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AWE plc: Radioactive Discharge Authorisations

Earl Attlee asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Responsibility for granting radioactive discharge authorisations to AWE plc lies with the Environment Agency. The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and

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the Regions and the Secretary of State for Health are currently considering whether to use their statutory powers in relation to the existing radioactive discharge authorisations. The reference to fast-track procedures in this context is not understood.

Earl Attlee asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether plans have been made to re-nationalise the Atomic Energy Establishment at Aldermaston in the event that emission permits cannot be granted.[HL125]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Contingency plans are in place for implementation should it prove necessary, for whatever reason, to take AWE back into direct MoD management.

Tucano Aircraft Recovery and UK Pilot Training Programme

Baroness Rendell of Babergh asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the situation regarding the recovery programme for the Tucano aircraft and the training of UK military pilots in Australia.[HL171]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The Tucano recovery programme is proceeding to plan and full training capacity is expected to be available by the end of February 2001. Fifteen students are to complete their basic fast jet flying training in Australia with the Royal Australian Air Force, assisted by three RAF Qualified Flying Instructors. The first group of 10 students started flying training in Australia on 6 November and the arrangement is working well. The remaining five students will start their training on 29 January 2001.

Local Government Ethical Framework

Baroness David asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress has been made towards implementing the new ethical framework for local government established under the Local Government Act 2000. [HL230]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): The provisions in the Local Government Act 2000 establishing the new ethical framework have been commenced.

Among other things, the provisions will require all relevant authorities to establish standards committees to promote and maintain high standards of conduct by members and co-opted members. We are today publishing a consultation paper setting out how authorities are to go about establishing standards committees and the procedures under which those committees are to operate.

Copies of the consultation paper have been placed in the House Libraries.

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Hedgerows: Flamborough Judgment

Lord Hardy of Wath asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have considered the general implication of the Flamborough Judgment of 1996 concerning enclosure hedgerows. [HL136]

Lord Whitty: The Government have considered the implication of the Flamborough Judgment of 1996. This suggested that obligations under the old enclosure Acts and awards may still be enforceable through the courts. These obligations are enforceable between private persons and are civil disputes. As we have indicated previously, the Government have no powers to intervene or to enforce these matters.

Train Operators: Eligibility for Compensation

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will authorise compensation to be payable to:

    (a) Passenger train operators; and

    (b) Freight train operators for additional costs, loss of revenue, compensation to customers and loss of future business caused by the closures and delays to the rail network since the Hatfield accident. [HL116]

Lord Whitty: The terms under which compensation is payable to passenger train operators and freight train operators are set out in their respective Track Access Agreements with Railtrack. Additionally the shadow Strategic Rail Authority contributed to the unprecedented package of compensation payments to passengers agreed by the industry last month.

Motherwell Derailment, 26 November

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why, following a minor derailment near Motherwell on 26 November caused by a track defect, the police detained all 400 passengers for five hours, transferring them to taxis for individual formal interviews before allowing them to be transported to their destination by coach; and[HL117]

    Whether the British Transport Police or the Strathclyde Police were responsible for declaring the minor derailment near Motherwell on 26 November a Xscene of crime"; whether every one of the 400 passengers was asked whether they had derailed the train, as reported in Rail Magazine on 13 December; and, if so, on whose decision.[HL118]

Lord Whitty: Although the British Transport Police (BTP) did not classify this accident as a Xmajor incident", any train derailment involving over 400 passengers at night, close to live overhead powerlines, must be treated as a serious situation. When attending any such incident it is not possible for the police

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immediately to determine the cause of an accident. It is important that the emergency services preserve the integrity of the scene as much as possible until criminal activity can be ruled out by expert technical examination.

Passenger safety is the priority in dealing with such incidents. It was not possible to move the carriages still on the track and the train had to be evacuated at the site. A major factor in the handling of this incident by the Railtrack Incident Officer (RIO), the train operator and the British Transport Police (BTP), was that the passengers were in no imminent danger while seated on the train, which had heating and lighting.

An evacuation route from the train was identified and prepared, which involved removing fencing, providing lighting and laying down tarpaulin over the undergrowth. It was also necessary to evacuate the train by a single door. However, this allowed for a controlled evacuation of passengers, with their luggage, to take place.

The passengers were then transferred by coach to a reception centre where they were informally interviewed by police and staff of the train company. The interviews had a number of purposes. They allowed the train operator's staff to ascertain individual destination requirements for onward journey by taxi, to provide follow-up welfare and compensation advice, and where necessary forward any items of luggage left on the train by passengers. Obtaining personal details is also essential for responding to the great many people who call the police and railway operators after any incident of this nature seeking information about friends and relatives on the train.

Passengers were not asked whether they had derailed the train, but when obtaining their details the BTP enquired whether they had seen, heard or felt anything that might assist their investigation into whether any criminal activity, such as vandalism or obstructing the line, was the cause of the accident. This is routine procedure when handling an incident of this nature. The information obtained from passengers also helps to prevent fraudulent claims for compensation that tend to occur when such an incident receives widespread publicity.

Mersley Farm, Isle of Wight

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Lord Whitty on 10 April (WA 19-20), whether the Health and Safety Executive has completed its consideration of the feasibility of an epidemiological study into the health of individuals living by or working at Mersley Farm, Isle of Wight; and, if so, whether the results of its consideration have been published.[HL158]

Lord Whitty: The feasibility study has not yet been completed. However, since my reply to your previous Question on this subject, HSE have been actively considering the technical and practical issues involved

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in conducting such a study. The outcome of these deliberations is now contained in a 15-page draft study protocol that has been sent for comment to the medical authorities on the Isle of Wight who would need to be involved in any study. The protocol will be made publicly available once this consultation is complete.

Gypsy Caravan Numbers

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are asking local authorities to take any steps to improve the accuracy and consistency of their January count of gypsies.[HL159]

Lord Whitty: No. My department asks local authorities to supply information on numbers of gypsy caravans on a standard, clearly defined proforma with guidance notes to assist completion. This helps to ensure both consistency and accuracy in returns. In addition, my department carries out validation checks on any marked discrepancies between year on year data. While completion of the proforma is voluntary, it is relevant to point out that the return rate from local authorities has run at over 98 per cent for the last seven years.

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