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Sulphur Dioxide Emissions Control Strategy

Lord Lucas of Chilworth asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Earl Ferrers): Under the terms of the second UNECE Sulphur Protocol, the United Kingdom is committed, among other things, to reducing national emissions of sulphur dioxide by 80 per cent. by 2010 compared with 1980 levels. We are developing a national strategy for meeting these commitments. The strategy will go beyond the existing national plan which gives effect in the United Kingdom to the requirements of the EC Large Combustion Plant Directive in looking at all sources of emissions.

In developing the strategy, we are now reviewing the operation of the national plan to see whether it will still be appropriate in its current form, in the context of the strategy and in the light of the substantial reductions which have been achieved--and those which are now forecast--in the level of emissions from large combustion plant.

We hope to publish a consultation document on our proposals shortly.

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Water Directives: Implementation Costs

Lord Pearson of Rannoch asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How much money the United Kingdom has so far spent on which European water directives; and how much it is committed to spend on which water directives in the future.

Earl Ferrers: Many of the existing European water directives were agreed in the 1970s and early 1980s; comprehensive cost data on them are not available.

As regards more recent directives, the capital costs of the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (91/271/EEC) have been estimated to be of the order of £8,000 million. A public consultation on the measures to be taken under the Nitrates Directive (91/676/EEC) was carried out earlier this year. This consultation included a draft Compliance Cost Assessment which put the capital costs of the Nitrates Directive at approximately £10 million.

There are currently two proposals from the European Commission for revisions of existing water directives: the Bathing Water Directive (76/160/EEC) and the Drinking Water Directive (80/778/EEC). The estimated capital costs of the proposal for the revision of the Bathing Waters Directive are £1,600-4,200 million. A costing study is currently being carried out for the proposal for the Drinking Water Directive and a Compliance Cost Assessment will be published shortly.

No costing has been prepared for the proposal for the Ecological Quality of Water Directive (COM (93) 680 final) since it is expected it will be withdrawn when the Commission publishes a proposal for a Framework Directive on Water Resources.

Employed Solicitors: Rights of Audience

Lord Ackner asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are the reasons for the Lord Chancellor's continuing delay in coming to a decision whether to accept or reject the advice given by the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Legal Education and Conduct, pursuant to the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990, on 21st June 1995, to the effect that the Law Society's application for authorisation to grant extended rights of audience in the High Courts to employed solicitors could be incompatible with the proper and efficient administration of justice and should therefore not be approved.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern): The Law Society's application to award rights of audience to solicitors in employment raises complex and contentious issues. The deliberations upon the application, in the light of advice received from both my Advisory Committee on Legal Education and Conduct and the Director General of Fair Trading, are inevitably taking some time to complete.

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European Court of Human Rights: Saunders v. United Kingdom

Lord Spens asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are the costs to date and the estimated costs to completion of the Government's defence in the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Saunders v. United Kingdom No. 57633, including the costs of Counsel, Agent, Attorney-General's Office, Home Office, Serious Fraud Office and Professor Leigh.

The Lord Chancellor: The total to date of Counsel's fees including those of Professor Leigh, is £156,877 including VAT. It is not possible to estimate Counsel's future fees. No figures are available for the other costs incurred by government departments in the case.

European Court of Human Rights: Goodwin v. United Kingdom

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they intend to take in the light of the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights of 27th March 1996 in the case of Goodwin v. United Kingdom in relation to the fine of £5,000 imposed upon Mr. Goodwin for contempt of court.

The Lord Chancellor: The court did not award the Applicant any financial compensation, and no action is therefore required.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they intend to introduce measures to give effect to the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights of 27th March 1996 in the case of Goodwin v. United Kingdom so as to ensure that Section 10 and Section 14(1) of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 are interpreted by the English courts in accordance with the judgment.

The Lord Chancellor: The Government are still studying the judgment, which does not on the face of it call for United Kingdom law to be amended.

Code of Practice on Access to Government Information

Lord Bancroft asked Her Majesty's Government:

    With reference to the Parliamentary Ombudsman's Annual Report for 1995, which records a further big increase in the total number of cases referred to him, what further steps they are taking to bring to departments' notice the existence of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information in relation to which (by contrast) very few complaints were referred.

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Earl Howe): Liaison officers were appointed in each major department and body within the jurisdiction of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration when the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information was introduced in April 1994. They are responsible for raising awareness of the code and giving guidance on best practice within their respective departments. Many departments have also produced internal guidance manuals or leaflets relating to the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information.

In addition, the Office of Public Service (OPS) circulates epitomes of cases investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, and has made available to departments many thousands of copies of its leaflet explaining the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information. Training courses in Open Government are run for departmental staff at the Civil Service College.

OPS have also produced and distributed 14,000 copies of a booklet called The Ombudsman In Your Files, which is aimed at raising civil servants' awareness of the PCA's procedures and guiding them on how to avoid the malpractices that may lead to complaints. The booklet refers to the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information, and includes an Open Government case study.

HMSO Privatisation

The Earl of Caithness asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What further information will be made available to Parliament at this stage of the privatisation of HMSO.

Earl Howe: An advertisement for the sale of HMSO appeared in the press on Tuesday 26th March. Potential bidders who satisfy the pre-qualification process will receive the Information Memorandum describing the business for sale shortly after Easter. The Information Memorandum has been written primarily to meet the requirements of these bidders. It contains commercially sensitive material and therefore, in order to protect the interests of the Crown, access to the Information Memorandum will be carefully controlled, with bidders signing a comprehensive confidentiality agreement.

However, in recognition of the unique role which HMSO plays by providing services which are essential to the smooth working of Parliament I have already agreed that a copy of the Information Memorandum will be provided, on a confidential basis, to the Clerk of the Finance and Staff Sub-Committee.

On further consideration of Parliament's particular interest in this privatisation, I have decided to arrange for an edited version of the Information Memorandum placed to be shortly in the Library of the House. This edited version will contain information relevant to the House's interest in the sale but will exclude commercially sensitive information.

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Motorway Bridge Programme

Lord Clinton-Davis asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In the light of the report of the National Audit Office criticising the fact that the Government's motorway main bridge and upgrading programme has fallen behind schedule, coupled with deterioration in the bridges, whether they accept this criticism, what reasons they give for this position and what action they propose to take to remedy it.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen): The National Audit Office report, Highways Agency: The Bridge Programme (HC 282), reports factually on the amount of work that has been completed in the bridge

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programme and its various subprogrammes, in relation both to the planned 15-year overall programme which was launched in November 1987, and to the target of January 1999 for completion of the assessment and strengthening subprogrammes. The report also deals with the levels of defects of various kinds and the reasons for them, and contains a great deal of background information. For example, the report notes that the age profile of the agency's bridge stock means that, during the period of the comparison, there was an increase in the number of structures requiring their first full maintenance. By convention, reports of the National Audit Office are agreed with the department concerned before publication, and the Government's response to issues raised is given first by the Accounting Officer in reply to questions put by the Public Accounts Committee. There is no question that any bridges are unsafe.

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