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Written Answers to Questions

Friday 8 December 2000


Rail Vehicle Accessibility Regulations 1998

Ms Rosie Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what amendments he proposes to make to exemption orders for the new Class 168/1 trains introduced into service by Chiltern Railways Ltd. and for the new Class 170/3 trains introduced into service by South West Trains Ltd. in respect of the provisions of the Rail Vehicle Accessibility Regulations 1998; and if he will make a statement. [142156]

Mr. Hill: We have received further applications from both Chiltern Railways in respect of their Class 168/1 trains and South West Trains in respect of their Class 170/3 trains. These seek to amend the original Orders by extending existing exemptions. The exemptions have been discussed with our statutory advisers the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee. Exemption Orders relating to the exemption of these trains has been laid in Parliament.

The exemptions will not prevent disabled people from using the new trains. Indeed, we believe that their introduction will make a significant contribution to improving mobility opportunities for disabled people.

Ms Rosie Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what amendments he plans to make to the Rail Vehicle Accessibility Regulations 1998. [142157]

Mr. Hill: I have laid before Parliament the Rail Vehicle Accessibility (Amendment) Regulations 2000, which will come into force on 31 December 2000.

The amendment Regulations remedy some small but significant anomalies in the RVAR and make provision for rail based public transport systems which are currently excluded (ie systems which are track-based with side guidance) to be covered.

A full review to assess the effectiveness of the RVAR will begin in the course of next year. We expect that review to identify any major changes that might be required to RVAR.

Drinking Water

Mr. Crausby: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what the outcome was of the consultation on "Water Quality Consultations on Regulations for Drinking Water"; and if he will make a statement. [142158]

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Mr. Meacher: The Government have today issued their response to the consultation on proposed Regulations to implement the new EC Drinking Water Directive (98/83/EC). The new Regulations are also being laid before Parliament today.

The Directive's revised standards take account of the latest scientific and medical advice and also conform generally with the World Health Organisation's 1993 "Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality".

The most important change in standards is a reduction in the maximum concentration of lead from the current standard of 50 g/l (microgrammes per litre) to 25 g/l by 25 December 2003 and 10 g/l by 2013. Excessive exposure to lead is known to damage unborn children and infants.

The new Regulations will continue the arrangement which enables customers who are replacing lead pipes in their properties to require water companies to replace their own lead pipes where the final lead standard is breached. Water companies will also be required to replace their lead pipes or fittings where the water breaches whatever lead standard is in force at the time, whether or not customers are replacing their pipes.

Under the new Regulations water companies must draw up programmes of work to minimise the water's ability to dissolve lead from pipes, to replace lead pipes where necessary and to comply with the other 39 mandatory standards for drinking water quality which the Regulations contain.

Existing arrangements remain largely unchanged for risk assessment, treatment and monitoring for Cryptosporidium. Also, companies will be required to retain basic water quality information on a zone by zone basis for not less than 30 years and to retain other records for a minimum of five years.

Other drafting changes include clarification of which samples must be taken from each point, and the frequency of sampling; and provision for reduced frequencies of monitoring for certain substances and parameters where it is clear that future standards are met, or will be met under a programme of action agreed with the Drinking Water Inspectorate.

The Government conducted a consultation exercise on the proposed Regulations in April this year. A total of 995 responses to the consultation were received. The large majority were concerned solely with proposals to keep national mandatory standards for minimum hardness and sodium. The new Regulations retain a standard for sodium but compliance with the minimum hardness standard will be achieved by administrative means.

The remaining 45 responses came from water organisations and companies, a water consumer organisation, local authorities' Environmental Health Officers, health authorities, Government Departments, Agencies, commercial and other respondents.

Environment Agency

Mrs. Ellman: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions when the Government will carry out a financial, management and policy review of the Environment Agency. [142159]

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Mr. Meacher: I am today announcing the start of the first Financial, Management and Policy Review of the Environment Agency.

The review will be in two stages. Stage 1 will look at the role, functions, organisation and sponsorship of the Agency. Stage 2 will review its efficiency and effectiveness. I expect the review process to be completed by the end of next summer.

