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27 Jun 2003 : Column WA47

Written Answers

Friday, 27th June 2003.

Mental Incapacity: Draft Bill

Baroness Golding asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have to publish a draft Bill on mental incapacity.[HL3646]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Lord Filkin): The Government are today publishing as CM 5859 a draft Bill on mental incapacity, which will be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses. This draft Bill follows on from our 1999 policy statement, Making Decisions, and the Law Commission's recommendations in 1995 for a statutory framework for decision-making for adults who lack capacity. The Government have consulted widely on this issue and will continue to do so, and the Joint Committee will undoubtedly also seek views from interested parties.

The draft Bill proposes new safeguards to protect some of society's most vulnerable people who are unable to make their own decisions. It also contains proposals to enable people who want to plan for possible incapacity to give a carer, relative or friend authority to act in day-to-day decision-making on financial, welfare and healthcare matters for them. And it sets out how we would expect carers and others to approach decision-making with and for people who lack capacity.

This draft Bill is important in explaining how we might better meet the needs and safeguard the rights of vulnerable groups in society who suffer from mental incapacity. Our aim is better to protect all adults who have suffered impaired capacity from a young age, those who lose capacity perhaps through an injury or illness, those who have periods of incapacity and those who suffer from dementia in later life. Every effort would be made to help people make decisions themselves or contribute to decisions affecting them.

With around 6 million carers looking after those who lack capacity, and given that over 2 million adults lack mental capacity to some degree, this is a sensitive subject of interest to very many people. The draft Bill would ensure that the person who lacked capacity was always at the heart of the decision making process.

The draft Bill sets out a new definition of capacity that focuses on whether individuals are able to make decisions for themselves at the time when these decisions need to be made. For example, a different level of mental capacity will be needed for a decision to buy a house than for a decision to go out for the day. It works from an assumption that someone has capacity to make a decision unless it is shown otherwise. The Bill requires that all decisions taken on behalf of someone must be made in that person's best interests and sets out a new checklist of "best interests" factors, to guide decision-makers.

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The draft Bill also proposes a number of new decision-making mechanisms that will either allow individuals to plan for a possible future loss of mental capacity or, where this is not possible, will ensure that decisions which need to be made on their behalf are taken by the most appropriate people with the benefit of stringent safeguards. These mechanisms will cover all areas of decision-making, including healthcare and personal welfare, rather than just finance as at present; and there will be new judicial and administrative bodies.

The Government look forward to hearing the recommendations of the Joint Committee on the draft legislation and to further discussion with all those with an interest in what this Bill would mean for people and how it could best be implemented. We are concerned to listen to what people think about this draft Bill and to see what the scrutiny process reveals. We want to make sure that our proposals will genuinely bring about benefits and that they will work in practice.

The draft Bill, together, with a commentary and Explanatory Notes, has been published as a Command Paper and will also be available via the website for the Department for Constitutional Affairs. Copies of all the material have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Nuclear Explosions: Effects on Motor Vehicles

Lord Jopling asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Over how wide an area would the engines of motor vehicles be immobilized as a consequence of nuclear explosions of varying force; whether this would affect diesel engines; how those affected engines could be reactivated; and at what approximate cost.[HL3124]

Lord Davies of Oldham: A typical exo-atmospheric burst as defined by, for example, DEF STAN 59–41 would produce large electromagnetic fields from the electromagnetic pulse over most of Western Europe. These fields would be sufficiently strong to produce a variety of disruptive effects on electronics-rich systems, including those employed in motor vehicles such as sensors and computer-based engine management systems (EMS). Diesel engines would be likely to be affected when EMS were used. For example, modern diesel engines use a fuel injection system based on common fuel rail configuration whereby fuel metering is controlled at each injector via an EMS. The effects would be seen as a random disruption of the performance and would most likely be manifest in engine stalling behaviour. It is unlikely that permanent damage or disruption would occur and the engines would usually be able to restart once the EMP event had passed. On some occasions EMS may require resetting by a complete power off/on recycling or a workshop-based reprogramming operation. As an aside, any motor vehicle with an immobilizer, engine, gearbox and/or suspension electronic management system could be affected by EMP.

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The disruption from an endo-atmospheric or ground burst would be via a combination of the following physical effects rather than just from EMP: initial nuclear radiation, source EMP, thermal pulse, blast and residual radiation.

Lord Jopling asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether any recent research has discovered methods of protecting motor vehicles from being disabled as a consequence of a nuclear explosion.[HL3126]

Lord Davies of Oldham: Techniques to protect equipment from the effects of the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) produced by nuclear explosions are well known and implementation for military vehicles is mandated by, for example, DEF STAN 23–6 (common technical requirements for military logistic vehicles and towed equipment). Specific techniques for hardening against all electromagnetic hazards (including EMP) are contained in guideline documents such as those produced under the Ministry of Defence's corporate research programme.

Railway Safety

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by the Lord Macdonald of Tradeston on 10 June (WA 20), how many lives are expected to be saved over a period of 40 years by the installation of the European rail traffic management system level 2 system D.[HL3341]

Lord Davies of Oldham: The ERTMS programme team has estimated that, over a period of 40 years, implementation of the European rail traffic management system (ERTMS) level 2 system D would save 56 "equivalent fatalities" through a reduction in the number of signals passed at danger, and 99 fatalities through people transferring from road to rail. These figures are not strictly comparable because they have been calculated using different methodologies.

Heathrow Airport: Travelators

Lord Acton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What programme the Civil Aviation Authority has installed to improve the performance of the travelators at Heathrow Airport.[HL3355]

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Lord Davies of Oldham: The performance of travelators at Heathrow is primarily a matter for the management of the airport. However, following an adverse finding on the relationship between price and service quality at Heathrow Airport by the Competition Commission when it reviewed the BAA London airports in 2002, the Civil Aviation Authority, as airport economic regulator, imposed a condition in the airports' permission to levy charges that requires the airport to pay rebates to airlines from summer 2003 if specified standards for a number of services, including travelators, are not met. The standard for travelators is that in each month they should be available for 98 per cent of the time during the core period of the day from 05:00 to 23:00. It is open to airports and airlines locally to consider whether this or any other standard is appropriate and to apply to the Civil Aviation Authority for a variation to ensure that service standards best meet needs at individual locations.

Road Traffic Signals

Lord Methuen asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have plans to introduce road traffic signals (as used elsewhere in Europe) which display an additional numeric aspect in red or green as appropriate to that phase of their operation, indicating the number of seconds remaining for that phase.[HL3464]

Lord Davies of Oldham: Many countries operate traffic light signals with fixed green and fixed red periods. In these circumstances, countdown timers can be used as the remaining period is known precisely.

In the UK, the majority of traffic signals are vehicle-actuated, the duration of the green period being affected by the vehicular flow on that approach and the demand from any opposing flow or pedestrian push buttons. Typically, the green period could vary between 7 and 30 seconds during the working day. At quieter times the green will stay illuminated until a demand is registered from an opposing approach or push button.

This responsive system has advantages in terms of efficient vehicle flow and fuel economy. It also minimises frustration caused by unnecessary delays, as drivers and other road users can normally see the need for being held on a red signal. With this system, countdown timers are not a practical proposition, as it is impossible to predict the green time left.

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