to be subject to discrimination between students on grounds of national or social origin or on any of the other grounds mentioned in Article 14. The clause does not breach the general duty of non-discrimination in Article 14 in the context of the right to further or higher education.

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

    Further to the speech by the Lord Sewel on 7 July (H.L. Deb., col. 1112), whether they have received advice as to the compatibility of charging higher fees for students of non-Scottish origins at Scottish universities with the prohibition of a discriminatory difference of treatment in relation to the right to education contained in Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights read with Article 2 of the First Protocol.[HL2665]

Baroness Blackstone: It is for higher education institutions to charge fees. The Government's policy concerns the making of non-means-tested grants to students resident in Scotland in respect of fees for the final honours year of first-degree courses at Scottish

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institutions, whereas students resident in England, Wales or Northern Ireland will be eligible only for means-tested grants for such fees.

In the light of advice, the Government consider that their policy is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. Any differences in treatment between students resident in Scotland and in other parts of the UK reflect the existence of more than one legal system and more than one education system in the UK.

Following the recent amendment to the Teaching and Higher Education Bill and in line with our stated intention to monitor the effect of introducing the means-testing of grants for fees, the arrangements for making grants for fees for the final honours year of first-degree courses at Scottish institutions will be subject to an independent review before 1 April 2000.

General Affairs Council

Lord Graham of Edmonton asked Her Majesty's Government:


    What was the outcome of the General Affairs Council in Brussels on 13-14 July.[HL2851]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): See below.

A General Affairs Council was held in Brussels on 13 July. The Council agreed the 37 A Points listed in document 10255/98 and noted the European Parliament's Resolutions, Decisions and Opinions taken at its part sessions in Strasbourg on 15-19 June and 1-2 July, and listed in documents 9471/98 and 9533/98. Copies of both these documents will be placed in the House Library as soon as they become available.

The Council endorsed the Austrian Presidency's handling plan and timetable for the Agenda 2000 package.

Over lunch Ministers discussed the working methods of the General Affairs Council.

The mandates for negotiations with Norway and Iceland over their continued involvement with Schengen after entry into force of Amsterdam were briefly discussed. A few points remain to be settled; but the presidency made clear that it would aim for the adoption of the mandates before the summer.

Ministers condemned the violation by Belarus of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations in its actions against Ambassadors' residences in Drozdy. As a signal of the seriousness with which it took the situation, the EU had already adopted a Common Position imposing an entry visa ban on all members of the Government and senior officials of the Republic of Belarus. The Council expressed its determination to adopt further measures should further violations of the Vienna Convention occur. It will continue to monitor the situation in Minsk and demanded concrete proposals from the Belarus authorities. The EU hoped that early action by the Belarusian Government to respect fully the Vienna Convention would enable a return to the status quo ante and facilitate the development of the more

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constructive EU/Belarus relationship which the EU wished.

The Council expressed its grave concern at the continuing violence and loss of life in Kosovo, particularly among the civilian population. The danger of a rapid widening of the crisis remains. The Council reiterated its call for an immediate cessation of all hostilities and the restart of a political process, with direct international involvement, between the parties. The Kosovo Albanian team for these talks must be able to speak authoritatively and therefore be fully representative of their community. The Council accordingly called on the leaders within the Kosovo Albanian community to unite and to make common cause to this end.

The Council recalled that a solution for Kosovo can be found neither through the maintenance of the status quo nor through independence, but through a special status, including a large degree of autonomy within the FRY. The Council welcomed the intention of the Contact Group to set in hand work, to which the EU is actively contributing, to define possible further elements for the future status of Kosovo with a view to making them available to the parties. It emphasised that international involvement in the dialogue remains an essential element of credible negotiations.

The Council discussed the situation in Albania. It strongly encouraged the government of Prime Minister Nano to follow a policy of restraint and moderation in the Kosovo crisis, which is now more necessary than ever. It expressed its concern about the flow of arms from northern Albania to Kosovo Albanian armed groups. It called on all political organisations in Albania to support the policy of the Albanian government and to associate themselves with the line taken by the European Union on the Kosovo issue. At the same time it called upon the Albanian government to increase its efforts to stop the flow of weapons from Albania to Kosovo.

The Council was encouraged by General Abubakar's commitment to national reconciliation leading to the restoration of democratic civilian rule in Nigeria and his decision to release a significant number of detainees. The Council urged General Abubakar to release all the remaining detainees and to announce his plans for the electoral process. It reiterated EU's readiness to support an inclusive political process.

The Council heard a report on the EU Troika Ambassadors' visit to East Timor from 27-30 June. It paid tribute to the way the members of the troika handled the difficult situation which arose and agreed that their report and conclusions should continue to be followed up by the competent Council bodies.

The Council discussed the situation in Guinea Bissau and agreed that there was a need for humanitarian assistance and the opening of corridors for it to be delivered. It stressed the need for political and diplomatic solution to the problems and agreed that the EU should commit itself to a reconstruction programme on the basis of democratic conditions and the maintenance of the elections planned for this year and next.

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The Council adopted conclusions inviting COREPER and the Commission to solve rapidly the problems emerging from the European Court of Justice's recent judgment on spending without a legal base.

The Council expressed the hope that the conference nearing its conclusion in Rome would result in agreement to establish a credible International Criminal Court.

The UK and seven EU partners drew the Council's attention to a joint statement deploring the Commission's decision to impose provisional anti-dumping duties on imports of unbleached cotton fabric from six non-EU countries.

The first EU-Tunisia Association Council was held on 14 July, following the entry into force of the EU/Tunisia Association Agreement earlier this year. A dinner with the Tunisian Foreign Minister was held on 13 July. Ministers welcomed the new agreement, as part of wider moves towards a Euro-Mediterranean Free Trade Area by 2010, and discussed issues of common interest including developments in the Middle East Peace Process, human rights, and inward investment.

The inaugural Co-operation Council under the terms of the Partnership and Co-operation Agreement (PCA), between the EU and Moldova took place on 14 July. Over a working breakfast, Ministers had an exchange of views on foreign policy issues of mutual interest (including the situation in Transdniestra) and EU/Moldova relations. The Council itself exchanged views on the implementation of the PCA and adopted the Rules of Procedure establishing the foundations for the future work on the Co-operation Council and Committee, as well as the Joint Work Programme for 1998-99.

The first EU/Mexico Joint Council was held on 14 July. It renewed the EU and Mexico's shared commitment to closer ties, including through the substantial and reciprocal liberalisation of trade in goods and services.


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