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Lord Hardy of Wath asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Whitty: No GM rape has been approved for general cultivation in the UK. The company Plant

16 Mar 1999 : Column WA95

Genetic Systems NV was granted a Europe-wide approval in February 1996 for the cultivation of a variety of genetically-modified oil seed rape for seed production only, to be used only by the company and not for commercial application.

Severn Tunnel

The Earl of Haddington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans the Health and Safety Executive has in conjunction with Railtrack to undertake test borings into the structure and stability of the Severn rail tunnel walls, the strata and the detritus behind the walls; and[HL1411]

    What plans they have to close the Severn rail tunnel until a full examination has been undertaken into the structure and stability of the Severn rail tunnel to safeguard rail operators' passengers; and [HL1412]

    Why the request of the tunnel engineering staff for test borings into:

    (a) the wall linings, and

    (b) the strata and detritus behind the walls.

    which was put to British Rail Board members in 1985 to determine the structure and stability of the Severn rail tunnel using equipment and personnel from Oakdale Colliery was never undertaken; and [HL1413]

    Whether they have any reservations about the state of the Severn rail tunnel and in particular with:

    (a) the integrity of the walls and linings; and

    (b) the condition of the strata and the relevance of the detritus behind the walls; and whether they have reached any conclusions on the results of any test borings.[HL1414]

Lord Whitty: The maintenance of the Severn rail tunnel is the responsibility of Railtrack. They tell me that the tunnel is inspected regularly, currently every weekend; that more detailed surveys are carried out quarterly and that a more thorough review is carried out annually. Railtrack say that these surveys have not revealed any cause for concern about the structure of the tunnel or its wall linings. For its part, the Health and Safety Executive is not aware of any evidence to suggest that the structural integrity of the Severn rail tunnel is in doubt.

The Earl of Haddington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the estimated increase in time for rail passenger traffic to traverse the Severn Estuary upon closure of the Severn rail tunnel; and what speed restriction will be imposed on intercity passenger traffic diverted via the Stroud line.[HL1410]

16 Mar 1999 : Column WA96

Lord Whitty: Closure of the tunnel and subsequent alterations to passenger services that would normally use the tunnel are operational matters for Railtrack and the relevant train operating companies. I understand that Railtrack estimate that trains diverted via Gloucester will take between approximately 20 minutes and an hour longer, depending on the journey. There will be no additional speed limit on the Stroud line beyond its normal speed limit of between 70 and 90 mph.

Railway Safety Regulations

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they intend to lay before Parliament the new railway safety regulations.[HL1433]

Lord Whitty: Ministers are considering the formal recommendations for new railway safety regulations submitted by the Health and Safety Commission at the end of last year and hope to be able to make an announcement shortly.

British Rail: Land Sales

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by the Lord Whitty on 22 February (WA 104-105), which sites they have permitted the British Railways Board to continue to sell, in contravention of the commitment given in the Transport White Paper July 1998, in the following categories:

    (a) sites for transport purposes, road, rail and other

    (b) sites for development where the developer has obtained planning permission and is in a hurry.[HL1325]

Lord Whitty: Consistent with the Transport White Paper of July 1998 and the Parliamentary Answers of 31 July (HC Deb., WA 640-641) and 22 February (WA 104-105), the British Railways Board, having conducted a review of its property portfolio and pending the Government's decision on the generality of this, has received the Government's permission to release the following:

    some 35 sites on which the Board had exchanged contracts prior to announcement of the suspension of sales;

    some 65-70 sites released on grounds of urgency where failure to complete might have caused significant damage to the purchaser, with the risk of the Board being sued for negotiating in bad faith, and after a check that release would not frustrate a potential transport use;

    some 40 sites being processed for sale to local authorities or other bodies for transport use.

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