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Column 318enterprise council and other interested parties as a matter of urgency to discuss the next steps. I, as sponsor Minister for Tyne and Wear, will be on Tyneside this Friday and will be available to meet all the interested parties.
Mr. Lait : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what is the Government's planning policy in relation to applications for horse- based development in the countryside ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Curry : Development that supports the rural economy and maintains and enhances the countryside is to
Column 319be encouraged. Planning applications for development which is in accordance with the development plan shall be allowed unless material considerations indicate otherwise.
Within this framework, the Government wish to see a positive approach towards planning applications for horse-based development. Paragraph 2.21 of planning policy guidance note 7 makes it clear that the keeping and riding of horses for recreational purposes or as part of commercially based equestrian activities can help provide new opportunities for employment and land use in the countryside. Annexe F of the same document gives further guidance on development involving horses.
Mr. Clappison : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the outcome of the consultation paper, "Streamlining Planning".
Mr. Curry : I am pleased to announce today that we shall be taking forward proposals in the "Streamlining Planning" consultation paper to relax planning controls in respect of flats over shops ; extensions to schools, colleges, universities and hospitals ; flat advertisements at householders' sites and other advertisement controls. We shall also be abolishing the special industrial use classes, so that planning permission will not be required for changes between all general industrial uses within existing buildings. Taken together, these reforms will represent a significant benefit to business without reducing protection for the environment of amenity. They will also help improve the overall efficiency of the planning system by relieving local authorities from determining some relatively minor planning applications.
These changes will apply equally in Wales.
Mr. Whittingdale : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when he plans to publish his scheme for charging for the release of information under the open government code of practice and to publish details of how his Department deals with the public.
Mr. Baldry : I have today made available guidance on the charging arrangements operating in my Department in respect of requests for information under the code of practice on access to Government information. I have also released an index to the explanatory material which is currently available on my Department's dealings with the public. The index contains details of how to obtain this material and will be updated at regular intervals. Copies of the index and charging arrangements have been placed in the Library of the House and are available from my Department's Libraries and from the Government Offices in the regions.
Mr. Hendry : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the coal industry in the context of the proposed reform of old minerals permissions he announced in March.
Mr. Baldry : When my Department published the consultation paper on the reform of old mineral permissions in March 1994 we said that coal was being considered separately.
Column 320We have completed that consideration and, in accordance with the Government's general policy that, for planning purposes, coal should be treated no differently from other minerals, the Government intend that the proposals in the consultation paper--all of which will require primary legislation--should apply equally to coal. This would mean that old coal mining permissions will be subject to initial updating of their conditions and thereafter all coal mining permissions would be subject to periodic review at 10-yearly intervals.
Such reviews should include ancillary mining development. However, as the consultation paper makes it clear, conditions imposed following a review should not fundamentally affect the economic structure of the operation.
As a consequence of coal privatisation the General Development Order is being revised to attach restoration conditions to surface development at GDO mines. The Government would not therefore expect GDO mines, which will only recently have had restoration conditions imposed on them as part of that process, to require immediate further review. They would be looked at again at the start of the second phase of the initial updating programme. The consultation proposals envisage that that second phase would commence three years after any new legislation had been brought into force. In practical terms this is likely to mean that GDO mines will be exempt from further review for at least five years.
Mr. David Porter : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when he will publish the report of his Department's advisory group on litter ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Atkins : I have today placed in the Library of the House a summary of the report of the advisory group on litter which has been reviewing the litter provisions contained in the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and elsewhere. The group has concluded that overall the 1990 Act has made a significant effect but there are some areas of the legislation in England and Wales which could be usefully improved. The key recommendations of the advisory group are : publication of information to inform the citizen about how their local authority plans to fulfil its litter duty ;
improvements to the way in which litter on private land can be dealt with by local authorities ;
improved powers to enable local authorities to target business or commercial activities which result in litter on adjacent public areas ;
replacement of the existing patchwork of dog fouling byelaws with a national offence of failure to clear up after one's dog in most public areas ;
improvements to the litter fixed penalty system so local authority contractors can, subject to certain safeguards, issue penalty notices and to allow extension of the fixed penalty system to dog fouling offences ;
increasing the fixed penalty from £10 to £25 in line with the general increase in fine levels since the litter provisions were brought into effect.
