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Government Auctions

Mr. Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs where his Department publishes information about Government auctions which it arranges or to which it contributes in (a) Blackpool, (b) Lancashire and (c) the North West; and when the next such auction will take place in each area. [117420]

Barry Gardiner: DEFRA came into being in June 2001. From information held centrally, the Department has not held any such auctions and is, currently, unaware of any plans to do so.

The policy of the Department is to use the Disposal Services Agency (DSA) to facilitate the sale and/or auctioning of any surplus equipment. Details of DSA’s activities can be found on its website or at the OGC buying solutions website at


Daniel Kawczynski: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment his Department has made of the reasons for recent trends in the hedgehog population. [110993]

Barry Gardiner: The hedgehog is currently under no conservation threat. In 1999, English Nature (now Natural England) stated that the UK’s total pre-breeding hedgehog population stood at about 1,555,000: 1,100,000 in England, 310,000 in Scotland and 145,000 in Wales.

There is little historical knowledge about changes in numbers, though numbers on the mainland are thought to have declined substantially since the early 20(th) century. By contrast, introduced populations on islands have increased.

Some data are available from a number of surveys, such as the National Game Census, the Breeding Bird Survey, the Wetland Breeding Birds Survey and the Mammals on Roads Survey. However, none of these has yet been running long enough to give a clear picture of changes in hedgehog numbers.

Inland Waterways: Repairs and Maintenance

Charlotte Atkins: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what planned winter maintenance work and repairs British Waterways has (a) cancelled and (b) postponed in the winter of 2007 as a result of reductions to its grant in aid; and what the locations and value of these works were. [118277]

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Barry Gardiner: British Waterways has made savings in the order of £5.6 million in its capital projects as a result of the reduction in its grant in aid. Details of these savings are provided in the following table:

Project Saving details (£)

Rowington Embankment, Grand Union Canal

250,000 reduced investment: Reduced investment into refurbishment—there will still be a winter stoppage

Shenton Embankment, Ashby Canal

540,000 deferred: Piling works to embankment deferred

Long Horse Bridge, River Trent

544,000 deferred: Construction of a new pedestrian bridge deferred to 2007-08

Ribble Link

464,000 reduced investment: Temporary stability works to bywash—there will still be a winter stoppage

Trub Farm, Rochdale Canal

586,000 reduced investment: Installation of a bridge and associated approach road—will go ahead, however it will be funded with alternative money—there is a winter stoppage currently in place

Cloughside Farm, Peak Forest Canal

75,000 reduced investment: Rebuilding of a section of towpath wall—there will still be a winter stoppage

Coates Lane Retaining Wall, Leeds and Liverpool Canal

208,000 deferred: Rebuilding a collapsed section of wall deferred to 2007-08 with a revised, cheaper solution

Roddlesworth Embankment, Leeds and Liverpool Canal

300,000 deferred: Stemming of leakage through embankment and raising the height of the wash wall both deferred

Bridge 177a, Grand Union Canal

174,000 deferred: Refurbishment of a footbridge deferred to 2007-08

Stop gates, in the London area

278,000 deferred: Projects deferred and requirements being reviewed

Denham Culvert, Grand Union Canal

174,000 deferred: In-depth investigation into the integrity of the structure deferred

Milton Keynes Culvert, Grand Union Canal

176,000 deferred: Repairs to two culverts deferred

River Severn Dredging

150,000 deferred: Dredging the Upper Partings to Haw Bridge deferred

Burghfield Lock Refurbishment, Kennet and Avon Canal

158,000 reduced investment: Refurbishment of lock - reduced scope of works—there will still be a winter stoppage

Aston Locks 9 and 11, Birmingham and Fazeley Canal

252,000 deferred: Refurbishment deferred

Tividale Aqueduct, Old Main Line

133,000 deferred: Aqueduct repairs deferred

Vale Royal Lock, Weaver Navigation

592,000 deferred: Refurbishment deferred

Calverley Wood Embankment, Leeds and Liverpool Canal

485,000 deferred: Embankment refurbishment deferred—reduced scheme planned for 2007-08

Charlotte Atkins: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what estimate he has made of the cost to British Waterways of repairing the breach on the Brecon and Abergavenny Canal that occurred on 17 January. [118278]

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Barry Gardiner: British Waterways’ engineers have confirmed that the failure of a culvert brought about the breach in this canal. Estimates for the repair costs are in the order of £500,000 and British Waterways aims to complete the work before Easter.

Charlotte Atkins: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the likely cost to British Waterways is of repairing damage to its waterways caused by the January 2007 storms; and what additional financial assistance is planned to be provided by the Government to enable this work to be carried out. [118279]

Barry Gardiner: British Waterways has assessed the cost to be over £100,000 and makes provision for these types of events within its budget. The Government provide grant in aid which reflects a range of eventualities and look to British Waterways to manage its priorities within its overall budget.

Mental Illness: Employment

Lynne Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what measures he is taking actively to promote the employment within (a) his Department and (b) public sector bodies for whom he has responsibility of people with mental illnesses in line with the advice and codes of practice produced by the Disability Rights Commission. [117082]

Barry Gardiner: Under the disability equality duty introduced by the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, my Department and the public sector bodies for which I am responsible are required to publish and implement disability equality schemes. These are plans setting out how we will carry out the disability equality duty, monitor, and report on progress. In particular this includes our arrangements for gathering information on the effect of our policies and practices on the recruitment, development and retention of our disabled employees, including those with mental health conditions, and making use of that information.

