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15 Nov 2000 : Column WA35

Written Answers

Wednesday, 15th November 2000.

Forest Enterprise: Timber Sale Prices

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Baroness Hayman on 16 October (WA 67), whether Forest Enterprise has in the last five years sold timber, including softwood thinnings, at roadside prices less than the landed prices of equivalent imports (including cost, freight, insurance etc); and, if so, in what quantities. [HL4495]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman): The subject of the question relates to matters undertaken by Forest Enterprise. We have asked its Chief Executive, Dr Bob McIntosh, to arrange for a reply to be given.

Letter to Lord Hylton from the Chief Executive of Forest Enterprise, Dr Bob McIntosh

I have been asked to reply to your question about whether Forest Enterprise has been selling timber at less than imported prices.

I should perhaps start by saying that it is not possible to make a direct comparison between the prices received by Forest Enterprise for its timber and the prices of imported timber. This is because most imports are of sawn timber while Forest Enterprise sells all its timber in the round. There is very little round timber imported, other than for particular specialist needs.

The key issue is the link between imported sawn timber prices and the price that sawmills can afford to pay for round timber purchased from British growers. As the pound has strengthened against key currencies such as the Swedish Kroner, the price of imported sawn timber has fallen. The price of sawn timber produced by British sawmills has to match the imported price and has fallen accordingly. Since the purchase of sawlogs is a high proportion of the cost of running a sawmill, there is a clear relationship between sawn timber prices and the price paid for sawlogs. The reduction in prices obtained for sawlogs by Forest Enterprise amd other woodland owners is entirely in line with what might be expected, given the sharp drop in sawn timber prices.

It is unrealistic for growers to expect to achieve price levels that are not justified by the selling price of the final end product, after allowing for sawmilling costs. As you will be aware, even at the reduced sawlog prices operating at the moment, a number of small to medium sized sawmills have gone out of business because they cannot compete with imported sawn timber prices. This does not suggest that the sawmillers are currently profiting at the expense of the growers.

The movement in timber prices in GB is affected by a number of factors outwith the control of the grower, and no single supply/demand equation exists within

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GB because of the overwhelming impact of imported timber prices. We monitor closely all of these factors and make every effort to ensure that the prices received for our timber are at least as good as the prevailing market conditions. Withdrawing timber from the market would reduce our income, would disadvantage British sawmillers and would not affect the price of imported sawn timber (the key determinant of log price) in any way.

I hope this satisfactorily answers your questions but, if not, please do not hesitate to contact me again.

Television Licence Concession Scheme

Lord Astor of Hever asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How much will be spent in total per year on administering the concessionary television licence scheme for the over 75s, broken down into staff costs, publicity, postage and any other major areas of expenditure; and what discussions they have had with the BBC to ensure the money is used efficiently. [HL4492]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The estimated cost of administering free television licences for people aged 75 or over is £24.3 million in the current year, falling to £10 million in 2001-02 and £8 million in 2002-03. A detailed breakdown by type of activity is not available. Discussions have taken place between the Department of Social Security, which has responsibility for meeting these costs, and the BBC, and agreement has been reached on accounting procedures, payment phasing and audit arrangements. The agreements reached will be incorporated into a Memorandum of Understanding between the DSS, the Department for Social Development and the BBC. The Memorandum of Understanding will require the BBC to ensure that all resources are used prudently and efficiently.

ASSIST Programme: Revised Criteria

Lord Acton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether any changes to the Assistance to Support Stability with In-Service Training (ASSIST) programme have recently been made.[HL 4506]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): The ASSIST programme was established on 1 April 1998 to replace the UK Military Training Assistance Scheme (UKMTAS), with the main purpose of refocusing support to the Government's priority of promoting respect for human rights and good governance.

The ASSIST expenditure for 1999-2000 was £8.951m, which was spent in accordance with FCO priorities for engagement with the armed forces and law enforcement agencies in a broad range of countries. All expenditure was compatible with the ASSIST criteria.

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Examples of projects funded from ASSIST include:

    Regional Peace Support Operations training for senior and junior military officers from over 20 African countries;

    Courses for Indian police trainers to promote best practice in ethical dealing with women, victims of violence, and ethnic related incidents;

    A joint exercise involving British, Jamaican and other Caribbean Defence personnel and elements of the Jamaican police force to enhance peacekeeping skills, promote democratic policing methods and respect for human rights;

    Assistance to reduce stockpiles of ex-Soviet military equipment in Moldova;

    The secondment of a UK police officer to the Royal Nepalese Police Academy to develop the Academy's human rights training programme;

    English Language Training in countries throughout Central and Eastern Europe as well as in Guatemala, Vietnam and Mozambique.

Following an evaluation of the performance of the ASSIST programme, minor revisions to the criteria have been introduced. The changes continued the process of redirecting expenditure towards a wider range of training and assistance for military, law enforcement agencies and civilian bodies. The need for a strong emphasis on human rights in all ASSIST projects remains.

These changes:

    allow the funding of some classroom based training equipment within the projects;

    allow the specific inclusion of Customs, border guards, prison officers within the range of eligible recipients of ASSIST funded training;

    provide increased flexibility to support the fight against drugs and international crime.

A copy of the revised ASSIST criteria has been placed in the Library.

West Papua: UN Operations, 1969

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they propose that an independent audit be conducted of United Nations' operations in West Papua leading up to the "Act of Free Choice" in 1969.[HL4479]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: No. We understand the Institute of Dutch History in the Hague is conducting an historical study in this area. We do not see the need at this time to duplicate their efforts by commissioning an additional independent audit.

Bahrain: Shura Human Rights Committee

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Govnerment:

    What information they have received from the government of Bahrain about the activities of the Human Rights Committee of the Shura Council and the reasons why that government refused to allow

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    the formation of a non-governmental human rights committee. [HL4448]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The Shura Human Rights Committee's responsibilities include:

    promoting links and enhancing relations with international organisations concerned with human rights

    studying all legislation and rules practised in Bahrain concerning human rights

    proposing amendments on developing awareness of human rights

    following up human rights issues

    proposing suitable human rights resolutions

    conducting studies and researches in human rights

    activating joint work with similar Gulf, Arab and international committees.

The Bahraini Government believes the committee, still in its infancy, should be allowed to establish itself before considering proposals for a non-governmental committee.

Environment Council, 7 November

Lord Davies of Oldham asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the outcome of the Environment Council held in Brussels on 7 November.[HL4621]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My right honourable friends the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for the Environment represented the UK at Special Environment Council in Brussels on 7 November 2000.

The main purpose of this Council was to review the EU's negotiating positions in advance of the Sixth Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP6), due to take place in the Hague later this month. Ministers discussed the EU's strategy, and exchanged views on possible options which may emerge in the course of the negotiations. Council Conclusions were agreed reaffirming the EU's negotiating position on the main issues--supplementarity, the clean development mechanism, and sinks. These also stressed Council's commitment to achieving a successful outcome at COP6.

The Commission also reported on the progress of the European Climate Change Programme, noting that, while the Community as a whole was achieving stabilisation of CO2 emissions, a number of member states were not. There was a brief exchange of views between member states.

Council Conclusions to guide the final round of international negotiations on the UNEP Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, to be held on 4-9 December 2000, were also taken without discussion.

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