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1 May 1996 : Column WA145

Written Answers

Wednesday, 1st May 1996.

Natural Resources Institute

Lord Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When the Natural Resources Institute will transfer to new ownership.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): We have now completed negotiations for the transfer of the Natural Resources Institute to the University of Greenwich and for associated arrangements with the other members of the Consortium (the University of Edinburgh, Imperial College and Wye College). Contracts were signed on 30th April and became effective on 1st May.

This is a very satisfactory outcome. It achieves the objectives I set--namely, maintenance of a multi-disciplinary centre of Natural Resources expertise, on which ODA and others can draw in order to help meet our aims for the overseas aid programme; value for money for the taxpayer; and a positive future for the staff. It also marks the first privatisation of a public sector research establishment by transfer to the university sector.

Iran and Libya: UK Policy

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in the light of threats from (a) Israel (The Times, 19th April 1996, "Israel sees Iran as next in line for punishment") and (b) the United States (Secretary of Defense Perry and others, International Herald Tribune, 20th April 1996, "America to Gadhafi: stop poison gas plant or face an attack"), they will state that Britain will not take part in any attack on any country, including Iran and Libya, except with UN approval.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: The UK conducts its foreign and defence policy fully in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.

Iraqi Refugees: Alleged Deportation to Iran

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will ask the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or some other international agency, to record the names and such other details as are necessary for purposes of identification of some 350 persons said by the Committee for the Release of Hostages and Detainees in Iraq to have been deported by the Iraqi authorities

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    to Iran within the last month, and accommodated temporarily in a camp at Beesaton, 20 kilometres from Kermanshah, and to put those persons in touch with relatives wherever possible.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: Neither we nor the UNHCR have any information about this alleged deportation of Iraqi refugees to Iran.

ODA: Review of NGO Funding

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What arrangements are in hand to review the relationship between the Overseas Development Administration and non-governmental organisations working in the spheres of overseas development co-operation and humanitarian relief.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: Following ODA's Fundamental Expenditure Review, various arrangements have been put in hand to take stock of our relationship with Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs), to review those agencies eligible for block grant status within the Joint Funding Scheme (JFS) and to look at external advisory arrangements in the context of JFS funding.

On all of these, we are committed to consultation with the NGO community, a process which began in February and which will continue throughout this year.

Voluntary Sector and Charities: Transfer of Departmental Responsibilities

The Viscount of Oxfuird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When the transfer of ministerial responsibility for volunteering, the voluntary sector and charity matters from the Home Office to the Department of National Heritage will take place.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of National Heritage (Lord Inglewood): My right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced on 1st April in another place (House of Commons Hansard, OR, WA, col 1) that these responsibilities would be transferred to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage from my right honourable and learned friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department as soon as the necessary financial and other arrangements could be made. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has agreed with my right honourable and learned friend that she will take over ministerial responsibility from 1st May 1996. At the same date the staff who currently perform these functions in the Home Office will transfer to the Department of National Heritage.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has decided that, following the transfer, my honourable friend the Minister of State will become responsible for the work of the National Lottery

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Charities Board alongside his existing responsibility for Lottery matters; and I shall become responsible for work on the voluntary sector, volunteering, charities, and community development.

The Department of National Heritage will be seeking parliamentary authority in the summer supplementary estimates to enable it to make payments of grants and for the transfer of resources currently in the Home Office. Until such time as approval is given, the Home Office will remain accountable for the actual physical payment of these grants.

Human Settlements: UN Conference

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What preparatory arrangements they are making for the Habitat II Conference in Turkey in June; who is the lead Minister; what are their policy priorities for the conference; and what machinery for follow-up they favour.

Lord Lucas: We are taking an active part in the preparations for the United Nations' Conference on Human Settlements.

