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Satellite Launching from Floating Platforms

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Whitty: The potential launching of satellites from platforms on the high seas is a recent development for which no specific international rules have been devised. This applies equally to questions of environmental assessment.

Climate Changes

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Whitty: Observations have shown that over the last few years deep ocean mixing in the Greenland-Iceland-Norway Seas (part of the "heat pump") has declined, but not stopped. At the same time mixing in the Labrador Sea has strengthened. Preliminary indications from work at the Meteorological Office's Hadley Centre, funded by my department, are that both these changes may be a consequence of the long-term variability of weather patterns over the North Atlantic, known as the North Atlantic Oscillation. This has resulted in a predominance of westerly winds in winter since the mid-1980s, with a tendency for warmer, stormier weather over the British Isles.

8 Feb 1999 : Column WA10

Hedgerow Protection

Lord Hardy of Wath asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether--

    (a) they consider that the Hedgerows Regulations 1977 are in need of amendment:

    (b) the proposed reforms in Agenda 2000 will enhance the protection of hedgerows; and

    (c) whether they will respond swiftly to the House of Commons Environment Committee's report on the protection of field boundaries, which has recently been published.[HL783]

Lord Whitty:

(a) The Government announced in May 1997 that the Hedgerows Regulations 1977 would be reviewed to see how they could provide stronger protection for important hedgerows. Recommendations by the group which carried out the review were published in July 1998. The Government expect to consult on revised draft regulations after the research into the group's proposed criteria defining important hedgerows has been completed and evaluated.

(b) It is still too early to predict the outcome of the Agenda 2000 negotiations. The agri-environment schemes, which will continue as a requirement under Agenda 2000 Rural Development Regulation proposals, provide support for the restoration and maintenance of field boundaries. In England, the Government have announced the continuing expansion of areas under the main agri-environment schemes. An extra £40 million is being made available over the next three years for these schemes, some of which will be used to benefit hedgerows. New funding is also being made available for the all-Wales scheme which it is hoped will be introduced in April, some of which may be used for hedgerow restoration work.

(c) The Government's response to the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee report of its inquiry into the Protection of Field Boundaries was published on 25 January 1999.

France: Shooting of Protected Bird Species

Lord Hardy of Wath asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they have taken unilaterally or through the European Union in order to secure the effective implementation by France of her obligations in regard to the extensive shooting of protected species of migratory and other birds.[HL873]

Lord Whitty: Actions in one member state should not jeopardise the conservation of birds throughout Europe. UK hunting laws are consistent with the provisions of the EC Wild Birds Directive, and the UK expects other member states to adopt similar measures. It is the responsibility of the European Commission to ensure that member states comply with the directives.

8 Feb 1999 : Column WA11

New Rail Services: Moderation of Competition Policy

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What criteria will be used by the Office of Passenger Rail Franchising and the Rail Regulator in assessing applications for new rail passenger services under the "moderation of competition" provision.[HL716]

Lord Whitty: Approval of access rights is a matter for the Rail Regulator. The regulator issued a consultation document on the second stage of his policy on Moderation of Competition in June 1998. (New Service Opportunities for Passengers--Criteria for Evaluation.) In it he stated his intention to align closely assessments of the costs and benefits of new service proposals with the factors taken into account in the OPRAF Planning Criteria. The assessments would inform the regulator's conclusions regarding the balance of passenger and taxpayer interests. Particular attention would be paid to the impact of proposals on the franchise director's budget.

8 Feb 1999 : Column WA12

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether it welcomes competition from new entrants in the provision of rail passenger services on

    (a) routes subject to "moderation of competition"; and

    (b) routes where there are no restrictions on competition.[HL717]

Lord Whitty: Last year's White Paper, A New Deal for Transport, recorded the Government's concern that open access passenger rail competition without adequate safeguarding of the public interest could lead to loss of passenger benefits in areas like ticketing and timetables: and their intention that the Strategic Rail Authority will set the longer-term framework for competition. The Government therefore welcome the provisions in track access contracts which restrict competition between train operators that the Rail Regulator has already put in place as part of his moderation of competition policy. This is to ensure that new services are provided for the public interest and do not undermine existing franchise services and passenger benefits.



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