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RAMC Site, Millbank: Sale

Lord Vivian asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): In assessing the bids received for the former Royal Army Medical Corps site on Millbank, the Ministry of Defence has taken a number of factors into account. These include the degree of risk attached to the bids, their compliance with the planning brief agreed with the local authority and the presence of listed buildings on the site. Thus, the size of the receipt and the likely time before it would be received were central to our considerations.

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Porton Down Volunteers

Lord Elder asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to address reports of ill health among Porton Down volunteers.[HL4718]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The Minister of Defence is taking a number of steps designed to help those who participated as volunteers in trials at Porton Down. The Ministry of Defence is very grateful to all those whose participation in studies at Porton Down made possible the research to provide safe and effective protection for UK Armed Forces against chemical and biological weapons. Suggestions have been made that some Porton Down volunteers suffer unusual patterns of ill health because of their participation. The Ministry of Defence has seen no scientific evidence to support that belief but takes such suggestions seriously. Therefore we are:


    Offering volunteers the opportunity for a thorough medical assessment if they have concerns about their health. This will be along the lines of the Gulf Veterans medical assessment programme and will use the same facilities at St. Thomas' Hospital, London. The data from these consultations will be analysed to explore whether patterns of ill health are associated with particular exposures;


    Seeking advice from the Medical Research Council on an independent epidemiological study. Such a study may help establish whether or not former volunteers are suffering from excesses of ill health as compared to a matched group of service personnel who did not participate in trials at Porton Down;


    Creating a multi-disciplinary policy focus within the Ministry of Defence which will be responsible for addressing volunteers' health concerns and liaising with other government departments;


    Approaching this issue with openness and a commitment to dialogue with volunteers and their representatives;


    Making public any information which may be of assistance to former volunteers. The current arrangements for the Porton helpline will remain in being. All volunteers who approach it will be given full information by letter on their own trials and offered the opportunity to examine the records for themselves at the site;


    Continuing to fully co-operate and provide assistance to the ongoing Wiltshire Police inquiry into trials at Porton Down.

The policy focus for Porton Down volunteers issues will be provided by the Ministry of Defence's Gulf Veterans' Illnesses Unit (GVIU). The GVIU will be resourced to take on this important new responsibility and there will be no detriment to the ongoing Ministry of Defence commitment to assist Gulf veterans.

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Racist Incidents on School Premises: Reporting Guidelines

Lord Smith of Leigh asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What guidelines have been given to local authorities and to schools concerning policies on reporting racist incidents which occur on school premises.[HL4659]

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): Guidelines for local education authorities and schools on the reporting of racist incidents are contained in our Social Inclusion: Pupil Support Circular, which was issued to schools and local education authorities in July 1999.

The guidelines specify that all schools are required to have effective policies in place on anti-bullying, including racist bullying. These policies must make clear that racial harassment and bullying will not be tolerated and say how staff and pupils should deal with it. Schools should record all racial incidents, and parents and governors should be informed of such incidents and the action taken to deal with them. Governing bodies should inform local education authorities annually of the pattern and frequency of any incidents.

A copy of the Social Inclusion: Pupil Support Circular has been placed in the Library for information.

Dyslexia Association Teaching Methods

Lord Smith of Leigh asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have conducted research to enable them to judge the effectiveness of the teaching methods promoted by the Dyslexia Association both for dyslexics and for others with learning difficulties.(HL4658)

Baroness Blackstone: The Government are committed to helping all children with special educational needs and are taking a number of steps to raise awareness and improve the identification and assessment of children who have or may have dyslexia. This work is being taken forward in partnership with some of the voluntary organisations that support children with dyslexia, including the British Dyslexia Association.

Findings from two dyslexia research projects funded by the department were published last year. The first involved the Helen Arkell Dyslexia Centre to identify strategies to help teachers in the classroom; and the second was work Manchester Metropolitan University did with the British Dyslexia Association on methods of identifying and assessing specific learning difficulties and for effective intervention strategies in the classroom.

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Shadow Strategic Rail Authority Competition: Safety Cases

Earl Attlee asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the remarks by Lord McIntosh of Haringey on 2 November (H.L. Deb., col. 1167) promising to write to Lord Attlee, whether safety cases could successfully be made to the relevant authorities for the winners of the shadow Strategic Rail Authority's inter-modal competition.[HL4639]

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston): It is for the operator to submit a safety case to the Railtrack Safety and Standards Directorate (which will become Railway Safety Ltd on 31 December 2000) which will then consider safety approval. The schemes which were successful in the sSRA competition are subject to the same safety acceptance process with Railtrack as would happen in any other circumstances involving the operation of new or modified equipment on the rail network.

Shadow Strategic Rail Authority Competition: Road-going Cement Tanker Trailer

Earl Attlee asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the high capacity road-going cement tanker trailer that was selected as a winner of the shadow Strategic Rail Authority's inter-modal competition was sufficiently robust for both road and rail use.[HL4640]

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: All the winning schemes of the shadow Strategic Rail Authority's competition in this particular case were backed by leading freight companies with their own engineering expertise. Blue Circle Industries, Metalair Feldbinder Ltd and Babcock Rail are blue chip companies with base experience in designing, building and operating road and rail equipment. The sSRA felt sufficiently confident in their proposals to provide funding for the project to be taken forward. Detailed technical issues relating to the operation of their equipment are the responsibility of each winner. Payments will be related to the achievement of agreed project milestones to ensure that expenditure of public funds is minimised in the event of a project not proceeding to full completion.

Earl Attlee asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the payload of the high capacity road-going cement tanker trailer that was selected as a winner of the shadow Strategic Rail Authority's inter-modal competition.[HL4641]

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: The cement payload is 30.14 tonnes.

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Mega 3 Rail Wagon

Earl Attlee asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the remarks by Lord McIntosh of Haringey on 2 November (H.L. Deb., col. 1167) promising to write to Lord Attlee, whether there are any technical difficulties with the Mega 3 rail wagon; how many have been built; and whether they are currently registered with the appropriate authorities for use on the national rail network.[HL4642]

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: Detailed technical issues relating to the operation of this equipment are the responsibility of Babcock Rail. It would also be for the company to disclose the number of Mega 3 wagons that have been built. The Mega 3 wagon has been given safety approval by Railtrack, which gives unlimited accessibility to the network. Trials of a prototype are currently running with potential end users.

Antarctic Ozone Hole

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their evaluation of the prediction by the British Antarctic Survey that the Antarctic ozone hole could be replicated over the Arctic within the next 20 years; and what they believe the consequences, including health risks, would be.[HL4644]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): The British Antarctic Survey did not predict that the Antarctic ozone hole could be replicated over the Arctic within the next 20 years but did quote US research suggesting such an event might be possible. The Arctic is not prone to the consistently stable and cold conditions that promote ozone loss in the Antarctic, nor does the spring ozone depletion in the Arctic last into summer as it does in the Antarctic.

The amount of ozone depleting substances in the stratosphere is decreasing slowly but if the stratosphere continues to cool over the next few decades, then it is possible that ozone levels over the Arctic could fall to the threshold level defined for an ozone hole in any individual year. Very low levels are unlikely to occur consistently year after year or to be as low as those observed in the Antarctic.

A reduction in the level of ozone overhead increases the amount of harmful ultraviolet sunlight (UVB) reaching the surface and an increase in UVB can damage the skin and eyes and cause changes in the immune system. A year with significant Arctic ozone depletion would result in perhaps a 10 per cent decrease in the amount of ozone above the UK in the spring; this is the same as the average decrease in ozone that has already occurred over the UK since the end of the 1970s.

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