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6 Apr 1998 : Column WA73

Written Answers

Monday, 6th April 1998.

China: UNFPA Programme

Lord Braine of Wheatley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What discussions they have had with the United Nations Population Fund about its decision to renew its population control programme in China.[HL1166]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) new programme of assistance to China will make quality, client-oriented reproductive health services available to Chinese men and women on a voluntary basis in selected counties in accordance with the standards of reproductive health care upheld at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development. Discussions have been held with UNFPA about the programme both bilaterally and through the forum of the Executive Board. The UK Government strongly supports UNFPA's programme in China and its aim to remove coercion and provide reproductive choice to Chinese people.

BBC TV Licence Fee

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are the reasons for treating the non-payment of BBC television licence fees differently from other civil debts; and [HL1246]

    Whether they will take steps to ensure that the non-payment of BBC television licence fees is treated in the same way as other civil debts.[HL1247]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The television licence fee is not a civil debt. Although the BBC has responsibility for collecting the licence fee, it is a payment for permission to receive any television programme service, as defined in Section 2(4) of the Broadcasting Act 1990, and not for services provided by the BBC. There is at present no effective means of disconnecting television services to those who fail to pay the licence fee. As disconnection for non-payment becomes practicable with the development of digital broadcasting technology, the Government will reconsider the need for criminal sanctions. But at present decriminalisation of licence fee evasion would be likely to lead to an unacceptable increase in the level of evasion and in collection costs. The cost of evasion is ultimately borne by those who do pay their licence fee.

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Government Expenditure Per Capita

Lord Selkirk of Douglas asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was, for each of the years between 1978-79 and 1997-98 inclusive, per capita identifiable general government expenditure for (a) Scotland; (b) Wales; and (c) England.[HL1250]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Figures for per capita identifiable general government expenditure for the benefit of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland from 1992-93 to 1996-97 are presented in table 7.1 of Public Expenditure: Statistical Analyses 1998-99 (Cm 3901), which was published on 3 April. Statistics for general government expenditure for years back to 1985-86 are available in prior publications of the same name. Figures for 1984-85 were published in The Government's Expenditure Plans 1990-91 to 1992-93 (Cm 1021). For years before 1984-85 analyses of expenditure by country were conducted on different definitions to those presently used. Treatment of expenditure between successive publications may of course differ due to changes in the manner of data collection. Information is only collected for outturn years, and thus figures for 1997-98 are not yet available.

Multilateral Agreement on Investment

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they intend that speculators, however defined, should not benefit from a Multilateral Agreement on Investment.[HL 1281]

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Clinton-Davis): The intention of the Government--as of our negotiating partners--is that all investors should be entitled to the benefits and subject to the obligations of the MAI.

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What measures are being proposed to ensure that the administration of a Multilateral Agreement on Investment is conducted along principles of democratic accountability.[HL 1282]

Lord Clinton-Davis: Administration of the agreement will be the responsibility of a Parties Group, consisting of representatives of all Contracting Parties' governments, which will in turn be accountable under their national constitutions in the usual way.

Debris on the Highway Following Accidents

Lord Brabazon of Tara asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Under the schedule to the Local Authorities (Transport Charges) Regulations 1998 (Table 1, item 10), if an accident results in the need for clearance of debris from the highway, whether it will be the responsibility of the police to inform the local highway authority of the accident and to apportion

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    blame for the accident; and, in the event of damage-only accidents not reported to the police, who, if anyone, will be responsible for reporting the accident to the local highway authority.[HL 1301]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): An authority wishing to exercise the discretionary power to pursue the person responsible for the deposit of debris for the costs of removing it contained in the 1998 regulations will need to establish arrangements for obtaining information about the incident. Highway authorities already have a duty in law to maintain the highway, including the removal of debris. It is our understanding that the police currently inform highway authorities of collisions that result in the deposit of debris that the police do not clear away themselves and can supply names and addresses of those involved. We envisage that the local highway authority would then take matters up with those persons. The Government doubt that an authority would consider it cost-effective to seek to recover the costs entailed in minor collisions that are not reported to the police.

SSSIs: Value Assessment

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What techniques of environmental costs-benefit analysis are used by government departments and by the water companies to assess the values of sites of special scientific interest.[HL 1283]

Baroness Hayman: In February 1998, the Environment Agency issued to water companies a document entitled The Environmental Costs and Benefits of Water Resources--A Preliminary Methodology. Values to be assigned to sites of special scientific interest are considered in this methodology.

