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Tourism (North-West)

Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what plans he has to increase financing to the North West Tourist Board. [68471]

Janet Anderson: On 14 December 1998, Official Report, column 352, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced the main decisions following the Departmental Spending Review. For tourism within England, these include a transformed national tourism body and more resources for the support of tourism in the regions.

A team and advisory group have been set up to oversee implementation of these new arrangements. They are considering the remit and structure of the body, the funding mechanisms for tourism support and the implications for Regional Tourist Boards.

PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL

House of Lords

Mr. Borrow: To ask the President of the Council what representations she has received on the progress which has been made on reform of the House of Lords. [66798]

Mrs. Beckett: The publication of the Bill to remove the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote and the Government's White Paper on longer-term reform has been widely welcomed.

ENVIRONMENT, TRANSPORT AND THE REGIONS

Speed Limits

Mr. Swayne: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what plans he has to extend the powers of local government to impose lower speed limits; and if he will make a statement. [66710]

Ms Glenda Jackson: Local Highway Authorities already have the power to set speed limits of more than 30 mph within the national speed limit without the need to obtain the consent of the Secretary of State. We shall be introducing legislation shortly aimed at allowing local highway authorities to introduce 20 mph speed limits without have to obtain consent. We will be issuing guidance to local highway authorities on the need for such limits to be combined with road engineering methods to ensure compliance.

Planning Inspectors

Mr. Vaz: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions how many planning inspectors were in post on 1 January (a) 1997, (b) 1998 and (c) 1999. [67881]

1 Feb 1999 : Column: 462

Mr. Raynsford: The provision of information on the numbers of planning Inspectors is a matter for the Planning Inspectorate. I have therefore asked the Inspectorate's Chief Executive, Mr. Chris Shepley, to write to my hon. Friend.

Letter from Martin Brasher to Mr. Keith Vaz, dated 29 January 1999:



    The attached table sets out the information you require. A further recruitment programme is nearly complete.

Planning Inspectors--in post

DateFull-time salaried InspectorsPart-time salaried InspectorsFee-paid Inspectors
1 January 199721714201
1 January 199822412188
1 January 199920945135

Canals

Mr. Todd: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what steps are being taken (a) to preserve canals and (b) to increase the use of canals for (i) leisure and (ii) commerce. [67916]

Mr. Meale: The Government value the social, economic and environmental benefits that inland waterways can bring and are keen to maximise the full potential of the canal network. We believe the waterways are a substantial asset and have an important role in a number of areas such as leisure and tourism, heritage, amenity, conservation, regeneration and transport.

We have provided financial help to a range of canal restoration projects through the Single Regeneration Budget Challenge Fund, Land Reclamation Programme grant and the Environmental Action Fund. Projects are also eligible for funding from the various Lottery distribution boards, from local authorities and from Europe. The Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council's report on their prioritisation of restoration projects will help to ensure that available funding is more effectively targeted.

The Government-sponsored British Tourist Authority (BTA) is actively promoting the waterways of Britain and Ireland. The campaign, involving partnerships with the main waterway industry operators, local authorities and National Tourist Boards, is promoted through most of BTA's overseas offices. BTA's brochure 'Waterways Britain and Ireland' presents waterway travel as an alternative, sustainable way of touring the British Isles.

The day-to-day management and operation of the inland waterway network rests with British Waterways, the Environment Agency, the Broads Authority and a range of other public and private bodies. The three main navigation authorities work closely with BTA, regional and national tourist boards and with the private sector to promote leisure and tourism opportunities on their respective waterways.

1 Feb 1999 : Column: 463

The Association of Inland Navigation Authorities, which represents around 30 authorities, is finalising a strategy for the inland navigations of the United Kingdom. This will include objectives for the navigation authorities to meet in relation to developing leisure, tourism and commercial opportunities on the waterways network.

The Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council is undertaking a report to demonstrate ways in which the waterways in West Yorkshire can be developed for leisure, tourism and community use.

The Government are keen to encourage the greater use of inland waterways for carrying freight where this is a practical and economic option. We currently give Freight Facilities Grant for inland waterways schemes where freight would otherwise have gone by road. The Department will be re-examining the rules of the scheme to try to encourage more applications for inland waterways.

In addition, the Department is working to update planning guidance on transport which will encourage more freight to be carried by water. Local authorities in their development plans will be expected to consider opportunities for new developments which are served by waterways; and to give better protection to sites and routes, both existing and potential, which could be critical in developing infrastructure to widen transport choices, including water transport.

We intend to publish in the next few months the Transport White Paper daughter document on inland waterways policy, the aim of which will be to raise the profile of the waterways and increase their potential.

Asbestos

Mr. Cox: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will make a statement on the Government's policy with regard to the banning of the use of asbestos in the United Kingdom. [67986]

Mr. Meale: The Government are firmly committed to finding both a national and a Europe-wide solution to the problem of asbestos, which must be based on sound science. The European Commission's draft proposals for further restrictions on the marketing and use of white asbestos within the EU are likely to be voted on by Member States in March 1999. I expect to receive the Health and Safety Commission's recommendation on a British ban at around the same time, following its recent consultation exercise.

Railtrack (Signal Wiring Safety)

Mrs. Dunwoody: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what assessment he has made of the level of checks carried out by Railtrack on signal wiring. [68057]

Ms Glenda Jackson: The Health and Safety Executive have advised me that they are satisfied with Railtrack's strategies for achieving the safety of their signalling systems, including the management of any problems.

Mrs. Dunwoody: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will list the allocation of investment by Railtrack in signal wiring for the next three years; what action the Railway Inspectorate

1 Feb 1999 : Column: 464

is taking to ascertain the safety of the existing system; and what actions have been undertaken to replace faulty signal wiring this year. [68054]

Ms Glenda Jackson: It is Railtrack's responsibility to ensure the safety of its railway infrastructure and to allocate the resources needed to achieve this. Railtrack's investment plans, including forecast expenditure on signalling, are set out in its Network Management Statement (NMS) which was published last Spring. The new NMS is to be published in March.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have advised me that they are satisfied with Railtrack's strategies for achieving the safety of their signalling systems, including the management of any problems.

In the light of recent allegations, the Railway Inspectorate has asked Railtrack for an update of its programme for dealing with a specific wiring degradation problem. Railtrack has already assured HSE that the special arrangements in force at relevant locations are adequate to ensure safety and will not prevent the completion of other work necessary for safe operation. HSE intends to inspect sample locations of its choosing to provide independent, external verification that appropriate systems and working methods remain in place to control risks.

The replacement of signal wiring is an operational matter for Railtrack.


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