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Cycle Paths

Mr. Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what is the Government's policy in respect of the use of cycle paths by invalid scooters. [75104]

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Ms Glenda Jackson: Cycle tracks and mandatory cycle lanes are not generally available to invalid carriages, although advisory cycle lanes can by used. Local authorities can permit the use of Class 3 invalid carriages (those capable of a maximum speed of 4 mph on the footway and 8 mph on the carriageway) on mandatory cycle lanes.

Genetically Modified Crops

Mr. Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions how crops grown in genetically modified crop trials are disposed of where the subsequent foods or food ingredients do not meet the requirements that would allow them to enter the food chain. [75112]

Mr. Meacher: The method of disposal is specified in each consent to release genetically modified crops. Methods for disposal include landfill, incineration, or autoclave. In addition to these methods, non-regenerative material may be disposed of by maceration or chemical treatment at the trial site and subsequent incorporation into the soil at the trial site.

Business Rates

Mr. Laurence Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what powers are available to local authorities to encourage businesses to move to their areas through the waiving or reduction of business rates; and if he will make a statement. [75008]

Ms Armstrong: Local authorities do not have the power to waive or reduce business rates to attract businesses to their areas. However, we have proposed in the White Paper "Modern Local Government: In Touch with the People" (July 1998) a measure of local discretion over the business rate, which would allow an authority to grant a rebate to all of its ratepayers, though the cost of that rebate would have to be met by the authority. We shall shortly be issuing a public consultation paper on the details of implementing the White Paper proposals on rates.

Local Government Reform

Mr. Laurence Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions when he expects to make changes to the function and composition of local councils. [75075]

Mr. Raynsford: Our plans for the modernisation of local government are set out in the White Paper "Modern Local Government: In Touch with the People" published in July 1998. This is a programme for change stretching for ten years or more. The Local Government Bill (which provides for the replacement of Compulsory Competitive Tendering with the new duty to achieve best value in providing local services, and also abolishes crude and universal capping) completed its Committee stage in the House of Commons on 25 February. Our proposals to transform the political management and ethical framework of councils will be published soon in a draft Bill, and other measures will follow.

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Local Authority Housing

Dr. Starkey: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will announce the results of the consultation exercise on the proposed incentive for local authorities to buy back ex-council flats and houses. [75707]

Ms Armstrong: Around 200,000 people in England have bought a council flat, mainly under the Right to Buy. Research shows that the great majority consider it good value for money. But some, especially in system-built flats, cannot afford the costs of maintenance. Some cannot re-sell their home--either because they cannot find a buyer, or because mortgage lenders refuse to give a loan.

The Government already provide financial help to councils to reduce high repair bills in flats. But some people--including some older people on low incomes--can no longer cope with the cost and strain of home ownership. Local authorities have powers to buy back housing, but their resources are limited, and they have other pressures. Last July we published a consultation paper offering to cover 25 per cent. of councils' costs.

Many respondents were concerned that the incentive offered was too small. We have therefore increased it to 35 per cent. of all costs incurred by a council above a threshold of £50,000 per council per year. This will target help on those areas with the greatest problems. We have also extended it in other ways--for example, to cover homes already bought back during 1998-99, and to include former New Town housing.

In addition to this incentive, when a council buys back a property it regains a capital asset which, sooner or later, it can re-let. It also reduces the costs of managing its leasehold property including, for example, trying to recover arrears of service charges. And in some cases, such as buying from an elderly or vulnerable person in arrears, the council will be helping someone whom it might otherwise have to re-house.

Local authorities are best placed to decide who needs their help. They will be free to decide whom to assist and on what terms. there are just two restrictions: the incentive only applies where they are buying from an individual, and where they are not using compulsory purchase powers. This limits the incentive to cases there occupants wish to sell their home.

We have today laid an Order before Parliament amending regulation 104 of the Local Authorities (Capital Finance) Regulations 1997. Subject to Parliamentary approval, this will come into force on 1 April and councils will then be able to use the financial incentive. A copy of the consultation paper, and a list of the responses, is in the Library of the House, and copies of the responses are available in the Library of the Department.


Minister for Science

Mr. Redwood: To ask the Prime Minister what instructions he has issued relating to the Minister for Science's attendance at, or participation in, meetings where genetically modified foods and crops are discussed. [73026]

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The Prime Minister: It has not been necessary to issue any such instructions.

At all times the Minister for Science has acted in accordance with the rules set out in the Ministerial Code and the statement he made at the time he became a Minister.

Train Operating Companies

Mr. Hayes: To ask the Prime Minister, pursuant to his oral answer of 24 February 1999, Official Report, column 383, what criteria he uses to evaluate the (a) quality of service and (b) customer satisfaction provided by train operating companies. [74153]

The Prime Minister [holding answer 2 March 1999]: Quality and customer satisfaction are currently measured against benchmarks in passengers' Charters and franchise agreements. As I made clear at the Rail Summit on 25 February, this Government are committed to improving the quality of rail services, and believes that transport generally is as important as schools and hospitals.

The Summit demonstrated our determination to improve rail services. Sir Alastair Morton, as the new Chairman of the British Railways Board and prospective Chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority, will have a key role in raising standards and boosting investment. We also made clear that we need better measurements of quality and customer satisfaction.

Single Currency

Mr. Maclean: To ask the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on procedures for (a) democratic accountability and (b) official representations on economic management permitted from (i) national Governments and (ii) parliamentarians from countries within the euro zone, concerning management of the single currency; and what analysis he has made of such in determining whether the United Kingdom should join EMU. [74446]

The Prime Minister: Article 109b(3) of the Maastricht Treaty contains several provisions designed to balance the necessary independence of the European Central Bank with the need for democratic accountability. The Government believe that accountability and transparency in their policy-making will be key to ensuring that the European Central Bank gains the trust of the European public and financial markets. Ultimately, it will help to provide the credibility needed to deliver a more effective monetary policy.


Mr. Hayes: To ask the Prime Minister what estimate he has made of total costs to (a) public services and (b) government departments of preparations for transition to the euro; and if he will make a statement. [74499]

The Prime Minister: I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave to the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) on 1 March 1999, Official Report, column 529.


Mr. Cohen: To ask the Prime Minister what arrangements are being proposed to guard against

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institutional racism in the public sector as a whole, with particular reference to new tests, guidelines and monitoring arrangements; and if he will make a statement. [75136]

The Prime Minister: The Government have accepted the definition of institutional racism set out in the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report and have welcomed the Report's recommendations. A detailed response and action plan will be laid before the House in time for the debate on the Report.

As my right hon. Friend made clear in his statement to the House on 24 February 1999, Official Report, columns 389-403, the Report is a challenge to all public services and the Government are committed to a comprehensive agenda to improve race relations which will set out over the coming months. This will include extending the Race Relations Act 1976 to cover public services.

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