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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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