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Science

Ms Mowlam : To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will list the measures additional to the small grants scheme taken by the Office of Science and Technology as part of the campaign to promote the public understanding of science.

Mr. David Davis : The White Paper, "Realising our Potential" (Cm. 2250), lists a number of measures which the Government intend will be part of this campaign, in addition to the public understanding of science grants scheme. These include support for the creativity in science and technology awards scheme in schools ; working with the Gatsby Charitable Foundation and the British Association for the Advancement of Science to bring greater coherence to regional initiatives in the field ; and co-sponsorship of a mobile exhibition on the theme of science for the 21st century. We shall also be discussing with organisations active in the public understanding of science the scope for encompassing within the campaign their own activities and events. I shall make further announcements on all these proposals in due course.

Small Grants Scheme

Ms Mowlam : To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to what extent the funding for the Office of Science and Technology small grants scheme is to be taken from existing budgets ; and if he will list the vote subheads or budgets concerned.

Mr. David Davis : The £100,000 made available in 1993-94 to fund the Office of Science and Technology grants scheme for the public understanding of science will be financed from the provision made for Office of Science and Technology science policy studies and initiatives shown at subhead A8 of class XVIII, vote 2 of the Supply Estimates.

HOUSE OF COMMONS

Sheffield Exhibition

Mr. Caborn : To ask the Chairman of the Administration Committee if he has considered an application for an exhibition relating to Sheffield's manufacturing base ; an exhibition for Sheffield's centenary year, to be displayed in the Upper Waiting Hall.


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Mr. Michael Martin : I understand that, under procedures agreed by the Administration Committee, arrangements have been made for the exhibition to be held in the Upper Waiting Hall from 25 to 29 October.

ENVIRONMENT

Radioactive Waste

Mr. Simon Hughes : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what advice he has received from British Nuclear Fuels plc or the Radioactive Waste Management advisory group on the range and number of movements of radioactive waste resulting from the lifetime operation of the thermal oxide reprocessing plant (a) with substitution and (b) without substitution.

Mr. Yeo : The consequences, in terms of waste movements, of adopting waste substitution would depend on the nature of the scheme implemented.

Housing Association Grants

Mr. Battle : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what estimate he has made of the effect on the percentage of new housing association tenants reliant on housing benefit for the payment of rent of the proposed reduction of housing association grants in 1995-96.

Mr. Baldry : The Government have announced their objective of reducing the average housing association grant rate in England from the current year's level of 67 per cent. to 60 per cent. in 1994-95 and 55 per cent. in 1995-96.

Final decisions will be taken when Ministers have considered all the relevant evidence, including the likely impact on rents, on housing benefit and the availability of private finance. No decisions about grant rates for 1995-96 will be taken until much closer to the time.

Dr. Lynne Jones : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what guidance he issues to the Housing Corporation on the maximum housing association grant level per person for a new scheme.

Sir George Young : Grant rates are proposed by the Housing Corporation and approved by my right hon. Friend after he has considered all the relevant information, including advice from the Housing Corporation on the implication of different grant levels on rents and the availability of private finance.

Grant rates vary according to scheme type and location and represent the maximum proportion of scheme costs which will be funded by any form of public subsidy including housing association grant. They are determined by reference to the income of tenants, the unit costs of schemes in a given area and other factors such as management and maintenance costs.

Housing Associations

Dame Angela Rumbold : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what advice he gives to housing associations on the appropriate level of finance from the private sector.

Sir George Young : The Government do not give specific advice on the appropriate level of private finance to


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housing associations. However, our objective is to increase the proportion of private finance input to new housing association schemes in order to get the maximum output from public resources.

Dame Angela Rumbold : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans he has to reduce the grant rates to housing associations ; and what estimate he has made of the effect of his plans on rent levels.

Sir George Young : Our objective is to increase the proportion of private finance input to new housing association schemes by reducing grant rates to 60 per cent. in 1994-95 and 55 per cent. in 1995-96. Final decisions will be taken when Ministers have considered all the relevant evidence, including the likely impact on rents.

Dame Angela Rumbold : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans he has to allow housing association tenants the right to buy.