The Department of the Environment has co-ordinated the preparation of the UK's national report for the conference and is working closely with a wide range of organisations (local government, non-governmental and professional) through the UK National Council for Habitat II. The Secretary of State for the Environment, who is a member of the UN Secretary-General's International Advisory Group on Habitat, will lead the British delegation and will attend the high level segment of the conference.

The Government's policy priorities are to promote internationally UK ideas, policies and best practice and use the conference to raise international and national awareness of the means to achieve sustainable settlement development.

The follow-up process will need to be discussed at the highest level within the UN in the light of the conference conclusions.

Water Supplies

Lord Brougham and Vaux asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What water supply arrangements are being made in England and Wales in the light of the Environmental Agency's report published on 1st May.

Lord Lucas: The Environment Agency's report, Review of Water Company Plans to Safeguard Summer Water Supplies, underlines the exceptional lack of rainfall and consequent impact on water resources in many parts of the country during the past 12 months. It confirms the extent of the measures which the water companies are taking to maintain supplies even if this summer is as dry as last. Over £400 million of capital expenditure has been announced in England and

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Wales--investment which will be financed without increasing prices to consumers.

The Environment Agency's assessment is that the companies are taking appropriate measures; and that, despite the present level of many reservoirs and aquifers, these measures should be sufficient to enable essential supplies to be maintained in all areas even through a hot, dry summer. But there is no room for complacency and, should dry weather continue into the autumn, further measures could be required.

On 1st September last year, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment announced that he was putting in hand with the agency, the Director General of Water Services and representatives of the water companies a review of water resources and water supply in the longer term. This work is continuing and we expect to publish a report later in the summer.

Provided, that the costs of supply are met, the environment is properly protected, and waste is avoided, the aim should be to provide consumers with the water they want. Within the framework of sustainable development, it will however be necessary to make sometimes difficult choices about the extent to which supply should be guaranteed in extreme droughts for inessential as well as for essential purposes. These are matters on which there is a need for dialogue between companies and their customers, in the light of the costs and benefits of different levels of security of supply.

The work on the review so far suggests that the basic framework for making water resource and supply decisions is sound, and the water companies, the Office of Water Services (OFWAT), and the Environment Agency, with the involvement of the Government where necessary, should be able to reach satisfactory decisions on the management of existing resources and the provision of new resources where needed. In planning and managing water resources and supply, particular attention needs to be given to the following points:

    changing pattern and structure of demand for water use; it is essential that present and likely future requirements should be better understood.

    appropriate use should be made of the scope for influencing demand for water through tariff structures and selective metering. The high costs of meeting some water uses, particularly at times of peak demand, should be met directly and fully by those who make use of the water. It should be possible to do this without impacting on charges to meet basic household needs--whereas under present charging arrangements the costs of meeting peak demands are averaged across all consumers.

    water supply systems must be managed efficiently and economically. In particular, in the interests of customers and the environment, leakage levels should be reduced as rapidly as possible to economic levels. Methods of estimating leakage

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    should be fully applied and improved. OFWAT has been discussing leakage reduction programmes with companies and will be publishing information on this shortly.

    increased efficiency in the use of water should continue to be sought. Immediate responsibility for this lies with domestic and industrial consumers, and manufacturers of domestic equipment. The Environment Act 1995 gave water companies a new duty to promote efficient water use by consumers, and the Director General of Water Services new powers to supervise the use of the duty; further information on the subject will be published shortly.

    in the light of these factors and in consultation with the Environment Agency, water companies need to review urgently and comprehensively, if they are not already doing so, the reliable yields of each water resource system, with a view to establishing their adequacy and whether additional resources will be needed to meet properly-managed demand. These reviews should take account of the likely impact of climate change so far as it can be predicted. In some locations, new resources may well be needed and plans should be made to provide them in an environmentally satisfactory manner.

The report will in particular seek to identify the issues on which further work is needed, the timetables for completing it, and who should be responsible for carrying each matter forward.

The Director General proposes to put to my right honourable friend shortly proposals for changes in arrangements for compensation of consumers for failures of supply.

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