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Freight Transport by Rail

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Whitty: Full grade piggyback would need considerable investment in infrastructure improvements and significant government grant support. Railtrack has been in discussion with DETR officials for many months about the scheme.

Ministers are aware of recent press speculation that Railtrack is minded not to go through with the scheme and instead to propose an alternative freight upgrade to a smaller gauge but over more of the network. We have yet to receive a grant application from Railtrack. Any such application will be treated on its merits.

Genetically Modified Organisms

Earl Peel asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Whitty: Negotiations are currently taking place on the amendment of Directive 90/220 on the deliberate release into the environment of genetically modified organisms. The European Commission's proposal to amend the directive puts forward an amendment to Article 16. This states that Article 16 action may be taken where a member state "as a result of new information or reassessment of existing information," has detailed grounds for considering that a notified product constitutes a risk to human health or the environment.

The Commission's proposal to amend the directive also includes a provision to broaden the scope of the environmental risk assessment which must be carried out before any release may take place. The amendment expands the scope of the risk assessment to cover "direct and indirect, and immediate and delayed" effects.

The Government would like to see reference made to the risk assessment in Article 16. This would clarify the fact that a member state may take action under Article 16 where there has been a reassessment of the risk assessment (which includes indirect effects) which provides grounds to consider that a product constitutes a risk to human health or the environment.

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Earl Peel asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How the proposed "stakeholder's forum" will:

    (a) have an input to the process whereby genetic modification (GM) products are approved for commercial release in the United Kingdom; and

    (b) provide an over-arching "link" to the many government departments having separate GM remits.[HL3701]

Lord Whitty: At the House of Lords Select Committee, the Minister for the Environment announced his intention to consider calls from both sides of the GMO debate for an environmental "stakeholder's forum", consisting of representatives of those groups with an interest, such as farmers, plant breeders, conservation bodies, public interest groups and the scientific community. This proposed forum is under discussion by Her Majesty's Government before consulting more widely. Whatever the outcome of these discussions, the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE) will continue their detailed case by case assessment of applications to release or market GMOs.

It is not envisaged that an environmental stakeholder's forum will be an "over-arching body". The Prime Minister has announced to the House of Commons the new Ministerial Group on Biotechnology and Genetic Modification, which will consider issues relating to biotechnology, in particular those arising from genetic modification. This will improve interdepartmental policy co-ordination on biotechnology issues as they emerge.

Motorway and Trunk Road Service Stations

Viscount Simon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Which planning authorities have included the provision of motorway services in their structure plans: what action they are taking to ensure that road users are provided with frequent service facilities on motorways and all trunk roads: and what plans they have to fill in gaps where intervals between service areas do not comply with ideal distances.[HL3757]

Lord Whitty: Information on the provision of motorway service areas (MSAs) included in structure plans is not held centrally. It is for private developers to bring forward MSAs and trunk road services. The department's role is to provide local authorities and developers with guidance and then ensure that proposals are acceptable in road safety terms, and that any MSA signed from the motorway provides a minimum range of services 24 hours a day. Services at roughly 30-mile intervals are sufficient to meet the basic road safety requirements that drivers should have adequate opportunities to stop and rest. There are currently only two gaps on the motorway network where the interval between services is greater than 30 miles; on the western section of the M.25 and between Maidstone and Folkestone on the M.20. Several proposals have been brought forward for the M.25 and planning permission has been granted for a MSA on the M.20, near Folkestone.

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Mr. Aleksandr Nikitin

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will continue to seek the admission of observers, representing the European Union or the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, to the trial in St. Petersburg of Mr. Aleksandr Nikitin, accused of revealing state secrets concerning nuclear submarines and atomic waste and pollution, even if the press are excluded from the trial.[HL3635]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): Her Majesty's Government, both bilaterally and with our EU partners, will continue to impress on the Russian authorities the need for transparency in court proceedings in relation to Aleksandr Nikitin, and a just outcome to the case, consistent with Russian law and Russia's international obligations. Representatives of the British and other EU and OSCE Member States' Consulates General in St. Petersburg attended the open session of the trial. Although most of the hearing has taken place in closed session, three representatives from the lower house of the Russian Parliament and one from Amnesty International have also attended throughout. We shall continue to follow developments in the case closely, and will attend any future open court sessions.


Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they are taking to secure a United Nations Security Council resolution to encourage sanctions against the present regime in Burma (Myanmar).[HL3651]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The Government remain deeply concerned at the situation in Burma. This month Burma is being discussed at the UN General Assembly. We are pressing for a resolution to underline international concern. There is at present no consensus for a UN Security Council resolution, but a package of EU sanctions is in place.

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Which Member States of the European Union have, and which have not, accepted the First Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.[HL3659]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: All European Union member states have acceded to the First Optional Protocol with the exception of the United Kingdom, where the matter remains under review.

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Turkey: Diplomatic Presence at Murder Trials

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether British and European Union diplomats are still observing the trials in Turkey of police officers accused of murdering Mr. Metin Goktepe and of causing the Gazi massacre.[HL3674]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Due to time and resource constraints, British diplomats have not been able to attend the trial of the police officers accused of the murder of Mr. Goktepe since the re-trial started in August. Our officials will attend some of the future hearings.

The hearings in the Gazi killings trial have been moved to Trabzon. Subject to resource constraints, embassy officials plan to observe the proceedings.

Turkey: Freedom of Expression

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are discussing with the Government of Turkey the sentences of 10 months' imprisonment on the Mayor of Istanbul and Mr. Akin Birdal, President of the Turkish Human Rights Association, under Article 312 of the Penal Code, following speeches made by them.[HL3675]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Her Majesty's Government have raised the prison sentences imposed on the Mayor of Istanbul and the President of the Turkish Human Rights Association, Mr. Akin Birdal, with the Turkish authorities bilaterally on a number of occasions. On 29 October, the Austrian Presidency of the EU expressed the concern of all EU member states at the implications of the sentence on Mr. Birdal for freedom of expression in Turkey.

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