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30 Jul 1998 : Column WA213

Written Answers

Thursday, 30th July 1998.

Agricultural Chemical Residues

Lord Swinfen asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What research they are undertaking on the build-up in the human body of residues of agricultural chemicals in food and the effect of a cocktail of such residues.[HL2914]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue): The Working Party on Pesticide Residues carries out surveillance for pesticide residues, including regular surveys of residues present in the human body. The working party's most recent published report, for 1996, includes the results of a survey of human fat. The 1997 annual report, which is to be published in September 1998, will include the results of a survey of human milk.

Any residues detected in such surveys are usually of organochlorine pesticides, most of which are no longer approved in the UK but which can persist in fatty tissues. The results have shown a continuing trend of reduction in residues over the last 35 years.

Currently we are not undertaking any research into the effects of multiple residues of agricultural chemicals in the human body.

North Sea Drift Netting

Lord Mason of Barnsley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    To what extent has the North Sea drift netting practice been reduced during each of the past five years; and what further consideration is being given to banning such operations.[HL2992]

Lord Donoughue: The number of net licences issued to salmon fishermen operating in the north-east coast drift net fishery during the past five years, together with the total number of days fished by licence holders, are as follows:

Number licenses124114998981
Number days fished5,1875,5055,3033,5813,200

Following recent ICES advice about the state of salmon stocks throughout the North Atlantic, the Government are urgently considering what action should be taken to reduce levels of exploitation of salmon in Great Britain, including possible restrictions on both rods and nets.

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Lord Mason of Barnsley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the estimated cost of compensation to buy out the North Sea drift net fishermen; and whether they have discussed such compensation with the fishermen.[HL2993]

Lord Donoughue: No public funds are available to compensate fishermen holding salmon drift net licences for surrendering their licences, and the cost of any buy-out would be a matter for negotiation between interested parties and the licence holders. In these circumstances we have not discussed the question of compensation with licence holders or sought to establish the cost of a buy-out.

OECD Convention on Bribery and International Business Transactions

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they propose to ratify the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions signed in December 1997.[HL2831]

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Simon of Highbury): It is intended that the text of the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions will be placed before both Houses during October. We are confident that the UK will meet the deadline for ratification set by OECD Ministers for 31 December this year.

Computer Software: Intellectual Property Rights

Lord Cope of Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their policy on the protection of intellectual property rights in computer software in the United Kingdom and overseas.[HL3051]

Lord Simon of Highbury: Under current UK law (Patents Act 1977), computer programs as such are excluded from patent protection. This is also the position elsewhere in Europe.

The United States (and perhaps Japan) takes a more liberal approach to the patentability of software. Under the UK Presidency, the Patent Office, supported by the European Commission, held a major conference to discuss the issue. The European Commission is currently considering whether there is a need to make proposals to revise the policy on software patents. The UK Government will consider carefully any proposals made by the Commission and take an active part in any subsequent debate.

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Coal Subsidies in Germany and Spain

Earl Attlee asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What specific measures they have taken to combat anti-competitive coal subsidies in Germany and Spain; and what benefits have been achieved as a result of these actions.[HL2722]

Lord Simon of Highbury: In the case of Spain we have formally complained to the European Commission about discriminatory application of limits on the sulphur content of coals from different ECSC resources and have received assurances that UK coal will be treated on the same basis as Spanish coal. This should open the Spanish market to a range of English deep-mined coals.

We have also laid a formal complaint against Spanish state aid for coal questioning whether the required criteria of ultimate viability has been fulfilled for all those producers receiving operating aid under the ECSC Coal State Aid code. We are pressing for confirmation from the Spanish Authorities that a subsidy of 1 peseta per kilowatt/hour available to Spanish power-station operators burning Spanish coal is equally available in respect of UK coal.

In the case of Germany, we conveyed a complaint to the European Commission on behalf of Celtic Energy Ltd. setting out how state aid provided to Sophia Jacoba and Ibbenburen mines led to a distortion in the anthracite market in the ECSC and particularly in the UK. Following an investigation the Commission found there had been abuse of state aid and reached a decision on 29 July requiring repayment of nearly DM 20 million state aid by the German producers. This decision provides UK producers with an assurance that such unfair practices will not recur and should help to open up continental markets for competitive UK exports of anthracite.

The Government are monitoring closely the commercial negotiations UK producers are conducting on the export of power-station coal and briquettes to the German market in competition with state-aided German coal. They have also drawn to the Commission's attention possible elements of state aid in the proposed merger of the main German coal producers.

Strategic Defence Review, Development and Strategic Exports

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are the policy implications of the interrelationship between the Strategic Defence Review, the White Paper on development, the new criteria on arms export controls and the Department of Trade and Industry White Paper on strategic exports.[HL2900]

Lord Simon of Highbury: Policies set out as a result of the exercises referred to have all been developed in consultation between relevant government departments to ensure that they are consistent with each other.

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Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham Health Authority: Surgical Policy

The Earl of Kinnoull asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why patients in south-east London are being forced to have operations for varicose veins, lipomas and sebaceous cysts done privately.[HL3017]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Hayman): Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham Health Authority has no blanket restrictions on any surgical procedure. Those procedures identified by the noble Earl have been agreed locally to be of low priority given their limited clinical effectiveness on some patients. Treatment is therefore restricted to individuals who meet locally agreed eligibility criteria. These take into account the individual's clinical need and the effectiveness of the treatment in meeting that need.

Cerebral Palsy: Conductive Education

The Earl of Iveagh asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many children with cerebral palsy have attended British conductive centres over the last five years; and how this compares with the numbers of British children who have had a similar education overseas.[HL2934]

Baroness Hayman: The Government do not collect statistics either on the number of children with cerebral palsy attending conductive education centres in the United Kingdom or on the number of British children receiving such education abroad. However, the Peto Institute in Budapest provided information in March 1997 indicating that they had cared for a total of 942 British children up to that date.

Conductive Education: Financial Support

The Earl of Iveagh asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How much financial support has been given to the United Kingdom based conductive educational establishments over the last five years; and how this compares with the financial support given to their overseas counterparts over the same period.[HL2935]

Baroness Hayman: The total amount of government funding of conductive education establishments in the United Kingdom over the financial years 1993-94 to 1997-98 was £1,878,112. This was provided by the Scottish Office to the Scottish Centre for Children with Motor Impairments (£1,838,112) and by the Department of Health to the National Institute for Conductive Education (£40,000): £1,750,000 paid by the UK in 1991 together with accrued interest is currently being used to extend and refurbish the Peto Institute in Budapest under an inter-governmental agreement of March 1997 with the Hungarian Government.

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