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DETR Rural Programmes

Lord Shepherd asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Whitty: The review of countryside and rural policy, conducted jointly by the DETR and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, has concluded that there is a strong case for Government intervention to support rural communities, protect the landscape and wildlife resources of the countryside, and promote access to and enjoyment of the countryside. This Government wants to see a living, working and sustainable countryside, and is determined both to increase resources towards meeting these objectives, and to improving the co-ordination and delivery of countryside and rural programmes in the future.

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Support for individual DETR agencies or programmes will be as follows:

    English Nature's allocation will rise from £38.5 million in 1998-99 to £44.6 million in 1999-2000. This will allow the agency to continue and develop its nature conservation work, deliver obligations under the EU Birds and Habitats Directives, improve the management of sites of special scientific interest, and accelerate the implementation of the Biodiversity Action Plan's species and habitats plans. We have asked English Nature to assist its smaller voluntary partners to play a full part in the Biodiversity Action Plan process.

    The merged agency to be formed on 1 April 1999 from the Rural Development Commission and the Countryside Commission will receive an increase of £8.68 million in 1999-2000. This will give the agency an effective start by strengthening its work protecting and conserving the natural landscape, supporting rural communities, and promoting access to and enjoyment of the countryside, and will also provide for pilot projects. Part will be used for necessary restructuring costs.

    The National Parks and Broads Authority grant will increase from £17.412 million in 1998-99 to £19.277 million in 1999-2000.

    Support for the National Forest Company will increase from £2.5 million in 1998-99 to £3.1 million in 1999-2000, to help meet its planting targets, increase the resources available for partnership formation and bidding, and begin to develop the tourism potential of the forest.

Funding for DETR's countryside research will grow from £1.527 million in 1998-99 to £1.727 million in 1999-2000, and countryside publicity from £0.257 million in 1998-99 to £0.317 million in 1999-2000.

In addition to increasing resources, we also intend to improve the delivery and co-ordination of programmes for the countryside. The regional development agencies, which will begin operation in April next year, will be responsible for developing an integrated approach to economic development and regeneration in rural areas, in a way that contributes to sustainable development. At the centre, DETR and MAFF already work closely together in many ways, but there is room for improvement in the way the Government deliver rural policy in an integrated way. Together with the decision already taken to merge the Rural Development and the Countryside Commissions from 1 April 1999, we will be taking forward steps to improve co-ordination of the countryside programmes across the two departments, to ensure that our countryside and rural policy objectives are fully met

Further decisions on the level of resources for the following two years will be announced in 1999 in the light of the joint financial planning to be developed by DETR and MAFF.

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Environment Agency and Scottish Environment Protection Agency

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they will undertake public consultation on the review of legislation relating to the Environment Agency and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.[HL3178]

Lord Whitty: We previously announced that we would review the legislation relating to the Environment Agency and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, with a view to identifying any barriers preventing the agencies from taking an integrated approach to the environment. We are issuing the relevant consultation paper today, copies of which have been placed in the Library. We are sending it to a wide range of bodies, and publishing it on the Internet.

Sewage Treatment and Disposal

Lord Bassam of Brighton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they intend to publish the response to the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee's Report on Sewage Treatment and Disposal, HC 266-I of Session 1997-98.[HL3173]

Lord Whitty: We have laid before the House the Government's formal response to the Second Report of the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Select Committee on Sewage Treatment and Disposal. Copies have been placed in both Libraries of the House.

Within days of taking office, we called a Water Summit to signal our intention to ensure a world-class, water efficient, environmentally sustainable water industry. We remain firmly committed to that goal. We welcomed the publication of the Select Committee's report as an important contribution to the debate.

Within our broad objective, the Government's response to the Select Committee will set out significant elements of our approach to the quality of the water environment. Our approach will strike a balance between the need for and value of environmental improvements by the water industry and the need to protect consumers from large increases in their water bills as a result of those improvements.

Transport White Paper: Contribution of Minister for Women

Baroness Denton of Wakefield asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What contribution the Minister for Women made to the Government's Integrated Transport White Paper; and whether they will place a copy of any such contribution in the Library of the House.[HL3068]

Lord Whitty: We have taken advice on the content of the White Paper from a variety of sources, both

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within and outside Government, including the Minister for Women. This advice is reflected in The New Deal for Transport: Better for Everyone.

Civil Aircraft: Qualified Maintenance Engineers

Lord Gainford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether there is any evidence of: (a) a decline in qualified maintenance technicians and engineers in aviation; and (b) increased pressure on existing engineering staff owing to the increase in air traffic.[HL3080]

Lord Whitty: The number of people qualified to maintain civil aircraft in the UK does appear to be reducing. This is due to a combination of reductions in manning levels of the armed services, a traditional recruiting ground for such personnel, and in the number of apprenticeships and training places on offer within the aviation industry. However, there is no evidence of a widespread skills shortage in the civil aviation industry other than in some highly specialised areas, for example avionics, where the skills involved are in demand by other industries.

The number of UK licensed maintenance engineers, who certify maintenance work on civil aircraft, has remained relatively constant for several years while during the same period the industry has seen substantial growth. Such engineers therefore must have a greater workload but there is no evidence to suggest that this workload is unmanageable or that it is having any significant effect on the quality of the work carried out.

Public transport aircraft must be maintained by organisations which have been approved in accordance with the requirements set by the Joint Aviation Authorities in JAR-145. A JAR-145 approved maintenance organisation must employ sufficient personnel to plan, perform, supervise and inspect the work in accordance with their approval. The CAA monitor all organisations it has approved under JAR-145 to ensure continued compliance with its requirements.

Rural Poverty and Social Exclusion

Lord Patten asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What actions they have taken to deal with social exclusion in the countryside and rural poverty since May 1997.[HL3053]

Lord Whitty: A broad range of Government policies address the problems of social exclusion in the countryside and rural poverty. National initiatives, such as the welfare-to-work programme, will be of benefit to rural communities just as much as their urban counterparts. At a regional level, our decision to create regional development agencies will help to create a new strategic focus for regeneration and economic development, taking full account of the needs of rural areas. We have also targeted specific rural problems--

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for example, by announcing an extra £50 million a year for rural transport. We will continue to ensure that the rural dimension is built into our policies.

Genetically Modified Crops: Monitoring

Earl Peel asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the trials of genetically modified crops, currently being undertaken in the United Kingdom, are subject to comprehensive post-release monitoring systems which encompass their effect on biological processes and their indirect effects.[HL3019]

Lord Whitty: All trials of genetically modified crops currently being carried out in the United Kingdom are subject to a comprehensive post-release monitoring system to ensure that any adverse effects to human health and environment are minimised or prevented. The submission of monitoring reports to the Secretary of State on the outcome of each release forms part of this post-release monitoring system.

Most experimental trails are transient and small scale. The principle purpose of the post-trial monitoring is to confirm that any assumptions made in the risk assessment were valid and to ensure that methods used to terminate the trial are effective.

Since 1995, the Government has been funding research to monitor commercial-scale releases of herbicide tolerant oilseed rape to measure gene transfer to wild relatives and changes in agronomic practice. The Government recognise that at a commercial scale indirect effects such as changes in agronomic practice on biodiversity may be important and are currently discussing these wider issues with colleagues in other Government departments and conservation bodies.

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