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Schools: Standards

Lord Lucas asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Blackstone: The Government's proposals for raising standards in schools--both in academic achievement and more generally--will be set out in our forthcoming White Paper.

Lord Lucas asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Blackstone: The Government believe that very many children assessed as having special educational needs are capable of reaching the appropriate reading standard for their age. They have therefore set inclusive targets, both for 2002 and 2006.

N.I. Planning Applications: Decision Times

Lord Skelmersdale asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs): Responsibility for the subject in question has been delegated to the Planning Service under its Chief Executive, Mr. T. W. Stewart. I have asked him to arrange for a reply to be given.

Letter to Lord Skelmersdale from the Chief Executive of the Planning Service, Mr. T. W. Stewart, dated 20 June 1997.

I have been asked to reply to your recent Question about decision times on planning applications in Northern Ireland in each of the last five years.

The shortest and longest time taken from initiation to determination of planning applications in Northern Ireland in each of the last five years is as follows:-

YearShortest time taken (days)Longest time taken (days)

While the length of time taken to determine the "longest" applications would appear to be excessive I should explain that three of the five applications

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involved related to mineral/quarry operations which by their nature tend to be complex and generally take longer to determine given the associated environmental issues. A combination of factors led to delays in determining the applications, for example in most cases there were delays by the applicant/agent in submitting the necessary information to enable the application to be progressed, others were held in abeyance either at the applicant's request or to await the determination of related applications which were material planning considerations. In one case the delay in determining the application was for reasons of prematurity pending the review and adoption of the development plan for the area.

London Transport Fares: Annual Increases

The Earl of Sandwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they can provide figures to explain the annual increases in the cost of public transport in London over the past three years, and whether there can be any guarantee that the cost will not be increased next year.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): The annual increases in London transport fares over the last three years is shown in the table below.

Real Fares Indices (1994=100) Real Year On Year Percentage Average Increases
London UndergroundLT BusesLondon UndergroundLT Buses
1994 100.0100.0----
1995 101.5101.81.51.8
1996 103.6103.92.12.1
1997 104.9104.51.30.6

Because of the restructuring of the railways industry following privatisation, a consistent series of data on rail fares in London is not available. However, from 1 January 1996 until December 1998 increases in a range of fares, comprising main commuter fares and leisure fares, are capped at RPI (retail prices index).

Fare levels on London Transport (LT) services are the statutory responsibility of LT. The Government can give no guarantee that LT fares will not increase next year.

Gas Safety in Let Accommodation

Lord Cochrane of Cults asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What reduction in accidents and fatalities they expect to result from the introduction of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 1996 divided between (a) houses in multiple occupation and (b) other let accommodation.

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Baroness Hayman: This Government take gas safety very seriously and are committed to ensuring that landlords take responsibility for their tenants' safety. It is too early to make a valid assessment about what impact the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 1996 will have on reducing incidents and fatalities from gas-related carbon monoxide poisoning as they only came into force on 31 October 1996. However, we hope that the amendment will lead to greater compliance by landlords and thus reducing the number of incidents and fatalities.

Water Charges Review

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have for further consultation on future policy relating to water charges.

Baroness Hayman: As my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minster announced at the Water Summit, the Government are to review the system of charging for water in England and Wales. He is launching that review today. The purpose of the review is to ensure that we have a fair and sustainable system of charging for water and sewerage services.

The review will be conducted jointly by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and the Welsh Office, in consultation with the Office of Water Services. The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions will be writing today to interested bodies with details of the main issues which the review will address and inviting their representations. A copy of the letter has been placed in the Libraries of the House.

There is public concern about the system of charging for water. Water and sewerage services have to be paid for, but customers are entitled to expect that the basis on which their charges are levied is a fair one. The method of charging should have the support of customers as well as water companies.

The review will look at the various methods of charging for mains water and sewerage services, including both unmeasured and measured systems. Under Section 145 of the Water Industry Act 1991, water companies must not base their charges on rateable values after 31 March 2000. The review will consider the future use of rateable values and other possible bases for unmeasured charges, such as the use of council tax bands. It will also consider debt recovery arrangements.

We have made clear our opposition to compulsory metering for essential household use of water. We will also want to look very carefully at the issues of disconnection and the use of budget payment meters for household water supplies: no one should be deprived of water because of inability to pay for it. We will consider these issues in the review. But we do want to have views from all the interested parties before we bring forward proposals for changes in the present regime.

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The overall of water charges and the system of price limits set by the water regulator will not be considered in this review.

Transport Council, Luxembourg 17-18 June

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the result of the Transport Council held in Luxembourg on 17 and 18 June.

Baroness Hayman: The Transport Council met in Luxembourg on 17 and 18 June. My right honourable friends the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Transport represented the United Kingdom.

My right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister made a statement emphasising the importance the Government attach to Europe and stressing the constructive approach the United Kingdom would seek to take.

The Council reached political agreement on a Directive to co-ordinate and improve member states' arrangements for safety inspection of third country aircraft using EU airports. The United Kingdom, supported by Germany, asked for a statement to be entered in the Council minutes making clear that we would have preferred the Directive to apply also to EU aircraft.

The Council agreed conclusions on Community involvement in the EUROCONTROL organisation, which co-ordinates air traffic management arrangements within Europe, and on work towards the creation of a new European aviation safety organisation.

The Council held a further discussion on a draft directive on the levels of heavy goods vehicle taxation and of road user charges for those member states which levy a specific charge for the use of their motorways. By qualified majority (with Germany opposing) the Council agreed a regulation which will require new commercial vehicles to be fitted with electronic tachographs when such instruments have been type approved. This was the only item on which the Council took a vote. The United Kingdom secured an amendment intended to ensure that the security of new electronic tachograph products will be properly tested before they are approved for use.

The Council debated road safety, and agreed conclusions which, in particular, encouraged the Commission to take forward ideas on exchange of best practice. The Council also agreed conclusions endorsing a Commission report by the Commission on road transport telematics and inviting further work in this area.

The Council agreed conclusions welcoming a Commission communication on trans-European rail freight freeways, whose aim is to encourage the transfer of freight from road to rail by allowing greater freedom of access by train operators to the Community's rail network.

The Council reached political agreement on a Directive requiring counting of passengers on all sea voyages and the registration of the name, gender and

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other details of passengers on voyages over 20 miles, subject to certain exemptions and derogations. The Council also reached political agreement on a Directive bringing Community rules on seafarer training into line with the 1995 revision of the International Maritime Organisation Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers.

The Council held a general debate on a Commission communication on maritime external relations, and agreed conclusions welcoming a Commission report on short sea shipping.

Among other issues raised at the Council were the growth of weekend lorry bans, the Community's aviation negotiations with the US and with central and eastern European countries, and duty-free sales on travel within the European Union. On this a number of member states sought an independent study of the effects of abolition: no undertaking was, however, given by the Commission.

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