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Genetically Modified Organisms

Mr. Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what assessment he has made of the potential for genetically modified terminator genes in plants to escape into the environment; and if he will make a statement. [88638]

Mr. Meacher [holding answer 29 June 1999]: Although 'terminator gene' technology has been patented in the United States of America, it has not been introduced into any crops. The Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment is to set up a sub-group to advise on best practice in developing genetically modified plants. The sub group's work will include consideration of the environmental impact of 'terminator genes' and similar approaches. The sub group's findings will be published.

Mr. Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he supported the call by the Greek Government at the meeting of the EU Environment Council on 24 June for a temporary ban

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on new varieties of genetically modified crops and seeds pending the completion of the review of EU Directive 90/220; and if he will make a statement. [88875]

Mr. Meacher [holding answer 29 June 1999]: The UK Government did not support the call for suspension of releases pending the completion of the amendment to Directive 90-220 during the Luxembourg Environment Council. The UK and a number of other Member States were sceptical of the legal justification for such a moratorium and considered that rapid and effective revision of the current Directive should be the top priority in the negotiations.

The common position agreed in Luxembourg strengthens the existing Directive in a wide range of areas such as risk assessment and monitoring. Moreover, the safeguard clause will continue to apply, allowing Member States to take immediate action to suspend a release should evidence of harm emerge.

During the Environment Council, the Council Legal Service confirmed that a moratorium suspending application of the existing Directive would not be possible. This position was supported by the Commission. The Council Legal Service outlined some limited scope offered by Article 95 (5) of the Amsterdam Treaty which enabled Member States to derogate from harmonised legislation where specific environmental problems emerge. However, the UK took the view that agreement on strict new provisions for the amendment of Directive 90-220 should take priority over a moratorium of doubtful legality.

Asbestos

Mr. Clapham: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions when he expects the European Commission to ratify the decision of the Technical Committee to allow member states which have not already done so to impose restrictions on the importation of white asbestos and products that contain the material; and if he will make a statement. [89053]

Mr. Meacher [holding answer 29 June 1999]: The Government are determined to apply further necessary restrictions to the importation, marketing and use of white asbestos. I have received advice from the Health and Safety Commission about those new restrictions in the form of draft regulations. I will act on that advice as soon as the European Commission has ratified the vote of their technical committee to adapt to technical progress Council Directive 76/769/EEC. I am hopeful that this ratification will not be subject to any unnecessary delay. The UK continues to encourage the European Commission to act swiftly on this vitally important measure.

Car Parking Fines

Mr. Woolas: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what estimate he has made of the average amount of revenue to be raised by local authorities for 1999-2000 from car parking fines. [89644]

Ms Glenda Jackson: Information on local authority parking revenue from penalty charge notices and excess charge notices is not held centrally.

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Council Tax

Ms Dari Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he has met the 12 local authorities he called in to discuss their increases in budget requirement and council tax; and if he will make a statement. [89803]

Ms Armstrong: On 13 April the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions announced his decision not to cap any authorities. However, he decided to call in twelve authorities with the largest increases in budget requirement and council tax to put them on warning for next year.

I have now met the representatives of these twelve authorities. The meetings have been constructive. We discussed why the authorities had made such large increases and I explained that when we look at the budgets for 2000-01 we will be able to take this year's increase into account. Most of the authorities have told us that they do not expect to make such large increases next year.

However, it is not only these authorities that will need to consider next year's increase carefully. All authorities should remember that, under the new reserve powers, the Government will be able to look back at increases over two years.

Vehicle Number Plates

Ms Dari Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he has any proposals for new regulations relating to vehicle number plates. [89804]

Ms Glenda Jackson: The Department expects to publish draft regulations relating to the display of vehicle number plates in the near future. We will consult widely on the proposals before any new regulations are made.

HOUSE OF COMMONS

Sitting Hours

Lorna Fitzsimons: To ask the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), representing the House of Commons Commission, what services of the House are required to be available when the House is sitting on Tuesdays from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.; and how much could be saved if the House rose at 7 p.m. [88669]

Mr. Kirkwood: Most main facilities for Members are available whenever the House is sitting. It is not possible to quantify, in any meaningful way, savings for the hours indicated by the hon. Lady.

Braithwaite Report

Lorna Fitzsimons: To ask the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), representing the House of Commons Commission, when the House of Commons Commission is due to make a decision on the Braithwaite report; and how the report will be placed in the public domain. [88667]

Mr. Kirkwood: The Commission has received the Braithwaite report which it is now considering.

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Portcullis House

Sir Sydney Chapman: To ask the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, representing the House of Commons Commission, what assessment the Commission has received of the Portcullis House project; and if he will make a statement. [89516]

Mr. Kirkwood: In February the House of Commons Commission appointed Messrs Northcroft, Chartered Quantity Surveyors and Construction Consultants, to undertake a mid-term review of the Portcullis House project, including an analysis of changes in the cost; to consider whether the current cost estimate and timetable are realistic and whether there is a case for modifying any aspects of the project to reduce costs and improve value for money; and to provide any comparisons with other comparable buildings.

The report has now been received. Its key conclusion is that, when account is taken of the quality, the long lifespan of the building and other relevant factors, the building provides value for money for the House. Other main findings are that:



    the project under construction closely reflects the scheme approved by the House in May 1993; and


    the team is totally committed to delivering the approved scheme.

While the report acknowledges that the cost of the project is high, it records that account has to be taken of the particular reasons and the quality of the building.

The report contains a number of detailed recommendations that Northcroft believe will help assure delivery within the programme and budget. These will now be considered and implemented as appropriate.

The Executive Summary of the report is available in the Vote Office. The full text of the Report has been deposited in the Library.

Good progress has continued to be made since the fieldwork for the report was undertaken in January and February, reinforcing the views of the consultants about the programme and budget. There is now every prospect of the work being completed three or four weeks in advance of the current programme and of the final cost being some £15 million below budget. The project team will explore opportunities for further improvements while they continue to strive to achieve a high quality building.

House of Lords

Mr. Mackinlay: To ask the President of the Council what proposals she has for the composition of the electoral college for cross-bench peers in the Interim House of Lords; and if she will make a statement. [89194]

Mrs. Beckett: The Government will establish an independent Appointments Commission to nominate cross-bench peers to the transitional House of Lords. We set out our proposals for membership of the Commission in our White Paper, "Modernising Parliament Reforming the House of Lords". The Commission will be an advisory non-departmental public body consisting of representatives of the three main political parties and a majority of independent figures, one of whom will be the Chairman. The party political representatives will be

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nominated by party leaders, and the independent members will be appointed in accordance with the rules of the Commissioner for Public Appointments.


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