Sir George Young : The right to buy is already available to secure tenants of housing associations, except in cases where the association is a charity : there are no plans at present to extend this statutory right. Associations may, however, sell to tenants on voluntary terms. There is also an alternative scheme for promoting home ownership to housing association tenants--the tenants incentive scheme--under which they may be eligible to receive a grant to help them purchase a home in the owner- occupied sector. Similarly, the do-it-yourself-shared-ownership scheme is available to eligible housing association tenants who wish to pursue the shared equity route towards home ownership.

Local Government Corruption, Bolsover

Mr. John Marshall : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received about local government corruption in Bolsover.

Mr. Baldry : None.

Countryside Stewardship Scheme

Mr. Martlew : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment how many hectares are currently under agreement with the countryside stewardship scheme ; how many hectares involved additional payments for public access in (a) England and (b) each county ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Yeo : There are 59,836 hectares currently under agreement with the countryside stewardship scheme which is run by the Countryside Commission. Of these, 11,596 hectares involve additional payments for open access. Payments are also being made for 190.4 km of linear access--payment for the creation of linear routes such as footpaths, bridleways and routes for those with mobility difficulties. The breakdown of the access figures by county is as follows :--


County                 |Open Access  |Linear Access              

                       |Hectares     |Kilometres                 

-----------------------------------------------------------------

Northumberland         |893          |14.2                       

Cumbria                |358          |6.8                        

Durham                 |261          |2.5                        

Cleveland              |40           |2.7                        

Lancashire             |61           |7.6                        

Derbyshire             |850          |5.4                        

Merseyside Met         |0            |0.0                        

Greater Manchester     |4            |0.9                        

Cheshire               |8            |2.3                        

North Yorkshire        |1,178        |24.7                       

Humberside             |62           |2.2                        

South Yorkshire        |13           |0.4                        

West Yorkshire Met     |0            |0.0                        

Nottinghamshire        |58           |0.0                        

Shropshire             |119          |0.0                        

Staffordshire          |18           |2.6                        

Leicestershire         |369          |3.7                        

West Midland Met       |0            |0.0                        

Hereford and Worcester |163          |0.1                        

Warwickshire           |152          |0.0                        

Northamptonshire       |678          |4.3                        

Lincolnshire           |329          |12.1                       

Cambridgeshire         |189          |5.6                        

Norfolk                |282          |14.9                       

Suffolk                |193          |2.5                        

Bedfordshire           |67           |0.0                        

Oxfordshire            |107          |1.5                        

Buckinghamshire        |258          |4.1                        

Hertfordshire          |120          |0.0                        

Essex                  |219          |0.6                        

Berkshire              |81           |0.0                        

London                 |45           |0.0                        

Hampshire              |136          |5.4                        

Surrey                 |156          |0.2                        

Kent                   |298          |2.1                        

West Sussex            |317          |1.1                        

East Sussex            |431          |11.0                       

Isle of Wight          |111          |4.1                        

Gloucestershire        |180          |5.9                        

Cornwall               |810          |12.0                       

Devon                  |361          |6.8                        

Somerset               |324          |3.4                        

Avon                   |220          |0.5                        

Wiltshire              |718          |13.6                       

Dorset                 |359          |2.6                        

Countryside stewardship is a pilot scheme. The Countryside Commission has reviewed arrangements for publicising access in the light of its experience in the first two years of the experiment. The answer given by the then Minister for the Environment and Countryside on 2 April, Official Report, column 520, gives details of further steps being taken to improve information about public access.

Waste Disposal Levy

Mr. Bennett : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment (1) on what relative tax base the waste disposal levy is apportioned between constituent authorities in metropolitan areas ; and what considerations account for the choice of this base for apportionment ;

(2) what account was taken of the desirability of providing an incentive to reduce the volume of waste to be disposed of in the choice of a base for apportionment of the waste disposal levy for metropolitan areas ;

(3) what consideration has been given to apportioning the waste disposal levy between constituent authorities in metropolitan areas according to tonnage dealt with rather than a tax base ; and if he will make a statement ;

(4) if he will make it his policy to review the basis of apportioning the waste disposal levy in metropolitan areas in time for changes to come into effect for 1994-95.


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Mr. Yeo : The constituent boroughs of each statutory joint waste disposal authority are at liberty to agree among themselves the apportionment of the levy. Should they fail to agree, the levies are apportioned on the basis of the tax base in force at the time, which, under the current system of local government finance, is the tax base for the council tax.

The reason for using the tax base is that the cost of providing the service then adds the same amount to the local tax in each area. This general principle applies to other statutory authorities, such as certain combined police authorities, which supply a service across more than one local authority area.