The full report will be available on request from my Department. I am grateful to the members of the advisory group for its work in producing this report. I am sure that there will be wide interest in these recommendations. In view of this, I am publishing the summary report as a consultation document. I would encourage all interested parties to let my Department have their views by 14 October 1994.
Mr. Garnier : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the outcome of his review of wildlife sales controls in Great Britain.
Mr. Atkins : I announced the outcome of the first stage of the review on 25 April 1994. This focused mainly on changes in the bird registration system. The rest of the review covered a range of issues concerning secondary controls on native and exotic wildlife, and enforcement.
We plan to make some changes which should take effect from 1 October. These will simplify paper controls and improve enforcement. There are seven main elements :
(i The Registered Sellers of Dead Birds--RSDB--scheme allows people, mainly taxidermists, registered with the Department to sell dead birds. In return for a triennial fee, registered sellers do not have to submit individual sales applications to the Department. However they are required to fix a marker to specimens and to keep records which are returned to the Department every six months. The scheme was intended to discourage the taking of birds from the wild for taxidermy and to allow people already legitimately trading in birds to continue to do so without the need to apply for individual sales licences. We believe that these objectives can be achieved more effectively by issuing a general licence allowing the sale of captive-bred and legally-taken dead birds. The wording of the licence would make it clear that sellers must be able to demonstrate conclusively that the legal requirements have been met. We shall be issuing a formal consultation letter shortly.
(ii The Department issues about 2,500 individual sales licences each year to allow the sale of live or dead wildlife specimens, or parts thereof, for example where they have been bred in captivity or artificially propagated, or are needed for research. This means that substantial resources are being devoted to authorising legitimate activities which have little or no apparent effect on the conservation of the species concerned. We shall therefore be moving to a control system base on wider use of general sales licences which will enable us to operate more effective checks on specimens for which individual licences will continue to be required. The new system will rely on the increased use of DNA tests to check claims that specimens have been bred in captivity.
(iii My Department has financed research on the use of DNA testing to identify the parentage of birds, and I shall place a copy of the results in the library of both Houses as soon as they are available. DNA tests have already been used in four recent and successful prosecutions, and further cases are in the pipeline. We shall be looking into the feasibility of extending the use of DNA testing where appropriate to help enforce controls on other endangered species.
(iv Four amphibian species are subject to sales controls, but not a prohibition on the killing, injuring or taking of wild specimens, under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981--the common toad, common frog, smooth newt and palmate newt. At present these species can be sold only if an individual licence has been issued or if the vendor has obtained a trader' licence. The reported level of trade in these species, which is in the low thousands, is unlikely to have a discernible effect on populations in the wild, which run into millions. We shall therefore be issuing a general licence for these four species, subject to conditions agreed with our scientific advisers, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, restricing the times and locations when they can be collected. We shall also be asking the JNCC to look carefully at the effectiveness of sale-only controls in its next quinquennial review of schedules 5 and 8 of the Act.
(v In the past, some species have been subject to sales controls under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act 1976. In many instances, these controls
Column 322have been superseded by the EC CITES regulation or duplicated by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. These controls have taken precedence and the sale of most of the small number of species remaining has been permitted under an open sales licence for some time. In December 1992, the then Minister, my noble Friend Lord Strathclyde, announced that 200 additional species would be made subject to sales controls following the establishment of the single market. On further investigation we are not convinced that sale controls are an effective means of controlling trade in these species and we do not now propose to introduce these measures. Furthermore, we do not propose to add any new species to the Act for the purposes of sales controls unless our scientific advisers judge that an undesirable level of trade in any wide specimens of particular species is taking place.
