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Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government in what manner the Criminal Records Bureau checks for accredited home inspectors differ from those for accredited domestic energy inspectors; and for what reasons. 
Yvette Cooper: The Government consulted and agreed the level of criminal checks for energy assessors with the police. These checks are as strong or stronger than those for other professions who enter the home like gas inspectors and utility representatives.
The basic check is used for domestic energy assessors and the standard check is used for home inspectors. This is consistent with or better than that required in comparable occupations: there must be a reasonable relationship between the checks made and the level of risk based on the access a person is expected to be given.
Mrs. Lait: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what estimate she has made of the number of home inspectors who have become voluntarily redundant; and if she will make a statement. 
Yvette Cooper: Initial bids for the scheme are requested by the end of October. Government will then decide which schemes have the potential to go forward and final decisions on the locations of eco-towns will be a matter for independent testing and decision through the statutory planning process.
Paul Holmes: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what measures are in place to ensure that people who move on from hostels into more permanent forms of accommodation receive support in the first few months of their new tenancies. 
Mr. Iain Wright: Hostel staff work closely with all residents to ensure that they are fully equipped to move as seamlessly as possible into independent living. Where appropriate they will ensure that they are provided with further housing support, which could be provided under Supporting People arrangements or through tenancy sustainment teams.
Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what guidance (a) her Department and its predecessor and (b) the Standards Board for England have provided to local authorities and their members on whether donations to political parties by developers should be declared as an interest by those councillors of that political party when they consider planning or licensing applications connected to that developer. 
Mr. Stewart Jackson: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government whether she plans to review the efficacy of the regulatory and legislative framework in respect of houses in multiple occupation; and if she will make a statement. 
Mr. Iain Wright: The Department is committed to an ongoing review of the operation and effectiveness of the Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) licensing regime. As part of this process the Department has recently introduced flexibility for local authorities in respect of the prescribed standards for the numbers of toilets, bathrooms and wash hand basins in all HMOs. The Department has commissioned the Building Research Establishment (BRE) to conduct a study in 2008 on the practical implication, effectiveness and impact of the HMO licensing regime since implementation.
Mr. Gray: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government pursuant to the written statement of 9 October 2007, Official Report, columns 25-7WS, on planning, what the Governments policy is on the application of the statutory planning charge to a charity which develops its own property for its own use rather than for sale. 
Mr. Iain Wright: The Government intend to introduce new legislation in the forthcoming Planning Reform Bill to empower local authorities to apply standard planning charges in their areas to help finance the infrastructure needed to support growth, particularly housing growth. In her statement on 9 October, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing (Yvette Cooper) said that there would be a low de minimis threshold for the new charges. We will make further announcements on the detailed arrangements for the charge when we introduce the new legislation.
Paul Holmes: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government how many local planning authorities have adopted policies requiring onsite renewable energy in proposals for major developments. 
In June 2006 we reported on an examination of plans which had come forward since Planning Policy Statement 22 (PPS22) was published to establish how many contained a policy expecting a percentage of the energy to be used in new residential, commercial or industrial developments to come from
on-site renewables. 39 out of the 69 plans which could reasonably have been expected to include such a policy did so. We do not hold figures for policies adopted prior to the publication of PPS22. Subsequently, the Town and Country Planning Association published their own survey highlighting
an impressive surge in onsite renewable energy policies.
working up policies to require developers to generate clean, safe energy onsite in new developments.
Paul Holmes: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government how many legal challenges have been made to local authorities implementing the Merton Rule requirement for onsite renewable energy in major new developments. 
Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what her timetable is for legislating to introduce a supplementary business rate; and whether primary or secondary legislation will be required. 
Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government pursuant to the answer of 25 July 2007, Official Report, column 1156W to the hon. Member for Beckenham, on the Valuation Office, for how long Cole Layer Trumble are contracted to provide consultancy advice to Capgemini. 
John Healey: I refer the hon. Member to the answer given to the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) on 26 April 2006, Official Report, column 1200W. The contract between Cole Layer Trumble and Capgemini is ongoing.
Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how much agricultural land in England, in hectares, was given for best and most versatile status in (a) 1997 or the nearest year available and (b) the most recent year for which figures are available. 
Jonathan Shaw: There is no national programme to collect statistics on the amount of Best and Most Versatile agricultural land (designated as grades 1, 2 and 3A under DEFRAs Agricultural Land Classifications system) in England. According to the most recent estimates, made in 1993-94, there were 4.8 million hectares of such land in England.
Jonathan Shaw: DEFRA supports the mushroom industry by funding research to address problems of concern to growers and to ensure a sustainable industry in the future. In particular, the most serious problem that has affected the industry in recent yearsVirus Xhas been addressed by a DEFRA-funded project carried out by the mushroom research unit at the facilities at the Warwick-HRI research centre. This project, which finished earlier this year, cost in excess of £900,000.
Food From Britain, using the additional £1 million per annum funding DEFRA has provided under our regional food strategy, has been facilitating meetings between a number of retailers and the regional food groups aimed at getting more quality regional and local foods on to supermarket shelves. A number of successful local sourcing activities have resulted from this activity, which complements the work being carried out by retailers themselves.
