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World Climate Research Programme: UK Participation

The Earl of Selborne asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Simon of Highbury: UK participation in the international WOCE continues with NERC support at several Higher Education Institutes and also via the council's own centres and surveys. In addition, there is also UK involvement in a number of other WCRP programmes, including a new £3 million NERC initiative in Arctic science (ARCICE) which will provide a major contribution to the Arctic Climate System Study. The marine component of the ARCICE will address the role of Arctic deep water formation and air-sea-ice interactions in driving global ocean circulation patterns, extending and using the data sets collected during the field phase of WOCE. There is also joint funding for a possible future programme on Coupled-Ocean Atmosphere Processes and their Effects on Climate which is currently being explored with the Hadley Centre.

Under the Haldane Principle, which governs our relationship with the Research Councils, specific funding decisions are properly for the individual council and its committees in consultation with its research and user communities. However, the noble Lord may like to be aware that the NERC thematic programme on WOCE came formally to its scheduled end in 1997: 12 research grants and 10 studentships supported under that programme have now been completed and a further

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three major research grants and five studentships are still running with committed NERC expenditure of around £150,000 in FY 1998-99. There is ongoing NERC support of around £1 million per annum for work related to ocean circulation and climate at the Southampton Oceanography Centre (SOC) through three major research programmes. The SOC also hosts, with NERC support, the International Project Office for WOCE--facilitating access by UK researchers to international results and scientific developments.

Biotechnological Inventions: Draft Directive

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will set up an independent inquiry into the ethical, social, environmental and political implications of the draft EC directive on the legal protection of biotechnological inventions.

Lord Simon of Highbury: The proposed directive on the legal protection of biotechnological inventions is substantially consistent with current United Kingdom legislation (the Patents Act 1977) apart from certain exclusions from patentability for ethical reasons. It is an Internal Market measure which seeks to eliminate uncertainties regarding patent rights in the biotechnological field, reducing the level of legal uncertainty, which may act as a deterrent to investment by the industry in Europe. Information concerning the European Commission's revised directive was circulated in July for comment to over 150 organisations and interest groups representing consumers, the research community, groups concerned with the social and environmental impact of biotechnology, members of the patent law profession, the industry and the Standing Advisory Committee on Industrial Property, an independent body set up to advise Ministers on aspects of industrial property. Consequently, the Government have not considered it necessary to set up an independent inquiry into the implications of the proposed directive.

However, the debate which has surrounded the European Commission's proposal for a directive on the legal protection of biotechnological inventions has highlighted a number of ethical issues which surrounded this technology. Therefore, my honourable friend the Minister for Science, Energy and Industry announced on 24 November that my department would be sponsoring a consultation initiative to seek public views on biological research.

The ultimate goal is to engage members of the public in debate to enable us to assess the issues that are of concern to a lay audience. However, it is an important precursor to involve interested parties active in the debate to add to the credibility that an inclusive approach will offer.

My honourable friend the Minister for Science, Energy and Industry will be hosting an event in the New Year to discuss with groups active in the biosciences and science communication how we can best develop the public activity which is planned for next summer.

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Bleach Green to Antrim Railway Line

Lord Alderdice asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why there has been a delay in the re-opening of the Bleach Green to Antrim railway line; and when the line is now due to be opened.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs): This delay has been due to the priority which was given to the upgrading of the Belfast-Dublin railway line and rolling stock. Current Northern Ireland Railway planning assumptions envisage commencement of work on the Bleach Green to Antrim scheme in mid-1998.

Lord Alderdice asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they intend to take in order to ensure that the European Union's agreed 75 per cent. grant aid for the Bleach Green to Antrim railway line is not rescinded because of construction delays.

Lord Dubs: The current Northern Ireland Railway planning assumptions envisage commencement of work on the Bleach Green to Antrim reinstatement during 1998, which would enable the draw down of the EU funds within the life of the current NI Single Programming Document 1994-99.

On-Line Lottery Games

The Earl of Shrewsbury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their response to the statement of the Director of Gamcare (the national centre for information advice and practical help on the social impact of gambling) that their proposed ban of Pronto! lotteries is hypocritical.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): I understand that the Director of Gamcare, Mr. Paul Bellringer, has not made any such statement. On the contrary, Gamcare has welcomed the Government's announcement about the need to restrict the frequency of on-line lottery draws.

The noble Lord may be referring to a remark made by Dr. Mark Griffiths, Chairman of Gamcare, which he made in his independent capacity as a psychologist at North Trent University. Dr. Griffiths was referring to the fact that gambling in the form of gaming machines is already available in public houses.

The reasons for government action were made clear in the announcement by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office in another place on 13 November. The Government are not seeking to ban Pronto but to amend the legislation to restrict the frequency of on-line lottery draws for social policy reasons.

The Government have pointed out that gaming machines in public houses are subject to strict statutory controls which ensure that they are an ancillary facility there. In contrast, there are inadequate controls over

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frequent draw on-line lottery games, which have only emerged since the 1976 Act was passed.

The Government will shortly be publishing a draft Bill to restrict the frequency of on-line society and local authority lotteries. There will be an opportunity to comment on the terms of the Bill before it is introduced to Parliament.

Litter: Offences

Lord Hardy of Wath asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many prosecutions have been pursued and how many convictions secured in respect of offences under the Litter Act 1983 in each of the last three years; and whether they consider this measure is providing adequate discouragement of such offences.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Information on prosecutions and convictions under Section 87 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, which replaced Section 1(3) of the Litter Act 1983, is given in the table.

Number of defendants prosecuted and convicted for litter offences under section 87 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, 1994-1996 England and Wales

YearTotal prosecutionsTotal convictions

Prosecution through the courts is not the only deterrent available to local authorities to deal with this problem. The Act also contains the provision for local authorities to issue a fixed penalty notice to a person they believe has committed an offence. Payment within 14 days of the notice discharges any liability to conviction for that offence. A survey of local authorities identified that of 886 fixed penalty notices in 1996-97, 762 were paid. In January 1997, the fixed penalty was raised from £10 to £25.

Crime and Disorder Bill: Representations

Lord Hardy of Wath asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many representations in regard to the Crime and Disorder Bill they have received; and what proportion of these were hostile to their proposals.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: During the autumn, the Government published nine consultation papers on measures included in the Bill. One thousand seven hundred and sixty five responses were received. They revealed broad support for the measures in the Bill from the police, the public, local authorities and practitioners in the field. Information about the responses to eight of these papers (Tackling Youth Crime, New National and Local Focus on Youth Crime, Tackling Delays in the Youth Justice System, Reducing Remand Delays, Racial Violence and Harassment, Getting to Grips with Crime,

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Community Safety Order and Community Protection Order), including the number of responses to each paper and a summary of the main points raised, has been placed in the Library. Information about the consultation paper on the drug treatment and testing order will be placed in the Library as soon as possible.

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