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Local Government

Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what plans he has to delay the deadline for local authorities to submit proposals for new political arrangements under Part II of the Local Government Act 2000, following the postponement of annual council meetings. [157609]

Ms Armstrong: Subject to the enactment of the Elections Bill, we intend to issue revised statutory guidance under the Local Government Act 2000 about the submission of proposals. We intend any such revised guidance to provide that those councils which are holding local elections on 7 June 2001, or where due to local circumstances the usual conduct of business has been disrupted, should submit proposals by 14 September 2001 instead of by the current guideline date of end of June 2001.

Windmills

Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will make it a condition of planning permission for new houses to be equipped with a small windmill to generate electricity. [157542]

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Ms Beverley Hughes: It is for local planning authorities in the first instance to decide on specific planning conditions. We are keen to encourage renewable energy initiatives that are feasible and effective.

East Thurrock Port

Mr. Mackinlay: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if, in advance of the visit of the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill), to the C2C line in Thurrock, an examination will be made of anticipated additional freight movements consequent on the proposed new port development in East Thurrock, with particular reference to the impact on level crossing access to East Tilbury. [157361]

Mr. Hill [holding answer 6 April 2001]: The Strategic Rail Authority has consulted with Railtrack and freight operators to make outline assumptions on extra freight traffic as a result of the potential development. This is to help facilitate their London Freight Routing Strategy, ensuring sufficient network capacity is provided. The actual number of extra freight services that will use the C2C route as a result of the new development cannot be accurately forecast at present. It will be for the developers of the project in association with the rail freight operators and Railtrack to make predictions. I understand that Thurrock Council has convened a meeting in May involving the SRA, Railtrack, C2C and freight operators to discuss the impact of the options for the proposal.

Millennium Dome

Mr. Peter Ainsworth: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions which consultants have been engaged to undertake market testing in connection with the future use of the Millennium Dome site; at what cost to public funds; and if he will make a statement. [157561]

Ms Armstrong: The Government have asked English Partnerships to lodge and explore all expressions of interest, with a view to considering options and mechanisms for the future use of the Dome, before any announcement is made by the Government about the next process. English Partnerships, with Jones Lang LaSalle, are currently engaged in comprehensive market testing, to inform that process. The precise cost of this work is not currently known, as work is ongoing, but it is intended that these and any other costs incurred during the sale process will be deducted from the receipts generated by the disposal of the Dome site.

GM Crops

Mr. Flynn: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will set out his reasons for proposing GM trials in Mathry, Pembrokeshire and Sealand in north Wales; and if he will publish the baseline data on each site on which the impact assessment will be based. [157485]

Mr. Meacher: The sites used in the Farm Scale Evaluations (FSE) are found by industry and are assessed against scientific criteria by the researchers carrying out the fieldwork. The sites are finally approved by the independent scientific steering committee overseeing the Farm Scale Evaluations on the basis of scientific criteria

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alone. Ministers do not take decisions on the choice of sites. The scientific steering committee selects sites to reflect the geographic range across the UK where the conventional varieties of the FSE crops are already grown. This ensures that a full range of habitats is evaluated.

The design of the Farm Scale Evaluation experiment does not require a pre-experiment assessment of baseline data other than pre-sowing seed sampling, which gives an indication of the potential for weeds to grow in the field. This is because the experiment is designed to compare effects of herbicide use between the two sides of each experimental field. One half is randomly selected and planted with the GM crop, while the other half is planted with the non-GM equivalent crop. This design allows for the effects of the herbicides on wildlife in the two halves of the field to be assessed more accurately than would be possible by comparison with wildlife in the crop before the start of the experiment.

The purpose of the Farm Scale Evaluations is to examine whether there are any differences in the diversity and abundance of farmland wildlife associated with the use of GM herbicide tolerant crops with the herbicides to which they are tolerant, as compared with equivalent non-GM crops. The wildlife found in crop fields is affected by factors such as the vegetation and crop type. Wildlife present in the bare field before sowing or in a previous, different crop the year before, will not be the same as that to be expected in the experimental crop. Measurements of differences in wildlife between a pre-trial audit and within the experimental crop during the experiment would therefore not allow the effects of the herbicide to be measured.

