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Mr. Loughton: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment Transport and the Regions what procedure he is following for the process of creating a National Park for the South Downs; and what the approximate timetable is. 
Mr. Meacher: The Countryside Agency is responsible for designating National Parks and is in the process of considering a designation in the South Downs. The draft timetable provided by the Agency indicates that detailed local consultation on a possible boundary and administrative arrangements will continue until spring 2002, at which time the Agency proposes to deliver a designation order to the Secretary of State along with recommendations on administrative arrangements. The Secretary of State's role is to consider the designation order along with any representations received. In deciding whether to confirm the order, with or without modifications, the Secretary of State will consider any objections and, if necessary, call a public inquiry.
Mr. Loughton: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what provision has been made for future funding of Powershift grants for energy efficiency in (a) Wales and (b) Scotland. 
Mr. Meacher: As announced in the Transport 10-Year Plan, the Government are committed to continuing and strengthening cleaner vehicle initiatives such as the Powershift programme. My Department will announce future funding arrangements for the Powershift programme in England, Wales and Northern Ireland later this year. The budget for Powershift in Scotland has been devolved to the Scottish Executive and an announcement about Powershift funding in Scotland will be made by the Scottish Executive later this year.
Dr. Marek: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will make it his policy to take an equity stake in Railtrack plc in return for any grant received by the company. 
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Mr. Hill: Our plans for rail investment were set out in the 10-Year Plan for Transport, and will be further illuminated by the shadow Strategic Rail Authority's forthcoming strategic plan.
Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if Railtrack has invited the Government to take an equity stake in the company as a way of generating additional funds for investment; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Hill: In the context of developing our Ten-Year Plan for Transport, the Government had a number of discussions with Railtrack and others about ways of increasing investment in the railway. Our plans for rail investment were set out in the Ten-Year Plan for Transport and will be further illuminated by the shadow Strategic Rail Authority's forthcoming strategic plan.
Valerie Davey: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions when he intends to publish guidance on new council constitutions under part II of the Local Government Act 2000; and if he will make a statement. 
Ms Armstrong: I have today commenced the duties on local authorities under Part II of the Local Government Act 2000 to consult on and draw up proposals for new constitutions.
I have today published guidance on new council constitutions for English local authorities and associated statutory directions, together with guidelines on the consultation process. I have placed copies of these documents in the Library of the House.
I have also today laid before the House copies of the following regulations:
In many areas councils have already begun consulting local people and experimenting with a form of new arrangements. The guidance will help councils build on what has already been achieved.
I expect the consultation to be meaningful and wide-ranging and to engage local people in discussions about the full range of options for change, including the chance to vote for a directly elected mayor if they want one. That is why today I am also publishing guidelines on consultation which offer practical help to councils.
The framework is now in place for councils to begin the formal process of consulting local people and drawing up proposals for their new constitution. It is now for
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councils to ask their communities how they want to be governed. Where people want a directly elected mayor, they will be able to have one.
Mr. Michael Jabez Foster: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what progress has been made in implementing the Performance and Innovation Unit's report "Reaching Out: The Role of Central Government at Regional and Local Level". 
Mr. Prescott: "Reaching Out" was published in February 2000. The Government accepted all of its 81 conclusions.
A key conclusion was that there should be new co-ordination arrangements. The Regional Co-ordination Unit (RCU) was established in April. In line with the report's recommendation, the RCU is an inter- departmental unit based in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. It reports to me, with day-to-day direction from my noble and learned Friend the Minister of State for the Cabinet Office, Lord Falconer of Thoroton.
The Unit has prepared an action plan identifying the key areas in which we need a new approach to developing and implementing Government policy with regional implications. The plan will be published on Friday 27 October and copies will be placed in the Libraries of the House. The plan will also be published on the website, together with a summary of progress on implementing the 81 detailed conclusions of the PIU report. The website reference is www.government-offices.gov.uk.
Laura Moffatt: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what progress was made at the last meeting of the conference of the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. 
Mr. Meacher: The Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention on Biological Diversity met for the fifth time in Nairobi in May. Parliamentary business prevented my attendance, but the United Kingdom fielded a strong delegation who played a key part, including by helping to agree a challenging programme of action on a range of issues. This is vital if we are to succeed in our aim of safeguarding the world's biodiversity, and the Government will play its full part, together with a wide range of other stakeholders and our partners in other countries, in putting these necessarily ambitious plans into practice.
Sixty-eight Parties to the Convention, including the UK, signed the Biosafety Protocol and a work plan was agreed for the first session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Protocol, which meets in Montpellier in December. UK chaired negotiations on the operations of the Convention led to agreement on a comprehensive package of reform to improve its effectiveness, including preparation of a strategic plan for adoption at the next COP, to be held in April 2002 in the Netherlands. An administrative budget of $18.64 million was agreed for 2001-02: the UK's contribution for the biennium will
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be $0.911 million, an increase of 15.3 per cent. on 1999-2000, reflecting increased activity under the Convention.
A four year cycle was adopted for Parties' national reports, to include an across the board assessment of implementation using a standard format which should facilitate global stocktaking. Optional biannual reports on priority issues were also invited: for COP6 these will cover forest biodiversity, alien species and benefit- sharing.
Four ad hoc technical groups were set up, on marine and coastal biodiversity (2), drylands and forests. On inland water biodiversity, co-operation with the Ramsar Convention was encouraged. The COP decided to integrate fully the issue of coral bleaching into the marine and coastal biodiversity work programme which, along with the programme of work on forest biodiversity, envisages co-operation with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Work programmes on dryland and agricultural biodiversity were also adopted, as was one on the role of indigenous and local knowledge, with due emphasis on the participation of the holders of such knowledge.
An expert panel will be re-convened on access to genetic resources and benefit-sharing, and its findings will be considered by an open ended working group. This will draft guidelines for legislation and contracts for the exchange of genetic material and the means to protect traditional knowledge. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) were invited to explore further the relationship between the Agreement on Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) and the Convention.
The 'ecosystem approach', which is intended to underpin the Convention's work, was elaborated and enshrined in 12 guiding principles for use by Parties. Further work was initiated to improve indicators of biodiversity and programmes for monitoring and assessment, with an increased emphasis on work at the national and regional levels. An international co-ordination mechanism for the Global Taxonomy Initiative was established, along with supporting pilot projects. COP also called for further work on the case for the April 2000 Gran Canaria Declaration, which urged development of a global strategy to conserve plant biodiversity.
The COP agreed further development of the clearing house mechanism, designed to share information on activity under the Convention, in particular by building the capacity of developing countries to participate. A global initiative on education and public awareness was endorsed, and action encouraged at national level. Discussions on environmental impact assessment promoted the sharing of good practice; further work was foreseen on liability and redress; and a programme of work was established on incentive measures.
Among the recommendations endorsed by the COP on the sustainable use of biodiversity were the identification of indicators and incentive measures for use by relevant sectors. The tourism industry was encouraged to work with all stakeholders to develop sustainable tourism, and countries were urged to apply interim principles for the control of alien species. Satisfactory decisions on
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financial resources and mechanisms reflect the improving relationship between the Parties and the Global Environment Facility.
Full decisions from the meeting are available on the Convention's website at www.biodiv.org.
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