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Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what steps he is taking to encourage utility companies and others to co-ordinate their activities in order to reduce the number of occasions on which roads and pavements are dug up. 
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their works, in the interests of safety, and in order to minimise inconvenience to road users and protect the street and apparatus in it. This duty of co-ordination is backed by criminal sanctions. Highway authorities for their part must co-ordinate works of all kinds in the streets for which they are responsible. A code of practice issued under the Act sets out the co-ordination machinery in detail.
Regulations made last year under the 1991 Act aim to facilitate and encourage the electronic transfer of information about street works and other works in the highway between utilities and highway authorities, by way of a system known as ETON which makes use of the internet. This will ensure greater consistency and speed in transferring and registering the information, which in turn will help authorities in their co-ordination role.
On 5 April, in addition to announcing its intention to develop a scheme to charge utilities for street works which are unreasonably prolonged, the Government also stated that it would work with highway authorities and utilities to develop best practice on street works. Co-ordination and quality of work were specifically mentioned as areas to cover. We aim to publish guidance later this year.
Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (1) what the Government's policy is on granting the European Commission a mandate to negotiate bilateral air service agreement between the EU and the US; 
(3) what his policy is on open skies in the context of the forthcoming bilateral air talks with the US Government; 
(4) what recent discussions he has had with his US counterpart on bilateral air service agreement; 
(5) what HM Government's aims are in the forthcoming bilateral air service agreement talks with the US Government; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Mullin: It is the Government's policy to secure the liberalisation of the UK/US aviation market, an objective often referred to as 'open skies'. In pursuit of this objective, my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has spoken on a number of occasions with the US Secretary for Transportation, and has met him twice this year.
Our aim in negotiations is to remove all capacity and route restrictions on UK-US traffic, thereby increasing competition to the benefit of consumers, provided UK carriers can gain effective access to the US domestic market and so compete on fair terms.
As regards a mandate for the EU, our priority continues to be our bilateral negotiations with the US and we are not persuaded of the advantages of granting the Commission a mandate. Nevertheless, we have taken part constructively
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Mr. Dalyell: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will call for reports from Rigblast and Railtrack about the use of blasting techniques on the Forth Rail Bridge. 
Mr. Hill [holding answer 8 May 2000]: I understand that the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency and the Health and Safety Executive are closely monitoring the work currently being undertaken by Railtrack and its contractors.
Mr. Derek Twigg: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions how many incidents have been reported in each of the last five years for which figures are available of (a) deaths and (b) injuries caused by uncontrolled releases of (i) hydrocarbons, (ii) ammonia and (iii) HFCs. 
Mr. Meacher [holding answer 8 May 2000]: In the context of refrigeration systems, the statistical information held by the Health and Safety Executive is not sufficiently detailed to determine whether any reported deaths and injuries have been caused by uncontrolled releases of hydrocarbons, ammonia and HFCs. Hydrocarbons have been interpreted only in the context of refrigeration and not its wider definition which would include substances such as petrol and LPG.
Mr. Barnes: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will list the appointments made to public bodies by the first minister and deputy first minister during the period of devolution from November 1999 to February 2000. 
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Mr. Ingram: As the hon. Member is aware, an early retirement scheme is one of the discretionary measures provided for under the Rural Development Regulation. However, such a scheme would be expensive. It would benefit relatively few people and would have to be paid for by many others. Given the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development's existing budget and current commitments, it is simply not affordable at present. As a result, an early retirement scheme has not been included as one of the measures to be introduced in Northern Ireland in the period 2000-06 under the Rural Development (Accompanying Measures) Plan. However, a scheme has not been entirely ruled out and can be considered in the later years of the Plan period when modulation receipts are at their maximum. It is, however, a very costly option and it would need to be demonstrated that such a scheme would offer value for money.
Mr. McGrady: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when agrimonetary compensation will be made available for the arable, beef and sheep sectors in (a) 2000 and (b) 2002; and if he will make a statement. 
In terms of compulsory agrimonetary compensation, the second instalment of compensation to beef and arable producers will be paid from October 2000 with the third instalment a year later. The third instalment for sheep is likely to be paid in April 2001.
Mr. McGrady: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for what reason the Government did not provide the agrimonetary compensation available in 2000 to the (a) beef, (b) sheep and (c) arable sectors; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Ingram: Compulsory agrimonetary compensation totalling up to £88 million will be payable in 2000 to the UK arable, beef and sheep sectors. The Prime Minister's announcement of 30 March 2000 made available further optional compensation totalling £66 million to the beef, sheep and dairy sectors. This balanced the difficulties faced by the agricultural industry with the impact on the UK Exchequer. Drawing down agrimonetary compensation (which must be paid on a UK-wide basis) has considerable public expenditure implications: once the Fontainbleau rebate is taken into account, the cost of the 30 March agrimonetary package to the UK Exchequer is approximately £50 million. Expenditure of the magnitude involved must be judged carefully against the many competing demands on the public purse.
Mr. John D. Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether a Union flag has been provided at the Roads Service Maintenance Depot, Ballinahone, Armagh City; who has been made responsible for hoisting
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the Union flag at these premises on the designated dates; whether St. Patrick's day and Easter day were recognised by the flying of the Union flag at these premises; and if he will make a statement about the arrangements to fly the Union flag at this Depot. 
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has asked me to respond to your recently tabled Parliamentary Question about the flying of the Union Flag at the Roads Service Maintenance Depot, Ballinahonemore Road, Armagh.
I can advise that a Union Flag has been provided at the Depot and that the Premises Officer for the building is responsible for flying the flag on the designated dates. Regrettably, due to an oversight, the flag was not flown on St. Patrick's Day or Easter Day this year. I have, however, reminded relevant staff of the instructions for flags to be flown on designated dates.
I hope you find this information helpful.
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