Previous Section Index Home Page

Rural Enterprise/Vocational Training Schemes

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, pursuant to her answer of 8 January 2002, Official Report, column 732W, if she will list the schemes which attracted (a) rural

19 Mar 2002 : Column 262W

enterprise scheme funding and (b) vocational training scheme funding indicating the (i) nature of the project and (ii) total funding for each project. [43323]

Alun Michael: I am writing to the hon. Member today with a list of the projects referred to in the answer of 8 January 2002, Official Report, column 732W, and a description of the nature of the project. The size of individual awards is commercially confidential.

Arable Stewardship Pilot Scheme

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) which of the options contained in the Arable Stewardship Pilot Scheme has now been applied across England; [43114]

Mr. Morley: The Arable Stewardship Pilot Scheme opened in 1998 and closed to new applications in 2000, but some individual agreements under the scheme will run until July 2006. The total amount paid to farmers over the period 1998–2006 will be approximately £7.5 million.

In the third year of the pilot, ecological and economic evaluations of the scheme options were undertaken. Following this evaluation, seven new options were incorporated into the Countryside Stewardship Scheme from January 2002. The options are:

Financial penalties for breaches of agreement under the Arable Stewardship Pilot Scheme are the same as those for the Countryside Stewardship Scheme. Payments made may be withheld or reclaimed with interest. In addition, a 10 per cent. penalty may be imposed where appropriate. In certain circumstances, the agreement may also be terminated and the agreement holder banned from entering a new agreement under any Rural Development Regulation scheme for up to two years.

Water Industry

Ian Stewart: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on the progress of the Government's Review of competition in the water industry in England and Wales. [44725]

Mr. Meacher: I informed the House on 30 March 2001, Official Report, column 832W, that the Government had decided to boost the opportunities for competition in

19 Mar 2002 : Column 263W

public water services in England and Wales. We proposed that the incumbent companies would remain vertically integrated statutory undertakers, while new entrants would be licensed for production and retail activities. Since then, DEFRA has undertaken further detailed work on the future framework, in close collaboration with other Government Departments, the National Assembly for Wales, and the three principal regulators of the water industry; Ofwat, the Drinking Water Inspectorate and the Environment Agency.

Competition can deliver benefits for customer through keener prices, more innovation and improved service quality. But competition must be consistent with the Government's wider policy objectives for the water industry. It is important for the framework and scope of any further competitive activity to be tailored to the particular circumstances of the industry and the needs of its customers.

After thorough consideration, we propose to extend competition for non-household customers that use large quantities of water. Market entrants will be authorised to enter into common carriage agreements with statutory undertakers to supply premises which use more than a specified threshold of water per year. We propose that this should be set initially at 50 megalitres, based on the evidence currently available. Work is under way to assess the likely effects of lower threshold levels, both in terms of increasing competitive opportunity and the Government's wider policy objectives for the water industry. Views will be invited on the threshold in a forthcoming consultation paper. This further analysis, the views received in response to consultation, and consideration of the implications for all customers, will inform any final decisions on the initial threshold to be introduced in England and Wales.

Any subsequent lowering of the initial threshold will be considered once we have the benefit of practical experience to draw on. We would consult publicly on any proposed change and the same considerations would apply as in the case of the initial threshold. From the outset, new entrants to the industry will be expected to co-operate with the statutory undertakers in preparing and implementing water resource, security and emergency planning.

We have considered very carefully whether to introduce competition now for household customers. We have concluded that extending competition to the domestic water sector, while at the same time seeking to ensure that the Government's public health, social and environmental objectives continued to be met, would require a complex and costly regulatory regime, which would still leave substantial uncertainties. The added complexity would militate against effective competition and the extra costs would have to be borne mainly by customers. In our view, these drawbacks are likely to outweigh the potential benefits.

Household and other customers can continue to rely on the present system of comparative competition operated by Ofwat, to encourage water companies to improve efficiency and their services. Average household customers are now paying 13 per cent. less than in 1999, a reduction of £33 in real terms.

19 Mar 2002 : Column 264W

We shall be publishing a consultation paper with further details of our proposals later this year. As previously announced, our intention is to introduce a Water Bill to bring these changes into effect. The draft Bill also contains proposals to put customers at the heart of the regulatory process, including setting up an independent consumer body to be the voice of consumers.

EU Water Framework Directive

Mr. Sayeed: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when her Department expects the EU Water Framework Directive to come into force in the United Kingdom. [43600]

Mr. Meacher: The Water Framework Directive came into force in all European Community member states on 22 December 2000. Article 24 of the Directive requires member states to bring into force the necessary laws, regulations and administrative provisions necessary to comply with the Directive by 22 December 2003.

Habitats Directive

Mr. Peter Ainsworth: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what measures she is taking to ensure the protection of sites designated as special areas of conservation under the Habitats Directive; and if she will make a statement. [43213]

Margaret Beckett [holding answer 14 March 2002]: Special areas of conservation (SAC) under the Habitats Directive, special protection areas (SPA) under the Birds Directive and sites listed under the Ramsar Convention are accorded the highest level of protection available.

Article 6 of the Habitats Directive as transposed into UK law through the Conservation (Natural Habitats, etc.) Regulations 1994 requires that any new development proposal likely to have a significant impact on a SAC or SPA is assessed for its implications on that site. If that assessment concludes that the project would have an adverse effect on the integrity of the site it can only proceed, in the absence of alternatives, in the overriding public interest.

Guidance to local planning authorities and other public bodies on how that protection should be delivered is given in the current Planning Policy Guidance on Nature Conservation (PPG9). In addition the Government Statement of May 1998 on the Birds and Habitats Directives gave extensive guidance on the application of Article 6 of the Habitats Directive and relevant factors to be weighed when making judgments about overriding public interest.

Parental Leave Directive

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what estimate she has made of the (a) financial costs and (b) benefits to her Department of the Parental Leave Directive. [42489]

Mr. Morley: The Parental Leave Directive which introduced parental leave entitlements (along with increased maternity benefits and time-off to care for dependants) was introduced into UK law by the Employment Relations Act 1999. The Act has had a neutral financial effect and limited benefit on this Department and the Pesticides Safety Directorate,

19 Mar 2002 : Column 265W

Veterinary Medicines Directorate and Rural Payments Agencies, because the leave is without pay and because prior to the introduction of the legislation the Department already had in place contractual terms which were generally more favourable to staff though they did not specifically cover unpaid time-off for parental leave. As part of its overall 'family friendly' provisions this Department continues to establish arrangements which allow staff to establish a proper work/life balance. The statutory rights which have now been incorporated into staff terms and conditions provide staff with basic entitlements in the event that they fall outside the contractual entitlements. So far there have been few requests for unpaid parental leave.

Responsibility for such matters within the Central Science Laboratory Agency, the Veterinary Laboratory Agency and the Centre for Environmental, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science Agency has been delegated to Agency Chief Executives and I have asked them to reply direct.

Next Section Index Home Page