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Written Answers to Questions

Wednesday 22 November 1989


Compensation (USSR)

Mr. Arbuthnot : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress is being made in implementing the Foreign Compensation (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) (Distribution) Order 1987.

Mr. Sainsbury : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has approved interim payments to successful property and bond claimants against the Russian fund of 30 per cent. of the value assigned by the Foreign Compensation Commission to a successful property claim and 20 per cent. of the value assigned by the commission to a bond. The interim payments will be made on or after 15 December 1989.

Successful bond claimants received a first interim payment of 10 per cent. of the value assigned to a bond in November 1987. As of 17 November 1989, all bond claims but one and 2,123 out of 2, 635 property claims made against the Russian fund had been determined by the Foreign Compensation Commission.

It is expected that the final distribution from the fund will be announced during the first half of 1990 and that it may exceed 15 per cent. of the value assigned by the commission to a property claim or bond. This would result in a total pay-out from the fund of 45 per cent. of the value assigned to a claim.


PAYE (Relocation)

Mr. John Marshall : To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether a decision has been made to relocate the remaining PAYE tax work currently carried out in London.

Mr. Lilley : Yes. As my hon. Friend will be aware, the majority of the Inland Revenue's PAYE work in the London area was removed to offices in other parts of the country in the 1960s and 1970s. This arrangement has provided a good service to taxpayers and has worked well over the years. On 24 July 1989 my predecessor announced at column 542 the removal of a further 400 PAYE clerical and executive posts from the London area to other parts of the country in late 1989 pending a review of the future for the remaining posts. That review has now been completed and it has been decided to remove these remaining PAYE posts over the period from May 1990 to June 1992 to Bootle, East Kilbride, Llanishen (Cardiff), Middlesbrough, Salford and Sunderland. In total the relocation announced on 24 July and today involves some 1,600 posts.

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The Department intends to move the work and to redeploy existing staff in the London area, and will do everything possible to avoid any compulsory redundancy.

During the period in which the work is moved, the Department will ensure that any inconvenience to taxpayers and employers is minimised. Following the relocation, the Department expects to provide taxpayers and employers with a more efficient and effective service.

In order to maintain a service for those who need to make a personal visit to discuss their tax affairs, the existing network of local inquiry offices in the London area will be strengthened and enlarged where necessary.

EC Budget Council

Mr. John Marshall : To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on the outcome of the recent meeting of the European Community's Budget Council.

Mr. Ryder : The Council considered the European Parliament's amendments and modifications to the 1990 Draft Budget established on 28 July ( Official Report 18 October, columns 122-23 ) ; and the second amending letter to the 1990 preliminary draft budget (PDB). The council agreed to a revised draft budget totalling 48,416 mecu in commitments and 44,668 mecu in payments.

The main issue was Community aid to assist the economic restructuring of Poland and Hungary. The Council endorsed the aid package of 200 mecu which the Commission proposed in the first letter of amendment to the 1990 PDB and which the Economic and Finance Council established on 9 October ; and agreed to provide a further 100 mecu by means of a supplementary budget early next year following the necessary revision of the relevant ceiling in the financial perspective under the terms of article 12 of the inter- institutional agreement (IIA).

As regards other non-compulsory expenditure, the Council accepted amendments totalling 219 mecu in commitments and 96 mecu in payments (around one third and one quarter respectively of the increases proposed by the Parliament at its first reading on 26 October). Only a small part of the agreed amendments was for privileged expenditure (the structural funds, the R and D framework programme and the integrated mediterranean programmes). The bulk was for non-privileged expenditure. The growth of this expenditure in the revised draft budget, by comparison with 1988, is 5.2 per cent. in commitments and 5.1 per cent. in payments, some way below the calculated maximum rate of 6.1 per cent. communicated by the Commission at the beginning of the budget procedure.

In the second amending letter to the 1990 PDB the Commission proposed a reduction in required revenue of 837 mecu. This was to take account of agricultural underspending in 1989 resulting from movements in the dollar/ecu exchange rate and occasioning a transfer of appropriations into the monetary reserve. The Council unanimously took the view that the letter should also include a reasonable estimate of agricultural underspending stemming from factors other than exchange rate movements. The Commission was unwilling to adjust the letter in line with the Council's wishes and the Council therefore made an adjustment on its own authority, increasing the figure in the letter by 1,000 mecu. Overall, the revised draft budget is around 4,500 mecu below the global ceiling in the financial perspective.