(vi We believe that there is room for improving controls on the import of CITES species. In particular, the Department will give greater emphasis to its powers to impose conditions on import permits and to ensure that conditions which have been imposed are complied with. Where an import of a CITES appendix I (or EC Regulation Annex C1) specimen is allowed only because of the purpose for which it will be used, for example for specific research or breeding projects, a condition will be imposed requiring prior authorisation from the Department before it is used for any other purpose. We will continue to make use of the provision to restrict the movement of a specimen from the address specified on the import permit. The Department's wildlife inspectors will carry out more inspections to ensure that specimens are used and kept as proposed.
(vii The Department already monitors advertisements offering endangered species for sale in a range of specialist journals. More journals will be scrutinised and advertisements followed up ; to guard against possible sale offences.
We also propose to make a number of changes which will take longer to implement. First, we will review our publicity on both primary and secondary controls, with a view to issuing additional material by March 1995. Secondly, we shall consider whether there is any scope for the conservation agencies assuming responsibility for some of the licensing controls currently operated by my Department. Thirdly, we will begin work to consider amending the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to exclude captive-bred birds and remove duplication with the EC CITES regulation.
These changes as a whole will reduce bureaucracy, and release resources to improve enforcement of the import and sales controls which protect genuinely endangered species. The additional enforcement measures I have described--more inspections, DNA tests, stricter import conditions and monitoring of advertisements--will be introduced by October this year.
We also recognise the scope for further improvements in enforcement and in the links between enforcement agencies. These need to be considered in detail with other interested groups, including the voluntary bodies. I therefore propose to establish an official level working group on enforcement involving relevant enforcement agencies and non-Governmental organisations. Its composition and detailed terms of reference will be announced shortly.
I have placed a paper giving more about these proposals and the background to them in the Libraries of both Houses in accordance with our commitment to open government.
Mr. Martin : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when the Government will respond to the report of the task force on Government Departments' empty houses ; and if he will make a statement.
Sir George Young : I am pleased to announce that the final report of the task force on Government Departments' empty houses was published today, along with a Government response to its seven recommendations. A copy of both documents has been placed in the Library.
The Government welcome the task force's report and believe it has made a valuable contribution to making more effective use of empty residential Government properties. We will consider how the draft code of practice prepared by the task force to help achieve reductions in the number of empty properties can best be adopted by each relevant Government Department. I plan to circulate the code to local authority and housing association managers.
Where a residential property in an area of housing stress has stood empty for six months and no sale has taken place, the Government will implement the policy whereby sale or short-term leasing for social housing shall have priority. The Government also propose to set annual targets for empty residential property and to publish the Department's achievements at the end of each year.
Mr. Brandreth : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what progress has been made with the prepartions for the establishment of the new environment agency ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Gummer : Good progress is being made in preparing and drafting the main legislation to establish the environment agencies for England and Wales and for Scotland, and I intend to publish relevant legislative provisions in draft before the end of the recess. In these circumstances, we have decided that it is no longer necessary to seek paving powers in the present Session.
I propose to establish a new advisory committee on arrangements for the proposed agency in England and Wales and to appoint to it persons who I hope will play a continuing role in overseeing the new body if Parliament approves the necessary legislation. I am planning on the basis that it will prove possible to establish the new agency during 1995 and incorporate the existing bodies into it at the beginning of the 1996-97 financial year.
I am today publishing the report on a study conducted for the Department by Touche Ross which considers potential models for the geographic and management structure of the environment agency and provides an initial assessment of their strengths and weaknesses. Interested organisations have been invited to comment by 31 October. Copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Mr. Brandreth : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when the Government intend to respond to the Royal Commission on environmental pollution's 17th report on incineration of waste.
Mr. Gummer : The Government have responded to the Royal Commission on environmental pollution's 17th report on incineration of waste today. Copies of the Government's response are available in the Library.
