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31 Oct 2002 : Column 972Wcontinued
Llew Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will make a statement on United Kingdom policy in respect of the court case brought by the Irish Republic at the permanent court of arbitration in The Hague on the non-disclosure of documents relating to the operation of the Sellafield MOX plant. 
Mr. Wilson: The Government of Ireland requested from the United Kingdom Government full versions of two reports about the economic justification of the Sellafield MOX plant prepared by the independent consultants PA Consulting and AD Little. Both reports contain items of commercially confidential information and these were redacted from the versions published by Ministers in 1999 and 2001 as part of the public consultation process. The Government is entitled to protect that information from public disclosure on the grounds that its release would cause unreasonable damage to BNFL's commercial operations and the prospects for its MOX business in particular. Accordingly, the Government has declined Ireland's request.
In accordance with Article 32(1) of the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North East Atlantic (the 'OSPAR Convention') Ireland requested that an Arbitral Tribunal be established, claiming that the United Kingdom Government was in breach of its obligations under that Convention by declining to provide Ireland with the information requested. Following the appointment of arbitrators and the constitution of the Tribunal, both sides submitted written pleadings prior to an oral hearing held at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague between 2125 October 2002. The Tribunal will deliver its Award in due course. The written submissions and the transcripts of the oral hearing can be found on the PCA website at www.pca-cpa.org.
Mr. Wilson: The Health and Safety Executive's nuclear site licences are granted in respect of sites rather then individual facilities. Under conditions attached to such site licences, HSE requires that for every operation on site that may affect safety, the licensee shall prepare a safety case to demonstrate that any proposed activity will be safe.
Sellafield currently does not have a safety case for a production facility to re-dissolve unirradiated MoX fuel. However, BNFL is considering various options for reusing the fissile material, including fuel dissolution and fuel pellet crushing into a powder; re-dissolution may involve modifications to existing plant. I understand that in due course BNFL will be submitting proposals to HSE, including any necessary safety case, to gain permission for the proposed activity.
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Chris Ruane: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what representation she has received concerning the decommissioning of Sellafield in the last 10 years; and if she will make a statement. 
Mr. Wilson: Many representations have been received from hon. Members, their constituents, non-government organisations and foreign states regarding decommissioning of Sellafield in the last ten years.
The question of how to manage the whole of the UK's civil nuclear liabilities more effectivelywhich includes decommissioning at Sellafieldis the subject of the Government's recent White Paper XManaging the Nuclear LegacyA Strategy For Action". The White Paper proposes fundamental changes to current management arrangements including the establishment of a new strategic body, the Liabilities Management Authority (LMA). The LMA's task will be to ensure that the nuclear legacy is cleaned up safely, securely, cost effectively, and in ways which protect the environment for current and future generations. The Government intends to ensure that the work of the LMA is carried out in a transparent manner.
Paul Goggins: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many letters she received between 1 August and 15 October advocating the inclusion of the Development Box in the Government's negotiations on the WTO Agreement on Agriculture; and if she will make a statement. 
Ms Hewitt: Between 1 August and 15 October 2002, my Department has received 270 letters advocating the inclusion of the Development Box in the Government's negotiations on the WTO Agreement on Agriculture.
Mr. Timms: The Government do not distinguish between different platforms for delivery of competitive mobile telecommunications services. British companies involved in the development of airship technology that could potentially be used for a wide range of applications, including fixed and mobile telecommunications, have received some support.
Dr. Gibson: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what steps her Department is taking to ensure that stringent criteria for patenting biotechnology inventions are applied at the European patent office. 
Miss Melanie Johnson: The criteria for patenting in this field are laid down in EU Directive 98/44/EC on the legal protection of biotechnological inventions. The UK was successful in achieving incorporation of these criteria into the implementing regulations of the European Patent Convention, which governs the work of the European Patent Office (EPO), at the end of 2000.
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Dr. Gibson: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what role her Department is playing in international collaboration aimed at harmonising practice on the patenting of biotechnology inventions. 
Miss Melanie Johnson: The G7 countries have agreed to work together on the issues surrounding the patentability of biotechnological inventions. UK guidelines summarising the Patent Office's current practice based on the existing law and legal precedents from the UKcourts and the European Patent Office (EPO) will be provided to the G7 as a basis for further discussion. Staff in the UK Patent Office have also established and maintained regular contacts with their opposite numbers in the EPO to exchange information about practice in this field. Similar contacts exist with the Swedish, Austrian, Japanese, Chinese and Australian Patent Offices. The Patent Office takes due account of decisions which emerge from the EPO in making its own decisions.
Dr. Gibson: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what guidelines she has issued on the benchmarks used for assessing the patentability of biotechnology inventions; and what implications these guidelines have for future patenting of DNA sequences identified by data-mining techniques. 
Miss Melanie Johnson: The Patent Office published the examination guidelines used by patent examiners for assessing the patentability of biotechnological inventions in October. The guidelines are a summary of the Office's current practice based on the existing law and legal precedents from the UK courts and the European Patent Office. They are available from the Patent Office website at http://www.patent.gov.uk
Inventions arising from data-mining have to satisfy the usual patentability requirements, including inventive steps. The guidelines state that the 'use of mining to identify a polynucleotide or a polypeptide homologous to a polynucleotide or polypeptide, having a known function or activity, will not normally involve and inventive step'.
Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what representations she has received from firms involved in the generation and sale of electricity in the United Kingdom, in response to the funding package put in place to support British Energy; and if she will make a statement. 
Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment she has made of the impact on other electricity generators of the rescue package for British Energy; and if she will make a statement. 
Ms Hewitt: The Government's overriding objectives in providing financial assistance to British Energy are to ensure nuclear safety and security of supply while protecting the interests of taxpayers. My Department is
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currently considering with the company options for its future. Any assistance to restore viability will have to comply with EU rules, including avoiding undue distortion of competition
Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what steps she is taking to ensure that the British Energy Trading arrangements work effectively in Scotland; and if she will make a statement. 
Ms Hewitt: The creation of a wholesale electricity market for GB, as set out in the BETTA (British Electricity Trading and Transmission Arrangements) proposals will mean that the current barriers that independent Scottish generators, along with British Energy, face in selling to the England and Wales market will be removed.
The Nuclear Energy Agreement (NEA), which was put in place at the time of privatisation, ensures that British Energy has buyers for its generation output. The terms of the NEA have recently been renegotiated and are subject to final approval by Ofgem, who have indicated that they are 'minded to ' approve the new terms. Under the new terms the NEA will cease to exist on the 1 April 2006 or on the advent of BETTA, whichever is the sooner.
Government announced in April 2002 that it intended to bring forward legislation to implement BETTA when parliamentary time allowed. Detailed consultations on the new arrangements to create a GB market are already underway and will be ongoing over the coming months.
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