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New EU drinking water standards came into force with effect from the end of 2003. Compliance with the new standards in England and Wales was 99.94 per cent. in 2004 and 99.96 per cent. in 2005.

Fuel Poverty

Mr. McGovern: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many people were in fuel poverty in each year since 2001. [93778]

Ian Pearson: Fuel poverty is a devolved matter. In England, the English House Condition survey is used to determine the level of fuel poverty. Survey results have a two year lag, thus the latest figures available are for 2004.

Number of households in fuel poverty (millions)









Since 2004, the fuel price increases that have occurred are likely to mean that a further households in England will have been drawn into fuel poverty.

Natural England

Mrs. Moon: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment he has made of the effect of recent changes to Natural England's budget on its ability to meet its biodiversity conservation obligations. [91538]

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Barry Gardiner: Defra has had to review the budgets for its entire family in the light of pressures arising during the course of the year. For 2006-07 Natural England has provided me with an assessment of the likely impact of the cuts. Ministers specifically asked that the impact of the cuts on the Government's Public Service Agreement targets for Sites of Special Scientific Interest, and on Biodiversity Action Plans, be minimised. I will shortly be announcing Natural England's budget for the coming year and I will again emphasise the importance of continuing to make progress on our biodiversity commitments.


Mr. Greg Knight: (1) To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what advice he has given, and on what dates, to local authorities on the eradication of ragwort in their areas; what financial assistance is available to them for this purpose; and if he will make a statement; [92879]

(2) what advice is available to private landowners on the elimination of ragwort; and what financial assistance is available for this purpose. [92880]

Barry Gardiner: The Department's policy is to control common ragwort and other injurious weeds, where there is a threat to animal welfare or agricultural activities. It is not Defra policy to eradicate ragwort entirely, as we recognise it forms an important habitat and food source for many insects. It is the responsibility of all land managers, including local authorities, to control the spread of weeds from land under their control. There is no specific financial assistance available from Defra for this task.

On 25 May, I wrote to the Highways Agency, Network Rail and the Local Government Association reminding them of the need to control injurious weeds on their land where there is a risk to horses and other livestock.

The Code of Practice on how to prevent the spread of Ragwort was published in July 2004 and has been made widely available to public and private land managers. It provides comprehensive guidance on how to develop a strategic and more cost-effective approach to weed control. It is intended for use by all landowners and occupiers, but is particularly relevant for large-scale organisations managing significant land areas, including local authorities and public bodies.

It gives advice on identification of common ragwort, risk assessment and priorities for ragwort control, control methods their suitability and efficacy, environmental considerations, and health and safety issues.

To complement the Code of Practice, in September 2005 Defra also published guidance on disposal options for Common Ragwort. This includes information and advice on rotting down, composting, incineration, controlled burning, and landfill.

Copies of the Code of Practice and the guidance on disposal are available from Defra Publications (telephone: 08459 55 6000) and are on the Defra website at:

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Right of Way (Coasts)

Mr. Laurence Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what provision exists for a general right of way in coastal areas; and if he will make a statement. [94146]

Barry Gardiner: People have access to the beach around much of the coast, but this access is uncertain and it is often not based on clear legal rights. There is much less access to the coastal land behind the beach, to sand dunes and cliff tops and marshes, which also provide that great sense of freedom and well-being that coastal land can bring. There is no clear route all the way around the coast.

We are looking at possible options for extending access to coastal areas, to really benefit people and allow them to get out and enjoy our wonderful coastline, while taking full account of nature conservation issues. Natural England is currently undertaking fact finding and investigating options and will make recommendations by the end of December. We will then issue a consultation paper in early 2007 setting out the facts, a range of options and the costs and benefits associated with each.

Warm Front Programme

Mr. Dai Davies: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what mechanisms exist for the monitoring of contractors engaged to install insulation and heating equipment under the warmfront programme. [93700]

Ian Pearson: The Warm Front scheme manager, Eaga Partnership, vets all installers to ensure they demonstrate technical competence, possess relevant qualifications and display financial probity.

Eaga has introduced vendor-rating systems that all installers are assessed against. The vendor rating for each installer determines the level of work they will receive in future. Those installers who fail to meet the relevant criteria and standards are immediately removed from the Warm Front programme.

