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Lead Shot

11. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): What representations he has received regarding his proposed regulations on the use of lead shot. [85789]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Alan Meale): As of 27 May 1999 my Department has received a total of approximately 400 representations on the proposed regulations on the use of lead shot. My officials are currently analysing the responses.

Mr. Swayne: The Minister will be aware of the diminution of liberty that has arisen over recent years as a consequence of the raft of officials who now have access to our homes. Will he play his part in turning that tide by amending the regulations so that they are enforceable only by properly authorised police officers? Will he also consider removing from the species list the common snipe and the golden plover, and consider whether there are sites of special scientific interest that are not entirely appropriate for the regulations and remove them from the sites list?

Mr. Meale: I thank the hon. Gentleman. I remind him that, for a long time, the Prime Minister has led a better regulation committee. I can confirm that it is the Government's intention that the main enforcing authority for such regulations would be the police. Along with the outcome of the consultations, all the hon. Gentleman's representations, which have been made not only today but previously in writing, will be considered in due course.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Has the Minister met the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds on the matter? If so, what was the outcome?

Mr. Meale: I am currently not at liberty to inform my hon. Friend of the outcome, but I give a commitment to reply to him in writing.

Vacant Dwellings

12. Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire): If he will list the number of vacant dwellings in (a) the public and (b) the private sector. [85790]

The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Ms Hilary Armstrong): Latest estimates, at 1 April 1998, are that there were 100,700 vacant dwellings in the public sector, and 652,500 in the private sector.

Sir Michael Spicer: Why cannot more be done to use existing housing stock, rather than building excessively on green-field land?

Ms Armstrong: The hon. Gentleman has for some time sought to keep a close eye on the matter. As he will have heard, the majority of vacant properties are in the private sector. Most of those properties are vacant for only a short time, while people are seeking to move. However, we are very carefully examining the matter of void properties, as we realise that it is a problem.

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In recent years, however, before the Government were elected, the absolute neglect of council housing was the real problem in public sector housing. The consequence of that neglect has, of course, been a decline in the standard of council housing. The English house condition survey, for the first time since it began, identified a decline in the condition of council housing--which was the result of no investment in, or repairs to, council housing. The Government are tackling that problem, and have provided almost £5 billion to do so. We are determined to get a decent home for everyone.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley): My right hon. Friend will know that Burnley has one the highest percentages of unoccupied private sector properties in the whole of England, and that that is one of the reasons why it has a residual debt problem in housing stock transfers. Is it not crucial that that problem be solved, so that a ballot can be held, and Burnley borough council will be able to tackle the private sector housing problem--which is largely the result of the previous Government's actions?

Ms Armstrong: My hon. Friend tells a story that the previous Administration always refused even to consider, just as they refused to admit the consequences of their actions. The Government are determined that, in every area, we shall be able to ensure a proper housing supply to meet local people's demands and needs. I reassure my hon. Friend that we are actively examining the problem of overhanging debt in transfers, and that we are determined to find a way forward. I only wish that that work could have started much earlier.

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne): I thank the Minister for giving those figures, which she was woefully unable to give recently in Committee. Does she agree with the recent Shelter report, entitled "No excuse not to build", which says that there are very large regional imbalances in housing vacancy rates and concludes that

If she agrees with it, what will she do about it?

Ms Armstrong: The hon. Gentleman needs to consult the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Sir M. Spicer), who was making a very different argument. There is--although it was never admitted before the general election--a highly variable pattern of housing across the United Kingdom. In several parts of the country, there was no attempt to increase economic activity; consequently, there were simply too many houses. The Government are taking action not only on increasing regional economic activity, but on examining the real problem of low housing demand in some parts of the country.

I only wish that that work had begun earlier. We are determined to ensure that houses are used effectively and efficiently, but we must also ensure that each region has the right accommodation to meet the needs of the people who live there so that everyone in the community has a secure, stable home.

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New Deal (Communities)

13. Mr. Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Canning Town): What progress has been made to date in the implementation of the new deal for communities. [85791]

The Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning (Mr. Richard Caborn): Our new deal for communities has given 17 pathfinder partnerships in some of our most deprived neighbourhoods the opportunity to tackle the deep-rooted problems of social exclusion that were left us by the previous Administration. We shall continue to support those community-based partnerships as they develop plans to deliver lasting and sustainable change.

Mr. Fitzpatrick: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. I can confirm the good progress of the pathfinder scheme in the Woodlands estate in West Ham, having discussed the matter with constituents such as Liz Ayres. The London borough of Newham, which is a key partner, is very pleased with the initiative so far. When is the programme likely to be rolled out to other communities?

Mr. Caborn: Of the 17 partnerships, 10 went straight to the first phase of the new deal for communities. They are developing long-term strategies. The other seven were asked to go back and do further work. I hope that we shall be able to make some announcements early next week. From what I have seen, they are all making positive progress. We are considering rolling out a further programme, possibly later this year.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): Has the Minister looked at councils such as Weymouth, which was Labour- controlled until the party lost control at the local elections? The Government have consistently denied funds to areas such as Weymouth, although we have social problems as well, whereas the inner cities get additional central Government funds even though they do not spend up to their standard spending assessment. Surely that is unfair and very stupid, particularly as Labour is losing seats in all the local councils in the south-west and would have lost every seat in the south-west if there had been a general election last Thursday.

Mr. Caborn: Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman distracted attention from the main point of his question about Weymouth, to which he did not do justice. We are dealing with sustainable regeneration by looking at all the pots of money that are available, including the new deal for communities and the single regeneration budget, which was 20 per cent. top-sliced to ensure that it could be targeted on areas outside the inner cities such as the coalfield communities, rural communities and some coastal towns which are suffering genuine deprivation.

The previous Administration left that situation for us to tackle. We are tackling it systematically--[Interruption.] Would the hon. Gentleman like me to answer the question? Each region is introducing strategies to deal with regeneration sustainably.

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Railway Station Parking

15. Mr. David Lock (Wyre Forest): If he will take steps to encourage the provision of free car parking at railway stations. [85793]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Ms Glenda Jackson): Charges for car parking at railway stations are a matter for Railtrack and the train operating companies. However, we encourage Railtrack and the train operating companies to provide facilities at their stations to allow safe and easy access for all passengers.

Mr. Lock: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Does she agree that car parking charges imposed by train operating companies have an effect on the residents of adjoining streets? Those charges can generate considerable revenue, which the train operating companies should invest in facilities for travellers and those affected by their policies rather than simply treating travellers as a captive audience for generating money to go straight on to their bottom line.

Ms Jackson: Car parking standards and charges are not covered in current franchise agreements but we are clear that good interchange has a vital role to play in improving public transport. Our integrated transport White Paper made clear its importance for promoting integrated transport and minimising disruption and inconvenience to users. In preparing their transport plans, local authorities undertake an interchange audit to assess such facilities.

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