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River Ure

Earl Peel asked Her Majesty's Government:

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Lord Whitty: The Environment Agency is undertaking a detailed and extensive environmental monitoring programme of the biodiversity of the River Ure for the specific purpose of assessing the impact of water abstraction. This encompasses river flow, water quality, including temperature, river habitat, aquatic plants, macro-invertebrates, including crayfish, fish and angling surveys, as well as collecting information on birds and otters. Although the Environment Agency recognises the importance of the concept of minimum acceptable flows, it has not so far found it necessary to use its statutory power to establish such a flow on any river in England and Wales. The agency prefers to use the more flexible approach of setting flow rates as conditions in granting new licences. This enables the agency to address future ecological needs in a given river more quickly and easily than by changes to a statutorily set minimum acceptable flow. The Government have no plans to direct the agency to exercise these particular powers.

Sustainable Development Panel: Annual Report

Lord Burlison asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When the response to the Panel on Sustainable Development's Fourth Annual Report will be published.[HL3640]

Lord Whitty: The Government's response to the Fourth Annual Report of the Government Panel on Sustainable Development has been published. We have been able to respond positively to many of the panel's recommendations. The panel is a valuable source of advice for government in the achievement of sustainable development. We wish to express gratitude to the convenor of the panel, Sir Crispin Tickell, and his colleagues for their continued commitment to helping to identify new sustainable ways of enhancing the quality of life and prosperity for everyone.

Examples of where the Government have been able to respond positively to the panel's recommendations are:

    on climate change emissions: we have reached an agreement with our EU partners during our UK Presidency on binding targets to meet the Kyoto Protocol target of 8 per cent.

    on marine biodiversity: we have set up a specialist sub-group to ensure that an integrated approach is taken to preserving the diversity of marine eco-systems;

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    on endocrine disruptors: we have undertaken a new £3 million research programme to address male reproductive health and the marine environment;

    on building regulations: we have begun a comprehensive review of the existing regulations;

    on economic instruments: we are taking forward the panel's recommendations in a number of areas.

We will place copies of the response in the Library.

Lord Burlison asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What resources they will make available to authorities that were reorganised on 1 April 1996, 1997 or 1998 for reorganisation costs incurred by them in 1998-99.[HL3641]

Lord Whitty: On 17 July we invited authorities that have been or are to be reorganised on or before 1 April 1998 to submit estimates of the amount of expenditure they expect to incur on transitional costs of reorganisation in 1998-99. On the basis, inter alia, of the information provided by the authorities, we have decided the revised maximum amounts that it would be appropriate to allocate towards such costs in 1998-99. We have given priority to those authorities that reorganised in 1998.

The amounts allocated are as follows:

Supplementary Credit Approvals (SCAs): £000 rounded

County Councils
Cambridgeshire County Council250
Cheshire County Council2,217
Devon County Council765
Essex County Council2,683
Kent County Council752
Lancashire County Council1,465
Nottinghamshire County Council4,534
Shropshire County Council994
Worcestershire County Council2,250
All Purpose Authorities
Bath & North East Somerset Council1,280
Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council3,349
Blackpool Borough Council3,188
Bournemouth Borough Council650
Bracknell Forest Borough CouncilNil
Brighton and Hove Council1,407
Bristol City Council1,268
Darlington Borough Council1,193
Derby City Council1,602
The East Riding of Yorkshire Council4,259
Halton Borough Council2,832
Hartlepool Borough Council720
County of Herefordshire District Council5,155
Kingston-upon-Hull Council1,823
Leicester City CouncilNo bid
Luton Borough Council1,973
Malvern Hills District CouncilNil
Medway Council5,674
Middlesbrough Borough Council2,284
Milton Keynes Borough Council2,250
North East Lincolnshire Council1,853
North Lincolnshire Council3,288
North Somerset Council652
Nottingham City Council3,920
Peterborough City Council2,061
Plymouth City Council9,450
Poole Borough Council1,100
Portsmouth City Council1,603
Reading Borough Council3,281
Redcar & Cleveland Council1,000
Rutland Council1,065
Slough Borough Council2,781
Southend on Sea Borough Council2,690
South Gloucestershire Council830
Southampton City Council3,185
Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council1,646
Stoke-on-Trent City Council1,348
Swindon Borough Council742
Telford & Wrekin Council4,143
Thurrock Borough Council3,067
Torbay Borough Council6,396
Warrington Borough Council2,934
West Berkshire CouncilNil
The Royal Borough of Windsor &
Wokingham District Council2,262
York City CouncilNo bid

Leicester and York City Councils and Bracknell Forest, Malvern Hills, West Berkshire and Windsor & Maidenhead Borough Councils did not submit bids for SCA.

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Home Improvement Agencies

Lord Burlison asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have concluded consideration of responses to the consultation paper on the funding of home improvement agencies.[HL3642]

Lord Whitty: Our consultation paper set out proposals for giving local authorities a greater say in decisions on the funding of home improvement agencies, as part of our overall aim of increasing local democracy and improving services for local people. We have received over 200 responses to the paper. The majority expressed support for a greater local say, but a large number of respondents expressed concern about the proposal to transfer resources from specific grants into local authorities' revenue support grant. Respondents were particularly concerned that this could divert resources from authorities who currently choose to support an agency, to those who do not.

In the light of these comments, we have considered very carefully whether there is an alternative mechanism which allows us to achieve our objectives while avoiding these potential problems. We have concluded that, within the present funding framework, the best way ahead is to retain an element of specific central grant, which would only be made available if the local authority agreed to provide funding itself. Subject to the availability of resources, the grant would be paid up to a level which would match the amount provided to the agency by the local authority and its funding partners. In this way, the primary decisions on support for agencies will be taken to local authorities, rather than by central government.

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We propose to introduce this "matched funding" approach without delay. Letters explaining the details of the arrangements and inviting bids for funding for next year will go out to local authorities shortly. In order to give greater certainty to agencies, funding will generally be for three years. Meanwhile we will continue to explore how the funding arrangements might develop in the context of our longer term strategies for improving the local delivery of services to elderly and vulnerable people.

London Underground

Lord Peston asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they will respond to the Seventh Report of this Session from the House of Commons Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee on London Underground (HC 715).[HL3645]

Lord Whitty: The Government welcome the Committee's report on our plans for a Public Private Partnership for London Underground (HC 715-I.), which has provided a useful input to the discussion on the details of the proposals. We share with the committee the desire to create a first-class tube service fit to take us into the next millennium. We agree with many of the report's recommendations, and are today publishing our formal response, copies of which will be laid before the House.

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