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2 Jul 1998 : Column WA85

Written Answers

Thursday, 2nd July 1998.

Hedgerows: Protection

Lord Hardy of Wath asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will introduce new arrangements for the protection of hedgerows.[HL2408]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): We have today published the report of the group set up to review how the Hedgerows Regulations 1997 might be strengthened. Copies have been placed in the House Library.

The agreed report of the review group demonstrates a thorough investigation of the issues, careful analysis of possible options and puts forward proposals which are sensible and balanced. They include simpler criteria representing the landscape, historic and wildlife importance of hedgerows; and increasing the extra time for local planning authorities to consider hedgerow removal notices from six to eight weeks.

Before these proposals can be worked up into revised draft Hedgerows Regulations, we will commission research into the group's proposed criteria defining important hedgerows. This should provide an estimate of the percentage of hedgerows they would be likely to protect. We will also reflect on their suggestion that, in the longer term, further consideration be given to altering the Environment Act 1995 so that local authorities--rather than Ministers--can determine which hedgerows in their area are important and worthy of protection.

Packaging Regulations: Review

Lord Burlison asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have received the Advisory Committee on Packaging's report on the Review of Packaging Regulations.[HL2573]

Baroness Hayman: We are today placing in the Library a copy of the Advisory Committee on Packaging's report on the operation of the Producer Responsibility (Packaging Waste) Obligations Regulations 1997.

The committee's principal conclusion is that adjustments to the packaging regulations should be kept to the minimum in view of the very short timescale for achieving the Directive targets set for 2001, the costs to business and the need to encourage investment in the expansion of recycling and collection capacity. Sir Peter Parker's report includes specific recommendations on the PRN system: in particular, that the PRN mechanism should be more transparent to assure all parties that the

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funds raised are deployed effectively to increase collection and reprocessing capacity; and that the PRNs should be issued to obligated producers or their representatives only. The report recommends the development of a national packaging planning framework to give the parties involved greater confidence in planning on the achievement of the packaging waste recovery targets, and to contribute to the national waste strategy. The committee also recommends that there should be mechanisms developed to promote cost pass through by the various sectors, but that, where this fails, "hardship criteria" should be established to determine where a case merited review.

Clearly this is still a relatively early point in the operation of these regulations, which are based on an inter-sectoral industry agreement, and we are keen that the Government should continue to have the benefit of the advisory committee's views on such issues as may arise in this challenging period as we seek to double the UK's packaging recycling activity. We will be discussing with Sir Peter how the committee can continue in this valuable role.

Humber Bridge Debt

Lord Burlison asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When a decision will be reached on the treatment of the debts of the Humber Bridge.[HL2574]

Baroness Hayman: A new loan agreement between the Secretary of State and the Humber Bridge Board has been signed. In accordance with that agreement, and with effect from 1 April this year, some £62 million of debts owed by the board to the Public Works Loan Board will be written off and interest payable due on debts of £359 million owed to the Secretary of State for Transport will initially be reduced to about a fifth of what they would otherwise have been.

The agreement provides that fixed rate interest charges will be broadly aligned with current rates and that, initially, interest charges on £240 million of the debt will be suspended. Over the next 16 years, suspended debt will be reactivated by instalments starting with the sum of £11 million in the next financial year and, in succeeding years, by additional amounts increased by 4 per cent. per annum. All the debt owed to the Secretary of State is to be repaid within the next 40 years.

These arrangements are to be implemented, with the approval of Parliament, through an order under the Humber Bridge (Debts) Act 1996 which we will lay before Parliament shortly. They should not result in any increase in the real value of the tolls charged at the Humber Bridge. But they should provide the solution to the problem of the unrealistic escalation of the Humber Bridge debt that has long been promised.

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Local Government Commission for England

Lord Dean of Beswick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they intend to announce the outcome of the prior options study of the Local Government Commission for England.[HL2501]

Baroness Hayman: We are today publishing the report on the "prior options" study of the Local Government Commission for England (LGC). This is Stage 1 of the Financial Management and Policy Review of the commission which we announced in November 1997. We have arranged for copies to be placed in the Library of the House.

