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Sparkling Cider: Duty

Lord Tebbit asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The European Commission has the responsibility for monitoring and ensuring member states' compliance with treaty obligations. Where there has been a breach of any such obligation, the Commission is empowered to take action to enforce compliance, which may result in the instigation of infraction proceedings against the member state concerned.

In 1995 the Commission drew to the UK Government's attention an apparent breach contrary to Article 95 of the Treaty of Rome, which prohibits the imposition on the products of other member states any internal taxation of such a nature as to afford indirect protection to other products. In its Reasoned Opinion, the Commission deemed that higher strength sparkling cider (a mainly domestic product) and lower strength sparkling wine (a mainly imported product) were in direct competition and that the UK's duty treatment, which favoured the former, was discriminatory. The legal advice taken by the previous government indicated that the UK could not successfully challenge the Commission's assertions.

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The UK Government at the time, therefore, gave a commitment to the European Commission, in 1996, to align the rates of duty on higher strength sparkling cider with that on lower strength sparkling wine over a period of time. The duty increase on sparkling cider announced in the recent Budget completes the process of alignment.

VAT on Imported Works of Art

Lord Tebbit asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the European Union is empowered to require that VAT on imported works of art be raised from the present level of 2.5 per cent. to 5 per cent.[HL1884]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Under the terms of EC law that was agreed by all member states, and which came into effect in 1995, the then United Kingdom Government agreed to raise its rate of VAT in this area from 2.5 per cent. to at least the normal minimum 5 per cent. after 30 June 1999. The present Government are seeking to retain the 2.5 per cent. rate, but we need the unanimous agreement of the European Commission and all other member states to achieve that.

The European Commission has the power to bring before the European Court of Justice any failure by member states to comply with their Community obligations.

British Museum: Exhibition Charges

The Earl of Clancarty asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will intervene to ensure that the admission charges (including charges to school children) recently introduced by the British Museum for some displays drawn wholly from its permanent collection will be dropped.[HL1755]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: No. The decision to charge for temporary exhibitions at the British Museum is a matter for its trustees.

Charges for children aged 16 and under to temporary exhibitions at the British Museum have been removed with effect from 1 April 1999.

Most of the temporary exhibitions at the museum include a major loan element and, in the few cases where this is not so, significant costs are incurred in research, presentation and promotion. The income from the nominal charges helps towards these costs. The museum intends to review this policy regularly.

Arts Council

Lord Patten asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why it is necessary to have the Arts Council.[HL1889]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The Arts Council of England exists to ensure that decisions on funding of artists and arts organisations are based on expert independent assessment, at arm's length from government.

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Millennium Bug

Lord Monkswell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What information they will be giving to the general public about the Millennium Bug.[HL2080]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The public should look principally to goods and services providers for advice about the likely effect of the date change on supply. The Government and Action 2000 are encouraging organisations to communicate with their customers. For instance, the British Bankers Association, APACS and the Building Societies Association have published (on 5 March) Your Money and the Millennium, reassuring customers that cash machines will work and that there will be ample supplies of bank notes, so that customers do not need to hoard them.

There is a role for the Government in bringing together basic information so that the public can have an overall picture of the likely impact of the Bug on their daily lives. In October 1998 Action 2000 published Homecheck: this provided practical advice about the impact of the Bug on domestic appliances and PCs. The Government will build on this with the issue of further information, beginning in the late spring, supported by limited TV and press advertising. This will cost around £5 million. The information will also be available from the Action 2000 Actionline and on its website.

The information programme will be underpinned by market research tracking changes in public perception of the Millennium Bug, particularly among key sub-groups like the elderly. The first results from this market research are being placed in the Libraries of the House and published on the Internet today.

Action 2000 will continue to release information through the National Infrastructure Forum about the independent assessment of the readiness to meet the date change of providers of critical public services. It will also encourage them to communicate these messages to their customers. Action 2000 will be using press advertising to give this important information maximum publicity. This will cost some £2 million.

Political Honours Scrutiny Committee

Baroness David asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What changes they have made in the composition of the Political Honours Scrutiny Committee.[HL2079]

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): Members are traditionally Privy Counsellors who are not members of the Government. Following the resignation of Lord Pym, the Government have appointed Lord Hurd of Westwell to be a member of the committee. He will join Lord Thomson of Monifieth and Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde. Lord Thomsom has been appointed to chair the committee.

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Fluoridation of Water

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they continue to receive subsidies from the United States Government to promote the fluoridation of the United Kingdom water supply; if not, when was the last date such subsidies were received; and what sums were involved.[HL1963]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Hayman): We can find no record of such subsidies having been received.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In view of the absence of any relevant scientific studies cited in the US Review of Fluoride, 1991, referred to in the Written Answer by Baroness

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    Hayman on 8 February (WA 1-2), whether they can quote any other scientific sources in support of their belief that dental fluorosis is only a cosmetic side-effect of fluoride and not an indication of early toxicity.[HL1964]

Baroness Hayman: We accept that dental fluorosis is a manifestation of systemic toxicity, since it is partly caused by bloodborne fluoride. There are also accounts, in tropical countries, of a type of skeletal fluorosis which is associated with dental fluorosis. However, in developed countries where the amount of fluoride in drinking water is tightly controlled, there is no evidence of any correlation between this cosmetic effect on teeth and any kind of systemic ill-health. The studies and reviews cited in my noble friend Lady Jay of Paddington's Answer to the noble Earl's Question of 12 November 1997 at columns WA 34-35 support our view that the fluoridation of water at one part per million represents no threat to general health.

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