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Criminal Records: Access for Employment Purposes

Lord Harding of Petherton asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Blatch: A White Paper will be published on Wednesday 19th June setting out the Government's proposals for new arrangements for access to criminal records for employment and related purposes.

Marriage: Working Party Consultation Paper

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern): The interdepartmental working party today issued a consultation paper following on from the seminar for researchers, service providers and other interested parties held on 3rd April. The papers for the seminar have been published and are available in the Library. The results of this consultation exercise will inform the tender specifications being prepared for the funding of pilot projects which have particular potential for reducing the incidence and costs of marriage breakdown.

The working party has concluded its mapping exercise of existing services. It intends to publish a directory of marriage support services in the summer.

The mapping exercise has highlighted the lack of information about social attitudes to and expectations of marriage and also about the reasons some marriages are so very successful, when others sadly end in divorce or separation. Tender specifications will shortly be published for research into this field.

Water Supplies

Earl Peel asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Earl Ferrers): It is established practice for the Department of the Environment to take full account of environmental considerations when considering applications for drought orders. In addition to its duties in relation to water resources, the

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Environment Agency has the duty generally to promote the conservation of flora and fauna which are dependent on an aquatic environment.

It is notified of every application which the department receives and its views are taken fully into account. All applications are also advertised in the local press and the London Gazette.

If objections are made and not withdrawn, Schedule 8 2(1) of the Water Resources Act 1991 requires the Secretary of State either to cause a local inquiry to be held or to afford the objector the opportunity of a hearing before making the order. In the course of local inquiries or hearings, the Inspector will take account of all the evidence which is presented and make a recommendation to the Secretary of State, having weighed the needs of the user against the environmental implications of the proposal.

Earl Peel asked Her Majesty's Government:

    On which rivers the Environment Agency (or its predecessor authority) has determined "minimum acceptable flows" under s.21(1) of the Water Resources Act 1991; what those flows are; and whether they have given any directions in this regard.

Earl Ferrers: Neither the Secretary of State for the Environment nor the Secretary of State for Wales has received any draft statement from the Environment Agency (or its relevant predecessor, the National Rivers Authority) containing provision for determining the minimum acceptable flow of inland waters under s. 21(1) of the Water Resources Act 1991. Neither Secretary of State has given any direction, under s.22 of that Act, to these bodies to consider minimum acceptable flow.

In 1990-91 the National Rivers Authority identified 335 km of reaches in 40 rivers affected by low flows. Subsequent action, with co-operation from the water companies, has reduced the affected reaches to a total length of 207 km and there is a target for a further reduction to 79 km by 1996-97.

Earl Peel asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What role they consider that the precautionary principle should play in determining drought order or drought permit applications in the event that consequences on fauna and flora are not quantifiable.

Earl Ferrers: Each application is judged on the particular circumstances of the case and the evidence as presented, weighing any adverse impact which the proposal may have against the needs of the users.

Earl Peel asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the definition of "an exceptional shortage of rain" in para. 139(2) to the Environment Act 1995.

Earl Ferrers: The term, which relates to the power of the Environment Agency to make a drought permit, and which also appears in Section 73(1) to the Water Resources Act 1991 in relation to the power of the Secretary of State to make a drought order, is not defined. There is a number of factors which need to be

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weighed in reaching a view on whether a shortage of rain was exceptional in the circumstances of a particular catchment.

Earl Peel asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In relation to the proposed Tees-Wiske water transfer scheme in North Yorkshire, what biological data are available against which the positive or negative effects of the transfer on biodiversity can be measured; and

    Whether they will require Yorkshire Water Services to make a public environmental statement before the Environment Agency considers any application which Yorkshire Water Services may make for a transfer of water to the Wiske from the Tees.

Earl Ferrers: My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is informed that Yorkshire Water Services are holding discussions with statutory bodies, including the Environment Agency, with a view to agreeing the scope of data which would be required to form a full Environmental Assessment in support of any application under the appropriate drought legislation.

Leaseholders and Service Charges

Lord Williams of Elvel asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How they propose to use their powers in the Housing Bill to help council leaseholders facing high service charges for repair and improvement works.

Earl Ferrers: On 14th June we invited comments on our detailed proposals to reduce charges to leaseholders of local authorities and other social landlords. We wish to help leaseholders whose charges are particularly high in relation to any benefits which they receive from such works. We also wish to give landlords flexibility so that they can help those in greatest difficulty--for example, those who would suffer particular hardship as a result of high charges. We have therefore included in the Bill, in Clauses 191 and 192, powers to issue directions to social landlords telling them when they can, or must, reduce charges, and to what extent.

Our consultation paper, Leaseholders of local authorities, housing action trusts, urban development corporations, registered housing associations and other registered social landlords: further proposals to reduce charges for repairs and improvements, sets out in detail how we propose to use those powers--in particular, the circumstances in which we propose charges should be reduced, and by how much. We plan to require social landlords to reduce charges in certain cases where these are particularly high and where they will be seeking government financial assistance for the works on or after the date of the direction. In a wide range of others cases we propose to allow them to reduce charges, and to offer refunds on charges already paid.

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I have placed a copy of the paper in the Library. We have invited comments by the end of August. The Welsh Office will be consulting similarly in Wales.

Local Authority Budgets: Notional Amounts

Baroness Sharples asked Her Majesty's Government:

    If they will calculate notional amounts for local authorities which are subject to local government reorganisation on 1st April 1997.

Earl Ferrers: My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment intends to calculate a notional amount for each local authority which is subject to local government reorganisation on 1st April 1997. These figures will serve as a baseline against which to make a fair comparison of an authority's proposed 1997-98 budget requirement for capping purposes.

We have made a first calculation of notional amounts for these authorities. These figures are shown in the

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table below along with our estimate of what each reorganised authority's 1996-97 standard spending assessment would have been on the basis of their revised boundaries and functions.

The aim of our notional amounts calculation is to disaggregate the 1996-97 budget requirements of reorganised county councils so as to reflect the actual pattern of spending between their continuing areas and the areas of the new unitary councils. We are consulting authorities on those figures and we hope that local information will enable us to improve the calculations so as better to reflect the actual pattern of spending. We will generally be willing to accept locally agreed budget splits put to me by both the relinquishing county and the new unitaries in its area.

Authorities have until the end of August to comment. We shall consult further on our proposed notional amounts, incorporating any changes which we may make as a result of this initial consultation, as part of the local government finance settlement for 1997-98 later this year. Final notional amounts will be included in a report under Section 55 of the Local Government Finance Act 1992 which will be subject to approval by the House of Commons.

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Disaggregation of County Council budgets 1996-97 initial notional amounts
£ million

Disaggregated County budget 1996-97District's net budget 1996-97Initial notional amountNotional budget including parishesIndicative SSA 1996-97
Bedfordshire CC238.2--238.2238.2226.6
Buckinghamshire CC286.6--286.6286.6280.8
Milton Keynes126.522.5149.0150.0145.6
Derbyshire CC433.4--433.4433.4411.0
Derby City149.426.0175.4175.4169.6
Dorset CC211.7--211.7211.7206.7
Durham CC322.0--322.0322.0316.8
East Sussex
East Sussex CC296.2--296.2296.2283.2
Brighton and Hove146.135.9182.1182.1187.6
Hampshire CC678.2--678.2678.2664.2
Leicestershire CC343.2--343.2343.2327.8
Leicester City204.355.2259.5259.5255.5
Staffordshire CC461.2--461.2461.2459.3
Stoke on Trent152.128.6180.7180.7177.3
Wiltshire CC231.8--231.8231.8228.5

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