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The Council also agreed the basis on which it would enter into a process of co-decision with the European Parliament under article 203(9) of the treaty to agree the overall growth of non- compulsory expenditure at the time of the Parliament's second reading in the week beginning 11 December.


Water Privatisation

Mr. Andrew Mitchell : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what further progress he has made with the water share offers.

Mr. Chris Patten : Schroder's is today offering for sale 2,183 million shares in the 10 water companies, at an offer price of 240p per share. This represents 100 per cent. of the aggregate of the share capitals of the 10 companies.

At the offer price, the market capitalisation of the 10 companies will be as follows :

                                |£ million          


Anglian                         |707                

Northumbrian                    |157                

North West                      |854                

Severn Trent                    |849                

Southern                        |393                

South West                      |293                

Thames                          |922                

Welsh                           |346                

Wessex                          |246                

Yorkshire                       |472                


Aggregate market capitalisation |5,239              

Prospectuses will be available in banks and post offices from Wednesday 29 November. People who have registered with the water share information office will be sent a mini-prospectus and personalised application form. Application forms will also be published in newspapers from Wednesday 29 November. Applications have to be received by 10 am on Wednesday 6 December. Copies of the prospectus are being placed in the Library of the House today.

Water and Sewerage plcs

Mr. Robert B. Jones : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what effect the legal action by local authorities against the water and sewerage plcs will have on the flotation of the companies.

Mr. Howard : None.

My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales and I put before Parliament on 1 November departmental minutes describing indemnities which the Government proposed to grant to the water and sewerage companies. Under these, the companies would be indemnified against any material additional expenditure incurred as a result of legal claims, of the kind understood to be planned by a consortium of local authorities against the proceeds of sales of assets which cease to be used for water and sewerage functions. Having considered the writs, it is clear that the indemnity proposed earlier does not cover a second component of the local authority claims, for compensation of an unspecified amount for the assets transferred under

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statute in 1974 from the pre-1974 local authorities to the water authorities. It is the view of leading counsel that there is no foundation for these claims either.

We believe, therefore, that such indemnities are extremely unlikely to be called upon. But we nevertheless feel duty bound to protect the interests of taxpayers by securing flotation on the basis that Parliament intended. We have therefore put further minutes before Parliament describing indemnities which will ensure beyond doubt that the flotation is unaffected by these local authority actions. The writs were issued shortly after Parliament prorogued on 16 November, and today is the earliest day on which I could announce this to Parliament. The offer period for water shares opens today and closes on 6 December ; in order to minimise any uncertainty for potential investors, the minute is designed to allow the indemnity to be signed early next week.

The Government will defend the claims on behalf of the water services companies.

Local Government Finance

Mr. Michael Brown : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when he expects to announce final details of the community charge transitional relief scheme.

Mr. Chris Patten : Final details of the community charge transitional relief scheme will be sent to local authorities today and copies have been placed in the Library. The scheme is broadly as proposed in October except that, in the light of suggestions by local government, I have decided that in properties occupied by three or more chargepayers relief based on two assumed community charges will be allocated equally between all chargepayers living in the property and not granted to two nominated individuals as originally proposed. This will simplify the task of making preparations for the scheme and help authorities to issue community charge bills next April which reflect both transitional relief and entitlement to rebates.


Road Haulage Permits

Mr. Wood : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he has determined the fees to be charged to United Kingdom hauliers for international road haulage permits in 1990.

Mr. Atkins : Yes. The fees for 1990 permits are to be reduced once again following the successful negotiation by Department of Transport officials of significant increases in the United Kingdom's quotas. These have meant greater income from permits without significant increases in costs.

The Department's success benefits British hauliers twice--first from the more plentiful supply of permits, and secondly from the reduction in fees.

