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Bus Partnership Schemes

Mr. Jenkins: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions when guidance will be available on quality bus partnership schemes. [160478]

Mr. Hill: Good Practice Guidance on Quality Bus Partnerships is being issued today by the TAS Partnership, on behalf of the Department. The guidance, which has

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been prepared in consultation with bus industry and local government representatives, discusses the broad principles of partnership working, the factors to be taken into account in developing a scheme and the processes of consultation and review. It draws on case studies from among over 100 existing voluntary quality partnerships around the country. There will be scope to extend the guidance in due course to cover statutory QP schemes under the Transport Act 2000.

In fulfilment of undertakings given during the passage of the Transport Bill, the guidance includes a chapter devoted to competition issues, prepared in consultation with the Office of Fair Trading. This explains the application of competition law and seeks to offer reassurance on the scope for co-operation over such matters as joint branding and publicity, joint ticketing and voluntary agreements on minimum service frequencies.

The guidance will be available in electronic form through the Department's website ( or in hard copy on application to TAS Publications and Events, Ross Holme, West End, Long Preston, Skipton BD23 4QL. I am arranging for copies to be placed in the Library.

Shipping Safety

Mr. Ivan Henderson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what progress has been made in implementing measures to improve the safety of merchant shipping and safety at ports and harbours; and if he will make a statement. [160479]

Mr. Hill: The Queen's Speech on 6 December outlined the Government's intention to draft a Safety Bill. We shall use this opportunity to introduce three groups of measures to improve the safety of merchant shipping in the UK and safety at ports and harbours.

The first group would improve the way we deal with maritime safety incidents. The number of parties who are liable in the event of a marine pollution incident would be increased to improve access to compensation for claimants. We are also considering raising the limit of liability for compensation arising from the death of or injury to passengers on board foreign registered ships in UK waters from £37,000 to £250,000. The existing power of the Secretary of State to issue direction would be widened to equate power to secure the safety of a ship with those to prevent pollution. Fire authorities would be allowed to recover the cost of fighting fires at sea.

The second group would improve the enforcement of shipping safety law. The Secretary of State has a power to make orders to apply merchant shipping legislation to things used at sea which are not currently regarded as ships. This power will be extended to waters which are not sea. It will be made easier to prosecute non-UK vessels for breaches of safety legislation. The penalties for safety offences will be increased so that they are on a par with those for pollution offences and health and safety offences on land.

The third group make some improvements to the powers harbour authorities have to regulate marine safety so as to help them to implement the Port Marine Safety Code, which was developed after the grounding of the Sea Empress in Milford Haven in 1996. We are also including new procedures enabling a harbour authority to be

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wound-up on safety grounds or to relinquish pilotage powers, both of which would save having to promote private legislation.

Standards Board for England

Mr. Burden: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions when he will make further appointments to the Standards Board for England. [160480]

Ms Beverley Hughes: I have today appointed Celia Cameron and Peter Chalke to the board.

Both are elected members of local authorities. Along with the seven appointments which have already been announced, they will provide the board with the range of skills and experience that they need to ensure the highest standards of conduct in local government.

Air Quality

Mr. Burgon: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions how many local authorities in England have completed their reviews and assessments of air quality; and which authorities in England have so far failed to do so. [160598]

Mr. Meacher: In England, the statutory responsibility to carry out reviews and assessments of air quality applies to all London local authorities, all metropolitan and non-metropolitan district councils, and to all unitary county and unitary district councils. According to the records held by my Department, as of 2 May 2001 all of the London local authorities and some 89 per cent. of the remaining English local authorities had completed their reviews and assessments of air quality. A website providing further information on the progress made by individual authorities, and giving some indication of their findings, is available at airqual/aqma.

As of 2 May 2001, the following 32 English authorities had not completed all stages of the review and assessment process. Each of these authorities has now committed itself to completing the process by a firm deadline in the near future, and my Department will continue to oversee this process closely.