Under the community charge system, the general basis of apportionment was "relevant population". As part of the preparation for the introduction of council tax, the Government sought to apply the same principle and therefore proposed to change to the council tax bay according to the tax base for the council tax and in considering these arrangements, I take the view that it is important to listen to the concerns of all those involved and to act in the best interests of the authorities' areas as a whole.

Local Government Finance

Mr. Pike : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received to allow councils to continue spending capital receipts beyond the end of the current year ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Baldry : The local authority associations have asked for the temporary concession on the use of capital receipts, announced in the autumn statement, to be extended beyond 31 December 1993.

Mr. Pike : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his Department's latest assessment of the total of capital receipts accruing to local authorities during the current capital receipts holiday ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Baldry : As a result of the temporary relaxation in the capital receipts rules announced in the autumn statement, local authorities are able to spend 100 per cent. of virtually all the capital receipts they receive during the period 13 November 1992 to 31 December 1993. Estimates of local authorities' capital receipts are based on information provided by authorities themselves. My Department has sought provisional outturn information for receipts which local authorities obtained between 13 November 1992 and 31 March 1993, and estimates of the receipts which authorities expect to receive between 1 April and 31 December 1993. This information will be published in due course, once authorities' returns have been received and processed.

Standard Spending Assessments

Mr. Betts : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment (1) what assessment he has made of the advantages and disadvantages of the reduction in the number of indicators in changing the standard spending assessment systems of local authority grant distribution ;


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(2) what assessment he has made of the adequacy of the indicators used in the SSA system to reflect fully in the distribution of grants to local authorities the range and variety of different needs which they experience.

Mr. Baldry : The system of standard spending assessments was intended to simplify the method of distributing grant to local authorities compared with previous methods. One of the main simplifications was the reduction in the number of indicators used. SSAs were also intended to be easier to understand without any reduction in fairness. We are currently reviewing SSAs and in particular the range of social factors used and the weight placed upon them. As part of the review we will consider the scope for using new indicators.

Mr. Betts : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans he has to appoint outside consultants to advise him on the review of standard spending assessments.

Mr. Baldry : Some external research has already taken place which will inform the review of standard spending assessments. We will appoint outside consultants to advise further on the review, if it is felt to be necessary.

Mr. Betts : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what assessment he has made of the validity of area cost adjustment in the standard spending assessments for 1993-94 as a measure of the differences in providing similar services in different parts of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Baldry : The area cost adjustment for 1993-94 aims to reflect variations in average employment costs facing authorities in the provision of their services in different areas. It is confined to London and the south-east because survey evidence has shown that these are the only regions facing employment costs which are consistently and significantly above the national average. We are reviewing the calculation of the area cost adjustment, in consultation with the local authority associations, as part of the wider review of standard spending assessments in progress.

Mr. Betts : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what assessment he has made of the extent to which additional educational needs parts of the standard spending assessment reflect different needs and costs which face different local government areas.

Mr. Baldry : We are considering the additional educational needs index used in standard spending assessments as part of the current review. The social factors used in standard spending assessments are selected to be representative of variation in the potential need for spending on the particular services for which different authorities have responsibility.

Mr. Betts : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment (1) if he will consider using information on health available for the first time in the 1991 census as part of the standard spending assessment for 1994-95 ;

(2) what assessment he has made of the validity of the use of the percentage of single-parent families in a case as a measurement of need as part of the education and social services element of the standard spending assessment system.

Mr. Baldry : We are considering a range of health and social factors for use in standard spending assessments as part of the current review.


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Local Government Commission

Mr. Tipping : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what recent discussions he has had with the chairman of the Local Government Commission about its work programme and timetable ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Baldry : My hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Planning has met the chairman on several occasions, most recently on 14 July, to discuss these and related sums.

Modbury Plan

Mr. Steen : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when he expects to receive Mr. David Fenton's report, following the hearing at the public inquiry into the Modbury plan, south Devon, on 13 January ; what steps he is taking to expedite this report ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Baldry : Mr. David Fenton was appointed to conduct an inquiry into objections to the South Hams local plan on behalf of South Hams district council. The plan is the responsibility of the district council, and the inspector's report will be delivered to the planning authority. They are required under The Town and Country (Development Plan) Regulations 1991 to supply my right hon. Friend with a copy of the inspector's report when they publish their intention to modify or to adopt the plan.

