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Lord Whitty: My Lords, these issues have been raised. It may be necessary to tell noble Lords--although probably not the noble Baroness--that they should not believe everything they read in the Sunday Telegraph. We were well aware of a problem with small incinerators. At one point the number of these was probably underestimated, most of them having been established since the introduction of the 1991 regulations to dispose of fallen stock as a result of the BSE regulations. Fallen stock needs to be destroyed and disposed of to ensure that it is not used as feedingstuffs. We pursued the question of a possible exemption for small incinerators, but we received no support from other member states. As we agree with the objective of the directive and there is a five-year period in which farmers and others may adapt their practices, we consider that the final form of the directive will be acceptable to the UK and will be one that the agriculture industry can adapt to.
Lord Whitty: No, my Lords. We attempted to, but we received no support. As regards the Italians, there is an exemption for vegetable waste from the food processing industry and for cork waste used as biomass. This is because we do not want the regulations to be a disincentive to using biomass for energy purposes--which is, of course, environmentally desirable in itself.
Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, what are the likely compliance costs of this directive for each individual incinerator operator who will have to upgrade his equipment--which, as the noble Lord said earlier, was possibly installed only six or seven years ago?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the compliance costs for individual farmers will be dependent on the way in which they decide to dispose of such waste in the future. I have seen very large figures floating around, but they relate to a situation where every single individual farmer decides to buy a large incinerator. That will not, in practice, be the case. The farmers will have five years in which to adapt their practices and to use either neighbouring larger incinerators or other methods of disposal. The question relating to individual farmers has been misconstrued in some coverage of the issue.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, further to the Minister's response to the noble Countess, Lady Mar, I understand that exemptions have been given to Italy, which he has mentioned, and to Portugal. Meat and bonemeal are banned here and the disposal of carcasses is a big issue in the United Kingdom, but not in other countries. Under those circumstances, will the Government press for derogation for our farmers? Secondly, can the Minister confirm that although the directive is due to come into being in 2006, this country is due to implement it within the next two years--early yet again?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, there is a five-year period to adapt to the directive. Whatever the point of its transposition through Parliament, that five-year figure stands in terms of the period for adaptation. The noble Baroness is right, there is a particular problem within the UK as a result of the BSE regulations. We have to destroy carcasses--and, in some cases, render them into small incinerators--which is not necessarily the case in the rest of Europe. That in itself causes another problem in regard to small incinerators in that some of them do not appear to be operating at anything like the temperature which the SEAC committee recommended for the disposal of beasts of over 30 months. So there is an additional problem because of the peculiar situation in the United Kingdom.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, mergers and acquisitions in recent years have not significantly reduced the overall number of companies authorised to carry on life and pensions business. Proposals for mergers are subject to the usual scrutiny procedures. Competition authorities consider the implications both for competition and for consumer choice. The Government are acting to improve the regulatory framework through the Financial Services and Markets Bill. That will help to deliver better value for money for consumers.
Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, does the Minister agree that although the "once for all lifetime" may well be very welcome to those who are members of the mutuals, they do stand possibly to lose a great deal if the companies disappear, as do others? Did the Minister notice the comments made three days ago in the Sunday Telegraph by the managing director of a providence group--and, in spite of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, I am sure that this article can be relied upon--to the effect that mutuality is now fundamentally unstable? Does the Minister recognise that there is great concern about this matter?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I should declare an interest as a policy holder with two mutual companies, both of which recently decided to demutualise against my vote. So I think my personal view may be evident already to the noble Baroness. I did read the comment to which the noble Baroness referred. I do not think that it is a general view within the industry. It is true that there are mutual companies which are subject to take-over or to demutualisation under pressure from their own members.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I should declare an interest as a policy holder of a mutual company, Standard Life, which is opposing demutualisation. Is my noble friend aware that the carpetbaggers who are attempting to force through this demutualisation are claiming that the board of the company can act only in the interests of present policy holders and that it may, if it wishes, appropriate the capital of the company for itself, regardless of the interests of future policy holders? Can my noble friend confirm that the Government do not share that view
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Government's view is that the boards of mutual companies have responsibilities to a number of different stakeholders, including current policy holders, the employees and prospective policy holders.
Lord Higgins: My Lords, I should declare an interest as the holder of both a mutual policy and a non-neutral policy. The Minister has expressed his personal view; what is the Government's view so far as concerns mutuality?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, a neutral mutual view, one might say. The Government's view is that a variety of different kinds of governance in the insurance industry is a good thing. Therefore there is a place for both mutual companies and for shareholder-owned companies.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, the House will know from yesterday's news that another Zimbabwean tragically lost his life in Zimbabwe, bringing the total, we believe, to 10 deaths over the past few weeks. We have repeatedly urged President Mugabe to restore the rule of law in Zimbabwe and to act to prevent further violence against the farmers or against those campaigning for the forthcoming elections. Parliament was dissolved on 11th April. The constitution requires elections to be held within four months of Parliament being dissolved. The date of the elections must be announced by 7th July. We hope to receive a ministerial delegation from Zimbabwe shortly after Easter to follow up President Mugabe's meeting with the Foreign Secretary in Cairo on 3rd April.
Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, I am sure that the whole House shares my feelings of horror at what is going on in Zimbabwe at the moment and my sorrow for those who have been killed and for their families. Having read the article of her noble friend Lord Renwick in The Times yesterday, does the Minister agree that the most important issue is that the elections take place as she said--or next month, in fact? Does
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