DEFRA also has a contract with independent quality assurance assessors who monitor quality issues on an ongoing basis and regularly report to the Department.

Water Companies

Lyn Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment he has made of the speed at which water companies have implemented their investment plans efficiently after price limits were set in 2004; and if he will make a statement. [93978]

Ian Pearson: Ofwat is the economic regulator for the water and sewerage industry in England and Wales. In December 2004 it set price limits for the period 2005-10. In setting these price limits, Ofwat assumed that the industry would spend £18.3 billion (in today's prices) over the period 2005-10 on its capital investment programme.

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Although companies have generally delivered the environmental outputs that were expected for 2005-06, levels of investment across the full range of companies' activities have fallen short of Ofwat's assumptions. Their total capital investment for 2005-06 was £3.4 billion, compared with the £4.3billion that Ofwat expected. Ofwat's detailed 2005-06 report, ‘Financial performance and expenditure of the water companies in England and Wales’, has been placed in the Library of the House.

The regulators will continue to monitor how the companies' perform, focusing on making sure that full investment programmes are delivered for the period up to 2010.

Constitutional Affairs

Burial Grounds

Mr. O'Hara: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (1) what provisions exist for protecting burial places, including preventing building on the grave area, falling outside the jurisdiction of the Church of England; and who is responsible for monitoring such measures; [93993]

(2) what guidance is provided to (a) central government and its agencies, (b) local government and (c) other public bodies regarding legal and other obligations regarding (i) maintaining records and reporting regarding bodies buried in grounds controlled by them, (ii) building on grounds containing bodies and (iii) exhuming bodies; how such guidance is disseminated; and when that guidance was last reviewed. [93994]

Ms Harman: It is an offence without authority to disturb buried human remains, including any disturbance as a result of building works. Specific measures in relation to burial grounds in certain circumstances are contained in the Town and Country Planning (Churches, Places of Religious Worship and Burial Grounds) Regulations 1950, and in relation to disused burial grounds in the Disused Burial Grounds Acts of 1884 and 1981. Certain other local and private Acts may contain similar provisions in relation to specific sites. Any proposal to change the use of a burial ground would be a matter for local planning authorities, involving public consultation.

Guidance on the application of the relevant legislation is provided in response to inquiries. In addition, the Department’s “Guide for Burial Ground Managers”, published in April and available on the Department’s web site, contains a brief outline of the law on burial and exhumation.


Mr. Drew: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what status privately-owned closed circuit television systems have in relation to data protection; and what rights individuals filmed on public footpaths have to ask (a) to see and (b) to destroy video tape of themselves. [94795]

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Vera Baird: The Data Protection Act 1998 covers all processing of personal data by automatic means, including those close circuit television (CCTV) systems in public places, or on premises where members of the public may have access, where it is possible for the operator to identify distinct individuals from the film footage. The Act does not apply to CCTV filming purely within a private house/garden, but where the camera's field of operation extends beyond the private property, individuals caught on the film—where it is possible for the operator to distinctly identify them from the footage—have a right of access to the film under s7 of the Act. There is no automatic right to insist on destruction of the film, but individuals have a right, under s10 of the Act, to object to any processing likely to cause damage or distress where such damage or distress is, or would be, unwarranted and this could involve destruction, in appropriate circumstances.

Electoral Administration Act 2006

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs whether dates of birth will be used to verify remote electronic voting following the implementation of the Electoral Administration Act 2006. [94690]

Bridget Prentice: With any new method for voting it is vital that the systems used be made as secure as possible and my Department is committed to ensuring that any new remote methods be at least as secure as traditional channels.

The verification process is one of the elements we would wish to test in piloting of electronic voting. This could involve dates of birth or other appropriate credentials for use in verification. The credentials used would depend on the content of individual pilots proposed by local authorities.


Mr. O'Hara: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (1) what redress is available for those who have experienced (a) delays and (b) poor service in the processing of exhumation licence applications; [93991]

(2) what complaints procedures and policies exist in respect of the handling of exhumation licence applications; and how many complaints were received in relation to exhumation licences in each of the last 10 years. [94069]

Ms Harman: Complaints and requests for redress in respect of our handling of exhumation licence applications are dealt with in accordance with the departmental complaints procedures, the details of which are available from the departmental website.