"The Royal Commission's support for incineration is based on the new generation of plant, which differs from the old in two important respects : first, provision will normally be made for electricity generation or combined heat and power, with the consequence that the process involves energy recovery and is therefore higher in the waste management hierarchy ; second, the need to meet the new EC emission limits will provide much greater safeguards for health and local amenity.
"We agree with the Royal Commission that incineration of waste in suitably located plants designed to meet these new standards is an environmentally acceptable form of waste disposal and should no longer represent a cause for concern to those who live and work close to such plants. We agree also on the desirability of recovering energy from wastes as part of a sustainable approach to waste management.
"The Government will publish later this year, as a basis for consultation, a draft waste management strategy for England and Wales. This will set out in greater detail the potential role of incineration in relation to other waste management options."
Mr. Rowe : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he has yet considered the response by Gosport borough council to the notice served on the authority on 9 May under section 13 of the Local Government Act 1988 ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Baldry : My right hon. Friend has carefully considered the response of Gosport borough council to the notice which was served in respect of the award of a contract for other cleaning work to the authority's direct labour organisation. He accepts that the council may not have intended to act anti-competitively, but takes the view that the council's actions were likely to have the effect of restricting or distorting competition, and in the event did so. Consequently he has today given the authority a direction under section 14 of the Local Government Act 1988.
The direction requires the council to re-tender the relevant contract so that new arrangements are in place by 1 October 1995, and to seek my right hon. Friend's consent should they wish to re-assign the work to the in- house team.
The authority restricted competition in that, prior to the return of tenders, they asserted that the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment)--TUPE--Regulations would apply and decided to consider only TUPE-based bids. They also failed to provide tenderers with substantive details regarding the possible availability of depot space.
The Government will continue to act against councils whose actions amount to anti-competitive behaviour. We are determined to ensure that obstacles which stand in the way of full and fair competition are removed, so that taxpayers continue to get value for money for quality services.
Mr. George Howarth : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what steps the Government have taken since 1979, following the reduction and elimination of lead in petrol, to measure and record any significant increases in the quality and quantity of pollutants in the gases emitted from motor vehicles ; and if he will publish the findings.
Mr. Atkins [holding answer 19 July 1994] : The Government have established an extensive air quality monitoring network to measure levels of transport-related air pollutants. Results are published in the Department of the Environment's annual "Digest of Environmental Protection and Water Statistics", copies of which have been deposited in the Library of the House.
Mr. George Howarth : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what information the United Kingdom Government have formally supplied upon request from the European Commission as required by article 15.2(c), on the effect on the application of directive 85/210/EEC and the consequent introduction of low-lead--0.15g lead/l--and unleaded petrols into the 12 member states with particular reference to article 6 on the development of concentrations of polluting substitutes for lead in the atmosphere.
Mr. Atkins [holding answer 19 July 1994] : The Government have received no requests from the European Commission for information under these articles.
Mr. Simon Hughes : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans exist to promote greater public awareness of air quality levels in urban areas ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Atkins [holding answer 14 July 1994] : I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave him on 18 July, Official Report, column 44.
20. Mrs. Gillan : To ask the President of the Board of Trade what assessment he has made of the adequacy of the funding provided for space activities through his Department for the exploitation by United Kingdom space industries of markets in telecommunications and earth observation.
Mr. McLoughlin : Funding for space activities, which is kept under constant review, is concentrated on the practical applications of space, and on enabling United Kingdom space industries to secure business advantage in both established markets such as
telecommunications and the emerging markets for earth observation data.
21. Mr. Page : To ask the President of the Board of Trade what communications he has had with trade associations to ensure that they speak with a coherent voice in each industrial sector.
Mr. Heseltine : As I made clear in a speech on 17 June last year, I want to see trade associations that are powerful, effective and influential and which play a significant role in promoting the international competitiveness of their sectors. These views are shared by many industrialists, and I am pleased that trade associations in a number of sectors are now coming together.
22. Mr. Wareing : To ask the President of the Board of Trade when he last met the director of the Office of Fair Trading to discuss the brewing industry.
