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Somerset Levels (Water Management)

Mr. Dafis: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what advice he has given to the Environment Agency concerning the implications for the management of water levels on the Somerset Levels of (a) the EU Birds Directive, (b) the EU Habitats Directive, (c) the Water Resources Act 1991 and (d) the Land Drainage Acts. [63394]

Mr. Morley: I have been asked to reply.

The Environment Agency is the principal flood defence operating authority and, in exercising those functions, is subject to the conservation duties placed on it by sections 7 and 8 of the Environment Act 1995. The Agency is required to have regard to the Habitats and Birds Directives in exercising its functions, as it is a "competent authority" under the terms of the Habitats Directive. It is also required to make an appropriate assessment of the impact before approving any plans or projects which, on their own or in combination with other plans or projects, may affect a European site. The Ministry and Welsh Office have issued a Code of Practice on Environmental Procedures for Flood Defence Operating Authorities which includes specific guidance on the responsibilities of the Agency and the other operating authorities under the Habitats and Birds Directives.

The Ministry and Welsh Office have also issued guidance to the Environment Agency and other flood defence operating authorities on the production of Water Level Management Plans. The plans provide a means by which the range of activities in a particular area, including agriculture, flood defence and conservation can be balanced and integrated. We have encouraged preparation of such plans with highest priority being given to internationally important sites, including those designated under the EU Habitats and Birds Directives. Water Level Management Plans are in preparation on the Somerset Levels, with the majority being produced by internal drainage boards, as the relevant operating authority.


Road and Parking Charges

Mr. Baker: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what percentage of the money raised through (a) road pricing and (b) workplace charging will be hypothecated for public transport improvements. [63639]

Ms Hewitt: The Government propose (as laid out in the recently published consultation document--"Breaking the Logjam") that local authorities which bring forward pilot road user charging or workplace parking charge schemes

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should be able to retain 100 per cent. of the net revenue generated for at least 10 years from the implementation of a scheme--provided that there are worthwhile transport- related projects to be funded.

The Government will make an announcement about the retention of proceeds from schemes brought forward after the pilot phase in due course.

Tax Credits (Abolition)

Mr. Malcolm Bruce: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer which Minister is currently responsible for reviewing the policy of abolishing tax credits for non-taxpayers; and if he will make a statement. [64197]

Mr. Gordon Brown: I refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave him on 14 December 1998, Official Report, column 346.

Single Currency

Mr. Gibb: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he will publish the changeover plans regarding preparations for British entry into the single currency. [63865]

Ms Hewitt [holding answer 14 December 1998]: The outline changeover plan should be published early in 1999.

VAT (Golf Clubs)

Mr. Paul Marsden: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what plans he has to harmonise the VAT exemption for proprietary and private golf clubs. [62605]

Dawn Primarolo: The Government understand the problems of both types of golf club and have arranged for HM Customs and Excise to discuss these with the European Commission, in the light of the recent European Court of Justice ruling in Commission of the European Communities vs. the Kingdom of Spain (Case C-124/96, Judgment of the Court, Sixth Chamber, of 7 May 1998).

Ethnic Monitoring

Mr. McDonnell: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on the inclusion of the Irish as an ethnic category in the next census. [63868]

Ms Hewitt: The Government's proposals for the 2001 Census, including the topics to be covered and details of the ethnic question, will be published in a White Paper early next year.


Challenger 2 Tanks

Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the new transporters for Challenger 2 tanks. [64276]

Mr. Spellar: The MOD will shortly issue an invitation to four consortia to negotiate for a private-sector financed solution to the Army's heavy equipment transporter requirement, with the aim that the service is provide from 2002. This is the first programme to invite solutions to invite solutions for an operational combat support vehicle

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through the Private Finance Initiative. The consortia are also being invited to explore options for the employment of Sponsored Reserves to deliver the service. A decision on the way forward is expected in early 2000, with a contract let later that year following final negotiations with the preferred bidder.

Queen Victoria School

Miss Begg: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what the key targets are for 1998-99 for the Chief Executive of Queen Victoria School. [64271]

Mr. Doug Henderson: The Chief Executive of Queen Victoria School has been set the following Key Targets for 1998-1999.

Duke of York's Royal Military School

Mr. Prosser: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what are the key targets for 1998-99 for the Chief Executive of the Duke of York's Royal Military School. [64273]

Mr. Doug Henderson: The Chief Executive of The Duke of York's Royal Military School has been set the following Key Targets for 1998-99.

Nuclear Weapons

Mr. Llew Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will publish in the Official Report the text of the letter dated 30 November from the Minister of State for the Armed Forces to his hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) concerning nuclear, chemical and biological weapons in the former Soviet Union. [63900]

Mr. Doug Henderson: Following is the text of the letter to which I understand my hon. Friend refers.

15 Dec 1998 : Column: 444

Letter from the Secretary of State for Defence to Mr. Alan Simpson, dated 30 November 1998:

    You asked first about the percentage of computer chips purchased "off the shelf" from suppliers. The Trident Strategic Weapon System was procured "off the shelf" from the US Government under the provisions of the Polaris Sales Agreement as amended for Trident. It is not, therefore, possible to provide the level of detail called for in the question. However the US has a programme of work to provide certification of Year 2000 compliance for all items associated with the system procured by the UK

    As far as your question about audits and action plans on millennium compliance is concerned, I can tell you that a comprehensive audit of the deterrent is being conducted by a dedicated Deterrent Millennium Task Group. At the top level this includes areas such as the missile and warhead, fire control, navigation, targeting, firing chain, reactor and propulsion control, sonar, command and control and all associated shore based facilities. Each of these areas is further sub-divided into many hundreds of smaller sub-systems, each of which is being investigated. Extensive tests are being conducted on all equipment associated with the Trident Weapon System and its supporting infrastructure to confirm that it will not be affected by any key dates before, during and after the turn of the century. A programme of trials is in place to provide further verification. I trust this also addresses your question about systems identified as being critical to the safe and continuous operation of the Trident system. It would not be in the national interest to disclose the details of our audits and investigations as this would reveal information which could compromise the effectiveness of the UK's strategic deterrent. I am therefore withholding this information under exemption 1, Defence, security and International relations, of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information.

    As far as our discussions with the US are concerned, we are working extremely closely to ensure that common equipment critical to each nation's defence capability, including Trident, are millennium compliant. In addition to the regular, frequent meetings on the wider Year 2000 problem, regular meetings are held with the US under the provisions of the Polaris Sales Agreement with Year 2000 compliance one of the items on the agenda: The most recent such meeting was on 10 November. The US programme I have already mentioned has a forecast date for completion of 31 December this year.

    You also asked about planned expenditure to ensure millennium compliance of the Trident systems. There is no separately identified central record of planned millennium compliance expenditure specifically related to the Trident system. I would, however, refer you to the answer given by Margaret Beckett to Maria Eagle on 21 October in which she announced the results of the latest quarterly review of Government departments and agencies progress in tackling the bug. The results of the next quarterly review will be announced shortly to the House and the updates to quarterly plans will be placed in the Library of the House and on the internet.

    Finally, there is no central record of the number of staff dedicated to ensuring the Trident systems's millennium compliance which you also requested. However, staff in relevant appointments are working to ensure the status of all systems is identified and that action plans are in place where required.

    I am copying this letter to Llew Smith to whom I also undertook to write in respect of his question on the issue of millennium compliance of nuclear systems.

    I hope this is helpful.

    I am placing a copy of this letter in the Library of the House.

15 Dec 1998 : Column: 445

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