The fees will be as follows, with the 1989 charges in brackets :



Single journey permit                |£2 (no change)               

Multi-journey permit                 |£1 (no change)               

                                     |Per journey                  

Annual period permit                 |£40 (£50)                    

3 month period permit                |£10 (£14)                    

Multilateral EC/ECMT annual permit   |£80 (£100)                   

Multilateral EC/ECMT 3 months permit |£20 (£26)                    

Community removals authorisation     |£25 (£50)                    

Vehicle Registration Marks

Mr. Amos : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what progress has been made with the Government's plans to sell unused attractive vehicle registration marks.

Mr. Parkinson : Regulations made under the Finance Act 1989 establishing the sale of marks scheme came into effect on 20 November. The first sale will be by auction, and will take place on 14 December at Christie's London showrooms. Further auctions will follow in the new year. Less valuable numbers will be sold at fixed prices later in the year for new vehicles registered on or after 1 August 1990. Details of the scheme are given in leaflets available in the Library of the House, from DVLC, or from Teledata Ltd., the Department's fixed price agents.



Mr. Hanley : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the publication of the interim report of the national curriculum geography working group.

Mr. MacGregor : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and I published the interim report of the national curriculum geography working group on 20 November, together with our letter to the group's chairman, Sir Leslie Fielding. Copies of the interim report including the letter have been deposited in the Library.

Student Loans Company

Mr. Hanley : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what progress has been made in acquiring premises for the Student Loans Company ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. MacGregor : Negotiations are proceeding for the acquisition of premises in Glasgow. My Department is likely to be asked by a landlord to guarantee the Student Loans Company's obligations under an agreement to lease and the lease. My Department has, therefore, presented a minute to Parliament today describing the nature of the contingent liability which would arise.

Science and Engineering Research Council

Mr. Hanley : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he has received the annual report of the Science and Engineering Research Council for 1988-89 ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. MacGregor : The annual report of the Science and Engineering Research Council for 1988-89 has been submitted to me under the requirements of the Science and Technology Act 1965, and a copy is being laid before the House today.

I was most interested to read the report on what has clearly been another exciting and interesting year for the Council. I was particularly impressed to learn of :

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a. the completion during the year of two satellite instruments to observe the composition of the atmosphere and its global variation--both key elements in the United Kingdom's study of the global environment ;

b. the revelation, by means of radio-astronomical techniques, of 80 species of chemical molecules in inter-stellar space, thereby stimulating ideas about matter in the universe and contributing to the enhancement of man's understanding of chemical reactions at very high temperatures ;

c. the success of the Council's synchrotron radiation source at its Daresbury laboratory in determining the molecular structure of the foot-and -mouth disease virus ;

d. the observation, by British, Dutch and Spanish astronomers at the William Herschel telescope in the Canary islands, of a high-energy radio pulsar that is slowly extinguishing its celestial companion, the White Dwarf star ;


e. the use of highly sophisticated techniques, developed in nuclear physics, for studying lake sediments and thus the historical evolution of sulphur dioxide emissions.

I was also pleased to note that the SERC is currently reviewing its policy for wider public education about the science it conducts, focusing particularly on the interests of young people. I congratulate the Council and the academic community on these and other achievements, and look forward to reading about further progress in next year's report.

British Geological Survey

Mr. Hanley : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the future funding of the British Geological Survey.

Mr. MacGregor : Last year, pending further work on defining the British Geological Survey's (BGS) core programme and its future financial and funding arrangements, an additional £3 million was made available in 1989-90 with planning additions of £4 million in 1990-91 and £5 million in 1991-92. I have now considered the outcome of this work conducted by the BGS programme board and by a group of officials, from relevant Government Departments and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), and have concluded that the survey has the potential to generate more of its income from the users of geological information, and that this should be the source of any funds needed to accelerate the rate at which it conducts its core surveying. In order to facilitate this process, I am providing additional investment for the national geosciences information service, to allow better access to, and marketing of, the survey's geological information and its interpretation. I am therefore making available to the survey, through the NERC, a further £1 million in 1990-91, £2 million in 1991-92 and £3 million in 1992-93. With these once and for all additions, the science budget income to the BGS should provide a secure base for the development of the survey's activities in the years ahead.

