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20 Jan 2004 : Column 1196W—continued

Sudden Oak Death

Mr. Swayne: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment has been made of using helicopters for the purpose of identifying trees infected with sudden oak death; and if she will make a statement. [148557]

Mr Bradshaw: It would not be possible to spot signs of infection of Phytophthora ramorum from the air unless infection and dieback of trees and shrubs was extensive. The employment of helicopters would therefore only be of assistance to identify areas of dense planting and woodland for further investigation in areas where the infection is considerably more severe than any of the UK outbreaks identified to date. Plant health inspectors already have access to an on-line aerial photograph mapping facility to assist them in planning ground based inspections. They also have experience of using aerial surveys to detect plant disease on arable crops, although this has been with fixed wing aircraft rather than helicopters. The possibility of aerial surveys will be kept under review.

Mr. Swayne: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment has been made of the effects of using methyl bromide as the fungicide of choice for combating sudden oak death; and if she will make a statement. [148558]

Mr Bradshaw: Methyl bromide is a fumigant approved for use as a pre-planting soil sterilant against some soil borne diseases including some Phytophthora species mainly in horticultural situations. Its effectiveness specifically against Phytopthora ramorum has not been evaluated because this is a new species. The

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pesticide may already be used by nursery staff growing plant stock for the purpose of eradicating other known pests and diseases in soil pre-planting. However it is not approved for use against fungal pathogens on growing plants due to phytotoxicity problems caused by the high doses that would be necessary. The methodology of applying soil fumigants would also make it impracticable to use this a means of dealing with infection in the wider environment. There are considerable health and safety implications attached to the use of this acutely toxic substance.

The only form of treatment currently available to eliminate infection by Phytophthora ramorum is removal and destruction of plant material. Currently approved fungicides have a suppressive effect which masks symptoms rather than eradicating the pathogen from infected plants. However, Horticulture Development Council funded research at the Central Science Laboratory is looking at a range of substances to see how well they can eradicate infection or protect healthy nursery stock from new infection.

US Ships (Decommissioning)

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs whether the US ships intended for decommissioning by Able UK contain chemicals banned in the US. [142022]

Mr. Morley: The US Toxic Substances Control Act generally prohibits the export of PCBs greater in concentration that 50 ppm although an enforcement discretion permitted the export of PCBs above this concentration on the condition that all liquid or easily accessible PCBs were removed beforehand. We understand that all such PCBs were removed as part of the contractual obligations between the US Maritime Administration and Able UK Ltd.

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on the High Court ruling on 8 December regarding the dismantling of the contaminated former US naval ships. [143988]

Mr. Morley: No. Defra were not a party in the case and it is possible that parties will appeal against the decision. The ships are not contaminated any more or less than any similar ship of their age. To describe them as such is misleading.


Freedom of Information

Mr. Rosindell: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs what recent steps the Department has taken to promote (a) freedom of information, (b) data protection and (c) human rights. [146674]

Mr. Lammy: Details of the steps taken to promote freedom of information in the last year are included in the annual report on bringing into force those provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 which are not yet fully in force. This was laid before both Houses on 27 November 2003 and copies have been

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placed in the Library. The Department has also produced a model action plan to assist public authorities in their preparations for implementation of the Freedom of Information Act which includes sections on raising awareness of freedom of information with staff, stakeholders and the public. Copies are available from the Department and its website.

The Department has regular meetings with the Information Commissioner, who has statutory responsibility for promoting the observance of the requirements of the Data Protection Act 1998 by data controllers and for disseminating information to the public about the operation of the Act. The Information Commissioner also has responsibility for the promotion of awareness and compliance with the Freedom of Information Act. Both the Commissioner and the Department keep under review the operation of the Data Protection Act and closely monitor and contribute to the development of international initiatives in the data protection field.

Officials at the Department have delivered eight awareness raising roadshows on human rights in the past year. The delivery of roadshows is on-going and with further dates already confirmed in Leeds and Oxford.

The Department maintains a dedicated human rights helpdesk to assist members of the public and produces publications including a detailed "Study Guide to the Human Rights Act 1998", a leaflet entitled "An introduction to the Human Rights Act," which is available in nine different languages, plus an audio tape and a copy of the study guide in braille. The officials are also in the process of commissioning CD- ROM guidance on the Act, a further edition of the study guide and special guidance for those with learning disabilities. The Department's human rights website attracts praise from a number of key stakeholders , and receive an average of 1,150 hits per week.

The Department provides assistance to the Institute for Global Ethics and Citizenship Foundation in delivering the Impetus Project—encouraging children across the UK to learn about human rights as part of their citizenship education.

I have written in my capacity as Minister for Human Rights to each Council Leader and Public Authority Chief Executive in England and Wales—enclosing a copy of an Audit Commission report on human rights. The Act can be a valuable tool for driving up standards of public service delivery.

I am keen to ensure that the Department takes advantage of every opportunity to speak on human rights.


Building Regulations

David Taylor: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the system for ensuring compliance with the building regulations in the construction of new houses. [148880]

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Phil Hope: A person intending to build a new house must either apply to the local authority's building control department or they must engage an inspector approved under Part II of the Building Act 1984. The local authority or the approved inspector will then check the plans and the building work for compliance with the Building Regulations.

David Taylor: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister (1) what recent representations he has received from the Building Control Performance Standards Advisory Group; [148973]

Phil Hope: No recent discussions have taken place with the Building Control Performance Standards Advisory Group nor has the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister received any representations from them. The Group are welcome to raise with me, at any time, any matters relating to standards in building control.

Mr. Todd: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister pursuant to his Answer of 5 January 2004, Official Report, column 142W, on the fenestration self-assessment scheme, how large the sample of work monitored to ensure compliance with building regulations is; and if he will publish the report on compliance. [148978]

Phil Hope: The Fenestration Self-Assessment Scheme (FENSA) routinely monitors annually 1 per cent. of the work of its member firms, with a minimum of two inspections per year. Where an inspection shows that the work has not complied, the rate of inspection for that firm will be increased. Extra inspections are also carried out in response to complaints that work does not comply. Local authorities retain their right to inspect work carried out by registered FENSA installers and to take enforcement action against them where appropriate. Local authorities will use these powers in response to a complaint.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's report on compliance is available on the ODPM website. Copies are also available in the Libraries of the House.

Sue Doughty: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister when he will publish the results of studies into pressure testing of homes to assess whether requirements of Part L of the Building Regulations are being fully implemented. [149364]

Phil Hope: The current requirements in Part L for the airtightness of new homes came into effect on 1 April 2002. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister will publish the results of pressure tests on a sample of new homes built to these standards in support of the consultation on the proposals for the next major revision of Part L, planned for this summer.

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