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Lord Brabazon of Tara asked Her Majesty's Government:

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Lord Simon of Highbury: We expect the GDP figures published by Eurostat in November 1998 for the NUTS II regions will be used to determine Structural Fund eligibility from 2000.

Dairy Cattle: TB Testing

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will issue clear and consistent instructions to cheese makers, veterinarians and environmental health officers in the whole of the United Kingdom as to the action which should be taken when it is found that cattle producing milk for cheese production are found to be (a) tuberculin test reactors or (b) show inconclusive results at testing.[HL654]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Hayman): The Dairy Products (Hygiene) Regulations 1995 (Schedule 3) and the equivalent regulations in Northern Ireland and Scotland require that raw cow's milk shall come from animals belonging to a herd which is officially tuberculosis free (OTF).

Where dairy herds are tested by veterinarians and do not satisfy this condition, following the disclosure of tuberculin test reactors, then milk may only be sold for human consumption after it has been heat treated (Regulation 9(10) of the Dairy Products (Hygiene) Regulations). Similar legislation and controls apply in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

When veterinarians carry out TB testing of dairy herds they will advise dairy farmers (including those making cheese) of reactors found in the herd and requirements to safeguard animal health. Where the OTF status of a dairy herd is suspended or withdrawn, whether by discovery of reactors or for any other reason, in the United Kingdom, the Veterinary Service will notify the relevant food authorities who have enforcement responsibility for the Dairy Products (Hygiene) Regulations. The food authorities will also contact producers of raw milk products such as cheesemakers to give advice where they may have purchased raw cow's milk from herds where the OTF status has been suspended or withdrawn.

Currently, when inconclusive reactors only are disclosed, the official tuberculosis-free status of the herd is retained; the animals which reacted inconclusively are kept in isolation and retested. Amendments to European Union animal health legislation, due to be implemented by 1 July 1999, require herds with inconclusive reactors to have their OTF status suspended if there has been a confirmed TB incident within the past three years.

The Department of Health are currently preparing guidance for food authorities in conjunction with other relevant government departments.

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Child Labour

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Baroness Hayman on 3 September 1998 (WA 28), when they expect to publish the report of the review of the protection of working children's health, safety, welfare and general development.[HL685]

Baroness Hayman: We expect the review to report by the end of April this year.

Eurostar: Regional Services

Baroness Thornton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have commissioned an independent review of alternative proposals for regional Eurostar services.[HL796]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): We have announced a competition to seek a consultant to undertake a review of alternative proposals for regional Eurostar services. In addition to addressing itself in particular to the study completed by Inter-Capital and Regional Rail Ltd., and the alternative proposals put forward by the Virgin Group, the review will include a thorough examination of a broad range of key elements, including the points to be served, infrastructure requirements in terms of both rolling stock and track, wider social and economic benefits to the regions of having such services, and the case for carrying domestic passengers. These terms of reference have been informed by the recent report of the Transport Sub-Committee, for which we are grateful. We have asked for a thorough report to be presented to government as soon as practicable. It is likely to take some months.

Airline Passengers: Violent and Disruptive Behaviour

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will give the names of the members, and the terms of reference, of the working group established by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions to establish standard definitions for reporting incidents involving violent and disruptive airline passengers, and for more co-ordinated collection of information on this subject.[HL693]

Lord Whitty: The following organisations have agreed to supply members to participate in the working group:

    British Air Transport Association (BATA)

    Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO)

    British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA)

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    Board of Airline Representatives in the UK (BAR UK)

    UK Flight Safety Committee (UK FSC)

    Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)

The primary remit of the working group has been outlined in the question. The group will also consider the case for further research into the causes of disruptive behaviour on aircraft, and possible funding arrangements. It has not been felt necessary to develop more formal terms of reference.

Planning System Improvement

The Earl of Iveagh asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans, if any, they have to alleviate delays in the planning system.[HL667]

Lord Whitty: The Government are committed to making the planning system operate more efficiently and effectively. My honourable friend the Minister of State for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning set out a range of measures to achieve this in the Modernising Planning Statement he published on 15 January 1998. This included proposals to improve the arrangements for delivering local plans and unitary development plans; quicker handling of planning appeals; and improving local planning performance through Best Value. A number of other initiatives are under way, including a review of consultation procedures for planning applications; and a review of procedures for handling listed building consent applications.

The department sets targets for the handling of planning appeals by the Planning Inspectorate. We have recently published improved, long-term targets so that, by 2001-02, the inspectorate will be expected to decide appeals by written representations within 16 weeks; appeals by hearing within 22 weeks; and appeals by inquiry within 30 weeks.

The Government are continuing to monitor closely local authorities' planning performance and publish regular Planning Performance Checklists. My honourable friend is currently holding a series of meetings with a selection of local authorities in each English region to discuss development control and development plan preparation. These meetings are part of our wider commitment to work in partnership with local government to improve the planning system as part of the Modernising Planning initiative and provide an opportunity to share good practice experience.

Severn Tunnel

Lord Crickhowell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by the Baroness Hayman on 20 May 1998 (WA 175-176), what is the latest estimate of the period of closure of the Severn Tunnel required for engineering works this summer; and what are the planned dates for the start and finish of this work; and[HL679]

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    What reporting they have asked for or received on the current condition of the Severn Tunnel, its drainage system and its rail track; and whether they will publish the results of those enquiries; and[HL680]

    What is the estimated cost of the planned repairs to be carried out on the Severn Tunnel, its drainage system and its track; and what impact those costs are expected to have on the charges made to rail companies using the tunnel; and[HL681]

    What estimate they have made of the likely additional costs falling on freight users as a result of the diversions made necessary by the planned closure of the Severn Tunnel this summer; and[HL682]

    What consultations have taken place between Railtrack and the Government, the Welsh Development Agency, local authorities and representatives of business about the closure of the Severn Tunnel planned for this summer; and what assessment has been made of the impact of the closure on the Welsh economy.[HL683]

Lord Whitty: The maintenance and renewal of the Severn Tunnel is the responsibility of Railtrack. We understand that Railtrack plan to carry out repair work to the track and drainage systems through a series of weekend closures from 3 April-30 May. As part of its statutory duties, Railtrack is required to consult local authorities, utilities and other organisations likely to be affected by the closure of bridges or tunnels for essential engineering works. No assessment is made of the impact of such closures on the local economy.

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