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Property (Zero Rating)

Dr. Tonge: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what plans he has to introduce zero rating on house improvements and adaptations; and if he will make a statement. [1313]

Mr. Boateng: Agreements with our European partners mean that we cannot introduce any new zero rates.

Dr. Tonge: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on the policy of zero rating new property developments; and what plans he has to introduce VAT on such developments. [1312]

Mr. Boateng: The Government have no plans to put VAT on new housing.

Public Service Agreements

Dr. Cable: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer in what ways public service agreements negotiated to date enjoin Government Departments to raise the quantity and quality of regulatory impact assessments. [1645]

Mr. Andrew Smith: Public service agreements (PSAs) focus on outcomes; the Cabinet Office has a specific PSA target to ensure that rigorous regulatory impact assessments (RIAs) are undertaken. Revised guidance on how to complete RIAs was issued to all Departments in August 2000 and followed up by a series of seminars for policy officials within each of the main regulatory Departments.

Dr. Cable: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many, and what percentage, of public service agreements negotiated to date contain an explicit commitment to deregulation and a reduction in administration. [1644]

Mr. Andrew Smith: Public service agreements (PSAs) focus on outcomes; PSAs give Departments powerful incentives to deregulate and reduce administration, where sensible, in order to achieve those outcomes.

NORTHERN IRELAND

Prison Service

Mr. Barnes: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when the Northern Ireland Prison Service published its 2001–04 corporate and business plan; and what performance targets have been set for 2001–04. [2363]

Jane Kennedy: The Northern Ireland Prison Service's corporate and business plan for 2001–04 was published

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on 29 May 2001. The following key performance targets have been set for 2001–04:















ENVIRONMENT, FOOD AND RURAL AFFAIRS

Foot and Mouth

Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what representations she has received concerning the reopening of footpaths near areas infected with foot and mouth. [33]

Alun Michael: Over 16,000 letters have been received during recent months on foot-and-mouth-related issues. It is not possible to say precisely how many of these concern the reopening of footpaths, although we estimate the number to be in the region of 1,000. Ministers have also met representatives of a range of interested parties, including users of footpaths, farmers and land managers; to discuss path reopening and the issue has been discussed at several meetings of the rural task force.

A range of representations concerning the reopening of footpaths have been received by letter and in meetings with a wide range of interested parties, including users of footpaths, farmers and land managers. This subject has been discussed at several meetings of the rural task force. In the immediate vicinity of cases of foot and mouth disease, the Government have taken a precautionary approach through the 3 km closure requirement and the power given to local authorities to impose a blanket ban on the use of footpaths in a specific area where that is considered appropriate. Many representatives have sought the lifting of such blanket bans where they are no longer needed and I have announced the intention to end this power except where a local authority can show it is needed in order to maintain the effectiveness of efforts to eradicate foot and mouth disease. I hope to make a further announcement shortly following the current consultation with local authorities.

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Mr. Luff: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will encourage county councils not to lift restrictions on the use of footpaths in areas where farmers remain unable to move their stock as a result of foot and mouth disease control measures; and if she will make a statement. [39]

Alun Michael: As part of our strategy for rural recovery, we want to see footpaths and other rights of way reopened wherever it is safe to do so. I refer the hon. Member to the statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on 21 June 2001, Official Report, columns 166–86. My right hon. Friend also announced a significant relaxation of movement restrictions on livestock to help the farming industry by enabling more normal trade to take place. In both cases the action taken reflects an assessment of the disease risk involved in easing restrictions. While we are determined to do everything possible to eradicate foot and mouth disease, we also have to do all we can to enable rural businesses to return to normal working, and this must include an end to footpath closures where they are no longer needed.

Mr. Kidney: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment she has made of the effects of foot and mouth disease on businesses in the United Kingdom and the adequacy of existing Government measures in responding to those effects. [16]

Alun Michael: We have commissioned a series of regional surveys on the economic impact of foot and mouth disease, and we are planning further follow-up work including local area surveys. Members of the rural task force were briefed on the survey work and we will continue to keep them up to date. The general picture emerging from the surveys is very varied, with some areas and types of business displaying serious losses and others largely unaffected.

Many small rural businesses affected by foot and mouth disease are benefiting from the measures we have introduced. Over 11,000 affected businesses have now had cash benefits either through deferral of tax payments, hardship rate relief, or grants from the RDA business recovery fund. We are keeping the operation of each scheme under review in consultation with the rural task force.

A report on the impact on businesses in the west midlands, published last week, showed that 80 per cent. of the companies surveyed had not sought help or advice and 60 per cent. had made no change in their business and marketing. We will redouble our efforts to encourage all rural businesses to use the sources of advice and help which the Government are making available via regional development agencies and their local partners.

Sewer Flooding

Mr. Oaten: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will publish the outcome of her discussions with Ofwat about possible remedies following sewer flooding last year. [1479]

Mr. Meacher [holding answer 2 July 2001]: Discussions between the Department and Ofwat about the various causes of, and remedies for, sewer flooding are continuing. As set out in its forward programme, Ofwat is

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examining companies' systems for prioritising work and dealing with flooding incidents. Ofwat will publish its conclusions for consultation early in 2002.

Countryside and Rights of Way Act

Mr. Swayne: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment she has made of the impact of implementing the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 on dog owners walking in the New Forest. [866]

Alun Michael [holding answer 2 July 2001]: Part I of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 will require persons exercising a right of access under the Act to keep any dog on a short lead during the period March to July, and at any time in the vicinity of livestock. The Act also allows for further restrictions on dogs to be imposed in certain circumstances. However, the new right will not apply to any land with existing statutory rights of access (such as commons in former urban boroughs and districts), nor will it interfere with any use of land which takes place with the implied or explicit consent of the owner. The Act will enable any more relaxed regime of controls on dogs in the New Forest or elsewhere to continue with the consent or tolerance of the owner of the land.

Mr. Swayne: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what consultations are planned prior to the implementation of the provisions of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 in the New Forest. [865]

Alun Michael [holding answer 2 July 2001]: There are a number of provisions in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 which require my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to make regulations before they are brought into force. In particular, a consultation paper was issued in March on proposals for regulations under section 11 of the Act to enable the Countryside Agency to prepare draft maps of open country and registered common land. We are now considering the comments received and we expect to lay regulations during the summer recess. We expect to consult on a framework for regulations under part V of the Act relating to the establishment of local access forums with a view to laying regulations in the autumn. We shall also be consulting widely on regulations on other provisions in part I of the Act, as well as on regulations relating to part II (rights of way).


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