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Water Charges

Mr. Streeter: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will take steps to reduce the differences in water charges between the south-west and other regions of the country. [14565]

Mr. Morley: The south-west does have the highest bills in England and Wales, but like other companies, water companies must meet their costs, including those of environmental standards. Ultimately, those costs have to be met by their customers. Ofwat sets an upper limit on customer prices, but there is a strong and visible link between what the company spends and the customers who fund that through their bills.

Measures to change the difference in water bills between regions would involve shifting some of the burden either onto national taxpayers or onto water customers in other parts of the country. There are no plans to subsidise South West Water's investment in this way. Any such measures would overturn the present legislative and regulatory framework—a system that has delivered impressive efficiency savings that have been passed on to customers.

There are vulnerable customers throughout the country, not only in the south-west, and we must consider their costs and the way in which any changes in the current charging system would apply to them.

Mr. Streeter: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will take steps to assist those on low incomes in the south-west to pay their water charges. [14567]

Mr. Morley: The Government have already taken action, through legislation, to alleviate problems with water affordability where there might be a risk to household health. We have legislated to stop household water disconnection because of inability to pay and set up protection for vulnerable groups on meters who might otherwise cut back on water that they could not afford.

Financial support for families and for pensioners on low and moderate incomes has risen significantly in recent years. As a result of personal tax and benefit measures implemented by the Government since 1997, by September this year, in real terms families with children will be on average £1,350 a year better off, pensioner households will be on average £1,350 a year better off and the poorest third of pensioner households will have gained £1,750 a year.

Further to the cross Government review of Water Affordability published in December 2004 we are working with other stakeholders on a pilot study in the south-west which will target, and assess the effectiveness of water affordability assistance to lower income households.

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what role the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister plays in the assessment of rateable values for water rates. [12014]

Mr. Woolas: I have been asked to reply.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has no role in the assessment of rateable values for water rates.

Rateable values pre-date the current council tax system as a means of calculating local taxation rates. They were set by the Valuation Office, an executive agency of the Inland Revenue, and could be queried or reassessed prior to 1990, but this has not been possible since they ceased to be used for local taxation purposes and there has been no appeal mechanism since 31 March 1990.

Water companies continue to use rateable values as a basis for unmeasured water charging.

Zoo Licensing Legislation

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will (a) issue definitive guidance to local authorities on all species status under the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 (as amended) and (b) revise the Zoo Licensing Act 1981. [14197]

Jim Knight: On point (a) , the Department already issues comprehensive guidance to local authorities on the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 (as amended) in the form of Defra Circular 02/2003 and the Secretary of State's Standards of Modern Zoo Practice (last revised in 2004). In addition, the Zoos Forum (the Government's advisers on zoos issues) also publishes supplementary guidance.

Circular 02/2003 includes guidance to local authorities on which groups of species are considered, for the purposes of the Act, to be wild animals" (thereby triggering the requirement for a zoo licence if exhibited) or normally domesticated" animals, focusing on cases which have caused uncertainty (this is updated by more recent guidance on llama and alpaca). The guidance is kept under review but there are no plans at present to develop further substantive guidance on this.
 
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On point (b) , there are no plans at present to further revise the Zoo Licensing Act 1981.

Environmental Funding

Mr. Maude: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how much funding has been spent on or committed to environmental schemes within each growth area. [13787]

Yvette Cooper: I have been asked to reply.

All growth areas have benefited from various levels of investment in environmental schemes, much of which has been delivered through mainstream funding. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and its non-departmental public bodies, such as the Countryside Agency, have invested approximately £65 million in environmentally based grant and programme support beyond mainstream funding since 2003 into the growth areas to support the development, protection and enhancement of all environmental assets. More targeted funding programmes led by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister such as the Growth Areas Fund and Liveability Fund, have provided £45.4 million between 2003 and 2006 to deliver environmental schemes to support the Sustainable Communities Plan.

