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Written Answers

Monday, 18th October 1999.

Agriculture Council, 27 September

Lord Hughes of Woodside asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the outcome of the Agriculture Council held in Brussels on 27 September.[HL4173]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman): The primary task of the Agriculture Council on 27 September was to agree to a statement on the agricultural aspects of the forthcoming WTO Round for transmission to the General Affairs Council (which will agree a mandate covering all aspects of the Round). This is a key issue for the development of EU agricultural policy over the coming years. The United Kingdom's main objectives were to ensure that the Council's conclusions fully reflected the goal of further liberalisation in agricultural trade and that they contained sufficient flexibility to enable the EU to respond constructively as the negotiations developed. These objectives were achieved in conclusions agreed unanimously by the Council.

The Council also heard a report from Commissioner Fischler on the Commission's contacts with third countries in seeking a solution to the dispute over the EU's banana regime. The UK stressed the importance of securing an outcome that would avoid further WTO challenges to the regime and addressed the needs of the most vulnerable banana producers in the Caribbean.

Commissioner Byrne updated the Council on the Commission's progress in its work programme of proposed animal feed measures, following the Belgian dioxin crisis. The UK supported the Commission's plans, while stressing the importance of adopting measures that were proportionate to the risk and defensible on safety grounds.

The Council heard a report from Commissioner Fischler on the implementation of the EU's food aid programme to Russia. It also noted Commissioner Byrne's undertaking to make proposals for legislation covering the labelling of genetically modified animal feed.

Meat Inspection Charges in EU Member States

The Earl of Kimberley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they propose to take any action to eliminate the price difference between European slaughterhouses and those in the United Kingdom.[HL4128]

Baroness Hayman : Following the publication recently by the Meat and Livestock Commission

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(MLC) of the results of its survey of meat inspection charges in other member states, the Government have sent copies of the MLC report to the European Commission in Brussels. In so doing the Government have again made clear their concerns over the lack of transparency in the charging arrangements applied in other member states and its doubts as to whether such charges are being set on a common basis throughout the European Union. The Government have therefore urged the European Commission to review as a matter of urgency the implementation of the relevant EU rules in all member states, and in particular to investigate the allegations of non-compliance in Italy and Spain which are set out in the MLC report.

British Beef: French Transport Ban

The Earl of Kimberley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether France is preventing British beef from being transported by road through France on its way to Spain and Italy; and, if so, what action they propose to take.[HL4127]

Baroness Hayman: France lifted its ban on the transport of UK beef through its territory on 12 October. The Government are now pressing for the lifting of the remainder of the French import ban.

Biotechnologically Modified Crops and Animals

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have considered the implications for the World Trade Organisation of the 13 July speech of Mr Dan Glickman, United States Secretary of Agriculture, in which he disclosed inadequacies in the current United States system for regulating biotechnologically modified crops and animals; and whether they will encourage the World Trade Organisation (a) to review the work of any panels using scientific research originating in the United States; and (b) to review any fines, etc., arising from these panels' judgments.[HL3877]

Baroness Hayman: In his 13 July speech Mr Glickman said that the US regulatory process for biotechnologically modified crops and animals was based on rigorous analysis and sound scientific principles. He also called for an independent scientific review of the US Department of Agriculture's contribution to the approval process to ensure that USDA's scientists have the best information and tools so that the Department's regulatory capabilities continue to evolve along with advances in the new technology. This seems to reflect a commitment to base US policy on regime and addressed the needs of the most vulnerable banana producers in the Caribbean.

Commissioner Byrne updated the Council on the Commission's progress in its work programme of proposed animal feed measures, following the Belgian dioxin crisis. The UK supported the Commission's

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plans, whilst stressing the importance of adopting measures that were proportionate to the risk and defensible on safety grounds.

The Council heard a report from Commissioner Fischler on the implementation of the EU's food aid programme to Russia. It also noted Commissioner Byrne's undertaking to make proposals for legislation covering the labelling of genetically modified animal feed.

Local Authority Care and Home Services: Audit Commission Report

Lord Morris of Manchester asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When the Audit Commission's report on the issue of charging by local authorities for care and home services for disabled and older people, due to have been published in the spring, can now be expected. [HL4118]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): Publication is a matter for the Audit Commission itself, which is independent of government. We understand that publication is due in the new year, but we have asked the Controller of the Audit Commission to write to my noble friend with further details.

Herbal Remedies: EU Pharmaceutical Committee

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the outcome of the discussions on the regulation of herbal remedies at the meeting of the European Union Pharmaceutical Committee on 27 and 28 September. [HL4188]

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: The Pharmaceutical Committee discussed a paper prepared by the European Commission which asked for the views of European Union member states on the possible creation of a category of medicines where the normal requirement for medicines to demonstrate efficacy might be replaced by evidence of traditional use. There was agreement that the creation of such a regulatory category could help to improve the regulatory framework for herbal medicines and should be investigated further. The United Kingdom, through the Medicines Control Agency, was one of a number of member states which offered to join an Expert Group which the Commission will be forming to help develop the concept further for discussion at a future meeting of the Pharmaceutical Committee.

Diplomatic Immunity

Viscount Exmouth asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean on 22 July (WA118) and in light of the fact that a diplomatic passport does

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    not provide proof of diplomatic immunity, whether they will: (a) outline the guidelines issued to the courts for deciding whether a claimant is entitled to immunity; and (b) list the number and nationalities of those applications for diplomatic immunity which have come before the courts during the last three years. [HL4032]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): Questions concerning the entitlement of a person to diplomatic immunity are determined in accordance with the provisions of the Diplomatic Privileges Act 1964, which provides that relevant provisions under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (VCDR) shall have the force of law in the UK.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office will normally only know about a claim for diplomatic immunity before the courts if the courts or the parties draw it to our attention. Section 4 of the 1964 Act provides:


    “If in any proceedings any question arises whether or not any person is entitled to any privilege or immunity under this Act a certificate issued by or under the authority of the Secretary of State stating any fact relating to that question shall be conclusive evidence of that fact".

At the request of the courts during the last three years, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has supplied the following “Section 4" certificates where diplomatic immunity has been claimed;

YearNationality of Diplomatic Mission
1999Pakistani
1999Russian
1998American
1997American

Camden Council: UCLAF Inquiry

Lord Bethell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they have taken as the result of alleged abuses and fraud identified in a letter from European Community Commissioner Gradin to Mr David Blunkett; and in particular, what plans the Metropolitan Police and the District Auditor of Camden have to investigate these allegations.[HL4119]

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): The London Borough of Camden has received the report of an independent inquiry into the allegations referred to in the letter from Commissioner Gradin. The Metropolitan Police, the District Auditor and the Department for Education and Employment co-operated fully in the inquiry. The inquiry found no evidence to justify the allegations of criminal activity made by UCLAF, the European Commission's fraud

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unit. The inquiry team found that Camden's controls over ESF applications had been unsatisfactory but that the management, administration and financial control of the council have since been improved and reformed.

Human Rights Guidance to Local Authorities

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

    Whether procedures are being devised to enable local authorities to seek advice and guidance from

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    government departments about the implementation of the Human Rights Act 1998.[HL4109]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): Under our Central Local Partnership arrangements, the Local Government Association (LGA), is a member of the Government's Human Rights Task Force. Jointly with the LGA we have issued to every council copies of our introductory guidance, Putting Rights into Public Service, and councils will receive more detailed guidance for public bodies, to be published shortly. We are continuing to work with the LGA to enable councils to have the advice they need from central government.



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