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14 Jan 1998 : Column WA201

Written Answers

Wednesday, 14th January 1998.

Strategic Communications Unit

Baroness Rendell of Babergh asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they will establish the Strategic Communications Unit, following one of the recommendations of the Working Group on the Government Information Service (the Mountfield Report) published in November last year.[HL122]

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard): The Prime Minister is today launching the new Strategic Communications Unit, which will be based in No. 10 and answerable to the Prime Minister (working through the Chief Press Secretary).

The Mountfield Report, a copy of which was placed in the Library, said that more needed to be done to improve strategic communications so that the key government messages are better communicated across government. Departmental initiatives and events need to be presented in such a way as to show their coherence with the main themes of the Government's strategy.

To achieve this, departments must be properly informed of government activity, Ministers must be properly briefed on key government issues at all times, and initiatives must be properly prepared and co-ordinated.

The Strategic Communications Unit will work to achieve that. It will be responsible for the implementation and operation of the new electronic information system which will provide a future diary of government events (Mountfield recommendation 2.3). It will be responsible for managing strategic communications across all departments and will produce the Government's Annual Report on its performance and achievements of its objectives, as announced in August 1997.

The Strategic Communications Unit will comprise six people--two Special Advisers and four civil servants. They are:

    Alun Evans (Head)

    Philip Bassett (Special Adviser)

    David Bradshaw (Special Adviser)

    James Humphreys

    Siobhan Kenny

    Andrew Silverman

The aim of the unit is to make sure events are scheduled, launched and followed through to maintain impact and to convey the central story and themes of the Government in all its communications.

14 Jan 1998 : Column WA202

Dounreay Shaft

Lord Beaumont of Whitley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have permanently to dispose of the radioactive debris in a shaft at Dounreay referred to in the first editorial in the New Scientist of 13 December.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Clinton-Davis): The UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) made recommendations to the Department of Trade and Industry relating to the future of the Dounreay shaft following its board meeting on 4 November 1997. The department's officials have studied UKAEA's recommendations and provided my honourable friend the Minister for Science, Energy and Industry with advice which he is now considering. It is clearly important to allow time to give proper consideration to such important issues and my department intends to consult the Scottish Office and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) before making a decision.

Waste Management Review

Lord Gladwin of Clee asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they plan to review and update the waste management policies set out in the 1995 White Paper, Making Waste Work: A Strategy for Sustainable Waste Management in England and Wales.[HL119]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): Reducing the waste we generate, making better use of waste, and ensuring that the remainder is disposed of safely, are all critical components of a more sustainable society. The Government sets a high priority on improving our waste management. That is why we have announced the preparation of a new waste strategy for England and Wales.

We have asked officials, working with the Environment Agency and other interested parties, to begin preparation of the new strategy which will fulfil the requirements of the Environment Act 1995. The first step towards this goal will be a wide public consultation beginning in the spring of this year, leading to publication of a White Paper in 1999.

The 1995 White Paper, Making Waste Work, set out the previous government's policy framework for the management of waste, identified ways in which waste could be managed in a more sustainable way and set a number of targets for achieving that aim. It recognised the principles of the waste hierarchy and best practicable environmental option as being at the heart of waste policy, and set out a number of options by which central government, local authorities, industry and commerce, the waste management industry, householders, and the

14 Jan 1998 : Column WA203

voluntary and community sectors could help achieve that strategy's aims.

This Government support the broad thrust of the policies set out in the 1995 White Paper but nevertheless believe that the time is now right for a comprehensive review of waste management in England and Wales. We are sure that this will be welcomed by all interested parties. They will want to know what our future priorities will be so that they can plan and invest for them.

Birds of Prey, Game Birds and Racing Pigeons

Lord Bassam of Brighton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress has been made to assess the impact of increasing raptor numbers on game bird and racing pigeon interests and what future work is planned.[HL124]

Baroness Hayman: In 1995 the then Government set up a Raptor Working Group to investigate the effects of the recovery in populations of birds of prey and their impact on game bird management and racing pigeons. The working group is chaired jointly by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC). Membership comprises scientific, conservation, game bird, landowning and racing pigeon interests. This working group has made significant progress in analysing the factors causing conflict and recently detailed its planned work for 1998 in a report to a forum of interested parties.

In 1998 the group will concentrate on identifying integrated and practical solutions to deal with conflict situations. This will apply particularly to conflicts between the hen harrier and red grouse, where the group will clarify the detail and legal implications of scaring techniques, supplementary feeding of raptors and possible translocation of harriers. Also the group will consider how to raise awareness of moorland management issues and to discourage illegal persecution of raptors.The working group indicated its support for a national survey of hen harrier populations which is planned to take place in 1998.

Conclusions on the impact of birds of prey on racing pigeons should become clearer when the department's sponsored research in this area reports in the late Spring of 1998. The working group will also assess the need for further research on the predation of pheasants at release pens.

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Social Housing Need

Lord Bassam of Brighton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will publish the technical report on the feasibility study into a new economic model to help estimate the demand and need for social housing in England.[HL123]

Baroness Hayman: We have today placed in the Library of the House a technical report on a feasibility study to develop an economic model to help predict likely demand and need for social housing in England. The study was commissioned by the Department of the Environment in November 1995 and has been carried out by the Department of Applied Economics at Cambridge University. The study was encouraged by the work of the Select Committee on Housing Need, which also supported the potential value of economic analysis of housing need.

Previous estimates of social housing need produced by the department were based on the extrapolation of past trends and did not take explicit account of economic variables. The economic model developed during this study projects the need for social housing in England over the period 1996 to 2006, and takes account of key economic factors such as unemployment, income growth and interest rates. Feeding these variables in to reflect a range of economic scenarios, it projects their likely impact on household formation, house prices, housing supply and housing choice. The model also analyses the cost effectiveness of different forms of support for households who might need help with their housing costs.

The model developed during the feasibility study has produced a range of projections of need for social housing but, as the report notes, these are not alternative forecasts of need. The projections are based on a range of assumptions. For example, assuming macroeconomic growth is high, unemployment low and social housing construction relatively expensive, the model projects a "low" annual average need for 22,000 lettings. Assuming low macroeconomic growth and unemployment at 9 per cent., the model predicts a "high" annual average need for 72,000 lettings.

This economic model is a significant step forward in the analysis of likely demand and need for social housing. The Department of Applied Economics have now begun further necessary research to develop and improve this national model, and to explore whether regional variants are feasible.

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