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Rail Passengers and Freight

Mr. Brake: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will revise passenger and freight access charges to stimulate greater use of the rail network. [22840]

Ms Glenda Jackson: The setting of access charges is the responsibility of the Rail Regulator. He has recently published a consultation document about the key issues and proposed framework for future access arrangements to assist in determining revised charges which will come into effect on 1 April 2001.

Channel Tunnel

Mrs. Dunwoody: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will seek to negotiate an amendment to the Channel Tunnel Treaty allowing for the annual publication of a comprehensive safety report. [22825]

Ms Glenda Jackson: No. The Channel Tunnel Safety Authority already publishes an Annual Report on its activities, which covers all aspects of Channel Tunnel safety.

Mrs. Dunwoody: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will place in the Library a copy of the report into the evacuation exercise carried out recently in the channel tunnel. [23207]

Ms Glenda Jackson: A report on the binational emergency exercise which took place on 10-11 January in the Channel Tunnel will be incorporated in the Annual Report of the Channel Tunnel Safety Authority for 1997-98. A copy of this Report will be placed in the Library of the House on its publication.

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Mrs. Dunwoody: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions whether he intends to seek the renegotiation of Clause 33.3 of the channel tunnel treaty which prevents the publication of safety information relating to the tunnel. [23206]

Ms Glenda Jackson: No. Clause 33.3 of the Channel Tunnel Concession Agreement requires the parties to the Agreement, and the Intergovernmental Commission and Safety Authority, to hold in confidence material provided to them. However, Eurotunnel is free to publish the safety information which it produces, and the Channel Tunnel Safety Authority publishes an annual report on its activities, covering all aspects of Channel Tunnel safety. Copies of this report are placed in the Library.

Railtrack

Mrs. Dunwoody: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what assessment he has made of Railtrack's performance in fulfilling its statutory obligations with respect to (a) maintenance of the rail infrastructure and (b) upgrading the system; and if he will list the figures for expenditure on both items. [22823]

Ms Glenda Jackson: Railtrack's statutory obligations are reflected in its network licence, which is monitored by the Rail Regulator. Modifications to that licence now require the company to publish detailed information on the level of expenditure for both the maintenance and enhancement of the rail network. Railtrack's next Network Management Statement is to be published in March 1998.

Railtrack's core investment in the first half of 1997-98 had increased by 38 per cent.--to £520 million--compared to the first half of 1996-97. We have made it clear that we expect to see further improvements in investments levels.

Mrs. Dunwoody: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will discuss with Railtrack the present and future access charges to the Railtrack system. [22824]

Ms Glenda Jackson: Access charges are a matter for the Rail Regulator. The Regulator has recently invited comments from consultees, including Railtrack, on the issues which might inform his decisions on revised charges, which will come into effect on 1 April 2001.

Ministerial Travel (Trains)

Mr. Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions on what date (a) he and (b) The Minister for Transport last used a train in the course of their officials duties. [22927]

Mr. Prescott: I last used the train on Monday 12 January and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport on Tuesday 6 January.

Heavy Goods Vehicles

Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what estimate he has made of the number of heavy goods vehicles that have evaded excise duty in the last 12 months. [21081]

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Ms Glenda Jackson: It is estimated that, at any one time, some 13,000 heavy goods vehicles are evading vehicle excise duty. This represents around 3 per cent. of these vehicles.

Road Traffic Reduction Act

Mr. Don Foster: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions when he intends issuing guidance to local authorities on the implementation of the Road Traffic Reduction Act 1997. [23367]

Ms Glenda Jackson: Draft Guidance to local authorities on implementing the provisions of the Road Traffic Reduction Act is being issued for public consultation today. Comments on the draft guidance are being sought by 20 April 1998. I am arranging for copies of the consultation documents to be placed in the library.

Town and Country Planning

Helen Jones: To ask the Secretary for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will announce his policy for the future of town and country planning in England; and if he will make a statement. [23787]

Mr. Caborn: I have today placed copies of my Policy Statement in the Library of the House. This Statement confirms that we shall retain the principles of the town and country planning system established by the post-war Labour Government. For 50 years, these have demonstrated their flexibility and served us well. There are, however, a number of missing dimensions that this Government will put in place to cope with the challenges they now face.

These are:






My Policy Statement on Modernising Planning describes how we will fill these gaps. As part of this package, I am also today placing in the Library and publishing a consultation paper on the future of Regional Planning Guidance in England.