DEFRA is committed to providing equal opportunities for all candidates during the selection process, to enable us to select staff from a diverse pool of talent. Part of that commitment is that we guarantee an interview to any candidate who has declared a disability, as defined by the Act, provided they meet the minimum (essential eligibility) criteria for the post in question, as set out in the job advertisement. This is referred to as the two ticks scheme. There are also duties under the employment provisions in Part 2 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 not to discriminate against, and to make reasonable adjustments for, disabled job applicants and employees. Online guidance is provided to managers and disabled employees on how these requirements are to be met.

The public sector bodies sponsored by my Department that are subject to these requirements are responsible for publishing and implementing their own disability equality schemes.

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Parliamentary Scrutiny Override Mechanism

Bill Wiggin: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many times his Department has used the parliamentary scrutiny override mechanism in each year since 2001; for what reasons it was used in each case; and if he will make a statement. [117664]

Barry Gardiner: Since 2003, the Government have submitted a report to Parliament every six months on parliamentary scrutiny overrides, following the recommendation contained in the report from the House of Lords European Committee (1(st) report, 2002-03), with which the Government agreed. These reports identify those occasions in each six-month period when the Government were unable to comply fully with the terms of the Scrutiny Reserve Resolutions in one or both Houses and record correspondence that Ministers have had with the Scrutiny Committees. The parliamentary scrutiny override mechanism is only used as a last resort and in each case, Ministers must give the Scrutiny Committees a proper account of the circumstances of the override.

In 2003, DEFRA Ministers used the parliamentary scrutiny override mechanism in the House of Commons 11 times; in 2004 it was used nine times; in 2005 it was used 16 times; and in 2006 it was used seven times.

Leader of the House


Mr. Heald: To ask the Leader of the House if he will ensure that the debates on the draft order implementing the Boundary Commission's recommendations on new parliamentary boundaries take place in April 2007. [117880]

Mr. Straw: Subject to the progress of business, I hope the debate will take place before the end of April.

International Development


Sir Michael Spicer: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development when he will reply to the letter from the hon. member for West Worcestershire of 19 December 2006, on indoor air pollution in the developing world. [112140]

Hilary Benn: There is no record in DFID of having previously received the letter of 19 December from the hon. Member for West Worcestershire, on indoor air pollution in the developing world; however, having now received a copy, I will reply as soon as possible.

Developing Countries

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development whether his Department has any role in animal (a) health and (b) welfare in developing countries. [118212]

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Mr. Thomas: In recent years DFID has supported a range of livestock initiatives, recognising that disease and poor animal welfare threaten the potentially important role that productive use of livestock can play in poverty reduction. Guided by our 2005 agriculture policy paper “Growth and poverty reduction: the role of agriculture”, DFID's efforts include improving veterinary service delivery, developing vaccines, and ensuring that international livestock trading standards—including for health and welfare—are fair. DFID provides annual funding to support the work of others, including the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. DFID, working with other international agencies and affected developing countries, also provided £30 million over the past two years specifically to support global efforts to control avian influenza.

Public Relations

Mr. Grogan: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development which public affairs firms have been given contracts by (a) his Department and (b) public bodies sponsored by his Department in the last five years; and what the purpose was of each contract. [118454]

Mr. Thomas: DFID uses consultants to provide a range of activities. However, in the past five years the only public affairs firm that we have used was Corporate Communications whose role was to provide DFID with a corporate communications strategy that would help to achieve DFID's organisational objectives.

DFID is responsible for financial sponsorship of the CDC. Contracts have been issued to the following to help to promote their mission and objectives: LM, Financial Dynamics, Cubitt Consulting, Bell Pottinger, Merlin.


A303: Stonehenge

Robert Key: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport (1) whether the A344 between Airmans Corner and Stonehenge Bottom is planned to be closed whether or not the proposed A303(T) bored tunnel is constructed; [119119]

(2) what work his Department has commissioned on the options for upgrading the A303(T) near Stonehenge in the event of a decision not to proceed with a bored road tunnel; [119124]

(3) what work (a) his Department and (b) English Heritage has commissioned on the future of the Stonehenge Visitors Centre project in the event of a decision by the Secretary of State for Transport not to proceed with the proposed A303(T) bored tunnel and associated roadworks near Stonehenge; and if he will make a statement. [119125]

Dr. Ladyman: We are currently considering the inter-departmental review group's report on the proposed improvements to the A303 running past
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Stonehenge and will be making an announcement in due course. The issues raised by the hon. Member will be addressed as part of that announcement.

Bus Services

Graham Stringer: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what assessment he has made of the impact of section 10 of the Transport Act 2000 on the co-operation of bus operators on fare-setting and timetabling. [118643]

Gillian Merron [holding answer 5 February 2007]: The competition test in schedule 10 to the Transport Act 2000 currently applies to the exercise of functions by local authorities in relation to quality partnership schemes and ticketing schemes made under that Act, and inviting and accepting tenders for bus services under the Transport Act 1985. This test is the yardstick for judging whether those functions are carried out with due regard to competition. It recognises that a balance may need to be struck between competition and other socially desirable objectives. The schedule 10 test does not currently apply to voluntary agreements and does not directly impact on the co-operation of bus operators with local authorities or with each other.

Bus operators are, like businesses generally, prohibited by chapter 1 of part 1 of the Competition Act 1998 from entering into mutual agreements which prevent, restrict or distort competition. There are various exceptions: in particular a block exemption Order permits the marketing of various types of multi-operator ticket at a mutually agreed price.

The policy document “Putting Passengers First” proposes a new legal test to facilitate voluntary arrangements between local authorities and more than one bus operator, based on the competition criteria in schedule 10. Detailed proposals are currently under discussion with the Office of Fair Trading.

Driving: Licensing

Chris Grayling: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport how his Department enforces the rules covering drivers from non-EC/EEA on the 12 months validity of their driving licence in the United Kingdom. [118298]

Mr. Coaker: I have been asked to reply.

This is an operational matter for the police.

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