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20 Jul 1999 : Column WA95

Written Answers

Tuesday, 20th July 1999.

French Wines: Control of Impurities

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are satisfied that imported French wines which have been prepared with dried bulls' blood present no health hazard to British consumers; and[HL3577]

    What steps are taken to ensure that imported French wines do not contain impurities; and[HL3578]

    Whether they are satisfied that the French methods of checking their wine production for impurities are as good as those use in the United Kingdom.[HL3579]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue): The use of blood albumin as a fining agent to clarify wine is a traditional oenological practice. There is no evidence that its use as a fining agent poses a hazard to consumers' health, especially since it is filtered out before bottling. However, its use has not been permitted in the Community since October 1997.

Under EC legislation all wine producing countries must routinely survey production and trade through inspection and analysis; this includes France. In practice, the French control monitoring procedures complement those of major importing countries such as the UK, which has a programme whose purpose is to detect impurities and contaminants in food and drink, including imported wine.

Finance Bill: Human Rights Convention Compatibility

Baroness Pitkeathley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether a statement has been made by the responsible Lords Minister under the Human Rights Act 1998 in connection with the Finance Bill.[HL3760]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I have today made a statement under Section 19(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act 1998 that, in my view, the provisions of the Finance Bill are compatible with the Convention rights.

PFI Projects: Private Sector Capital Spending

Lord Shore of Stepney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What has been the annual amount contributed to public investment projects made through Private Finance Initiative schemes agreed in 1997 and 1998;

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    and what are present estimates for such investments under PFI agreements in 1999 and 2000. [HL3600]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The following table, compiled from the Financial Statement and Budget Reports (FSBR) 1998 and 1999, details capital spending by the private sector in Private Finance Initiative projects from the period 1997 to 2000:

£ million

YearTotal
1997-981,535.97
1998-992,185
1999-20003,803
2000-014,133

Notes:

Figures include CRTL and local authority schools but exclude spending in further and higher education. For detailed information of capital spending by sector, Table B16 on page 162 of the FSBR 1999 provides the latest picture.

Source:

Financial Statement and Budget Report: 1999 and 1998.


Appellate Committee Hearings: Induction Loop Provision

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked the Chairman of Committees:

    Whether the Administration and Works Sub-Committee will consider installing facilities for members of the public who have a hearing disability so as to enable them to follow oral argument before the Appellate Committee. [HL3670]

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): Induction loops will be fitted in both Committee Room 1 and Committee Room 2 in 2001 when those rooms are refurbished.

Devolved Assemblies: Electronic Voting

Lord Selkirk of Douglas asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have considered or will consider the introduction of electronic voting in general elections or in elections for members of the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly; and whether such a system would be more cost effective, rapid and efficient than the present voting system.[HL3668]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): The Home Office Working Party on Electoral Procedures recently published a summary of its recommendations. These include the running of

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pilot schemes at local election level to test alternative ways of voting. Electronic voting could be included and its cost effectiveness and efficiency would be assessed before consideration was given to using it more widely.

National Attack Warning System

Baroness Blatch asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are their future intentions for the provision and maintenance of the National Attack Warning System; and [HL3585]

    Further to the statement by Lord Burlison on 5 May (H.L. Deb., cols. 680) that the National Attack Warning System is expected to be ready by the end of this financial year, whether the procedures and trained personnel are ready to bring the system into effect; and[HL3586]

    What level of funding has been allocated in each of the current and subsequent years for maintenance, development and modernisation of the National Attack Warning System; and [HL3587]

    Whether the United Kingdom will have a National Attack Warning System to warn the public of attack, which is capable of use for war and peacetime emergencies; and[HL3588]

    Whether they intend to validate, by exercise, a National Attack Warning System; and, if so, when.[HL3589]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: We remain committed to the implementation of the final elements of the system in the current financial year. My officials will meet shortly with representatives of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) to discuss options for achieving this in the most cost effective way. The procedures and trained personnel necessary to activate the system are not in place. However, these issues will also be considered at the meeting.

Details of the resources allocated to the development and maintenance of the system during the period covered by the Comprehensive Spending Review are given in the table. However, as the system will be completed in the course of the current financial year, it is unlikely that there will be any need for capital funding in subsequent years.

It is technically possible to use the system for peacetime emergencies. However, it is not our intention to do so. A study of possible scenarios for peacetime disasters shows that, with the possible exception of flooding, they occur with no prior warning, the immediate effects are local, but may spread to neighbouring areas. The procedures for alerting the public should therefore expand progressively from the area local to the incident using well-rehearsed arrangements with the regional radio and television networks.

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We shall consider what actions need to be taken to validate the system in consultation with the BBC and other government departments.

Funding Allocated to National Attack Warning System

1999-20002000-012001-02
Capital£794,000£794,000£794,000
Running Costs£382,000£382,000£382,000

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many members of the Territorial Army have resigned in the last 12 months, how many have not completed their 12 months' training; and what is the position of members of the TA who are injured or become ill as a result of their service with regard to their life, medical and mortgage protection insurances.[HL3494]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert): During the period 1 June 1998 to 31 May 1999, 511 officers voluntarily retired from the TA and 392 soldiers left at their own request. Records are not held on the number of TA who have left within the last 12 months and who have not, therefore, qualified for bounty. However, some 29,000 TA personnel have so far qualified for their bounty for the training year 1998-99.

TA personnel are eligible for benefits if they are injured or become ill for reasons attributable to their service. Personal life, medical and mortgage protection insurance remain the responsibility of the individual.

NATO and the KLA

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they accept the judgment of Mr. Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institute that "the single most important data point of the war was that 80 per cent. of all Serbian armour losses occurred . . . precisely when the KLA offensive began"; and, if so, what are the implications of this fact for NATO's relations with the Kosovo Liberation Army.[HL3609]

Lord Gilbert: A full assessment of the damage inflicted on Serb armour and the proportion of that armour in Kosovo that survived the campaign is under way. Full information on the losses it suffered is, therefore, not yet available.

NATO's and KFOR's relationship with the KLA is determined by the KLA's continued adherence to the undertaking signed on 21 June 1999 to demilitarise as required by UN Security Council Resolution 1244. The KLA are to date in general compliance with that undertaking and are co-operating with KFOR.

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Contingency Fees in Employment Tribunals

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

    Whether it is intended that the effect of the Access to Justice Bill will be to enable solicitors to charge contingency fees for proceedings before employment tribunals.[HL3484]

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My purpose, in amending the Bill to protect the position of solicitors working under a non-contentious business agreement, was not to maintain the situation where solicitors offer their services in employment tribunals on a contingency basis, but to protect areas of genuine non-contentious business where they can work under such an agreement. However, the problem is not with the use of contingency fees in non-contentious business, but with the definition of non-contentious business in the Solicitors Act, 1974, which causes employment tribunal proceedings to count as "non-contentious" business. I am considering whether the use of contingency fees should continue in employment tribunals, but in doing so I will need to be satisfied that any change will not have the effect of reducing access to justice.


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