Eider Ducks

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they consider eider ducks to be an endangered species.[HL1275]

Baroness Hayman: In common with the European population as a whole, the eider population in Great Britain has undergone a long-term increase and is not considered to be endangered.

Incompetent Builders

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What actions they propose to take to deal with incompetent builders.

Baroness Hayman: We are today launching a consultation paper Combating Cowboy Builders, which sets out a range of measures aimed at protecting

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householders from incompetent or dishonest builders. I am placing copies in the Library.

The Government's aim is to protect consumers who want to find a competent builder but, through no fault of their own, suffer as a result of a cowboy builder. The first object is to help householders distinguish between the good and the bad builders. Then it is necessary to ensure that the householder, having selected a reputable builder, gets an assurance of good quality work underpinned by a means of redress if things still go wrong.

The Government have always made it clear that tackling the cowboys was one of their priorities for the construction industry. There is no simple, single solution to the problem. However, the Government believe that the package of measures proposed in this consultation paper will bring real benefit to householders and make life much harder for the cowboys.

The proposals contained in the document include: encouraging local authorities or other local agencies to offer their residents lists of reputable builders who operate in their areas; opening up Constructionline, the Government's own database of approved contractors, to the private sector and householders; developing the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (which records craft skills on an ID card) and familiarising householders with it; developing a construction industry kitemark to denote builders who will work to an agreed set of standards; strengthening warranties for use in the event of inadequate work; the possibility of broadening the building regulations regime so that it is better able to support quality across a wide range of repair and maintenance work; finding ways in which lenders and insurers can play a greater role in helping householders to keep their homes in good repair using reputable tradesmen.

The paper invites comments and ideas from consumer groups, the construction industry and anyone with an interest.

Highways Agency

Lord Bruce of Donington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What targets have been set for the Highways Agency.

Baroness Hayman: The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions is currently conducting a number of major policy reviews. In the light of the conclusions, particularly of the Integrated Transport White Paper and the Roads Review, we will be setting the Highways Agency new objectives. In the interim my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has set the Highways Agency the following key targets. They are to: provide a service achieving five out of six (and missing the sixth by no more than 10 per cent.) of the targets set in accordance with the Whitehall Standards (as set out in Annex E of the plan); submit to the Secretary of State a proposal for a revised Road User's Charter in line with the Government's published Integrated Transport Policy by the end of the third

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quarter; in the interim, improve performance against the Road User's Charter targets, set out in Annex E of the plan, where achievement levels were below target in 1997-98; complete 2,100 lane kilometres of surface renewal, including reconstruction, overlays, resurfacing, inlays and surface dressing; comply with the EU directive which requires that the trunk road network is available for use by 40-tonne vehicles on 1 January 1999; achieve 80 per cent. of national scheme milestones set out in Annex F of the plan; complete 20 projects, each costing less than £3 million, aimed at improving journey time reliability and/or reducing the impact of roads on the environment; complete 25 network control projects; contribute to the Government's target of reducing road casualties by one third by the year 2000 (compared to the annual average for 1981-85) by ensuring that accident rates between 1996 and 1998 on the motorway and all-purpose trunk road network do not exceed 21 accidents involving personal injury for every 100 million vehicle kilometres of travel and by completing 200 projects, each costing less than £3 million, aimed at improving road safety; publish congestion monitoring information, including National Road Network Assessment system (NARNAS) maps and TrafficMaster data; review the agency's environmental reporting requirements to agree changes as necessary with DETR and submit the results to the Secretary of State by the end of the third quarter; agree a revised environmental strategy for the agency in line with the Government's published Integrated Transport Policy and in consultation with DETR, and submit the results to the Secretary of State by the end of the third quarter; manage its programme and running costs within the agreed financial allocation; deliver better efficiency and effectiveness throughout its business activities and achieve the two aggregate indicators and 80 per cent. of the programme performance measure targets listed in Annex C 4.2 of the business plan; apply value management and value engineering guidelines to all national schemes at prescribed stages of preparation.

These targets are included in an interim business plan for 1998-99, which will be published shortly. Copies will be placed in the Library of the House.

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