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Genetically Modified Foods

Baroness Cumberlege asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): This Department has not circulated any reports on genetically modified foods, for which the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has responsibility.

Liverpool Street Station: Litter on Railway Lines

Lord Marlesford asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Whitty: Railtrack plc are responsible for clearing litter on these railway lines. An order to place a statutory duty on the privatised railway companies to clear litter from their specified land will be laid before Parliament soon.

A.12 Witham Bypass: Advertisement Hoardings

Lord Marlesford asked Her Majesty's Government:

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Lord Whitty: The timing and scope of any review of the suitability of the advertisement hoardings is entirely a matter for Braintree District Council. We would expect such a review to take account of all material considerations, including the advice in Planning Policy Guidance Note 19.

Student Loan Portfolio Sale

Lord Burlison asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the outcome of the competition to sell a second part of the student loan portfolio.[HL1426]

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): I am today announcing the conclusion of the second sale of a portfolio of student loans to the private sector for around £1 billion. The sale has been achieved after a very vigorous competition and we have accepted the most competitive bid. A consortium of the Nationwide Building Society and Deutsche Bank AG was the successful bidder. As a result, the portfolio will be sold to HONOURS Trustee Limited, a company formed for the purpose of acquiring the assets.

The loans sold are those made under the original loan scheme. None of the new income contingent loans introduced at the beginning of the current academic year is involved. My right honourable friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has confirmed the policy considerations which have determined the Government's approach to student loan debt sales in a Written Answer today to the honourable Jackie Lawrence.

HONOURS Trustee Limited has appointed the Student Loans Company, the existing administrator, to administer the sold loans on its behalf. Borrowers who are currently repaying their loans or who have made deferment arrangements will consequently notice little change. We have legislated previously to ensure that the position of borrowers is protected. Borrowers will retain their existing rights of deferment, where their income in below 85 per cent. of average earnings, and interest rates will continue to be linked solely to inflation.

These rights mean that original scheme student loans are provided at subsidised rates. Subsidies will therefore be paid to the purchaser to reflect this. During the 1999-2000 financial year a subsidy of about £64 million will be paid.

Part of the gross subsidy payment will be repaid to the Government through the administration charges paid to the Student Loans Company and tax receipts on private sector profits. Given the value of loans sold, and that some of the loans will be outstanding for a considerable length of time, the estimated net present value of these subsidies is broadly in the region of £395 million to £405 million. This compares with estimated net present value costs of around £310 million which we would have incurred had the

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loans remained publicly owned. The estimated cost to the Government of selling these loans will therefore be in the region of £85 million to £100 million or 25 to 30 per cent. above the cost of keeping loans in the public sector over the lifetime of the portfolio.

The agreement between the Government and HONOURS Trustee Limited, with commercially confidential information removed, will be placed in the Library of the House on completion of the sale.

Fluoridation of Water Supply: Research

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by the Baroness Hayman of 26 January (WA 144) which cited studies from the 1940s and 1950s in support of an "optimal" 1 part per million for fluoridating the water supply, whether the greatly increased exposure to fluorides from all sources in the intervening years, highlighted in the Findings and Conclusions section of Review of Fluoride: Benefits and Risks (Department of Health and Human Services, USA, 1991) referred to in the Written Answer by the Baroness Hayman of 8 February (WA 2), might give grounds for (a) close monitoring of current individual fluoride intakes; and (b) reconsideration of the figure of 1ppm.[HL1309]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Hayman): The cited review points to a significant expansion in the range of sources of fluoride exposure in the United States, and in particular in the availability of dental products and dietary supplements containing fluoride. It does not suggest that the intake of fluoride from food and from drinking-water has increased significantly in populations whose drinking water contains fluoride at 1 part per million. Systemic fluoride supplements may not be prescribed without reference to the fluoride content of the water supply, and are not advised when the water contains more than 0.7 parts per million. Correct use of fluoride toothpastes does not significantly increase systematic exposure to fluoride.

Recently estimates of dietary intakes of fluoride in the United Kingdom will be available shortly from the 1997 Total Diet Study. We are also planning for the National Diet and Nutrition Survey of 19 to 64 year-olds, which is to be conducted over the next two years, to include measurement of urinary fluoride. If these studies or any other research findings were to show a significant increase in fluoride intakes, we would consider whether people living in fluoridated areas should be advised that they did not need to use dental products like fluoride drops and tablets. We would also consider whether the designation of 1 ppm as the optimal level of water fluoridation should be reviewed.

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WTO Trade and Environment Symposium

Lord Beaumont of Whitley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will be represented at the World Trade Organisation's High Level Symposium on Trade and the Environment on 15 and 16 March 1999; and if so, what changes to present arrangements they will suggest in order to safeguard the environment and animal welfare.[HL1288]

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Simon of Highbury): The Government will be represented at the WTO Symposium on Trade and Environment by senior officials from DTI, DETR, FCO and DFID. We expect the event to be an opportunity to work with other WTO members and representatives of non-governmental bodies, including business, to identify constructive ways ahead on trade and environment.

We hope that the event will progress the trade and environment debate by helping to:

    clarify the relationship between trade rules and international environmental law;

    identify "win-win" options where trade liberalisation, environment and development objectives can all the advanced together;

    encourage further dialogue between all interested communities, in particular highlighting the importance of transparency at both the national and international level.

We are continuing to examine the issue of animal welfare in the context of the EU's approach to a comprehensive new WTO Round. But the High Level Symposium already has a wide area to cover, and it would not be constructive to press animal welfare concerns there. Many developing countries are suspicious of the EU's motives in the trade/environment debate, and we want to focus the event on exploring their concerns in that area.

Genetically Modified Food: Minister's Position

Baroness Denton of Wakefield asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by the Lord Sainsbury of Turville on 11 January (WA 12) which stated that no conflict of interest had arisen necessitating him to absent himself from official discussions, how this Answer is compatible with the Department of Trade and Industry press release of 16 February, which stated that he has not participated in any discussions concerning genetic modification.[HL1347]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): The statement issued on the 16 February made clear that I have not taken part in any government decisions or discussions relating to GM Food Policy.

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The first opportunity for me to be involved in a policy discussion on GM Food was at the MISC6 Cabinet Committee on Biotechnology on 3 February. I left the meeting for discussion of this item. This was over three weeks after the date of the earlier answer referred to by the noble Baroness.

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