The report concludes that the core function of the LGC, to review periodically the electoral arrangements of every local authority in England to reduce electoral imbalances, is essential and that the LGC is the right and most cost effective body to carry this out. It also concludes that the LGC is well placed to undertake individual structural and boundary reviews of local government.

Other key findings of the report are that:

    it should not be asked to undertake nationwide structural reviews in future;

    the Secretary of State should be able to direct the types of review the LGC undertakes;

    electoral review should be undertaken on a rolling basis and not on the basis of the current 10-15 year programme;

    better co-ordination is needed between the Local Government Commission and the Parliamentary Boundary Commission (PBC);

    the two commissions should be merged.

Under current legislation, the LGC in planning its review programme is obliged to follow a review cycle of 10-15 years which allows it neither to prioritise those areas where electoral imbalance is worst nor to have regard to the needs of the PBC. The PBC is, therefore, faced with conducting its reviews using ward data which are often very much out of date.

The report recommends the longer term option of a merger of the LGC and the PBC. It also makes a number of more detailed recommendations about the role of the LGC.

We agree that it is important for there to be as effective co-ordination as possible between the two commissions and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, and we will be considering what steps can now be taken to achieve this.

We are also minded, at the next legislative opportunity, to amend the 10-15 year periodic requirement to enable the LGC to plan the programme better, addressing the worst electoral imbalances first and having regard to the work of the PBC.

As to a merger of the two commissions, we recognise that there is a case for this. We also recognise that such a merger could raise important constitutional issues and have wider implications for the administration of our electoral arrangements. Accordingly, we are proposing

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now to consult widely on this proposal for merger before taking any final decisions.

We have arranged for Stage II of the Financial Management and Policy Review to take place over the coming months. It will look at the detailed operation of the LGC, and in particular its management structures, financial controls and arrangements for undertaking its reviews.

Stoneham, Southampton: Planning Application

Lord Brougham and Vaux asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the remarks of the Minister for Sport concerning the planning application for a multiplex cinema and football stadium development at Stoneham near Southampton, as reported in The Southern Daily Echo on 18 June, represent government policy.[HL2375]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: As reported in The Southern Daily Echo on 18 June, we believe the proposed new stadium at Stoneham is an exciting project which will provide the fans of Southampton FC with much better facilities. The associated planning applications for retail units and a multiplex cinema are matters for the local planning authorities concerned. As the Minister for Sport made clear, he cannot comment on planning matters, as it is possible that the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions may have a role to play on these at a later date, either on appeal or by call in.

Life Peerages

Lord Shore of Stepney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many life peerages were created during the premierships of:

    (a) Harold Macmillan;

    (b) Sir Alec Douglas Home;

    (c) Harold Wilson (1964-70 and 1974-76);

    (d) Edward Heath;

    (e) James Callaghan;

    (f) Margaret Thatcher;

    (g) John Major; and

    (h) how many peers have been created since 2nd May 1997;

    and what is the total number of life peerages existing at present.[HL2292]

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard): The number of life peerages, excluding those created under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876, created during the premierships of various Prime Ministers is as follows:

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(a) Harold Macmillan47
(b) Sir Alec Douglas Home15
(c) Harold Wilson (1964-70 and 1974-76)214 (134+80)
(d) Edward Heath45
(e) James Callaghan58
(f) Margaret Thatcher201
(g) John Major160
(h) Created since 2nd May 1997*69

*Excludes 4 new peers announced in the Birthday Honours List on 13 June 1998 and 27 working peers announced on 20 June 1998, none of whom have yet received their Letters Patent.

These totals do not include peerages which were announced but whose recipients died or withdrew their acceptance before their Letters Patent were sealed. Peerages are included under the premiership in which they were announced. Dissolution Honours sometimes fall in the outgoing premiership and sometimes, as in 1979, in the incoming premiership.

As of 1 July 1998, there are 458 life peers (created under the Life Peerages Act 1958) plus 26 life peers created under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876.

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