Bill Wiggin: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if he will make a statement on progress in developing the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test for detecting bovine tuberculosis (TB); what discussions he has had with the Institute of Animal Health and Smiths Detection on the matter; and when he expects PCR testing to be used to detect bovine TB. 
Jonathan Shaw: We are fully aware of the need to develop a rapid and reliable test for the detection of Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis) infection in cattle tissues and in live badgers or badger setts. DEFRA has been funding work using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique to develop tests for M. bovis since 1999. This has included work to develop a bovine TB (bTB) screening test that can detect the presence of M. bovis DNA in infected cattle tissues. Work to date shows promise for use of the test to achieve faster confirmation and subsequent tracing of bTB infection in slaughterhouse cases.
Detection of M. bovis DNA in samples directly from live badgers and in their excretions using PCR is difficult because of the low levels and intermittent nature of excretion of M. bovis by infected animals. There are also difficulties around extracting DNA from mycobacteria,
and the presence of components that slow down the PCR in clinical samples (PCR inhibitors). Over the next three years, £1.3 million will be invested in work using the PCR technique to develop a test that will allow us to differentiate between M. bovis and similar species of mycobacterium from environmental samples. While it may be possible for a PCR test for environmental M. bovis DNA to identify areas (such as setts) where the organism is present, we would not be able to identify individual animals that were infected. In addition, at the moment, we would not be able to identify whether the DNA that was detected was from M. bovis mycobacteria that were alive and infectious. PCR is not yet as sensitive, specific or reliable as conventional bacterial culture in detection of M. bovis and a validated PCR test is not likely to be available in the short-term. Careful consideration of how such a test could usefully be employed to replace, or be used in conjunction with, existing tests will also be needed once its performance has been assessed.
Those carrying out the DEFRA-funded PCR research are working in collaboration with others with an interest in this field in the UK. However, DEFRA does not have a record of specific discussions with the Institute of Animal Health or Smiths Detection about PCR.
Jonathan Shaw: We recognise that the level of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in cattle is unacceptably high, and that some areas, such as Shropshire, are becoming more affected. In line with the GB Strategic Framework for the Control of Bovine TB, we are tailoring our policies to take account of the regional variation of disease risk as well as reflecting emerging evidence. Working on these principles, we have introduced measures such as pre-movement testing for cattle moving out of high risk herds. We have also extended the use of the gamma interferon blood test (alongside the TB skin test) to improve the sensitivity of our testing regime and identify more infected animals more quickly.
We will continue to work in partnership with interested parties to embed and monitor these measures. We have also recently developed revised TB husbandry guidance in association with the Bovine TB Husbandry Working Group, and published two free guidance booklets for farmers, to help them prevent bTB in their herds.
Looking ahead, DEFRA funds a wide-ranging bTB research programme and we will continue to use emerging evidence to inform our policies for the future. In June, the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB published its Final Report which adds to the scientific evidence base. We are now considering carefully the issues raised in the report and we will work with farmers, Government advisers and scientific experts in reaching final policy decisions on these.
To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what plans he
has for standardising the reporting mechanisms by which business and industry account for their emissions of carbon dioxide; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Woolas: The Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) will begin in January 2010. CRC will apply mandatory emissions trading to up to 5,000 large non-energy intensive business and public sector organisations (including banks, large office buildings, supermarkets, large retail chains and Government departments). These organisations will be required to monitor their energy use and report this annually in a standardised format.
The Government require companies and industries to report on their greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), including carbon dioxide (CO2), in a standardised format. For example, all installations taking part in the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) must monitor and report their CO2 emissions in accordance with guidelines produced by the European Commission. The imminent CRC will require companies involved in the mandatory trading scheme to monitor their energy use and report this annually in a standardised format.
The Government are also keen that companies voluntarily report on their environmental impacts by publishing guidance in 2006 on how companies could report on environmental issues through Key Performance Indicators. This guidance includes standardised conversion factors for the direct and indirect use of GHG emissions. These guidelines are compatible with the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, an accounting framework responsible for most global GHG standards and programmes.
The Government have also supported the work of the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), a voluntary investor driven approach encouraging companies to disclose quantified GHG emissions data and the Global Reporting Initiative. To develop this further, the Government are also supporting work by the Climate Disclosure Standards Board (CDSB) to develop an international standard on entity wide GHG emission reporting. The CDSB was announced at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2007 and will include a range of stakeholders, including accountants, business and Non Governmental Organisations to develop an internationally applicable standard.
Mr. Andrew Smith:
To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) what
assessment he has made of the likely effect on the operation of the proposed carbon offsets scheme of (a) including and (b) excluding credits from voluntary emission reductions projects; 
Mr. Woolas: DEFRA received 166 responses to the consultation on the proposed Code of Best Practice, which closed on 13 April 2007. Ministers are currently considering the likely impacts of including and excluding credits from voluntary emissions reductions projects within the proposed code of best practice for offsetting.
The Secretary of State has received various representations on the proposed Code of Best Practice, including letters and a discussion of the issue with Jonathan Porritt, chair of the Sustainable Development Commission. The Environmental Audit Committees report on the Voluntary Carbon Offset Market also addressed this issue and is informing Ministers consideration.
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