10 May 2000 : Column: 385W

Written Answers to Questions

Wednesday 10 May 2000

ENVIRONMENT, TRANSPORT AND

THE REGIONS

Public Toilets

Ms Julie Morgan: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (1) how many public toilets were closed between April 1998 and April 1999; [120489]

Ms Beverley Hughes: Owing to changes in the definition used by the Audit Commission, it is not possible accurately to ascertain the total number of public toilets closed between April 1998 and April 1999. However, while the total number of public toilets counted in England increased from 6,128 to 6,643, the number of public toilets open more than 12 hours a day decreased from 6,128 to 4,133. Figures for Wales are not yet available.

The Audit Commission has specified, for the current financial year, a mandatory performance indicator for local authorities in respect of


The Government have no plans to specify a best value performance indicator in this respect, or to replace the current discretionary power to provide public toilets with a statutory obligation.

The Government believe that the most effective way to tackle drug misuse and vandalism is through co-ordinated preventive action at a local level, involving all of the relevant agencies such as the police, local authorities and schools. That is why police and local authorities now have a statutory duty, under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, jointly to develop partnerships to tackle crime and disorder in their area.

The strategies which have been produced by the 376 partnerships in England and Wales include a wide range of initiatives--many of which specifically target drug misuse and criminal damage.

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GM Crops

Mr. Caton: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what action his Department takes to warn beekeepers when genetically modified crops are planted close to their apiaries. [120696]

Mr. Meacher: The legislation requires that proposed locations of releases of GM crops for research purposes (Part B) have to be advertised locally before sowing takes place. The advertisement must give information on the name and address of the applicant, the GM crop, the location and general purpose of the trial and the foreseen sowing dates. A full list of current and proposed releases is on my Department's website and on the Public Register.

Once a GM crop has Europe-wide consent for placing on the market (Part C), there is no requirement for prior notification of planting. However, only one such crop is currently grown in the UK, as part of the Farm Scale Evaluations programme. Under the agreement between the Government and the industry body, SCIMAC, the locations of the Evaluations will be published on my Department's website and the farmers involved will alert their neighbours.

Water Charging

Mr. Swayne: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what plans he has to alter the water charging regime to allow the use of council tax bands as an alternative to metering. [121025]

Mr. Mullin: Under the Water Industry Act 1999, companies must produce charges schemes, which include details of the basis on which they wish to charge for water and sewerage services to homes. Schemes are subject to approval by the Director General of Water Services.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has issued guidance to the Director General on the approval of schemes for companies operating wholly or mainly in England. In considering whether or not to approve a new basis of unmeasured charging, key factors are the transitional effects of any change, any proposals for managing such effects and the impact of the new basis of charging on different groups, particularly vulnerable customers. Because of the potential social impacts on customers, the Director should not approve the widespread introduction of new unmeasured charging arrangements, without full consultation with the Secretary of State. There is no statutory bar on such arrangements being based on council tax. The Government will continue to consider any proposals that come forward provided that they address the key factors.

The Secretary of State's guidance under the 1999 Act and other background on water charging policy is set out in "Water Industry Act 1999--Delivering the Government's Objectives" published on 3 February, a copy of which is in the Library of the House.

Lone Parents

Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions how many lone parents aged under 18 years (a) are living in semi- supervised accommodation and (b) have lone tenancy of a council house. [121060]

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Mr. Mullin: The only information currently available centrally is for new lettings of supported accommodation by Registered Social Landlords. In England from April 1998 to September 1999 there were 276 such lettings to lone parents under the age of 18.

As part of the follow-up to the Social Exclusion Unit report on Teenage Pregnancy, local authorities are being asked to carry out an audit of the provision of and need for semi-independent housing with support for 16 and 17-year-old lone teenage parents in their area.

Raptors

Mr. Bob Russell: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions how many licences under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 for the removal of peregrine have been issued in each of the last five years for which figures are available; and if he will make a statement. [121117]

Mr. Meacher: This information is published in annual reports submitted by my Department, on behalf of the United Kingdom, to the European Commission, to meet the requirements of Article 9(3) of the European Community Directive on the Conservation of Wild Birds (79/409/EEC). These reports provide the reasons for each derogation made under Article 9 and therefore contain details of all licences issued under the 1981 Act, including any for the removal of peregrine.

The most recent report, the eighteenth, was published in January 2000 and covers the period 1 January-- 31 December 1998. It contains details of about 230 derogations in relation to peregrines for a variety of reasons, such as research and teaching. The majority do not involve permanent removal. As in previous years, the report will be made available in the House Libraries.

Mr. Bob Russell: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what representations he has received following the publication of the report of the UK Raptor Working Group; and if he will make a statement. [121116]

Mr. Meacher: My Department has received a number of representations on the report of the Raptor Working Group from a range of organisations. I welcome the publication of this report and its recommendations and hope it will help provide an integrated solution to the problems presented by birds of prey to game bird managers and pigeon fanciers. My Department will shortly be seeking English Nature's advice on the implementation in England of the report's recommendations in light of these representations.

Mr. Bob Russell: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions which organisations tendered for the project, "A Study into the Raptor Predation of Domestic Pigeons", published in March; which organisation was awarded the tender; and what the qualifications were of the individuals who researched and wrote the study. [121118]

Mr. Meacher: In 1995 my Department let a research contract to assess the impact of raptor predation on pigeons and to investigate the effectiveness of non-lethal deterrents.

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Tenders for the research contract were received from the Royal Agricultural College and the Hawk and Owl Trust. The contract was awarded to the Hawk and Owl Trust on the basis that they provided the best and most cost-effective methodology for investigating the extent of predation.

The research was undertaken and the report written by Hawk and Owl Trust members who have had a long history of involvement in various aspects of raptor ecology and research. They also have an extensive knowledge and experience of various aspects of survey work and are authors of numerous books, papers and articles on related topics.

Air Traffic Control

Mrs. Dunwoody: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions when all the air traffic controller posts in NATS will be filled. [121296]

Mr. Mullin: The three vacancies in NATS Airports Services operations are expected to be filled by the middle of June. There are currently no shortages of controllers in NATS Area Control operations.

Hydrocarbons

Mr. Derek Twigg: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what is his estimate of the quantity of hydrocarbons in industrial use in the UK (a) in total and (b) by each standard industrial sector classification. [120428]

Mr. Meacher [holding answer 8 May 2000]: This information is not currently available to the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and could not be collated without incurring disproportionate cost.

Hydrocarbons are common organic compounds, examples of which include natural gas; butane; propane; petroleum, diesel fuels, diesel oils, motor oils, motor fuels, marine oils, marine fuels, hydraulic fluids, crude oil, lubricating oils. As their type and application are so widely varied the collection of this information would prove extremely resource intensive.


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