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16 Nov 1998 : Column WA127

Written Answers

Monday, 16th November 1998.

Sudan: Food Aid Delivery by Train

Lord McNair asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the use by Operation Lifeline Sudan of the rail network in Sudan to deliver food aid to central and southern Sudan has been impeded by the refusal of the United States Government to allow delivery to the Sudan of spare parts for rolling stock.[HL3804]

Baroness Amos: The impediment to the use of the rail network in Sudan by Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) is the lack of a political agreement by all sides to the conflict in Sudan to the unhindered use of the train for relief purposes. Trains to central and southern Sudan are running despite the lack of imported spares. But because of the security situation they are accompanied by Sudanese Government armed guards. The use of government armed guards on a relief convoy negates its impartiality and thus exposes it to attack and raiding by militia.

A meeting of the Technical Committee on Humanitarian Assistance, comprising representatives of the Inter Governmental Authority on Development, OLS, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement and the Sudan Government is scheduled to meet later this month under the chairmanship of the United Nations. The issue of land routes, including use of the train, will be a main part of the agenda, and we are urging all sides to agree safe passage for the delivery of humanitarian relief by rail without armed guard and under the auspices of the United Nations.

Parliamentary Counsel

Lord Brightman asked Her Majesty's Government:

    To which Minister Parliamentary Counsel are accountable, other than being accountable to the particular Minister for whom Parliamentary Counsel are drafting a Bill or other matter.[HL3821]

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): The Parliamentary Counsel Office reports to the Prime Minister.

Government Policy and the Labour Party Conference

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    To what extent their policies are influenced by the Labour Party annual Conference.[HL3636]

Baroness Jay of Paddington: The Government were elected on a manifesto which was based in part on decisions taken at the Labour Party Conference and

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supported by the overwhelming majority of the membership of the Labour Party. The manifesto set out a clear, radical programme of reform designed to modernise our country and build a more decent society; a programme to unite the nation in facing the tough challenges of the future and the changing society. The manifesto contained specific pledges and commitments which address the real concerns of the people of Britain. Underpinned by the clear mandate given to it by the people, the Government are delivering on these commitments through extra investment on priority areas, particularly health and education--investment tied to modernisation--and will continue to do so.

Tenant Farmers Association: Support Request

Lord Beaumont of Whitley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What response they have given or propose to give to the Tenant Farmers Association's request to:

    (a) double the Hill Livestock Compensatory Allowances for 1999;

    (b) bring forward the compensation available as a result of the increase in the value of the green pound;

    (c) continue the Calf Processing Aid Scheme after 30 November 1998; and

    (d) relax the weight limit for suckler cows going through the Over Thirty Months Scheme.[HL3719]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue): These requests were recently put forward by the TFA to my right honourable friend the Minister. Her Majesty's Government are considering these, along with further requests by other industry organisations, and will make an announcement shortly.

Bone-in Beef

Lord Willoughby de Broke asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they expect to lift the Beef on the Bone Regulations 1997 to enable beef on the bone to be sold legally in the United Kingdom.[HL3667]

Lord Donoughue: The ban on sales of bone-in beef is not intended to be for all time. The Beef Bones Regulations 1997 remain under review, as is the case with all BSE-related control measures. In expressing their hopes recently that the controls can be lifted as quickly as possible, Ministers have emphasised that any decision to do so, or to alter their scope, would only be taken in the light of progress with the eradication of BSE, scientific advice from the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee and the views of the Chief Medical Officer.

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Common Fisheries Policy

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the European Union is a party to the Biodiversity Convention; whether that convention has any bearing on the content or conduct of the Common Fisheries Policy in North European waters; and, if so, whose responsibility it is to ensure that it is being observed there.[HL3601]

Lord Donoughue: The European Community is a contracting party to the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Commission presented a strategy to the Council earlier this year, indicating how biodiversity might be better integrated into key Community policies. This includes the establishment of a series of sectoral action plans, including one relating to fisheries. The Commission will be guided by this strategy when drawing up proposals under the Common Fisheries Policy and in other sectors.

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the European Union is a party to the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context; whether that Convention has any bearing on the content or conduct of the Common Fisheries Policy in North European waters; and, if so, whose responsibility it is to ensure that it is being observed there.[HL3602]

Lord Donoughue: The European Community is a contracting party to the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context, which does not apply to fisheries matters.

IACS: Overdue Payments

Lord Burton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will pay interest on overdue IACS (Integrated Administration and Control System) payments.[HL3613]

Lord Donoughue: Every effort is made to make payments to farmers under the schemes covered by IACS within the relevant periods laid down by EC regulations. There is no general legal entitlement to interest where it is not possible to do so.

Wild Boar

Lord Robertson of Oakridge asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the risk assessment exercise on wild boar referred to in the Written Answer by the Baroness Hayman on 23 June 1997 (WA 151) has been completed; and, if so, what were its findings.[HL3599]

Lord Donoughue: The risk assessment on wild boar referred to was published on 21 October 1998 and I have placed a copy of both the report and the news release in the Library of the House.

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Telecommunications Code System Operators: Planning Controls

Lord Bach asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have to change planning controls over development carried out by licensed telecommunications code system operators.[HL3895]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): In July 1998 we published for public comment a number of proposed changes to the permitted development rights granted to licensed telecommunications code system operators under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 (GPDO). These were set out in the consultation paper, "Telecommunications Development Control". The proposed changes reflected the Government's commitment to striking the right balance between encouraging the establishment of an efficient and modern national telecommunications network and protecting the environment.

Our main proposal was for the introduction of a new two-stage "prior approval" procedure in respect of applications for ground-based masts in sensitive locations in order to allow for greater public consultation over their siting and appearance. Respondents to the consultation paper were highly supportive of the principle of increasing the opportunity for public comment. However, a number of local planning authorities and telecommunications operators expressed concern over the complexity of the procedure proposed. There were also concerns that the introduction of a distinction between sensitive and non-sensitive sites would lead to uncertainty about how any application was going to be handled and how long it would take and would disadvantage those living in non-sensitive areas. We have taken account of these concerns and concluded that we should proceed with a new single-stage prior approval procedure of 42 days for ground-based masts. This will include a requirement that the operator should erect a site notice to publicise the development proposed. The revised approach will provide the public with a clear opportunity to comment to the local planning authority on the siting and appearance of all proposals to erect ground-based masts under the GPDO.

A clear majority of the respondents supported our other proposals for changes to the GPDO, particularly those to strengthen planning controls over telecommunications development in sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs). The department is now preparing the necessary GPDO amendment order and guidance to implement the changes and will consult on drafts. The draft guidance will include advice on the possible use of planning obligations to secure mast sharing, taking into account the comments received in the recent consultation exercise.

The Government attach great importance to minimising the impact of telecommunications infrastructure on the environment. The new prior approval procedure for ground-based masts and strengthened planning controls in SSSIs will contribute

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to that objective. Our planning policies are already directed to making good use of existing masts and buildings for the installation of new antennas and to encouraging operators and local planning authorities to work together to identify mast sites that are satisfactory from both an environmental and a technical point of view.

We are, however, keen to discuss with the telecommunications industry what more can be done on all sides to minimise the environmental impact of new telecommunications development. To that end we shall be meeting with representatives of the industry at the earliest available opportunity.

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