EDUCATION AND SKILLS

2020 Trust

Mr. Cameron: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills how much money her Department has given to the 2020 Trust in the last eight years; and for what purpose. [13755]

Maria Eagle: We have found no trace of any payments being made from the Department to an organisation named the 2020 Trust.

Adoption

Mrs. May: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills whether European Union member states which have ratified the European Convention of the Adoption of Children recognise adoptions made in the UK; and if she will make a statement. [14154]

Maria Eagle: The 1967 European Convention on the Adoption of Children aims to harmonise the laws in contracting states to promote the welfare of children who are adopted. However, the Convention does not provide for international recognition of adoptions made in the UK, or in any other country. It is a matter for each European Union member state which has ratified the Convention to decide whether to recognise adoptions made outside its jurisdiction.

John Hemming: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills for what reasons the weight of potential foster parents or adoptive parents is taken into account when people are considered as potential candidates. [14803]

Beverley Hughes: In respect of foster carers, the Fostering Services Regulations 2002 require fostering service providers to obtain information about the health
 
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of a prospective carer, as well as a range of other information, in order to assess that person's suitability and capacity to care effectively for a looked after child. There are no specific requirements relating to weight.

In respect of adoptive parents, I refer the hon. Member to the reply given on 11 July 2005, Official Report, column 830W.

Adult/Community Learning

Mr. Bone: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills (1) what the Learning and Skills Council funding for adult education in each county has been in each year since 1997; [14102]

(2) what funding on adult education in Northamptonshire not including the funding for 14 to 19-year-olds is planned for the next 10 years, expressed in (a) actual and (b) real terms; and what assessment she has made of the implications of the funding settlement for lifelong learning in the county over that period. [14106]

Beverley Hughes: The Department allocates funds for education and training in the post-16 learning and skills sector to the Learning and Skills Council (LSC). In the Department's Grant Letter of 15 November 2004, the LSC was allocated £6.7 billion in 2005–06, £6.8 billion in 2006–07 and £7.1 billion in 2007–08 for learning participation, which includes funding for adult education. For the years from 2008–09, allocations will be determined by the next Spending Review. At local level, allocations are made by the LSC. This process has been completed for 2005/06 and the LSC expects to begin discussions about 2006/07 in September 2005.

The LSC publishes details of its allocations to learning providers. Information for further education and adult and community learning for 2004/05 and preceding years are available on the LSC website.

Mr. Frank Field: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills if she will ensure fee concessions remain in place for those aged 60 who wish to study in a further education college in Wirral. [7511]

Beverley Hughes: Older people will continue to be eligible for concessions funded by my Department through the Learning and Skills Council if they are receiving an income based benefit such as housing benefit or council tax benefit, or if they are receiving the pension (guarantee) credit. Learners of any age will also have access to literacy, numeracy and English language courses free of charge. Colleges in Wirral will continue to have considerable discretion in setting fees, and although we want colleges to raise more of the income they voluntarily forgo, we have no plans to stop colleges offering additional concessions if appropriate.

Mr. Brady: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what the budget for adult and community learning per head of population for each local education authority is for (a) 2005–06 and (b) 2006–07. [8792]

Phil Hope: The exact makeup and distribution of learning provision at local level are matters for local Learning and Skills Councils and their partners in colleges and other providers, according to their assessment of local needs and priorities. Mark Haysom,
 
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the LSC's Chief Executive, will write to the hon. Member with more detailed information. A copy of his reply will be placed in the Library.

Letter from Mark Haysom to Mr. Brady, dated 14 July 2005:

Mr. Brady: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what estimate she has made of the number of people in each local education authority who are engaged in adult and community learning. [8868]

Phil Hope: The exact make up and distribution of learning provision at local level are matters for local Learning and Skills Councils and their partners in colleges and other providers, according to their assessment of local needs and priorities. Mark Haysom, the LSC's chief executive, will write to the hon. Member with more detailed information. A copy of his reply will be placed in the House Libraries.

Letter from Mark Haysom to Mr. Graham Brady, dated 14 July 2005:


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