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Buses: EU Directive Proposal

Lord Pearson of Rannoch asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): We have not yet seen the Commission proposal. Our negotiating stance will depend on the detailed proposals, but will consider the interests of passengers, operators and manufacturers.

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Train Passenger Capacity: Monitoring

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Who is responsible for monitoring standing passenger congestion on trains and what is the scope and frequency for such checks.

Baroness Hayman: London commuter services are subject to objective measurement of overcrowding, and must comply with specified standards. The franchise operator will be required to carry out at least one passenger count each year on the relevant services in a manner approved by the Franchising Director. Following any such count, the franchise operator must inform the Franchising Director of his expectations of demand, and of his general plans for peak period timetables and train plans which would enable the standards to be met, assuming similar demand levels over the following 18 months.

In addition, all franchise operators have a general obligation to use reasonable endeavours to provide sufficient capacity for the carriage of passengers without excessive overcrowding.

Voluntary Bodies: Withdrawal of Funding

Lord Pearson of Rannoch asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Which voluntary organisations and non-departmental public bodies have been notified since 1 May 1997 of the Government's intention to cease their funding.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Since 1 May 1997, the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust, a voluntary organisation, has had its government funding withdrawn. The grant would have been worth £11,700 in 1997-98. In addition, since 1 May, the following advisory non-departmental public bodies have been wound up. MAFF

The Regional Panels (nine bodies) Cabinet Office (OPS)

The Citizen's Charter Panel of Advisers Northern Ireland Department of Finance and Personnel

Northern Ireland Citizen's Charter Advisory Panel Welsh Office

The Agricultural Advisory Panel for Wales

Government Political Advisers: Costs

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the cost to public funds of their political advisers within government, and how such cost compares with that under the previous administration.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Information on the total salary bill will be provided when agreement has been reached with each individual on their employment terms.

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Atomic Weapons Establishment Sites: Licensing

Baroness Cartvale of Ramsay asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they expect the Atomic Weapons Establishment sites at Aldermaston and Burghfield to be licensed under the Nuclear Installations Act 1965.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert): I am pleased to announce that the Chief Inspector of Nuclear Installations has granted a licence, effective from 1 July 1997, to the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) management contractor Hunting-BRAE Ltd. to operate the AWE sites at Aldermaston and Burghfield. The two sites will thus be brought within the same regulatory regime as civil nuclear sites and will be regularly inspected by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate. This will provide independent assurance that nuclear related activities at AWE are carried out safely and pose no threat to the workforce, the public or the environment.

Agriculture Council, 23-25 June

Lord Gregson asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the outcome of the Agriculture Council held in Luxembourg on 23-25 June.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue): The Council reached agreement, Spain voting against, on a package of measures covering the CAP support prices and aids for the 1997-98 marketing year, the penalties to be applied when arable base areas are exceeded, and the rate of set-aside to apply to the 1998 crop.

On prices and aids, the agreement largely maintained the status quo, in advance of negotiations on reform of the major regimes, which are anticipated to start in the autumn. However, monthly increments for cereals intervention and sugar storage refunds were cut by around 9 per cent. to reflect interest rate changes. The Council agreed to address the important question of over-compensation of arable farmers for past support price cuts in the context of the forthcoming discussions on reform of the arable regime.

In response to requests from my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and several other Ministers, the Council agreed in principle that the set-aside rate for the 1998-99 marketing year should be maintained at 5 per cent. It invited the Commission to submit a proposal accordingly, as soon as possible. The proposal to amend the regulations concerning the arable penalties system was adopted with minor amendments--notably to suspend the application of penalty set-aside for a further year--and requests from several member states for measures which would have weakened or complicated the system were successfully resisted.

My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food argued for, and secured,

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a further commitment from the Commission to propose new measures to safeguard the welfare standards of breeding pigs without requiring them to be unloaded at staging points during journeys. This will help secure the high health status of these valuable animals when they are transported on long international journeys.

On BSE, my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food reported to the Council the measures he has recently announced to the House following SEAC's advice that the controls on specified bovine material should be extended to imports and that the UK should extend its controls on sheep and goat offals. In reply, Commissioner Fischler supported his call for a Community-wide solution to this problem and urged member states to support the measures he has recently tabled on specified risk material.

The Council also unanimously endorsed an Italian application for approval of a state aid to agricultural co-operative members and adopted by qualified majority (Germany voting against) a directive concerning maximum pesticide residue levels in food.

Subsidence: Claims

Lord Beaumont of Whitley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have access to the data held by the insurance industry on the number of claims made against subsidence and, if so, whether they will publish it.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Simon of Highbury): Figures for individual claims made are not available. The following table was compiled by the Subsidence Claims Advisory Bureau from insurance industry figures and shows the total value of subsidence claims from 1975.

Domestic Subsidence Claims

Year£ million

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Trend Rate of Growth

Lord Lucas asked Her Majesty's Government:

    With reference to the statement in the Labour Party manifesto that "the explicit objective of a Labour Government will be to raise the trend rate of growth", by what method the trend rate of growth is established and what it is now.

Lord Simon of Highbury: The trend rate of growth can be defined as the rate which the economy could sustain without leading to rising inflation. Estimating the trend rate of growth cannot be an exact science, but a report by the National Audit Office, published on Thursday 19 June, endorsed an assumption of 2¼ per cent. trend growth per annum as, "broadly consistent with past experience, with the range of published estimates of the long-term rate of growth in the economy, and with assessments of the medium-term prospect for growth".

Economic Fluctuations: Figures

Lord Lucas asked Her Majesty's Government:

    With reference to the statement in the Labour Party manifesto that one of the underlying causes of inflation, of low growth and of unemployment is "too much economic instability", how they measure economic instability; and how much instability there was at the end of the last financial year or, if more appropriate, during the previous three years.

Lord Simon of Highbury: The UK economy has suffered from a high degree of instability, as illustrated by swings in the economy over time. Since 1979, the UK has experienced the two deepest and longest recessions in the post-war period. From peak to trough, output fell by 5¼ per cent. in the early 1980s, and by 3¾ per cent. in the early 1990s. Over the past 20 years, fluctuations in GDP growth have been larger in the UK than in any other G7 economy apart from Canada, and over the past 25 years inflation has been more volatile than in any other G7 country.

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