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Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, have Her Majesty's Government made representations to the Russian Government regarding the decree that the Russian President, Mr Putin, signed amending the 1992 presidential decree on export control over nuclear materials, equipment and technologies?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I am not able to answer the noble Baroness in regard to that matter. I shall write to her in due course.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, what action have the Government taken to persuade the Israeli Government--which no longer make any secret of having a nuclear capability--to sign the non-proliferation treaty?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, all countries engaged in this kind of activity have been approached with a view to, first, encouraging acknowledgement and, secondly, dealing with it. The noble Lord is right: Israel has not made the necessary concessions in this regard.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, further to the question of the Canberra Commission, does the Minister recall

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that in its report the commission stated that one of the most important means of ensuring the success of the Canberra plan was effective verification? It then went on to say that no verification plan can ever be 100 per cent effective. Can she reassure the House that none of the plans for disarmament, denuclearisation and all the other processes will be entered into unless there is a full and reliable verification procedure?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the noble Lord is right; Britain will retain its nuclear deterrent for as long as it appears necessary for our safety. We have made that commitment; there is no reason at the moment to revise it.

Lord Brookman: My Lords, the Minister will be aware of a debate in another place in which the Foreign Office Minister pledged, in regard to the whole question of non-proliferation, that he would be working with the New Agenda Coalition to make progress in this area. Can she inform the House of any developments in those discussions?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I can confirm that our delegation in York has been working extremely hard to forge agreement on the way forward for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. In particular, it has made a major effort to bridge our remaining differences with the countries which make up the New Agenda Coalition. We have shown a good deal of flexibility and imagination in seeking an agreed outcome from this conference and we hope that others will do likewise. I am sure that the whole House will join with me in expressing the hope that these efforts will bear fruit. If agreement is not reached by the time the conference ends tomorrow, it will not have been for any want of effort on our part.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, am I correct in believing that the Russian President, Mr Putin, has stated that if the Americans go ahead with their new missile defence system based in space there will be no further moves towards nuclear disarmament? If that is so, what representations have Her Majesty's Government made to the United States Government about that issue?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we have been speaking to both Washington and Moscow about the anti-ballistic missile treaty and the need for an agreement. We have been encouraging both sides to negotiate so that an amendment to that treaty will be possible. The treaty has been amended in the past; it is possible for it to be amended again. We are very hopeful that our Russian and American colleagues will take this matter seriously and resolve it between them. We are not a party to that treaty, but we obviously wish them well in coming to some accommodation.

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Northern Ireland: Public Transport

3.16 p.m.

Lord Bradshaw asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the extension of the age profile of the bus fleet operated by Ulsterbus is consistent with their policy of encouraging the use of public transport.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, it is the aim of the Department of Regional Development that Translink should replace vehicles as they reach their target replacement age of 12 years for coaches and 18 years for buses. Over a period of time this would give average fleet ages of six years for coaches and nine years for buses. The extent of the Ulsterbus requirement for public funding to help to meet this aim is being considered as part of the current spending review. Like the noble Lord, we recognise that a modern bus fleet will encourage the use of public transport.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. I declare an interest as a past chairman of the public sector bus companies in Northern Ireland. Is the Minister content with the fact that moneys from bus fares--which are of course paid by the poorer section of the community--which were prudently set aside by the bus companies in order to replace the fleet, have been taken away and used to subvent other government expenditure programmes, including road building? Does the Minister agree that this is a most unfortunate example of regressive taxation?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I recognise the noble Lord's commitment to public service, which he demonstrated in the early 1990s as chairman of Ulsterbus and Citybus, and I compliment him on it. The Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company is a public corporation; its reserves are public money and its expenditure is only possible within the overall Northern Ireland public expenditure control total. However, in May 1998, the Chancellor of the Exchequer agreed that £25 million of those funds should be used for Northern Ireland, providing a significant boost to the local economy. The boost to public expenditure provided by the Chancellor's initiative was a major factor in enabling an additional £21 million to be spent on public transport over the years 1999-00 and 2001-02, and we still have this year's spending review in which spending on public transport is being given serious consideration.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company is desperately short of money to modernise its fleet of buses and, indeed, Northern Ireland Railways, and to improve standards of safety? Can she comment on why the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company has not so far achieved any

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significant relationship with the private sector, through either PFI, PPP or leasing, as a way of improving public transport in Northern Ireland?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I agree with the basic premise behind my noble friend's question, but would add that additional expenditure also assists improvement of access for those with disabilities. We are actively looking at the prospects for public/private partnerships for public transport in Northern Ireland. It is clear that the Northern Ireland Transport Act 1967 would need to be amended to enable PPPs to be introduced. Work would also have to take place on contract specification and negotiation. However, PPPs offer the prospect both of introducing greater efficiencies into public transport and making the phasing of public expenditure requirements easier to cope with.

Lord Laird: My Lords, if the Government's policy, as outlined by the Deputy Prime Minister, that the average age of a bus fleet should be only eight years does not apply to Northern Ireland, the purpose of that policy being access for disabled people, does not that show a case of discrimination against disabled people in Northern Ireland who use public transport?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the noble Lord's interest in and knowledge of transport issues in Northern Ireland are well known. In the report From Exclusion to Inclusion, which was published last December, the Disability Rights Task--Force recommended that the exemption for transport operators from the first and October 1999 phases of DDA--access to services duties--should be removed in civil rights legislation. We are considering how to achieve that. I accept that replacing old buses with new buses that make access easier is desirable. However, the decisions that have been taken by successive Secretaries of State with regard to public expenditure in Northern Ireland have been made on the basis of careful judgment. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Laird, will join all other noble Lairds--

Noble Lords: Oh!

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I am aware that there is only one noble Lord, Lord Laird. I am sure the noble Lord will join all other noble Lords in hoping that the Assembly and the Executive will be making these vital judgments in Northern Ireland as soon as possible.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that quality bus driving is as important as quality buses? Do the Government have any plans to improve the quality of the training of bus drivers so that travelling on a bus becomes a pleasure rather than a "hanging on like grim death" experience, as is so often the case at the moment?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I have not received any specific complaints about the driving

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of vehicles in Belfast or other parts of Northern Ireland. Maintaining high quality in terms of driver training and retraining, and monitoring that quality are extremely important. I shall look to see whether any further initiatives are taking place.


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