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Earl Ferrers: The Health and Safety Commission is at present reviewing the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1994 (as amended) and, as part of that review, is considering what changes to the duties which are enjoined on relevant landlords by Regulation 35A may be desirable and practical. It is, though, not the commission's intention to alter the basic requirement of Regulation 35A that relevant landlords must make available to their tenants written evidence that annual safety checks on gas appliances and flues have been carried out.
Following public consultation, we have today introduced two measures which will come into force later this month. They will lead to reductions in some of the highest bills for maintenance, repair and improvement works.
The first measure is the Social Landlords Discretionary Reduction of Service Charges (England) Directions 1997. This allows local authorities and other social landlords to reduce or to waive service charges for past, current and future works of repair, maintenance or improvement carried out with assistance from Estate Action, City Challenge, the Single Regeneration Budget Challenge Fund or the Estates Renewal Challenge Fund, where the assistance was applied for before 25th February. It will also allow them to reduce or to waive charges for works--even if they did not receive such special assistance--so that total service charges do not exceed £10,000 for the same property over any five-year period. Landlords will be able to reduce bills, including those which have already been sent out, and they will be able to offer refunds. We have set out criteria which they will have to consider in deciding whether, and by how much, to reduce charges.
The second measure is the Social Landlords Mandatory Reduction of Service Charges (England) Directions 1997. This requires social landlords to charge no more than £10,000 for the same property over any five-year period for repair, maintenance or improvement works carried out with assistance from the Single Regeneration Challenge Fund or the Estates Renewal Challenge Fund, where assistance is bid for on or after 25th February. They may only charge more if the benefit to the leaseholder from the works exceeds that amount. In some cases, they must charge less. The cost of complying with the mandatory directions can be included in the bid for assistance.
The measures use our new powers in Sections 219 and 220 of the Housing Act 1996. They will come into force on 25th February 1997. They are being sent to English local authorities and other social landlords, together with detailed guidance on how to comply. This will enable them to bring relief to some of their leaseholders who face difficulties with high bills.
Earl Ferrers: My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has today published the government response and he has thanked the committee for its timely report. The Select Committee's report has helped the Government in reviewing the workings of our own Environmental Information Regulations and in reporting to the European Commission on the implementation of the EC directive.
We are happy to accept most of the committee's recommendations, although the majority of these involve revisions to the directive rather than to our own regulations. Although we accept that certain revisions to the regulations and guidance are desirable, we are less clear as to when these might best be made. There are external factors to consider.
The Commission is reviewing the directive and changes are possible. We will need to respond to these. However, there is a further complication. Negotiations are proceeding on a UN/ECE Convention on Access to Environmental Information etc. The final agreed text will probably necessitate further changes to both the directive and the regulations.
That does not mean, though, that we should do nothing now. As the report indicates, the regulations, and the Open Government code of practice, are providing the public with improved access to environmental information. We would like this improvement to continue.
We accept that access will be significantly extended if there is a more satisfactory machinery for appeals and enforcement. We propose, therefore, to seek ways to establish an independent appeals procedure as a matter of urgency and will give serious consideration to the Select Committee's preference for an Information Commissioner. We will also ensure that the guidance is revised to cover this change and to improve clarity elsewhere.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): Information on asylum seekers currently detained is compiled for operational and statistical purposes. The information it provides on the historical flow of asylum seekers detained pending determination
Baroness Blatch: My right honourable friend has carefully reviewed the position of the solely British ethnic minorities in Hong Kong in the light of expressions of concern in both Houses of Parliament here and in Hong Kong that their nationality status will be uncertain after 30th June 1997. It is clear that the assurances which they have been given over a number of years have not allayed this concern. My right honourable friend therefore intends to make provision enabling them to apply for registration as British citizens giving them right of abode in the United Kingdom after 30 June 1997. He expects that the great majority of them will continue to reside in Hong Kong where they have right of abode.
The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish): There is no general policy across forms of government assistance for industry which discriminates against firms funded by venture capital. However, the financial position of companies seeking government assistance is assessed, as appropriate, on a case-by-case basis, and may affect judgments about the appropriateness of government assistance in each instance.
In providing its advice, the COT considered 31 publications from scientific journals, one chapter from a book on vitamin B6 and three reports from other committees, including one from the EU Scientific Committee on Food. The evidence on the toxicity of vitamin B6 comes from several reports of observations in humans, as well as from the extrapolation of animal toxicity data. A list of the papers considered has been deposited in the Library of the House. Our attention has since been drawn to additional scientific data relating to the safety of vitamin B6, and arrangements are being made for these to be considered by the COT.
Lord Lucas: Provisional figures show that total income from farming fell by 8 per cent. in real terms in 1996. However, incomes remain higher in real terms than in 1994 and the preceding 10 years and, in the four years up to 1995, they rose by over 75 per cent. in real terms. Detailed estimates of the income, output and productivity of United Kingdom agriculture in 1996 were published this morning and have been placed in the Library of the House.
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