Mrs. Lawrence: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions who will be liable for providing compensation for farms in organic production or conversion if their (a) production and (b) status is damaged as a result of genetically modified farm scale trials being undertaken at Mathry, Pembrokeshire. [157571]

Mr. Meacher: Liability for the use of GM crops is an important issue, which is being addressed both at European and UK levels. I will be considering this year a range of options for possible new liability provisions in respect of any damage from GM crops. In the meantime an individual who has suffered loss may be able to commence an action in the courts. Each case will turn on its own facts and the question of who is liable will be determined in the light of all the circumstances.

Mrs. Lawrence: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what the procedures are for informing (a) hon. Members representing Welsh constituencies, (b) the National Assembly for Wales and (c) local authorities about plans to use sites in their areas for genetically modified trial tests. [157569]

Mr. Meacher: Releases of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are controlled under European Union Directive 90/220. This recognises two types of release, those for research purposes (known as Part B releases) and those for commercial purposes (known as Part C releases).

Any Part B releases in Wales would have to be notified to the National Assembly before sowing and would have to be advertised in a paper circulating in the locality. GM

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crops holding a Part C release consent, like the GM maize to be grown in Wales this year, are assessed by all EU member states. The consent is valid in all member states and once granted there are no requirements for individual sowings of the crop to be notified to the Government or consulted upon.

Under an agreement with SCIMAC, the farming and biotechnology industry body, DETR publishes site location details of all the FSEs in England and Wales on its website "www. detr. gov. uk" including those of crops holding Part C approval. DETR officials informed National Assembly officials of the locations of the sites in Wales once they had been notified of the locations by industry. With the agreement of Assembly officials they then wrote to community councils and local authorities in Wales in which a trial was planned in order to provide information about the Farm Scale Evaluation programme.

Mrs. Lawrence: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions who will be responsible for the monitoring of genetically modified trial test sites in the constituency of Preseli Pembrokeshire. [157567]

Mr. Meacher: The ecological study monitoring is carried out by scientists from the research consortium comprising the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), the Institute of Arable Crops Research (IACR) and the Scottish Crops Research Institute (SCRI).

Scientists visit study sites during and after the sowing of the GM crop and also in subsequent years to assess the effects of the herbicide on biodiversity. These site visits are supplemented by inspections from the Central Science Laboratory (CSL) to check that the release of the GM crop is being carried out in accordance with the release consent.

Mrs. Lawrence: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what key indicators will be monitored on each of the genetically modified farm scale trials sites on a case-by-case basis in the constituency of Preseli Pembrokeshire. [157566]

Mr. Meacher: The Farm Scale Evaluations use a split field study design whereby half the field is sown with GM crops and half with conventional crops of the same type. The researchers compare key indicators of biodiversity between the GM and non-GM sides of the fields.

The indicators being measured at each site are:









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Full details on the science of the Farm Scale Evaluations are available from a scientific paper on the DETR's website: www.detr.gov.uk

Mr. Llwyd: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what representations (a) he received from and (b) he made to (i) the National Assembly for Wales and (ii) the Wales Office prior to the decision to allow field trials of genetically modified crops on three farms in Wales; and if he will make a statement. [157601]

Mr. Meacher: Meetings were held earlier this year with Ministers from the devolved administrations, including the National Assembly for Wales and the Office of the Secretary of State for Wales which discussed the Farm Scale Evaluation programme in general terms.

Sites for GM crops under the Farm Scale Evaluations programme are found by industry and are assessed against scientific criteria by the researchers carrying out the fieldwork. They are finally approved by the independent scientific steering committee overseeing the evaluations. Ministers do not take the decisions on the choice of sites. Sites are selected on scientific criteria and the independent scientists on the steering committee have always been open about the need to have a range of sites across the UK representative of where maize is grown. This is to help ensure that a full range of habitats is evaluated.

Carwyn Jones AM, the Minister for Rural Affairs, National Assembly for Wales, wrote to me on 23 March stating that he might issue a prohibition notice under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to stop releases of GM maize in Wales. He has asked that the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment undertake an urgent scientific assessment into the adequacy of separation distances between GM and non GM crops, particularly organic crops.

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