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Renovation Grants

Mr. Cohen: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what proposals he has to increase renovation grants for (a) improving the quality of housing in the private sector and (b) helping owner-occupiers on low incomes; and if he will make a statement. [94796]

Mr. Mullin: Local authorities are responsible for paying renovation grants to help owner-occupiers on low incomes improve their homes and are funded from within the local authorities' housing capital programme, partly from subsidy allocated by central Government and partly from authorities' own resources. Decisions on the size of their renovation grant programme are taken by authorities in the light of their housing strategy and the housing needs of the different forms of tenure. From April next year, there will no longer be a separate ring-fenced allocation to support renovation grant expenditure. The resources will, instead, be included in a new single capital allocation for housing. This will give local authorities more freedom to decide the balance between investment in their own housing stock and in private sector renewal. Next year, local authorities will be allocated an additional £30 million for capital investment in housing, which is part of the additional £5 billion being made available over the life of this Parliament.

Minicabs

Mr. Dismore: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will extend section 37 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 to cover minicabs, with particular reference to the problems of sight-impaired people with guide dogs. [94865]

Mr. Hill: Such a change would require primary legislation and at this stage we have no plans to introduce any amendment in respect of private hire vehicles (PHVs).

Having said that, there is a power available to licensing authorities outside London under Section 51(2) of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976

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enabling them to attach such conditions to the grant of a PHV driver's licence as they consider reasonably necessary. Bearing in mind that this power is subject to an appeals procedure, it would be up to individual councils in their capacity as licensing authorities to consider whether it could, or should, be applied in respect of guide dogs.

With regard to the situation in London, I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave on 25 October, Official Report, column 669.

Railway Policing

Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what proposals he has to enhance railway security and policing, with special reference to assaults on railway staff. [95171]

Mr. Hill: The Government expects all public transport operators to adopt the crime prevention strategies in our guidance "Personal Security on Public Transport--Guidelines for Operators". This includes measures such as CCTV, improved lighting and the availability of trained staff.

My Department has launched the Secure Stations scheme, with the British Transport Police (BTP) and Crime Concern, to encourage railway companies to work with the BTP to improve security and reduce the fear of crime. Stations can apply to become accredited as "Secure Stations" by meeting agreed standards on crime prevention measures. 21 stations have so far been independently awarded "Secure Station" status.

Assaults on railway staff are a growing problem and the Health and Safety Commission's Railway Industry Advisory Committee (RIAC) organised a conference in July to discuss what could be done to address this matter. The conference was attended by representatives of the Health and Safety Executive, Railtrack, the BTP and the train operating companies. It was agreed that RIAC should develop guidance setting out good practice to

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assist railway managers with developing action plans to combat the problem. RIAC are now developing these proposals.

Parish and Town Councils

Mr. Collins: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what plans he has for the future of parish and town councils. [95329]

Ms Beverley Hughes: As stated in our White Paper "Modern Local Government--In Touch with the People" (Cm 4014)


In our forthcoming Rural White Paper we intend to address further how we see parish councils playing their part in rural local governance.

Paddington Rail Services

Mr. Denzil Davies: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what was the total number of scheduled passenger train services entering and leaving Paddington railway station in (i) 1995, (ii) 1996, (iii) 1997 and (iv) 1998. [94874]

Mr. Hill: This information is not held by the Government.

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Mr. Edwards: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what plans he has to give further protection to designated areas of outstanding natural beauty. [95224]

Mr. Mullin: My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment expects to make an announcement shortly about measures to conserve and enhance designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Millennium Compliance

Mr. Nigel Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what assessment he has made of the preparations made by housing associations in respect of the millennium computer bug. [95215]

Mr. Mullin: The Housing Corporation is responsible for assessing preparations taken by Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) to deal with the millennium computer bug.

In its progress report to the Action 2000 National Infrastructure Forum on 21 October 1999, the Housing Corporation confirmed that no evidence had been found, in respect of those RSLs owning about 80 per cent. of total RSL stock to suggest that millennium bug concerns had been inadequately addressed.

The Housing Corporation anticipates that all remaining RSLs will be prepared for the millennium change by mid November.

Thermal Insulation

Mr. Levitt: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what changes

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were made to BS 5422 on thermal insulation of pipes after the Rio Earth Summit; and what assessment he has made of its compliance with Part L of the Building Regulations 1991. [94886]

Ms Beverley Hughes: Changes to British Standards are a matter for the British Standards Institute and its technical committees. I am aware however that BS 5422 is currently being revised to incorporate among other things a new method of assessing appropriate insulation thicknesses that takes account of environmental issues.

BS 5422 is referenced in the Approved Document which supports Part L of the Building Regulations. This too is currently under review. During the course of the review we shall be examining whether standards of insulation applied to vessels, pipes and ducts should be increased, and also whether the reference to the revised BS 5422 is still appropriate.

Ragwort

Mr. Bob Russell: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what steps he is taking to combat the spread of ragwort (a) along roadside verges and (b) in liaison with local authorities and utilities in respect of land owned by them. [95318]

Mr. Hill: For roadside verges, eradication of noxious weeds on road verges in England is the responsibility of highway authorities. These authorities take measures to eradicate ragwort when made aware that a problem exists. The Highways Agency's current policy on noxious weeds for the trunk road and motorway network in England is to seek out infestation and take appropriate control measures. Maintenance of roadside verges on local authority roads is the responsibility of the local highway authorities, who are free to set their own standards. However, DETR are working with local authorities to produce a new code of practice for maintaining their roads, and will recommend that they adopt the same procedures for ragwort elimination as on national roads.

For land owned by local authorities and utilities, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has policy responsibility for control of injurious weeds, of which ragwort is one, under the Weeds Act 1959. Under its provisions, the Ministry may investigate complaints from any occupiers of agricultural land who consider that their land is threatened by ragwort spreading from land nearby.

Where a specific complaint is received about ragwort spreading from land occupied by utilities or local authorities, the local Ministry regional service centre may approach the utility or authority concerned to request that control measures be taken. Where such measures are not put in hand, the Weeds Act gives the Minister powers to implement statutory procedures to ensure that weed control is carried out.

Shorthold Tenancy Agreements

Mr. Sanders: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what representations he has received from (a) landlords and (b) tenants regarding shorthold tenancy agreements; and if he will make a statement. [94885]

Mr. Mullin: Since April 1999, nine letters have been received from landlords and 26 from tenants regarding various aspects of assured shorthold tenancy agreements.

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The main topics raised are repossession and tenants' rights (by landlords) and affordability, condition, housing benefit and security of tenure (by tenants).

We believe that to encourage growth in long term, good quality accommodation for private letting, we must secure the confidence of landlords in a stable policy framework while at the same time ensuring that the interests of tenants are protected. We therefore have no plans to change the legislative framework of assured and assured shorthold tenancies established under the Housing Act 1988.


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