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Scotland: Local Government

Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Sewel: My right honourable friend met the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities on 7 November to discuss the financing of Scottish local government and other related matters and his next formal meeting is planned for Friday 23 January 1998. He has also had regular informal contacts with the CoSLA office bearers and the leaders of Scottish local authorities.

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Government Information Service

Lord Graham of Edmonton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have for the Government Information Service.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard): I am today placing in the Library of the House the Report of a Working Group on the Government Information Service. The report is about modernising the Government's communications with the media to make them more effective and authoritative--an integral part of a democratic government's duty to govern with consent. Its main proposals are:

    to improve co-ordination with and from the centre, so as to get across consistently the Government's key policy themes and messages, through a new strategic communications unit serving the whole Government; a reformed Cab-E-Net system; and clearer rules on attribution;

    to improve co-ordination within each government department so that Minsters, their special advisers, their press offices and their policy civil servants all play their part in the coherent formulation and communication of policy;

    to bring the practice and procedures of all government press offices up to the standards of the best, geared to quick response round the clock with help from a new central media monitoring unit;

    to retain a politically impartial service and to sustain the trusted values of the service embodied in its rules of guidance;

    on the basis that communication is an integral part of policy formulation, to develop closer and better working relations between policy civil servants and press offices;

    to offer high quality management and leadership, staffing and training and development tailored to meet the needs of the 24-hour media world.

I have accepted the recommendations of the report. The costs of the two new units will be contained within the departments' running costs. Together, these proposals will produce a service, renamed the Government Information Service and Communication Service, which is fit for its purpose and fit for the future.

Royal Naval Division Memorial, Greenwich

Lord Morris of Manchester asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What help they will give to relocate the Royal Naval Division's memorial, now situated at the Royal Naval College in Greenwich, when the college closes in October 1998; and whether any Minister has met or will be meeting the Royal Naval Division's Memorial Committee to discuss the memorial's future.

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The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert): It has been the long-standing policy of successive governments that the costs of memorials are met from public subscriptions or private donations, rather than public funds. While the Government have nothing but the utmost respect and gratitude for the men of the Royal Naval Division who fought and died in the service of their country, I regret that the Ministry of Defence cannot fund removal of the Division's memorial. Should a scheme to move the memorials be developed, funded from other sources, we would be delighted to assist in identifying an alternative site.

While there is no record of any meetings between the Memorial Committee and Ministers, Ministers have asked officials to keep them in touch with developments.

Drink Drive Controls

Baroness Mallalieu asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What new measures they propose to introduce to achieve further reductions in drink drive casualties.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): The Government will be publishing a consultation paper in the New Year setting out a range of proposals for discussion, including the reduction of the legal blood alcohol limit and measures to deal with serious or persistent drink-drive offenders.

Waste-derived Compost

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What measures they are taking to improve the markets for waste-derived compost.

Baroness Hayman: We are today announcing the publication of two guides which are aimed at improving the markets for waste-derived compost. The first contains practical guidance for large-scale producers of waste-derived compost, such as local authorities and the waste industry, setting out how they can design and market their product effectively to a variety of end users, particularly those in the horticulture and landscaping industries. The second guide is aimed at potential users, such as landscape architects and contractors, and explains the benefits of using waste-derived compost in their operations.

One of our major environmental objectives is to promote sustainable waste management across the country. Every nine months we produce enough waste in the United Kingdom to fill lake Windermere. And of the estimated 26 million tonnes of municipal solid waste produced in 1995-96, around 85 per cent. was landfilled. It is therefore vital that, in future, we choose waste management options which preserve and enhance our environment and safeguard human health. We are therefore committed to increasing the quality

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and quantity of organic waste which is composted. This means a greater degree of centralised composting by local authorities and the waste management industry. But to make such schemes viable, we also need to expand the markets for waste-derived compost and thereby increase the demand for the product.

We hope that these guides will make a valuable contribution to this by providing practical advice to compost producers and specifiers. They will be widely distributed free of charge to local authorities in England, waste management companies, composting organisations, landscaping architectural practices and selected landscaping contractors.

Copies of the guides have been placed in the House Libraries.

Water Quality

Lord Morris of Castle Morris asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have for the use of economic instruments to improve water quality.

Baroness Hayman: My right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister made clear on World Environment Day our determination to find the best way to address environmental concerns and to make polluters pay for necessary remedial action. Regulation has achieved a good deal but it may not represent the most cost effective means by which environmental objectives can be achieved, nor does it always make polluters pay for the cost of their activities.

We want to find a mix of instruments that will be environmentally effective and economically efficient. Many of these will be regulatory in nature. Others may be voluntary. But we believe that economic instruments have a role to play in improving the environment. So, as my right honourable friend the Chancellor announced in the Budget, we are actively considering their role as part of our environmental policy and as a contribution to reform of the tax system.

Today, we are setting out ideas for the use of such instruments to protect and enhance the quality of our rivers and other waters. A copy of the consultation paper has been placed in the Library. This is an important initiative. Water is of enormous environmental and economic importance and water pollution causes great concern to the public. We look forward to a period of active debate on these issues.

Access to Work Scheme

Lord Ashley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How much money they receive from employers under the Access to Work Scheme.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): Responsibility for the subject of this question has been delegated to the Employment Service Agency under its

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chief executive. The agency has been asked to respond to your question and its reply is attached.

Letter to Lord Ashley of Stoke from the Chief Executive of the Employment Service, Mr. L. Lewis.

The Secretary of State has asked me to reply to your question about how much money the Government receives from employers under the Access to Work programme. This is something that falls within the responsibilities delegated to me as Chief Executive of the Employment Service.

The Government do not in fact receive money from employers through Access to Work. Access to Work contributes towards the extra employment costs arising because of disability. It contributes 100 per cent. of the costs for someone starting or changing a job, or recently in a job. For someone who has been in a job for six weeks or more, it shares costs, usually with the employer. Access to Work pays a maximum of 80 per cent. of the costs between £300 and £10,000, and 100 per cent. of the costs above that. It does not pay for adjustments below £300. Under these rules the most an employer has to pay is £2,240 for an employee over any three-year period.

We expect employers to make the necessary adjustment and to claim the appropriate sum from the Employment Service. Under these arrangements the Government do not receive money from employers and we do not keep records of the amount employers themselves pay towards the cost of adjustments. Many adjustments are below £300; and some employers may pay more than the minimum required of them in other cases. However, we have commissioned research on Access to Work which will contain information about cost sharing. We expect to publish the results early in the New Year.

I hope this is helpful.

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