The terms of reference for the review are:

To examine the principal functions of the Environment Agency for England and Wales and the key tasks undertaken to perform them. The review will assess:

The review will be informed by recent relevant reviews and inquiries, including recent Select Committee reports on the Environment Agency and on Environmental Legislation and Farming, and by the ongoing review of legislation affecting the Agency.

The review will be based on the assumption that Central Government and Assembly policies continue to recognise the importance of an integrated approach, where appropriate, to the protection and enhancement of the environment.

An important part of the review is seeking external views about the Environment Agency and its work. To support this process we are today publishing a consultation paper, a copy of which is being placed in the Library of the House.

Basel Convention

Mr. White: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will make a statement on the Liability and Compensation Protocol to the Basel Convention, concluded at the Fifth Conference of the Parties to the Convention. [142220]

Mr. Meacher: I am pleased to announce that the UK signed the Liability and Compensation Protocol to the Basel Convention which was adopted in Basel on 10 December 1999, at the 5th Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention yesterday evening.

The Protocol provides for a comprehensive regime for liability and for adequate and prompt compensation for damage resulting from the transboundary movement and the disposal of hazardous wastes and other wastes.

This Protocol represents yet another milestone in securing an environmentally sound global regime for the management of hazardous wastes.

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Mr. Campbell-Savours: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what the outcome was of discussions on combating the spread of BSE in Europe at the Agriculture Council on 20 and 21 November and the special meeting of EU Agriculture Ministers on 4 December. [142219]

Mr. Nick Brown: I represented the United Kingdom at the Agriculture Council on 20 and 21 November and the special meeting of EU Agriculture Ministers in Brussels on 4 December.

The special meeting had been called to follow up and build upon the measures to combat the spread of BSE decided at the November Council's meeting in response to developments in several continental member states. As a result of the decisions at these two Councils, as well as those taken in the interim by the Commission under its own powers, the EU has put in place in the 14 other member states strengthened protection against BSE which in key respects reflects measures already applying in the UK.

At its November meeting the Council agreed to introduce BSE testing for bovine animals of over 30 months that were either at risk or entering the food chain.

On 21 November the Standing Veterinary Committee voted in favour of a Commission proposal giving effect to the Council agreement by requiring among other things random samples of at risk animals--6,500 in GB and 2,500 in NI annually--to be tested from 1 January 2001, and by requiring all animals over 30 months of age which we slaughtered for human consumption to be tested by a rapid BSE test from 1 July 2001.

On 30 November the SVC agreed Commission proposals to extend the definition of specified risk materials to include all bovine intestines. This has relatively little effect in the UK where bovine intestines of animals over six months were already defined as SRM.

More recently, the special December Council further extended these public health protection measures and also took steps to restore consumer confidence in European beef and support the market.

By qualified majority (German and Finland opposing) the Council adopted a proposal temporarily extending across the EU the prohibition on the feeding of mammalian meat and bone meal to all farm animals, introducing similar prohibitions related to most other processed animal and poultry products and prohibiting the use of fishmeal in ruminant rations.

The Council also agreed to support a scheme for the removal from the market of over-thirty-month animals which have not been tested for BSE. By analogy with the over-thirty-month scheme already applying in the UK, this will both aid pubic health by preventing untested older animals from reaching consumers and support the market by removing from sale animals which, in the current low state of consumer confidence in Europe, have no viable outlet. The detailed rules of the scheme will be

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discussed at a beef management committee meeting on 12 December with a view to coming into force on 1 January.


Oral Questions

Mr. Khabra: To ask the President of the Council what plans she has to change the order of oral questions. [142375]

Mrs. Beckett: With the agreement of the Opposition and the Northern Ireland parties, I have agreed to change the rota for oral questions to allow Northern Ireland

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Ministers and Northern Ireland MPs to be present in Northern Ireland for President Clinton's proposed visit on Wednesday 13 December. I trust that other MPs with an interest in Northern Ireland matters will understand the reasons for this change.

These are clearly exceptional circumstances, and reflect the importance of this visit within the context of the peace process.

I am today asking the House to approve a motion which will allow oral questions to the Secretary of State for Wales to be taken on Wednesday 13 December, with Northern Ireland oral questions being taken on Wednesday 20 December. Plaid Cymru have agreed to this change.