Council Tax

Mr. Gorst : To ask the Secretary of State for the Enviornment how many representations he has received alleging that the provisions of the council tax transitional reduction scheme are not in accordance with natural justice, or have given rise to anomalies.

Mr. Baldry : Since the introduction of the council tax the Department has received approximately 800 queries about transitional relief. In many cases taxpayers were simply inquiring about the way in which relief is calculated.

Mr. Gorst : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what assessment he has made of the extent to which the requirement that purchasers of houses since 31 March receive council tax transitional reduction scheme on a basis determined by the personal circumstances of previous occupants has worked fairly.

Mr. Baldry : It is reasonable to expect purchasers of a property to consider all the costs involved, including the council tax applying to that property, in their decision to purchase. A transitional relief calculation which accommodated changes in the household composition would require authorities to hold detailed records of household composition which would be both costly and unpopular.

Mr. Gorst : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans he has to carry out a review of the regulations governing the calculation of the council tax transitional reduction scheme, with a view to their amendment.

Mr. Baldry : I have no plans to review the operation of the 1993-94 transitional relief arrangements.


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Sustainable Development

Mr. Waterson : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when he intends to publish proposals for the United Kingdom's national strategy for sustainable development.

Mr. Gummer : I will be publishing tomorrow a consultation paper outlining the Government proposals. I am placing copies in the Library of the House.

Local Authority Services

Mr. Lidington : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when he intends to publish the results of research into the effects of competitive tendering for local authority services.

Mr. Baldry : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has today published the full report of a major study into the impact of competitive tendering under the Local Government Act 1988, which has been carried out for us by the university of Birmingham. Copies have been placed in the Library of the House. The research shows that competition produces significant benefits for local taxpayers. Competitive tendering has resulted in fundamental service review within local authorities, leading to more efficient management, reduced costs and a sharper focus on performance and quality. In particular it shows, in the authorities studied, that an average reduction of 6.5 per cent. in the annual cost of services subject to competitive tendering has been achieved, due in large part to significant improvements in productivity. Service standards have been maintained and often raised in the process and competition has been an important spur to greater emphasis on performance, target setting and quality assurance in local authority service delivery.

Council Rent Arrears

Mr. Heald : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment which local authorities have the highest rent arrears ; and if he will make a statement.

Sir George Young : I have today arranged for the information on rent arrears in all English local authorities at 31 March 1992, to be placed in the Library.

At 31 March 1992, the total amount of rent arrears owing to housing authorities in England amounted to £458 million, 8 per cent. of rent roll, compared to £434 million, 8.6 per cent. of rent roll, in the previous year. Despite a small overall increase in cash terms, the latest figures bring to an end a long upward trend in local authority rent arrears.

About half all rent arrears arise in London, £223 million, with eight of the 10 authorities which perform least satisfactorily found in the capital. These authorities have rent arrears totalling £163 million, equal to 36 per cent. of the national total.

Closer analysis of returns from local authorities confirms a recent general improvement in rent collection rates. During 1991-92, for example, local authorities estimated that £87.2 million of rent due during the year remained uncollected at the end of the year, 1.5 per cent. of the rent roll, with 20 authorities responsible for half this total. This compares to £109.5 million, 2.2 per cent. of rent roll, of rent due in 1990-91 uncollected at the end of the year.


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Despite this general improvement in rent collection rates, there is no room for complacency and many authorities, particularly those in London, need to do more to improve their performance in this critical area.

Hams Hall Power Station

Mr. Robert Ainsworth : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when he will make an announcement on the application to turn Hams Hall power station into a channel tunnel freight terminal.

Mr. Baldry : The inspector's report on this called-in planning application is being studied. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will announce a decision shortly.

County Hall

Mr. Dykes : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when he last had discussions with the London Residuary Body on plans for the disposal of county hall ; what plans he expects to go ahead ; what are the reasons for the delays in disposal which have occurred ; what is the current state of the buildings ; and if he will list the names of those various prospective purchasers which need to apply to his Department for final approval.

Mr. Curry [holding answer 15 July 1993] : My right hon. Friend has not as yet had any discussions with the London Residuary Body, but the Department is in regular contact with it. The riverside building of county hall has already been sold. Discussions are going ahead with various parties over the sale of the remaining buildings on the site. The conduct of these negotiations is a matter for the residuary body and the identity of those involved is a matter of commercial confidence. There would in fact be no need for prospective purchasers to ask my right hon. Friend for his approval. The state of the buildings is satisfactory and the residuary body ensures that planned routine maintenance is carried out to all the buildings.