Research Councils Advisory Board

Mr. Hanley : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what guidance he has given the advisory board for the research councils in seeking its advice on the allocation of the science budget in 1990-91 to 1992-93, following his announcement on 15 November, Official Report, columns 272-76 ; and if he will make a statement.

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Mr. MacGregor : I have written to Sir David Phillips inviting the board's advice. Following is the text of my letter :

Dear David,

"THE SCIENCE BUDGET 1990-91 to 1992-93

In offering the Board's advice for this year's public expenditure survey, you emphasised the importance which the Board attached to the need to build on the foundations laid by the 1988 settlement. You noted that the momentum of that settlement would be lost unless the value of the Science Budget was preserved in real terms. I am glad to say that, despite the difficult economic circumstances surrounding this year's discussions, I have been able to achieve this, and more. The Government is providing increases for each year of the Survey of £61m, £53m, and £59m. These increases include about £1m in each year in respect of transfers into the Science Budget from the DTI for the British Geological Survey and from another DES Vote for MRC intercalated awards. At £897m the Science Budget in 1990-91 will be about 10 per cent. above the level in 1989-90 in cash terms. Total provision for science in 1990-91 includes receipts from the European Community and non-voted public expenditure by the IPSR from privatisation receipts, and will amount to £904m.

You expressed concern about the profile of last year's settlement. This year's profile of expenditure over the period is heavily influenced by the provision which I have made--£17.2m in 1990-91 and £1.4m in 1991- 92--to sustain scientific research programmes while meeting the construction costs of the RRS James Clark Ross. If provision for this ship is excluded from the figures the real terms index of spend (1989-90 = 100) is 102.5 in 1990-91, 103.6 in 1991-92 and 103.3 in 1992-93. I have therefore ensured that, in this year's settlement, the underlying Budget is not only higher in real terms but remains at the higher 1990-91 level over the planning period. Apart from the ship, I have sought to keep earmarking to the minimum in order to leave the Board with maximum discretion in framing its allocations advice. I intend however to make an allocation of £2 million in each of the Survey years for the Remote Sensing Instrument associated with ERS-2 in line with the Government's declaration at the meeting of the Council of the European Space Agency last October. I should greatly value the Board's advice on what further allocation may be appropriate for earth observation instruments, particularly on Polar Platforms. Finally, I am also earmarking sums of £1 million, £2 million and £3 million in the PES years, respectively, for the British Geological Survey. This is being made available to enable the national Geosciences Information Service (NGIS) to provide better access to and marketing of the Survey's geological information and its interpretation. This once and for all investment in NGIS concludes the Government's treatment of the BGS as a national scientific commitment ; I do not intend to earmark sums for BGS in future years.

The Government is making this increased provision for science in the context of its overall policies for reducing the rate of inflation. I am sure the Board will appreciate the overriding importance of this. At £897 million, the Science Budget in 1990-91 is £189 million higher than expenditure in 1988-89--an increase of 27 per cent. over 2 years. Over the last two public expenditure exercises the Government has increased provision by £490 million ; and expenditure in real terms in 1990-91 will be more than 27 per cent higher than in 1979-80. I hope that the scientific community at large will see this as further evidence of the importance which the Government attaches to civil science in the Research Councils and the universities. I look forward to receiving the Board's advice on how the additonal resources for next year can best be distributed. The Science Budget is a matter of considerable Parliamentary and public interest and I propose therefore to follow precedent by publishing the text of this letter in the form of a Parliamentary Answer."

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Community Insulation Projects

Mr. Hannam : To ask the Secretary of State for Energy what proposals he has to assist the least well off to improve their energy efficiency by introducing new arrangements for supporting the work of community insulation projects.

Mr. Wakeham : Community insulation projects play a valuable role in providing basic insulation measures in low income households. My predecessor and I have therefore monitored carefully the impact on the projects of the transition from the community programme to employment training. Despite the success of the special support measures introduced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment during the past year there is now widespread agreement that particularly in today's changed climate of substantially reduced unemployment we cannot continue to rely soley on training programmes for the unemployed to support a national network of insulation projects. There is an increasing need for projects to develop into community insulation businesses, capable of financing themselves directly through the insulation services they provide.

