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Foreign Aircraft (Millennium)

Mr. Woolas: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, pursuant to his answer of 9 December 1999, Official Report, columns 603-4W, if he will make a further statement relating to foreign aircraft operating to the United Kingdom over the millennium period. [104084]

Mr. Hill: My Department has now received confirmation that aircraft operated by Gulf Air will be free from any Y2K safety related risk. Information has also been received from Southern Aviation (Zambia) advising that the airline will not be operating to the UK over the millennium period. Accordingly, my Department will not be taking any action to suspend permits to either airline to operate to the UK over the millennium period.

My Department will closely monitor the situation over the millennium period and, in the event of any unexpected Y2K safety related problems emerging, will take all necessary steps to ensure that safety is not compromised.

Ladbroke Grove

Mr. Peter Bottomley: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, pursuant to his answer of 13 December 1999, Official Report, column 63W, concerning Ladbroke Grove, what was the relevance of railway privatisation to the answer and to the question and to which sentences in the answer it related; and what references to the rail layout at Ladbroke Grove or the safety rules relevant to it or to its operational use were referred to Ministers' offices between May 1997 and the day of the Ladbroke Grove crash. [103009]

Mr. Hill: The privatisation reference was to make explicit the implicit point that a long process which started under British Rail ownership continued under other ownership. On the second point, there have been no references to Ministers. Ministers have no involvement in the statutory approval process for track layout or safety rules. They are the responsibility of the independent Health and Safety Commission and Executive and Her Majesty's Railway Inspectorate.

A12 Link Road

Mr. Cohen: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions when the fully staged incident involving all the emergency services was carried out on the A12 Hackney to M11 link road; what consideration was given to the possibility of such an incident being in a tunnel; what was the outcome; and if he will make a statement. [102972]

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Mr. Hill: As the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State advised in her answer of 23 June 1999, Official Report, columns 404-05W, a successful incident exercise was held in the George Green tunnel on 28 May 1999 involving the Fire Brigade. It was intended to hold an incident exercise with all three emergency services before the tunnel was opened, but unfortunately this did not prove possible.

Holding an exercise now that the road is opened could be highly disruptive. Discussions are continuing with the emergency services to agree the form and timing of a full exercise. I am pressing for this to be held at the earliest opportunity.

Environment Council

Mr. Dobbin: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what was the outcome of the Environment Council held in Brussels on 13 and 14 December; and if he will make a statement. [103020]

Mr. Meacher: I represented the UK at the Environment Council in Brussels on 13 December 1999, accompanied by Sarah Boyack, Scottish Executive Minister for the Environment and Transport. Three common positions were agreed, along with one set of Council Conclusions.

Agreement was achieved on a Recommendation on minimum standards for environmental inspections in member states, and will apply to environmental inspections of installations regulated under Community law. This will help improve standards of environmental protection and contribute to the effective implementation and enforcement of Community law. A common position was also reached on the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive, which requires an assessment of the environmental effects of certain plans and programmes prepared and/or adopted by public authorities.

Ministers discussed several air quality measures and reached agreement on one, establishing limit values for carbon monoxide and benzene in ambient air, to be achieved by 2005 and 2010 respectively. These will provide a high level of protection for public health and the environment and are in line with those adopted by the World Health Organisation in 1996. Agreement on an amendment of the 1998 Large Combustion Plant Directive was not reached. The Commission proposal sets limit values for emissions from new plant. Council could broadly agree to that proposal, but was divided over the suggestion from some member states of extending the directive's requirements to pre-1987 plants. Further negotiations on this, in parallel with those on the National Emission Ceilings Directive, are likely to be continued by the forthcoming Portuguese Presidency. The Presidency also reported on progress on the proposed National Emission Ceilings Directive and a related air quality directive setting target values for ozone in ambient air.

Council Conclusions on the forthcoming negotiations on a proposed Biosafety Protocol set out the EU's negotiating position for the extraordinary Conference of the Parties taking place in Montreal in January and emphasised the importance of reaching agreement. The recent World Trade Organisation talks in Seattle were

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discussed over lunch, along with the environmental consequences of the Kosovo conflict and the outcome of the Helsinki European Council.

Further reports to Council were given by the Commission on their proposed work programme for 2000, the review of chemicals legislation initiated in 1998, and its Global Assessment of the 5th Environment Action Programme, on which there was a brief exchange of views.

Fuel Poverty

Mrs. Gilroy: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will make a statement on the contribution of his Department towards eliminating fuel poverty. [103185]

Mr. Meacher: The Home Energy Efficiency Scheme (HEES) provides grants for energy efficiency improvements in the homes of people on benefits, the disabled and the over-60s. On 29 September 1999 the Deputy Prime Minister announced that the scheme is being radically improved. The New Home Energy Efficiency Scheme (New HEES) will provide complete packages of insulation and heating improvements up to a maximum grant of £2,000, compared to the current maximum of £315. Installations will start in June 2000. In the first two years New HEES is expected to help 460,000 households at a cost of £260 million. These households should be substantially moved away from fuel poverty.

We have also released substantial additional funds to help improve our housing stock; in total some £5 billion is being made available over the lifetime of this Parliament for investment in housing. We estimate that around one third of the money is likely to lead directly or indirectly to improvements in energy efficiency.

The Government have introduced a wide range of programmes to tackle low income and poor energy efficiency, which are the main causes of fuel poverty, as well as the liberalisation of the energy markets which has lead to significant falls in the cost of keeping warm. An inter-ministerial group, chaired jointly by the Minister for Energy and my noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, has been set up to consider the impact of all these initiatives on fuel poverty. The group will seek to develop a more accurate picture of the extent of the problem, how quickly it can be addressed, and at what cost, so that a target date can be set for the elimination of fuel poverty in England.

Some of the policy initiatives in this area, such as the Home Energy Efficiency Scheme, are devolved functions. Therefore a target date for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would be a matter for the respective bodies.

Bascule Bridge, Lowestoft

Mr. Blizzard: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (1) what is the frequency of the maintenance regime for the bascule bridge on the A12 at Lowestoft; and what is the annual cost; [103167]

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Mr. Hill: This is an operational matter for the Highways Agency and I have asked the Chief Executive of the Highways Agency, Mr. Peter Nutt, to write to my hon. Friend.

Letter from Peter Nutt to Mr. Bob Blizzard, dated 21 December 1999:

    Records kept by Associated British Ports, who are the Highways Agency's maintaining agents for the Bascule Bridge, show there have been 50 malfunctions in an estimated 24,000 operations in the last 10 years.

    Associated British Ports carry out weekly inspections of the Bascule Bridge. The A12 is closed overnight on four occasions annually, once per quarter, to allow routine maintenance work to be carried out. The annual budget for operating and maintenance for 1999/2000 is £223,250.00 inclusive of VAT.

    The Bascule Bridge was a new structure, constructed in 1974 to replace a swing bridge owned and operated by the British Transport Docks Board.

    If you would like further information please contact Simon Amor, the Route Manager for the A12, telephone 01234 796173.

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