Previous Section Index Home Page

Council Housing and Tax

Mr. John Marshall: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will list the levels of (a) uncollected rents from council properties, (b) uncollected council tax, (c) uncollected community charge, and (d) empty council homes in each London borough. [14693]

Sir Paul Beresford: The latest available information is as follows:

12 Feb 1997 : Column: 183

Rent arrears at 31 March 1995Percentage of rent rollArrears outstanding at 31 March 1995 for:Empty council homes atPercentage of dwellings
Council taxCommunity charge1 April 1995
City of London2564.2(1)--(1)--241.1
Hammersmith and Fulham6,55315.16,7527,1863432.1
Kensington and Chelsea2,3519.44,6725,0831081.4
Tower Hamlets3,9875.54,1565,4371,5624.2
Barking and Dagenham9422.01,4401,5584271.6
Kingston upon Thames5073.0(1)--(1)--971.7
Richmond upon Thames1,0625.51,8874,0562463.2
Waltham Forest2,4046.68,13416,6564652.9

(1) No information was published by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy for these authorities.

12 Feb 1997 : Column: 185

12 Feb 1997 : Column: 185

Itinerants and Trespassers

Mr. David Nicholson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the implementation of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 in cases involving itinerants and (a) Wealden district council, (b) Lincolnshire county council and (c) Wolverhampton borough; and what measures he proposes to make provisions in respect of itinerants and trespassers more effective. [15096]

Mr. Robert B. Jones: Sections 77 to 79 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order 1994 give local authorities powers to evict unauthorised campers. The High Court quashed an eviction order by Wealden district council in 1995 because the local authority had failed first to make inquiries about the campers' housing and social needs. The court allowed Lincolnshire county council's eviction order to stand because the authority had made sufficient inquiries. In the Wolverhampton borough council case, the judge said that the 1994 Act powers were intended to offer a "robust and speedy" means of eviction, although local authorities should give careful consideration before exercising them. I believe that local authorities which use the powers responsibly; and in accordance with advice in my Department's circular 18/94, "Gipsy Sites Policy and Unauthorised Camping", should be able to evict successfully when it is in the public interest to do so. The Government have no plans to amend the legislation, but have commissioned research to establish good practice.

Local Government Reorganisation

Mr. David Nicholson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will state his reasons and the precedents for top-slicing the costs of specific local government reorganisation from the general grant available to local authorities. [15011]

Sir Paul Beresford: The reorganisation transitional damping grant scheme for 1997-98 will damp those council tax increases directly attributable to reorganisation that come above a threshold of £52 at band D. Such increases are not the result of the reorganised authorities' spending decisions. They occur where the pattern of spend in the past has not followed the standard spending assessment. The scheme is transitional and will protect council tax payers from increases above the threshold while the reorganised authorities adapt to their new circumstances.

A similar scheme operated in 1996-97 and was also funded through a top-slice of revenue support grant. Since 1994-95, we have also paid SSA reduction grant to authorities whose SSA has been reduced by more than a certain threshold as a result of changes in the SSA methodology. The funds for this have been top-sliced from RSG each year.

12 Feb 1997 : Column: 186

We consulted on the 1997-98 reorganisation transitional damping scheme as part of the consultation on the 1997-98 provisional local government finance settlement. We took all representations into account before taking our final decisions.

Freedom of Information

Mr. Meacher: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what considerations underpinned his policy as set out at paragraph 14 of the Government's response, to the House of Lords Select Committee report on freedom of access to information on the environment of 5 February, that the Government do not accept that information in a draft document should be withheld only if harm would result from its exposure. [15458]

Mr. Gummer: It is reasonable that access to information, in a draft document or another form, should wait completion of work so that analysis and interpretation can proceed unhindered. This is provided for in paragraph 4(d) of the Environmental Information Regulations 1992, and elaborated in paragraph 53 of the guidance.

Elderly People (Winter Assistance)

Mr. Steen: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what measures he has taken to help the elderly during the winter months in each of the last three years; and at what cost. [15389]

Mr. Robert B. Jones: Our home energy efficiency scheme helps householders who are aged 60 or over, or who receive income-related benefits or certain disability allowances, to keep their homes more comfortable and energy efficient by providing grants for basic home insulation and energy advice. The following amounts in grant have been paid to householders claiming on grounds of age in each of the last three years:

In addition, we are providing funding for various energy saving trust programmes which may benefit elderly people. These include their pilot pensioners' energy plan to demonstrate how local authorities and private finance providers in partnership can help pensioners to make energy efficient improvements to their homes; the cavity wall insulation programme and the heating controls cash-back scheme. We are providing around £7 million for these programmes.


Sir Anthony Durant: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he has received preliminary reports from British Waterways and the Environment Agency

12 Feb 1997 : Column: 187

examining individual waterways in response to the Government's conclusions to the review of British Waterways and agency navigation functions; and if he will make a statement. [15832]

Mr. Robert B. Jones: British Waterways and the Environment Agency have submitted a joint report following a series of regional reviews of the river navigations under their control. I have placed a copy of their report in the Library.

In the light of the regional reviews, BW and EA recommended further detailed studies. I have accordingly accepted the suggestion that BW and the agency undertake a detailed review of the division of responsibilities on the River Weaver. I have also invited BW to carry out a three-month study, in consultation with the agency, of the Great Ouse and the Nene to examine what it could do if it managed the navigation aspects of these two rivers. This study should cover, among other things, costs and benefits, environmental impacts and the views of all interested parties on such an arrangement.

The report concludes that relationships between the two organisations are good and that BW and the agency are already working well together in many areas. The reviews have identified a number of steps that can be taken to improve this collaboration further. I endorse the organisations' efforts to identify efficiency gains, ways of working more effectively and means of providing service improvements.

At the third annual inland navigation seminar on 4 December 1996, BW and the agency, together with the Broads Authority, created the Association of Inland Navigation Authorities. I support this initiative and look forward to it making a positive contribution across the range of navigation policy issues. I hope that BW and the EA will progress jointly their ideas to develop a national navigation strategy in consultation with the new association and the Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council.

Next Section Index Home Page