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Railway Ownership

Lord Inglewood asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): We have made clear that our aim is to improve the railways as we find them, not as we would have wished them to be. Renationalisation cannot be a priority for the Government, given other pressures on public spending.

Sparrow Population, London

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Hayman: There is little evidence to suggest a significant long term decline in numbers or range of house sparrows, but the Government understand that concern has been expressed over the numbers of sparrows in London. The Breeding Bird Survey, introduced in 1994, should, in view of its coverage of urban and suburban habitats, provide improved monitoring of the sparrow population.

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Trawler "Gaul"

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What estimate they have made of the cost of confirming the location and identity of the trawler "Gaul".

Baroness Hayman: The costs of confirming the location and identity of the trawler were met by the television companies involved and Her Majesty's Government has no knowledge of the costs that were incurred.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When the Government of the day first became aware of the estimated position of the trawler "Gaul".

Baroness Hayman: In 1974 a Royal Navy Report to the then Department of Trade, which was then responsible for marine safety, stated that three separate unidentifiable echoes had been recorded in the general area of the "Gaul's" disappearance.

The then Department of Trade considered a number of proposals for searching for the wreck. Proposals from the Royal Navy and commercial sources were discussed, but were not pursued as it was decided then that the considerable resource implications of each proposal could not be justified.

Departmental records show that the lack of a positively identified search area was an important factor in these decisions. It is important to consider that mid-1970s technology was less able than the technology available today to make positive identifications of underwater objects from the surface.

Damage to Countryside by Four-wheel Drive Vehicles

Lord Williams of Elvel asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What proposals they have to prevent damage to the countryside in England and Wales by four-wheel drive off-road vehicles.

Baroness Hayman: We have been considering the responses to last year's consultation exercise on managing vehicles on rights of way. We intend to make an announcement shortly. Local highway authorities already have powers under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 to prevent or restrict traffic on rights of way where it causes damage.

Protease Inhibitors and the Honey Bee

The Earl of Haddington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they have taken or are considering to ban or control genetically engineered plants that produce protease inhibitors which have been found to cause

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    intestinal problems in the honey bee; and what assurances they can give that this problem will not manifest itself in mammals which have ingested such feed products.

Baroness Hayman: Under current legislation, all releases of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) require prior consent by the Secretary of State. Applicants are required to submit an assessment of all the potential risks to human health and the environment, including effects on non-target species such as other insects and mammals. In reaching a decision, the Secretary of State takes the advice of independent experts in the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment. If proposed releases of GMOs are considered to pose a risk to human health or the environment, a consent would not be granted.

The Government are aware of the recently reported effects of genetically modified plants producing protease inhibitors on non-target insect species. My department was already funding research to investigate, under carefully controlled conditions, the potential risks of these GMOs to the environment. This work continues but it is too early to draw any conclusions.

To date, no applications to market plants genetically modified to produce protease inhibitors which will enter the food chain have been forwarded for consideration by European Community member states.

Equine Sales in the EU: VAT

Lord Rowallan asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Which countries in the European Union charge VAT on equine sales and at what rate.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: All countries in the European Union charge VAT on equine sales. The rates applicable in each member state are as follows:

CountryPer cent.
Austria10
Belgium6, 21(1)
Denmark25
Finland22
France5.5(2)
Germany7
Greece8, 18(3)
Ireland3.3
Italy10
Luxembourg3
Netherlands6
Portugal5
Spain16
Sweden 25
United Kingdom17.5

Notes:

(1) 21 per cent. standard rate applies to horses for riding; otherwise reduced rate of 6 per cent.

(2) With the exception of wild horses.

(3) 18 per cent. standard rate applies to racehorses; otherwise reduced rate of 8 per cent.


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The Horse: EU Classification

Lord Rowallan asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer given by Lord Donoughue on 13 November (WA 41-2), why the United Kingdom does not treat the horse as an agricultural animal when at least six of the European Union's member states do.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue): Horses that are used primarily in agriculture in the UK are already treated as agricultural animals. There would be repercussions for planning and rating policies were other horses to be so treated, even though they are not used primarily in agriculture.

Independent Commission on the Voting System

Baroness David asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will comment on the Independent Commission on the Voting System.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has today appointed the right honourable Lord Jenkins of Hillhead to be the Chairman of the Independent Commission on the Voting System. The other members will be Lord Alexander of Weedon, Lady Gould of Potternewton, Sir John Chilcot and Mr. David Lipsey.

The Commission's terms of reference will be:


    "The Commission shall be free to consider and recommend any appropriate system or combination of systems in recommending an alterative to the present system for Parliamentary elections to be put before the people in the Government's referendum.


    The Commission shall observe the requirement for broad proportionality, the need for stable government, an extension of voter choice and the maintenance of a link between MPs and geographical constituencies."

The Commission will begin its work early in the new year and has been asked to report within 12 months.

Young Offenders: Interval between Arrest and Sentence

Lord Morris of Castle Morris asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How long it takes from arrest to sentence for persistent young offenders, and for other young offenders.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Information on the time between arrest and sentence for young offenders is not available from historical records, as the previous

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Government did not collect data on time intervals from arrest. However, we have recently completed a survey of persistent young offenders dealt with by the youth justice system in 1996. That survey indicates that in 1996 the average time between arrest and sentence for persistent young offenders was 142 days.

An Audit Commission survey of 600 young offenders in 1996 suggests that the average time between arrest and sentence for all young offenders was 121 days 1 . The Time Intervals Survey, published by the Lord Chancellor's Department, indicates that in 1996 the average time from offence to completion for defendants in indictable cases dealt with by the Youth Court was 131 days 2 . The White Paper No More Excuses--A New Approach to Tackling Youth Crime in England and Wales erroneously stated in paragraph 7.1 that this figure of 131 days was the average interval between arrest and sentence for a young offender.

We are ensuring that systems are put in place to monitor the time between arrest and sentence in the future for persistent young offenders and other young offenders. 1 Audit Commission, Misspent Youth: Young People and Crime, November 1996. 2 Time intervals for criminal proceedings in the magistrates' courts, Lord Chancellor's Department, March 1997 (Issue 1/97).


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