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Architects Registration Board

Sir Sydney Chapman: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will make a statement on the work and progress of the Architects Registration Board. [106876]

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Mr. Raynsford: The Architects Registration Board came into being in April 1997 and has made good progress since its inception.

I look forward to the election of new registered architect members and the appointment by the Board of a new Registrar/Chief Executive.

Rail Safety

Ms Rosie Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions when the report on signals passed at danger in December 1999 will be published. [107469]

Mr. Hill: I have today placed in the Library a copy of HSE's report on signals passed at danger (SPADs) for December. Future monthly reports will be placed in the Library as a matter of course.

In December there were 22 SPADs on the national railway. This figure is lower than for the same month in the last two years and half the December average for the last six years. Taken with the significant improvement in November, the December figure appears to indicate that the measures being taken by the industry to cut down on SPADs are beginning to have a positive effect, although it is of course too early to draw definitive conclusions.

As explained in the October report, Railtrack and the HSE use different criteria to assess the severity and significance of a SPAD. This has led to some confusion as to how to identify for non-specialist purposes a consistent and simple definition by which a SPAD could be considered serious, to the extent that it gives rise to a potential for damage to passengers, staff, or equipment.

Ministers have accepted a recommendation by Her Majesty's Railways Inspectorate to define as "serious" those SPADs which fall into Railtrack's severity categories 3-8. These categories cover those SPADs which lead to a train over-running by at least 200 yards (the normal safety overlap distance) and/or which cause damage or casualties. This definition gives three serious SPADs in December. On this definition there were 14 serious SPADs in October and 10 in November.

Millennium Towns

Mr. Green: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (1) what plans he has to announce the development of millennium towns; and if he will make a statement; [106877]

Ms Beverley Hughes: Proposals for a new town and areas of plan-led expansion have been put forward respectively by the Panels examining draft Regional Planning Guidance for the Eastern and South East regions. The Secretary of State will shortly consult on draft changes to the draft Regional Planning Guidance for both regions.

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Mr. Kidney: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what are the terms of reference of the pilot scheme in Bristol for testing the Government's proposals for speeding up the system of buying and selling homes in England and Wales; and what will be the cost to public funds of the pilot scheme. [107261]

Mr. Mullin: The Government announced on 11 October 1999 a package of complementary measures aimed at making the home buying and selling process in England and Wales faster, more transparent and consumer-friendly. The announcement also highlighted the Government's intention to set up a study to pilot some aspects of the seller's information pack with approximately 250 home sellers in the Bristol area, covering properties in different price bands and in popular and less-popular local housing markets.

The pilot was launched on 10 December 1999, and will run for the first half of 2000, reporting in September 2000. The results will help provide a clear picture of the practical operation of a modernised system of home buying and selling. However, the pilot cannot entirely replicate the Government's proposals: there is no element of compulsion; transactions may still experience delays especially where there are chains involving people not in the scheme; and voluntary elements of the Government's proposals are not included, for example faster mortgage processing, and faster release of title deeds.

    1. To identify which elements of the pack work best, and where the practical difficulties lie, including consumer and professional attitudes to the home condition report, and the legal material required for the pack.

    2. To provide clear information on the difference that a seller's pack makes to the process of buying and selling, including, where possible, whether packs help to avoid problems and delays, which occur under the present system.

    3. To assess the potential housing market effects of seller's packs and the benefits of packs for properties in different price bands.

    4. To compare the results of the Bristol pilot with existing initiatives which are being taken forward on a voluntary basis.

    Cost to Public Funds

    Total cost: £315,015.

Pollution Control

Mr. Yeo: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what assessment he has made of the cost to the pig and poultry sectors of the charges levied by the Environment Agency in the implementation of the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control EU Directive 96/61. [107233]

Mr. Hill: No decisions have yet been taken on the level of charges to be applied to the pig and poultry sectors under regulations implementing integrated pollution prevention and control. The Environment Agency is still engaged in discussions with the National Farmers' Union, pig and poultry trade bodies and officials from my Department.

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New Year's Eve

Mr. Fearn: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what was the total cost of cleaning up (a) central London and (b) its parks following the New Year's Eve celebrations. [104918]

Mr. Hill: The riparian boroughs, who have made a major contribution to the success of the Millennium celebrations in Central London, initially estimate that the cost of cleaning up the area covered by the event will be in the region of £500,000.

The Millennium Commission made grants available, under the Millennium Festival programme, to 22 UK cities, as a contribution towards the cost of clearing up after New Year's Eve. London is receiving £180,000 under these arrangements.

The Royal Parks Agency estimates that the total cost of the clear up operations in St. James's park, Green park and Victoria Tower Gardens will be between £55,000-£60,000.

Freight Forwarding Companies

Mr. Shaw: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what discussions he has had with representatives of the haulage industry about the freight forwarding companies; and if he will make a statement. [105240]

Mr. Hill: Ministers and officials in my Department have frequent contact with the representatives of the haulage industry. If my hon. Friend has any particular concerns about the freight forwarding companies, perhaps he could write to me.

VED Discounts

Mr. Breed: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will publish the details of the scheme for vehicle excise duty discounts for vehicles with low carbon dioxide emissions, announced in November 1999. [105865]

Mr. Hill [holding answer 20 January 2000]: The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in his 1998 Budget Statement his plans for the introduction of a graduated system of Vehicle Excise Duty for new cars. Under this system, cars first registered after Autumn this year will be placed in one of four bands according to their carbon dioxide emissions. The system, which is being introduced on a revenue-neutral basis, will be introduced in a flexible way with the potential, for example, to create further incentives for cars which run on less polluting fuels.

Further details of the scheme will be announced in the forthcoming Budget, in advance of the system's introduction.

Nabishi Radios

Mrs. Dunwoody: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions on how many occasions the use of Nabishi hand-held radios has been reported as presenting problems for freight marshalling yards in the railway industry; and how many radio frequencies are available to train companies. [106289]

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Mr. Hill: Information about the use of Nabishi hand-held radios having caused problems for freight marshalling yards in the railway industry is not available. Problems involving hand-held radios are not statutorily reportable to the Health and Safety Executive's Railway Inspectorate, unless they relate to a reportable accident or dangerous occurrence as defined by the 'Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995' (RIDDOR).

The number of radio frequencies available to train operators is the responsibility of the Radiocommunications Agency, who authorise the use of radio by licensing.

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