I hope therefore to include powers in the forthcoming social security Bill to enable my Department to introduce a new scheme of grants towards the cost of basic insulation measures in low income households in England, Scotland and Wales. Grants towards the cost of draughtproofing, loft, tank and pipe insulation will be available under the legislation. Details of the proposed scheme, which will cover both owners and tenants in both the public and private sectors, will be announced in due course.

This announcement is good news not only for community insulation projects and for those on low incomes but for all concerned with improving energy efficiency, and I am sure it will be widely welcomed.


Agriculture Council

Mr. Gill : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what was the outcome of the Brussels Agriculture Council held on 20 and 21 November.

Mr. Gummer : I represented the United Kingdom at this meeting together with my hon. Friend, the Member for Skipton and Rippon (Mr. Curry), the Parliamentary Secretary in my Department.

The Council had before it important proposals for reforming the Community's regime for agricultural structures. Good progress was made and a number of substantial improvements were made to the text. One component of the Commission's proposal was that in future normal Community reimbursement of member states' payments of hill livestock compensatory allowances should be limited to 45 livestock units per farm with half the normal reimbursement rate between 45 and 90 livestock units. (One livestock unit is defined as 1 cow or 6wes). Although the extent of Community reimbursement has no necessary direct effect on the levels of payments to producers, the proposal was unsatisfactory in that it would discriminate against United Kingdom farms in the less favoured areas most of which are necessarily extensive and limited to the raising of livestock.

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As a result of our representations the figures quoted were effectively more than doubled and implementation was delayed for a year until 1 January 1991. However, I was unable to accept the limitations even at this higher level and accordingly I voted against the package which was, however, agreed by a qualified majority. The Council agreed two measures on the additional cereals co-responsibility levy which forms a part of the stabiliser for that sector. First, it agreed in principle to set the levy at zero for 1989-90 under a new de minimis provision which was, however, altered in negotiation so that it applies to the current marketing year only. Arrangements have already been made to cease collecting levy when the relevant legal text is adopted and to repay levy already collected. Second, the Community agreed in principle to new and better arrangements for determining the level of the additional co- responsibility levy from 1990-91, which should avoid any possibility of repaying levy in future years. This latter decision will ensure that levy is paid at the full rate implied by the size of the Community harvest, will save administrative costs for Government and the industry and will, I am sure, therefore be welcomed by farmers and the cereals trade.

The Council agreed to the issue of 1 per cent. extra milk quota from 1989- 90 to all member states and the cancellation of 1 per cent. of existing quota currently suspended. To offset the costs involved reductions will be made in the intervention price of butter by 2 per cent. and skimmed milk powder by per cent. from 1 March 1990, and an increase of 15 per cent. made in the supplementary levy from 1 April 1990. In a full year this package could be expected to be neutral in budgetary terms. The outcome is much more satisfactory in this respect than the original Commission proposal. However, because the cost in 1989-90 will not be fully offset by savings I abstained in the

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vote. Agriculture Ministers will announce details of how the extra quota will be allocated in the United Kingdom as soon as possible. The Council considered again a proposal concerning veterinary checks in intra-Community trade of meat and meat products. I emphasised the vital need to ensure that the arrangements for the single European market do not prejudice the favourable animal health status of countries like the United Kingdom. Agreement was reached on a useful regulation on mutual assistance in the veterinary area between member states and the Commission.


Security Service Act 1989

Mr. John Marshall : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects to implement the Security Service Act 1989 ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Waddington : The Security Service Act will come into force on 18 December 1989. I have made an order, published today, to bring the Act into full effect on that date. The Act provides for the appointment of a commissioner and a tribunal. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has decided to appoint Lord Justice Stuart-Smith to be commissioner. The members of the tribunal will be Mr. Justice Simon Brown (president) ; Sheriff John McInnes (vice-president) and Sir Richard Gaskell. My right hon. Friend and I are grateful that the Commissioner and members of the tribunal have agreed to undertake these important new tasks. I welcome the implementation of this legislation which for the first time puts the security service on a statutory basis and which provides an avenue for the independent consideration of complaints against the service.


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