List of local authorities which have not submitted a final review and assessment of air quality to the DETR

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Rights of Way

Mr. Bennett: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will list the source of information for the public about rights of way which are open for public use. [160477]

Ms Beverley Hughes: The Countryside Agency maintains a website: giving general information about the opening of rights of way in each local authority's area. The website includes links to local authorities' own websites, many of which include detailed information about open paths. The Local Government Association has published best practice guidance for local authorities which recommends that authorities should use their websites to keep not only the public, but also public and tourist information agencies, informed of developments. We announced details last week of a £3.8 million grant scheme to be administered by the Countryside Agency which will provide funding for measures to promote the reopening of rights of way, including publicity programmes and improvements to websites. We look to all local authorities to take the lead in opening up as many rights of way as possible, consistent with the Chief Veterinary Officer's guidance.

Foot and Mouth

Mr. Curry: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if expenditure incurred by local authorities to fund the hardship business rate relief programme as a direct consequence of foot and mouth disease will be eligible under the Bellwin scheme. [159820]

Ms Beverley Hughes [holding answer 1 May 2001]: On 24 April I announced the activation of the Bellwin scheme to provide emergency financial assistance to local authorities to help them meet some of the costs of responding to outbreaks of foot and mouth disease, Official Report, column 278W. This scheme is based on Section 155 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 which permits only the reimbursement of expenditure incurred by local authorities on, or in

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connection with, the taking of immediate action to safeguard life or property, or to prevent suffering or severe inconvenience, in their area or among its inhabitants. Funding rate relief for small businesses does not, therefore, fall within the scope of this scheme.

On 22 March, my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment announced an increase in the central government contribution to local authorities to fund rate relief from 75 per cent. to 95 per cent. for small businesses who are suffering hardship as a result of foot and mouth disease in 151 rural authorities in England. This will apply for an initial period of three months. Details of the arrangements were given in Special Grant Report No. 80 which was laid before the House of Commons and approved by Parliament on 2 April 2000.

In addition authorities covered by Special Grant Report No. 80 will benefit from a temporary reduction of 50 per cent. in contributions to the National Non Domestic Rate Pool between April and August.

Mr. Green: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions how much money the regional development agencies had distributed to businesses under the foot and mouth relief scheme by 26 April. [159938]

Mr. Meacher: RDAs are supporting businesses affected by FMD in a variety of ways including marketing campaigns and other indirect support. Those who have decided to provide direct support are working through Business Links who are currently assessing individual business plans, with a view to making the first payments very shortly.

Mr. Green: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what amount of rate relief has been given to businesses in rural areas under the foot and mouth relief scheme by 26 April; and if he will make a statement. [159937]

Mr. Meacher: Applications for hardship rate relief are dealt with by individual local authorities. The central Government contribution to the cost will be met through subsequent claims to my Department. No figures are yet available centrally for the amount of rate relief granted by local authorities to businesses by 26 April.

Sir Peter Emery: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions for what reason part of funding for hardship relief payments is being met by local authorities; and if he will take steps to ensure that such funding is borne by the Government. [159369]

Mr. Meacher: Local authorities are required to meet part of the cost of their decisions to grant rate relief to businesses suffering from hardship to reflect the benefit to the local community. Central Government normally funds 75 per cent. of the cost of granting such relief. We have increased central Government's contribution rate relief from 75 per cent. to 95 per cent. where relief is granted to small businesses who are suffering hardship as a result of foot and mouth disease. This increase applies to relief provided in these circumstances by 151 rural authorities in England, for an initial period of three months.

This remains a discretionary rate relief scheme and it is therefore right that local authorities have a stake in the decisions they make on the award of rate relief. I am

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keeping the scheme under review on the basis of evidence of how it is operating and waiting for across the board evidence on local authorities' position from the Local Government Association.

Mr. Green: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what information the Environment Agency holds about safe burial sites for foot and mouth infected carcases; and if he will place this information in the Library. [157998]

Mr. Meacher [holding answer 10 April 2001]: The Environment Agency is working in close co-operation with MAFF to ensure the fulfilment of the environmental requirements of Article 3(2) of the Animal Waste Directive (90/667/EEC) on the burial of animal carcases. Under the Groundwater Regulations 1998, the Agency carries out an assessment of each proposed burial site and, subject to the risk, authorises the burial with the imposition of any necessary conditions to protect groundwater. The Agency keeps copies of all such authorisations, and information relating to its assessment of each application, on a public register. As this information is available locally for each burial site, we have no plans to place copies of it in the Library.

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