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Written Answers

Friday, 7th July 2000.

GM Trial Crops: Effects on Bees, Honey and Fruit

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by the Lord Whitty on 6 June (WA 146), by what methods the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment ascertained that genetically modified (GM) trial crops would have no adverse effects on bees or honey or fruit containing GM pollen; and whether they consider such methods to be valid and trustworthy.[HL2815]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): When making the applications for deliberate release consent, the applicants submitted data using a variety of multidisciplinary approaches to assess the possible effects on bees and impact of GM pollen on human health. These included observations on bees and other organisms in the field, toxicological tests, allergenicity tests, information on the biochemical properties of the transgenic proteins expressed in these plants and comparison of transgenic proteins with sequences in scientific databases of known toxins and allergens.

The experts on ACRE considered this data in the light of their own knowledge and experience and in the light of the body of scientific understanding at the time before reaching a decision. The committee agreed that the risks posed to human health and the environment from these releases were very low. Details of the methods and assessments are held on the public register at Ashdown House.

Further consideration has been given to GM pollen in honey by the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP), an independent body of experts that advises the Government on the safety of novel (including GM) foods. ACRE was aware that ACNFP hosted a workshop in 1991 to consider the safety aspects of GM pollen in honey. It concluded that the levels of pollen in honey would be so low as not to be a health issue. Results from three research projects commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) support this conclusion.

Dartford River Crossings: Tolls

Baroness Howells of St Davids asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will announce their plans for charging at the Dartford river crossings.[HL3227]

Lord Whitty: The current legislation authorising the collection of tolls at the Dartford river crossings is forecast to expire in June 2002. The cessation of tolling

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would be likely to have the effect of significantly increasing demand on the eastern sector of the M25, which would further increase the level of congestion at the crossings and elsewhere and have associated environmental and safety implications.

The Government are therefore minded to continue to charge for the use of the Dartford river crossings when the current legislation expires. Subject to the consent of Parliament, we will consult next year on detailed proposals. Revenues from charging would be hypothecated for spending on transport.

Migration and Climate Change

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What studies they are making of the effect of future climate change on migration; and what forecasts are now available on the basis of such studies.[HL3090]

Lord Whitty: The Government are supporting several ongoing studies that are making an initial assessment of the effects of climate change on the migration of plant and animal species and the implications of climate change for UK habitats, species and nature conservation policy. These studies will give a first view of some potential migration patterns as they report over the next twelve months.

The Government have also commissioned work on the global impacts of climate change by sectors, which has made a provisional assessment of the number of people likely to be affected--but has not assessed the likelihood of human migration. This research has been published and presented to the fourth and fifth Conferences of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The possibility of human migration was discussed in the Second Assessment Report of the Intergovenmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published in 1995. This report noted that sudden human migration may occur as a result of the projected climate changes and sea level rise, and that millions may be displaced by shoreline erosion, river and coastal flooding, or severe drought. Further assessment of this issue will be made in the IPCC's Third Assessment Report, to be published in 2001. The UK is participating actively in the development of this report.

London Underground: Performance Targets

Lord Lamont of Lerwick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress they have made in devising performance targets for London Underground; and when they expect to make an announcement.[HL3094]

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The Minister of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston): The performance targets set for London Underground in respect of the years 1999-2000 and 2000-01 were announced to the House of Commons in response to a Question from Tom Brake (Lib. Dem--Carshalton and Wallington) on Tuesday, 4 April 2000 (Hansard, Volume 347, Col. 309w-310w).

The targets, which are to be met by the end of 2000-01 are as follows:

Capacity (train kms run): 10% increase on 1998-9 performance
Reliability (unweighted excess journey time--minutes)4 per cent improvement on 1998-9 level
Customer satisfaction measures (measured through LT's Customer Satisfaction Survey):Average score (out of 100)
Train service77
Customer safety and security83
Staff helpfulness and availability70

The Lord Chancellor: Participation in Lords Debates and Appeals

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

    Further to the Statement by the Lord Bingham of Cornhill on behalf of the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary on 22 June, whether it is intended that the Lord Chancellor, as a Lord of Appeal, will be guided by the principles contained in the statement when deciding (a) whether to participate in debates and votes in the House of Lords and (b) his eligibility to sit as a Lord of Appeal in particular cases or categories of case.[HL3030]

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): Special considerations apply to the Lord Chancellor, which have already been set out in oral and written Answers and in debate in the House. I refer the noble Lord to the Official Report, col. 710-739 on 17 February 1999; col. 1060-1063 on 24 June 1999; WA 33 on 23 February 2000; and col. 655-657 on 2 March 2000. The Lord Chancellor, in common with the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, will bear in mind that he might render himself ineligible to sit judicially if he were to express an opinion on a matter which might later be relevant to an appeal to the House.

Likewise, in deciding whether he is eligible to sit on an appeal, in common with the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, he will be guided by the same principles as

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apply to all judges. These principles were restated by the Court of Appeal in the case of Locabail (UK) Ltd v. Bayfield Properties Ltd and others and four other actions [2000 1 All E.R. (CA)].

NMEC: Accounts to 31 December 1999

Baroness Anelay of St Johns asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the accounts for the New Millennium Experience Company have been signed for the period ended 31 December 1999; if not, why not.[HL2965]

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): The accounts for the New Millennium Experience Company (NMEC) for the period ended 31 December 1999 were signed off at its board meeting on 5 July 2000.

Northern Ireland: Designation of Public Authorities

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they accept the principle that non-designation of public authorities should be the exception rather than the rule, under Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.[HL3037]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The Government are committed to a maximalist approach to designation and want to see the statutory duty embracing as wide a range of bodies as possible. The vast majority of organisations carrying out public functions in Northern Ireland are already designated under Section 75(3)(b) and (c) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. A further list of bodies was designated under Section 75(3)(a) by the Northern Ireland Act 1998. (Designation of Public Authorities) Order 2000. The list is not exhaustive but represents the first tranche of additional public authorities under this power. In the weeks and months ahead, we will continue our consideration of what other bodies might need to be designated under this power or the power in Section 75(3)(d). Further orders will be made as required.

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why there have been delays in publishing a full list of authorities to be designated under Section 75(3)(a) and (d) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998; and when the full list will be available to Parliament.[HL3038]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The list of public authorities is an evolving one. Many bodies are automatically brought within the definition of "public authority" for the purposes of Section 75. Section 75(3)(b) and (c) designates all bodies that are subject to

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investigation by either the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Complaints or the Northern Ireland Ombudsman. Full lists of these bodies can be found respectively in Schedule 2 to the Commissioner for Complaints (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 or Schedule 2 to the Ombudsman (Northern Ireland) Order 1996.

The Act also provides the power for the Secretary of State to designate other organisations as public authorities for the purposes of Section 75. The recent Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Designation of Public Authorities) Order 2000 is an example of such additional designation. Further orders will be made as required.

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