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Aggregates Levy

Tony Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how much of the sustainability fund set up as a result of the aggregates levy will be controlled and allocated at a local level. [26046]

Mr. Meacher: Consultations on how to distribute the aggregates levy sustainability fund in England ended on 27 November. We are currently reflecting on all the issues raised in the consultation, and decisions on the final shape and distribution of the fund are expected to be made soon.

Radioactive Waste

Andrew George: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what recent assessment she has made of international agreements on the disposal of radioactive waste at sea; whether these agreements are being renewed; and if it is her policy that they should be reviewed. [28758]

Mr. Meacher: The UK is a contracting party to both the OSPAR convention for the protection of the marine environment of the north east Atlantic 1992, and the convention on the prevention of marine pollution by dumping of wastes and other matter 1972 (known as the

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London convention) which applies globally. Both conventions prohibit the disposal at sea of radioactive waste, and we see no need for these provisions to be reviewed. The UK is very active within both conventions in seeking to ensure that environmental protection standards continue to develop in an effective and appropriate way in the light of the latest scientific knowledge.

Andrew George: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what arrangements there are for the (a) concealing and protected disposal of radioactive waste for which the UK Government are responsible and (b) retrieval and protected containment of previously disposed of radioactive waste where it has been necessary to retrieve it. [28756]

Mr. Meacher: There are certainly no arrangements to conceal disposals of radioactive waste for which the UK Government are responsible.

The arrangements for disposal of radioactive waste in the UK require that all disposals of civil waste are subject to the provisions of the Radioactive Substances Act 1993, as amended. This Act does not apply to the Ministry of Defence, but its policy is that where practicable it will apply standards at least as stringent as those required by the Act. At present the main UK disposal site is at Drigg in Cumbria; this is authorised to accept only low level waste. The UK environment agencies are the enforcing authorities for the Radioactive Substances Act. The health and safety executive are the enforcing authority for the safety of workers at the Drigg site.

With regard to arrangements for the retrieval of waste already disposed of on land, the Government have accepted a proposal from the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority that it retrieve the waste from the Dounreay shaft and process it to a form suitable either for disposal or any other long-term management option which the Government decide on for intermediate-level waste. Such retrieval will be subject to regulation by the Health and Safety Executive's nuclear installations inspectorate.

The consultation paper "Managing radioactive waste safely" sets out the Government's proposed decision making programme. The consultation period ends on 12 March and we would welcome comments from people all over the UK.

The radioactive waste which was dumped at sea by the UK in the past does not give any cause for concern provided it is left undisturbed. Results obtained under the OECD's co-ordinated research and environmental surveillance programme (CRESP) related to sea disposal of radioactive wastes have demonstrated that the radiological impacts on human and oceanic populations emanating from the north east Atlantic dumpsites are exceedingly small compared to the natural background levels, and are likely to remain so. This view was reiterated in the OSPAR convention's quality status report 2000, copies of which are available in the Library of the House. Any attempt to retrieve such waste would be both unnecessary and potentially hazardous for the personnel involved.

Andrew George: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs which (a) national and (b) international regulations and agreements apply to the disposal of UK originated radioactive waste (i) within mainland Britain, (ii) within territorial waters, (iii) outside territorial waters and (iv) in other countries. [28757]

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Mr. Meacher: Within mainland Britain and territorial waters, the disposal of radioactive waste is subject to the Radioactive Substances Act 1993. The UK is also subject to the provisions of Directive 96/29/Euratom laying down basic safety standards in the European Union for the protection of the health of workers and the general public against the dangers arising from ionising radiation.

The dumping of radioactive waste at sea is prohibited under the OSPAR convention for the protection of the marine environment of the north east Atlantic 1992, and under the convention on the prevention of marine pollution by dumping of wastes and other matter 1972 (known as the London convention), as amended in 1994, which applies globally. These conventions apply both within and beyond territorial waters, and the UK is a contracting party to both.

The UK does not dispose of radioactive waste in other countries. However, it is Government policy that the wastes resulting from the reprocessing of foreign spent fuel are returned to the country of origin.

Shipments of radioactive waste into, out of, and through the EU are regulated under the 1993 Transfrontier Shipment of Radioactive Waste Regulations (TFSRW). They apply to radioactive waste shipments to or from anywhere in the world.

Sewage Treatment

Linda Gilroy: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if he will take steps to clarify the powers which local authorities have to act in respect of smell nuisance from sewage treatment works. [32065]

Mr. Meacher: Except in the specific circumstances under which sewage works are regulated under the IPPC provisions, local authorities have a duty under section 79(1)(d) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, to investigate complaints about smell or odours arising on industrial, trade or business premises and being prejudicial to health or a nuisance. If a local authority's environmental health officer is satisfied that the smell or odour complained about amounts to a statutory nuisance then the local authority must serve an abatement notice on the owner or occupier of the premises. However, in coming to a decision an environmental health officer would need to determine whether "best practicable means" are being used to prevent the nuisance or counteract its effect. Generally local authorities will try to work closely with the water undertakings to investigate and monitor odour problems from sewage treatment works without having to resort to abatement measures or legal action.

Countryside and Rights of Way Act

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what studies she has conducted into the implications for wildlife of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 since its enactment; and if she will make a statement. [31616]

Alun Michael: The Countryside and Rights of Way Act was the first major piece of wildlife legislation for 20 years and introduced new rights of access to the open countryside, amended the law in relation to rights of way and improved protection and management of sites of special scientific interest, wildlife and areas of outstanding natural beauty. We believe the Act has

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significant benefits, both for the wildlife which, through the provisions in Parts III and IV of the Bill, it aims directly to protect and conserve, and for people better to appreciate the wildlife in our countryside.

The wildlife and access advisory group has collated known research and guidance on the sensitivities of wildlife to access. The group comprises English Nature, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, the Countryside Agency, the Countryside Council for Wales, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and others. In addition the Access Scientific Research and Monitoring Group, whose members also include EN, the agency and CCW, is advising on a range of project proposals arising from the report "Access and bird conservation: priorities for research", produced in 2001.

No studies about the implications of Part II for wildlife have been carried out or are planned: however the provisions include amendments to the circumstances in which traffic authorities may make traffic regulation orders, so as to include the purpose of protecting SSSIs.

English Nature is responsible for implementing the new provisions for more effective protection and management of SSSIs. The improvements are likely to take time to take effect. English Nature's regular SSSI condition assessments will show over time how far the new legislation has resulted in improvements to these sites. Further detail on the exercise of the new powers will be provided in English Nature's annual report, to be published later in the year.

In relation to the wildlife law enforcement provisions in Schedule 12, officials have asked for information, through the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime, about the use of the new powers and the imposition of higher penalties for offences under Part I of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. From the responses received it is clear that the powers are being used to good effect and that at least one person has received a prison sentence while others have been given community service orders.

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