Mr. Neil Hamilton : My right hon. Friend and I meet the Director General of Fair Trading from time to time to discuss a wide range of competition issues. There have been no specific discussions on brewing recently. However, my officials are in regular and close contact with those at the Office of Fair Trading on this issue.
23. Mr. Stephen : To ask the President of the Board of Trade what assessment has been made by his Department of the likely impact on British industry if the social chapter provisions were adopted.
35. Mr. Bellingham : To ask the President of the Board of Trade what assessment has been made by his Department of the effect on British industry of the adoption of the provisions of the social chapter.
Mr. Sainsbury : The Department of Trade and Industry has made no such assessment but the Department of Employment produced cost estimates last year. I am arranging for these to be sent to my hon. Friend.
24. Mr. Barnes : To ask the President of the Board of Trade when he next plans to meet the chairman of the Post Office to discuss the Green Paper on its future.
Mr. Heseltine : I meet the chairman of the Post Office regularly, but no date has been set for our next meeting.
25. Mr. Timms : To ask the President of the Board of Trade what assessment he has made of the impact of the cut in the post office users council budget on its service to Post Office business users and others.
38. Ms Janet Anderson : To ask the President of the Board of Trade what evaluation his Department has made of the impact of the cut in the post office users council budget on its service to post office domestic customers and others.
Mr. McLoughlin : I am confident the Post Office Users National Council will continue to fulfil its statutory functions to its users.
28. Ms Corston : To ask the President of the Board of Trade what would be the cost of running Post Office Counters as a separate business.
Mr. Heseltine : I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave to the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) earlier today.
37. Mr. Welsh : To ask the President of the Board of Trade what recent representations he has received on the future of rural post offices and sub-post offices ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Heseltine : I have received a number of representations from individuals, companies and consumer organisations on the future of the Post Office. Some of these include views on rural post offices and sub-post offices.
Mr. Cousins : To ask the President of the Board of Trade (1) if he will place in the Library the schedule of variable payments to sub-post offices and other post offices according to the volume of Department of Social Security transactions, together with the total number of transactions within each volume payment band ;
(2) if he will place in the Library a memorandum explaining the internal cross-subsidy system from large-volume to small-volume post office outlets within Post Office Counters Ltd. ; and what changes have been made in that system in the last three years.
Mr. McLoughlin : This information is commercially confidential.
Mr. Hain : To ask the President of the Board of Trade if, as part of his consultation on the Post Office Green Paper, he will place in the Library the 1991 strategic review of Royal Mail delivery and other services.
Mr. Cousins : To ask the President of the Board of Trade what contribution was made to (a) external financing limit targets and (b) overall profits by each Post Office subsidiary over the last three years with an estimate for the current year.
Mr. McLoughlin : The external financing limit is a target which is set for the Post Office Group as a whole. The businesses are not given EFL contribution targets and, therefore, information is not collected or available on this basis.
The profits of the main Post Office businesses over the last three years are as follows :
£ million |1991-92|1992-93|1993-94 ----------------------------------------------------------- Royal Mail |266 |252 |296 Parcelforce |(24) |(13) |(19) Post Office Counters Ltd. |26 |25 |25 Subscription Services Ltd. |7 |8 |6
It is not the Post Office board's policy to publish profit forecasts. The Post Office Group has been set a negative EFL for 1994-95 by the Government of £226 million.
26. Mr. O'Hara : To ask the President of the Board of Trade what plans he has to assist small firms in obtaining long-term finance ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. McLoughlin : The Government firmly believe that finance for all businesses is a commercial matter for the banks and other financial institutions. However, where there are clearly identified gaps in provision, the Government intervene with measures such as the small firms loan guarantee scheme. We will continue to remind the banks and others of the need to provide more long-term finance for small businesses.
27. Mr. Shersby : To ask the President of the Board of Trade what is his policy for promoting trade with China.
Mr. Needham : China, as the world's fastest-growing economy, is a major trade promotion priority for the DTI.