Three such complaints have been received in recent years.

Mr. O'Hara: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (1) how many applications for exhumation licences by the Prison Service there were in respect of bodies buried in prison grounds in the last period for which figures are available; [93992]

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(2) how many exhumation licences were issued pursuant to section 25 of the Burial Act 1857 in each of the last 30 years; [93995]

(3) what records are kept of exhumation licences applied for and issued; and how such records can be inspected; [93996]

(4) how many the applicants for exhumation licences there were in each of the last 10 years for which figures are available; what the reason for the exhumation being sought was in each case; and what conditions were of each such licence issued; [93997]

(5) how many applications for exhumation licences under the Burial Act 1857 were refused in the last period for which figures are available; and for what reasons in each case; [93998]

(6) how many (a) refusals and (b) delays in issuing exhumation licences were challenged in each of the last 10 years for which information is available, separately identifying those cases in which such challenge was made by letter of claim intimating proceedings; [93999]

(7) what average length of time was taken from the making of the application for an exhumation licence to the granting of an application over the last five years; and what the (a) longest and (b) shortest length of time was which an exhumation licence has taken to be issued. [94066]

Ms Harman: One application, in respect of five bodies, has been received from the Prison Service in the last five years.

The number of exhumation licences issued under the Burial Act 1857 for which records are available are set out in the following table.














The number of applications refused over these years could not be obtained without disproportionate cost, but is thought to be very small. Applications normally fall to be refused where they do not meet the normal requirements for relevant consents.

The Department’s records consist of the application form, a copy of any licence issued, and any relevant correspondence. The documents will contain details of the applicant, the reasons for the application and any conditions attached to the Licence. Requests for the inspection of such records and the disclosure of the reasons for the refusal of an exhumation would need to be made in accordance with the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Data Protection Act 1998.

Complete applications will normally be processed within 20 working days of receipt. In cases of urgency, licences may be issued on the same day. Where further information is required or where the application raises sensitive or complex issues, the process can take longer. Information on the time taken to process applications
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in individual cases could only be obtained at disproportionate cost. No letters of claim are known to have been received in connection with any cases of alleged delay.

Mr. O'Hara: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what policies and procedures were followed on receipt of an application for an exhumation licence in (a) 2006, (b) 1996, (c) 1986 and (d) 1976; and when such policies and procedures were last reviewed. [94000]

Ms Harman: Government policy has for many years been to consider applications sympathetically where made for private, personal, reasons and where consent has been obtained from the burial ground operator, the owner of the burial rights to the grave, if any, and the next of kin of the deceased person. Applications are liable to be refused where the relevant consents have not been obtained, where the next of kin cannot agree, or where it would not be in the public interest for the application to be approved.

Practice and procedures are kept under regular review.

Mr. O'Hara: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs whether the recipient of an exhumation licence is named in the licence. [94065]

Ms Harman: No. Exhumation licences merely disapply the penalties which would be incurred if removal took place without a licence. They are therefore issued in the name of the deceased person or otherwise in a way which identifies the remains which may be lawfully exhumed.

Mr. O'Hara: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (1) what staff complement was allocated to processing exhumation licences in each of the last 10 years; [94067]

(2) what education and training is given to officials on (a) religious and cultural issues relating to death and the disposal of the dead, (b) human rights obligations to respect family life and (c) the manifestation of religious beliefs to assist them to ensure that the exhumation licence process is sensitively handled; [94068]

(3) what role Ministers have in the granting of exhumation licences. [94064]

Ms Harman: Exhumation applications are processed each year by approximately three quarters of one full time equivalent official. All those involved in processing such applications are made aware of the need to treat applications sensitively, and development opportunities are taken to reinforce this approach. All staff undergo diversity training and senior officers are briefed on relevant human rights issues.

Authority to deal with uncontentious applications has been delegated to officials under the “Carltona” principle, but sensitive or complex cases are liable to be referred to Ministers for decision.

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