Convention on International Trade

in Endangered Species

Mr. Hardy : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what response he made to the CITES standing committee in regard to the proposed new criteria for listing species on the appendices to the convention prior to the deadline date of 30 June.

Mr. Yeo [holding answer 16 July 1993] : None, but we shall submit comments shortly. I will ensure that a copy of our response is sent to the hon. Member as well as to interested organisations.

Peatlands

Mr. Kevin Hughes : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, pursuant to his answer to the hon. Member for Newham, North- West (Mr. Banks) of 6 July, Official Report, column 79, how much longer it is expected to take to finalise the agreement between English Nature and Fisons to secure areas of lowland peatland of conservation importance.

Mr. Yeo [holding answer 19 July 1993] : Both English Nature and Fisons remain fully committed to this


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agreement. It is taking some time to complete the conveyance because of the legal complexity of the transaction.

Water (Complaints)

Mrs. Helen Jackson : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment how many complaints have been received by the Office of Water Services customer services committees about the water supply industry in the current year and the past year, region by region.

Mr. Yeo [holding answer 19 July 1993] : OFWAT's annual report 1992 lists the number of complaints received by each customer services committee for each individual company for the years requested, together with the companies assigned to each region. Copies of the report are available in the Library.

Radioactive Waste

Mr. Chris Smith : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will list those sites where (a) BNFL, (b) Nuclear Electric, (c) Scottish Nuclear or (d) others have applied for planning permission for, or had any form of initial discussions with, his Department as to the construction of a dry store capable of taking spent AGR fuel.

Mr. Eggar : I have been asked to reply.

My Department has had no such applications or discussions. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has received an application from Scottish Nuclear Ltd. in respect of a proposed dry store at Torness power station. My right hon. Friend has not yet received the report following the public inquiry into this application.

Mr. Chris Smith : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what consideration Her Majesty's Government have given to the dry storage of spent AGR fuel as waste as an alternative to reprocessing.

Mr. Eggar : I have been asked to reply.

Management options for dealing with spent fuel are commercial matters for the owners of the fuel.

Mr. Gordon Prentice : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what consideration is given, in deciding whether to allow imports of spent nuclear fuel for the thermal oxide reprocessing plant, to the possible effect of the build-up of such stocks on the outcome of the further consultation process and eventual adjudication on revised draft authorisations for the Sellafield site ; if he will now make it his policy to allow no further imports until a final decision is made ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Eggar : I have been asked to reply.

I am advised by British Nuclear Fuels plc that, under its contracts with overseas customers, some 70 per cent. of the overseas spent fuel due to be reprocessed in the first ten years of operating its thermal oxide reprocessing plant has already been delivered to Sellafield. In accordance with scheduled deliveries, this proportion is not expected to change materially in the next few months. It would be inappropriate to take an initiative of the kind proposed by the hon. Member.


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Rent Arrears

Mr. Streeter : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will publish a table showing English local authorities' own estimates of both former and current tenants' rent arrears at 31 March (a) by cash value and (b) as a percentage of the rent roll.

Sir George Young [holding answer 19 May 1993] : I have now placed information in the Library on local authority rent arrears at 31 March 1992. It has not been practice in recent years to make available local authority's latest estimates of rent arrears. I shall let my hon. Friend have provisional figures for the year to 31 March 1993 later in the summer, once my officials have had the opportunity to validate the data.

EDUCATION

Non-vocational Courses

Mr. Gunnell : To ask the Secretary of State for Education how many non-vocational courses open to adults were offered in 1991-92, 1992-93 and 1993-94 in (a) the local authorities sector not transferred to Government on 1 April and (b) the local authorities sector transferred to Government on 1 April.

Mr. Boswell : Information about the number of further education courses for adults is not collected by the Department.

Open University

Mr. Steinberg : To ask the Secretary of State for Education how many Open university students have applied for the new post-graduate certificate of education programme beginning in 1994 ; and how many students with Open university qualifications went on to enter the teaching profession.

Mr. Boswell : To date, 586 Open university students have applied for the new PGCE programme beginning in 1994. The number who enter the teaching profession will not be known until after the first entrants complete the course in July 1995.


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