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EU Management Committees

Angus Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when the EU Committee for the adaptation to scientific and technical progress of the decision establishing a common procedure for the exchange of information on the quality of surface fresh water in the Community is next due to meet; whether experts nominated by the Scottish Executive (a) have been and (b) are members; and if she will make a statement. [63931]

Mr. Meacher: The role of the committee, which is set out in Article 8 of the decision (Council Decision 77/795/EEC, OJ L 334, 24.12.1977, p29), is to give its opinion on any measures proposed by the Commission which are necessary to adapt the decision's provisions to technical or scientific progress. The committee has not met for more than five years and there are no meetings scheduled. Therefore the most recent meeting predated the establishment of the Scottish Executive in 1999, and potential UK representation has not been addressed. In the event of any meeting being scheduled, officials in this Department would, as a matter of course, liaise with their counterparts in the Scottish Executive.

Radioactive Material

Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what safeguards are in place to prevent the theft of radioactive material from (a) hospitals, (b) universities and (c) other establishments licensed to hold such material. [62543]

Mr. Meacher: Under the Radioactive Substances Act 1993 any person who keeps or uses radioactive material must have a certificate of registration from the Environment Agency. The certificates impose responsibilities in respect of security and general management. The Agency carries out a regular programme of inspections to ensure that the conditions of the certificate are being complied with. The Agency would not hesitate to take enforcement action if conditions were not being complied with.

The Agency has recently carried out a programme of inspections at sites holding higher activity sources. At most sites security arrangements were found to be satisfactory. In a small number of cases the need for improvements was identified. The Agency will ensure that these improvements are implemented.

Air Quality

Mr. Pollard: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what recent action she has taken to measure trends in air quality in St. Albans, with special reference to nitrogen oxide levels near motorway junctions; and if she will make a statement. [61787]

Mr. Meacher: There are currently three non-automatic nitrogen dioxide monitoring stations in St. Albans, which are part of the UK nitrogen dioxide diffusion tube monitoring network. The sites are in roadside and urban background locations. The trends at these sites are shown in the table, in addition to a fourth site which closed at the end of 2000. Concentrations at all sites have increased since monitoring began in 1993, although levels are close to or well below the annual mean standard for nitrogen

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dioxide of g/m 3 . St. Albans district council also operate other diffusion tube sites which are not part of the UK network, one of which is near the motorway.

Annual mean nitrogen dioxide (g/m(4)) at four sites in St. Albans, 1993–2001. Measurements using diffusion tubes
Annual mean NO 2 (g/m(4))

St. Albans

(2) Monitoring site closed at the end of 2000.

GM Crops

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will set out her Department's advice on the appeal processes involved in the registration of GM seeds. [62992]

Mr. Meacher [holding answer 19 June 2002]: A sequence of mechanisms applies, which enable appeals to be made at various stages in the development of a GM variety prior to the marketing of seeds of that variety.

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Environmental Liability

Jane Griffiths: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on the Government's position on the proposed EU directive on environmental liability. [57621]

Mr. Meacher: The purpose of the proposed Directive is to establish a framework for the prevention and remediation of environmental damage in accordance with the principle that the polluter pays. This represents an important and significant development in EC environmental law. The Government have therefore conducted a public consultation on the proposals, and the UK position on the detail of the proposal will be finalised in the light of the comments received.

In broad terms however, the Government support a regime which is equitable, proportionate, clear, insurable, easy to implement, does not damage business competitiveness, and delivers clear environmental benefits.

The partial regulatory impact assessment submitted to Parliament (COM (02) 17), indicates that much of the environmental damage covered by the directive is already the subject of existing domestic regimes, but the proposals go further in some respects. The directive would set higher standards of remediation and introduce the concepts of equivalent compensation and interim losses. Further benefits would arise from introducing a regime across the European Community which would harmonise the rules and standards for environmental liability across member states. Provided that the right balance between costs and benefits is achieved, this proposal could therefore play a useful part in safeguarding the environment.

Noise Forum

Bob Russell: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on the United Kingdom Noise Forum's inaugural conference on 20 May. [62573]

Mr. Meacher: I was very pleased to attend the conference and have received some encouraging feedback from those who attended. My officials are currently preparing a conference report which will be published and sent to all those who attended the conference. I shall also make copies available to both the House Libraries and in addition it will be placed on the DEFRA website at http://defraweb/environment/noise/index.htm. It is my intention, once I have received the report, to consider its recommendations and decide how Government can take these forward with a view to taking action on the various problems noise causes to society.

Waste Paper Exporters

Jonathan Shaw: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will review the operation of the PERN system. [63781]

Mr. Meacher: The current system of PRNs and PERNs has worked moderately well, allowing the UK to increase recovery from 30 per cent. to 48 per cent. over four years. However, if there are specific problems I am open to discussion about how these can best be resolved.

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Jonathan Shaw: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what recent assessment she has made of the criteria used for granting packaging export recovery notes to waste paper exporters. [63774]

Mr. Meacher: PERNs are issued by exporters accredited by the Environment Agency to businesses or schemes obligated under the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 1997 (as amended).

I understand that, in order to be accredited, exporters must undergo scrutiny by the agency on the basis of the same criteria used to scrutinize reprocessors wishing to be accredited to issue PRNs.

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