Roads and Rail (East Sussex)

Mr. Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what (a) representations have been received from and (b) meetings have taken place with representatives of East Sussex County Council since 2 May in respect of (i) the proposal to reinstate the Lewes-Uckfield railway line, (ii) the A27 Lewes-Polegate trunk road and (iii) the proposed A27 Polegate bypass. [22944]

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Ms Glenda Jackson: Since 2 May 1997, there have been no representations made by East Sussex County Council to the Department, nor meetings held, regarding proposals to reinstate the Lewes-Uckfield railway line.

Representations on the A27 Lewes-Polegate schemes, and the A27 Polegate Bypass scheme, has been received from East Sussex County Council in the form of a documented response to the Roads Review. We are currently considering the comments made by the County Council alongside the many other we have received. East Sussex County Council participated in a Regional Roads Review Seminar, held last October, which covered these schemes. In addition, as part of our consideration of the Accelerated Roads Review, Ministers met local MPs to discuss the proposed Weald and Downland DBFO project. Representatives of East Sussex County Council were part of the delegations accompanying Members at these meetings.

Car-free Cities Project

Mr. Matthew Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will encourage more major authorities in the United Kingdom to participate in the European Union Car-Free Cities project as part of his policy to reduce urban congestion, pollution and environmentally damaging emissions. [23125]

Ms Glenda Jackson: The Government are always interested in effective and innovative approaches to tackling congestion and pollution. Local authorities may well benefit from participating in the Car Free Cities project, or other similar schemes. A number already do, and the Government would certainly encourage others to consider following suit. But such decisions are best taken at the local level, as authorities consider how best to meet their statutory duties under the National Air Quality Strategy and the Road Traffic Reduction Act 1997.

Genetically Modified Organisms

Mr. Tyler: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions on how many occasions information has been withheld on the grounds of commercial confidentiality from reports placed on the public register on the effects of the release of genetically modified organisms. [22877]

Mr. Meacher: To date, no information contained in reports on the release of genetically modified organisms has been withheld from the public register on grounds of commercial confidentiality.

Mr. Tyler: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions which advisory bodies are consulted in advance of a decision to withhold information from the public register of applications for consents to release genetically modified organisms on the grounds of national security. [22882]

Mr. Meacher: We cannot envisage any circumstances where it would be necessary to withhold information from the public register on the grounds of national security.

Mr. Tyler: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions on how many occasions following consent to release new information has been made available under section 111 of the

15 Jan 1998 : Column: 260

Environmental Protection Act 1990 regarding risks of damage to the environment by the release of genetically modified organisms. [22879]

Mr. Meacher: The relevant section of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 for the provision of new information regarding risks of releases is section 112. To date, no new information has been notified by a consent holder.

Mr. Tyler: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions on how many occasions information has been withheld from the public register for reasons of prevention to damage to the environment in respect of (a) commercial and (b) other applications for consent to release genetically modified organisms. [22880]

Mr. Meacher: On no occasion has information been withheld from the public register for reasons of prevention of damage to the environment in respect of (a) commercial and (b) other applications to release genetically modified organisms.

Mr. Tyler: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions how many reports on the effects of release have been received in respect of consents to release genetically modified organisms. [22876]

Mr. Meacher: To date, there have been 133 consents granted for the release of genetically modified organisms in Great Britain. Under section 112 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, consent holders are required to notify the Secretary of State of the effects of any release on the environment. For every consent, a report must be submitted at the end of the release and for many consents a period of post-release monitoring is required for which a report must also be submitted. These reports are placed on my Department's public register and in the regional offices of the Environment Agency, and are freely available to the general public on request.

Mr. Tyler: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions on how many occasions information has been withheld from the public register for reasons of national security in respect of (a) commercial and (b) other applications for consent to release genetically modified organisms. [22883]

Mr. Meacher: On no occasion has information been withheld from the public register for reasons of national security in respect of (a) commercial and, (b) other applications to release genetically modified organisms.

Mr. Tyler: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions on how many occasions reports on the release of genetically modified organisms have revealed new risks of damage to the environment. [22878]

Mr. Meacher: To date, reports on the release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have not revealed any new information regarding risks to human health or the environment.

In addition to these reports, my Department funds a research programme to identify possible new risks of the release of genetically modified organisms to human health and the environment.

15 Jan 1998 : Column: 261


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