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Leasehold Reform

Dr. Goodson-Wickes: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what figures are collated in respect of tenants receiving their leasehold enfranchisement rights under the Leasehold Reform Housing and Urban Development Act 1993. [7016]

Mr. Clappison: The Government do not collate figures on how many leaseholders have exercised the right to buy the freehold of their homes, as the transactions are private. The number of cases coming before leasehold valuation tribunals, where the parties cannot agree terms, is monitored. Fifty-eight such cases, coming within the terms of the 1993 Act provisions for collective enfranchisement, have been determined.

Channel Tunnel

Mr. Meacher: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans he has to collaborate with his French counterpart in conducting a health, safety and environmental assessment of the channel tunnel with particular reference to assessing the suitability of the transport of flammable toxic materials. [7020]

Sir Paul Beresford: I have no plans to carry out an assessment related to flammable toxic goods. Substances subject to two or more danger labels are not authorised for carriage through the fixed link. Goods classed as flammable and toxic under international agreements are subject to two danger labels, and are therefore not permitted.

Environmental Reform

Mr. Meacher: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on his policy

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towards the proposals on environmental reform in the European Union contained in the note prepared by the Irish presidency for the intergovernmental conference (CONF./3958/96), dated 22 October. [7036]

Mr. Clappison: The proposals on the environment put forward by the Irish presidency are being carefully considered by the Government, along with those put forward by other member states.

Regulation Breaches

Mr. Meacher: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment how many article 169 letters, under the Maastricht treaty, Her Majesty's Government have received in respect of alleged breaches of European Union environment regulations since 1992; and if he will make a statement on the current outstanding article 169 environmental cases. [7034]

Mr. Clappison: Since 1992 my Department has received letters commencing proceedings under article 169 of the treaty of Rome in 29 cases in respect of environmental legislation. Twenty-one cases are currently outstanding.

Ministerial Responsibilities

Mr. Touhig: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what initiatives have been proposed by the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) since he was appointed Minister with special responsibilities for Bristol; and if he will make a statement. [7228]

Sir Paul Beresford: The primary role of sponsor Ministers is to promote regeneration and to act as a channel for communicating the local concerns of the city to Government Departments, rather than to promote new initiatives.

Wind Farms

Mr. Maclennan: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans he has to review the planning policy guidelines on the development of wind farms; and if he will make a statement. [7217]

Sir Paul Beresford: The relevant guidance is contained in planning policy guidance note 22, "Renewable Energy". The Government have no immediate plans to revise that document.

Plant and Machinery Advisory Committee

Mr. Duncan Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he has selected the chairman and membership of the Advisory Committee on the Rating of Plant and Machinery in Prescribed Industries; and if he will make a statement. [7798]

Mr. Curry: My Department received 37 applications for positions on the Advisory Committee on the Rating of Plant and Machinery in Prescribed Industries. Derek Wood, CBE QC, was selected to serve as chairman of the committee. The following were selected as members:

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I expect the committee to report to me by the end of September 1997.

Local Government Reorganisation (Southport)

Mr. Elletson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when he plans to direct the Local Government Commission to review local government arrangements in Southport. [7930]

Mr. Curry: I have today issued a direction to the Local Government Commission for England for it to carry out a review of local government arrangements in the metropolitan borough of Sefton. The commission should submit its final report to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State by 25 November 1997. The direction requires the commission to have regard to policy and procedure guidance on the conduct of the review. My Department is also issuing, jointly with the commission, a statement setting out local government arrangements which we consider that the commission could recommend under the law, given the geographical scope of the direction.

We have previously said that, following the end of the structure reviews in England, we would need to be convinced that there was a strong and widespread demand before directing more reviews. It is clear that there is that pressure in Sefton, especially in Southport.

I am depositing copies of the direction, the guidance and the joint statement in the Library.


Police (Pensions)

Mr. Michael: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what estimate he has made of the cost to police authorities in England and Wales in (a) 1996-97 and (b) 1997-98 of (i) police officers' pensions and (ii) contributions to the local government pension scheme. [7240]

Mr. Maclean: The net cost of police officers' pensions is an estimated £793 million in 1996-97 and £830 million in 1997-98. No estimate has been made specifically of the cost to police authorities of contributions to the local government superannuation scheme.


EU Economic and Finance Council

Mr. Matthew Banks: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on the recent Council meeting of the Economic and Finance Ministers of the European Union. [7892]

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Mr. Kenneth Clarke: I represented the UK at the Economic and Finance Council--ECOFIN--of the European Union in Brussels on 2 December.

The Council considered a report on progress towards economic and monetary union which is to be presented to the European Council meeting taking place in Dublin later this month. I made a statement to the House on the ECOFIN discussions on this report yesterday.

The Council discussed new guarantee arrangements for the European investment bank's lending and new regional lending mandates. Agreement was not reached, so the issue will be discussed again at ECOFIN on 12 December.

Commissioner Gradin presented the report of the high-level group which has been looking at sound and efficient management 2000--the Commission's programme of financial management reforms. The Council agreed conclusions on the report.

The Council took note of a joint ECOFIN and Social Affairs Council report on employment and agreed to present it to the European Council in Dublin.

The Council discussed extending the period during which Denmark, Finland and Sweden can restrict personal imports of alcoholic drinks and tobacco. Agreement was reached on an extension, subject to parliamentary scrutiny reserves put down by myself and France.

The Council agreed to maintain the existing minimum rate of VAT of 15 per cent. throughout the Community, again subject to a UK parliamentary scrutiny reserve.

The Netherlands outlined the priorities for the ECOFIN Council during the first six months of 1997, when it will hold the presidency of the European Union.

European Monetary Union

Mr. MacShane: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what assessment he has made of recent reports by the (a) European Commission and (b) European Monetary Institute in respect of the United Kingdom's eligibility for entry into the European monetary union. [3902]

Mr. Kenneth Clarke: Recent Commission and EMI reports show a majority of member states, including the UK, not currently meeting the convergence criteria. This makes it clear that European single currency will not start in 1997. Beyond that, the reports have no implications for eligibility of the UK or any other member states for entry into EMU. Interpretation of all the criteria will be for Heads of Government to decide, when the decision is made on which countries have met the necessary conditions to adopt the single currency on the basis of performance against the criteria in calendar year 1997. This decision will be made in 1998 at the earliest.

Mr. Austin Mitchell: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to what extent the United Kingdom currently meets the Maastricht convergence criteria; and if he will forecast United Kingdom performance in respect of each of these criteria for 1 January 1998. [4749]

Mr. Clarke: Updated economic forecasts were published in the "Financial Statement and Budget Report" of 26 November 1996.

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Mr. Mitchell: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what is Her Majesty's Government's policy in respect of fulfilment of the Maastricht convergence criteria. [4750]

Mr. Clarke: The Maastricht convergence criteria represent sound economics, whether or not we join EMU. They are fully consistent with the Government's economic policy of achieving permanently low inflation and sound public finance.

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