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Local Authority Staff Numbers: Publication

Lord Tomlinson asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Whitty: The Local Government (Publication of Staffing Information) (England) Regulations 1995 require authorities to publish locally each year their staff numbers, in a prescribed format which is based on the figures produced for the Joint Staffing Watch return. The Joint Staffing Watch group has decided that the Joint Staffing Watch return is no longer the most appropriate method of meeting central and local government's needs for employment information, and the survey is to be discontinued. Trends in aggregate local authority employment will be monitored by enquiries carried out by the Office for National Statistics, which will be less burdensome on authorities. As there are a number of other mechanisms in place for ensuring that local authorities are accountable to their community for the efficient use of resources, we have decided to repeal the Publication of Staffing Information Regulations.

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Council Housing: Management and Maintenance Spending

Lord Tomlinson asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What provision they will make for management and maintenance spending on council housing in England for 1999-2000.[HL3644]

Lord Whitty: Our proposals are set out in the draft Housing Revenue Account Subsidy and Item 8 determinations for 1999-2000, which we have sent to housing authorities. Authorities have been invited to let us have their views by 4 December 1998.

We expect councils to use the extra resources for housing to give priority to urgently needed repairs. We therefore propose to calculate separate allowances for management and maintenance from next year in place of the combined allowance used previously in the calculation of subsidy. This will enable us to target additional resources where they are most needed.

We are proposing that maintenance allowances for council houses in England will increase by £52 million next year. This is the first time in four years that maintenance allowances have gone up in real terms.

We want councils to continue to seek increased efficiency in the management of their housing stock and we are, therefore, also proposing a continued freeze in provision for management of the housing stock.

These increases in maintenance allowances are in addition to the very significant £3.6 billion increases in provision for capital investment in local authority housing announced by the Deputy Prime Minister in July following the Comprehensive Spending Review.

Our proposals for 1999-2000 anticipate the proposed move to resource accounting within the Housing Revenue Account. Resource accounting will put local authority housing on a more businesslike footing, increasing transparency and enabling authorities to make better decisions about the use and maintenance of their housing assets. We expect to consult authorities later this year on detailed proposals for introducing resource accounting from April 2001.

Copies of the draft determinations have been placed in the House Library.

Diversionary Works: Payments by Utilities

Viscount Hanworth asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have reached a conclusion about the contribution which the utilities pay to public transport operators in connection with diversionary works.[HL3638]

Lord Whitty: Under the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991, and the Street Works (Northern Ireland) Order 1991, undertakers with apparatus in the street are required to meet a proportion of the cost of moving or protecting this apparatus ("diversionary works") in connection with major highway works, major

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bridge works, and major transport works. These terms are defined in the Act.

These arrangements replaced earlier ones under which all the costs of diversionary works were charged to the promoter of the scheme giving rise to them.

The Act allows different proportions to be prescribed in different cases or classes of case, but the existing regulations, the Street Works (Sharing of Costs of Works) Regulations 1992 (SI 1992 No. 1690) and the Street Works (Sharing of Costs of Works) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1998 (S.R. 1998 No. 156), prescribe a single proportion of 18 per cent. for all cases.

In discussions while the legislation was being prepared, representatives of the highway authorities and the utilities agreed that an 18 per cent. contribution would be appropriate for diversionary works in relation to road works and bridge works. In terms of the definitions in the Act and Order, these include all major highway works and major bridge works and those major transport works which are road or bridge works in nature.

However, the Act, the order and the regulations go further, by including other forms of transport works--for example, new light and heavy railways and street-running tramways. The utilities argue that these are different in kind from road and bridge works and should not be included in the cost-sharing arrangements. Against this, public transport operators maintain that the existing arrangements are appropriate, arguing that their works are akin to highway works and may indeed be an alternative to them.

The Government consider that a distinction should be made in this context between road and bridge works, and other public transport works. The utilities derive an operational benefit from the existence of roads and bridges because these provide a convenient route for their apparatus. The 18 per cent. contribution might be regarded, at least in part, as a form of rent for this facility. The same consideration does not arise in the case of public transport.

The Government have concluded that a lower rate of contribution would be appropriate for diversionary works in connection with public transport works other than road and bridge works, and have decided that this rate should be 7½ per cent. As a transitional measure, the 18 per cent. rate should continue to apply to any diversionary works in this category which have started on site at the date of this announcement.

Regulations to make the change will be introduced as soon as possible. The contribution in relation to road and bridge works will remain at 18 per cent.

Sustainable Development: UK Round Table Report

Viscount Hanworth asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will respond to the report by the UK Round Table on Sustainable Development on Integrating Biodiversity into Management Systems.[HL3639]

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Lord Whitty: We have published our response to the report by the UK Round Table on Sustainable Development.

The Government response to Integrating Biodiversity into Management Systems is positive and accepts the thrust of the Round Table's recommendations. In particular, it welcomes recommendations on keeping business abreast of biodiversity work, nationally and locally; on taking account of biodiversity in the various pollution control regimes, and on giving biodiversity an appropriate weighting in the accreditation of environmental management systems.

We wish to express our gratitude to Sir Richard Southwood and the Round Table for their valuable work in helping to identify new ways to take forward sustainable development.

I am placing copies of the response in the Library.

Serbia: Legal Basis for the Use of Force

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will detail the provisions in the Charter of the United Nations, or elsewhere in international law, under which a NATO attack on Serbia is permissible and, if it is permissible, what rules of war, relating to "proportionality", contingent damage to civilians (especially in relation to attacks on facilities suspected of being used to make chemical or biological weapons) and other matters apply.[HL3446]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): The legal basis for the use of force can only be considered in the light of all the circumstances at the time. In the exceptional circumstances of Kosovo it was considered that the use of force would be justified on the grounds of overwhelming humanitarian necessity, without Security Council authorisation. The rules of international humanitarian law would of course apply.

NATO Enlargement

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the NATO Council has now accepted the conditions imposed by the United States Senate on United States acceptance of NATO enlargement, which include a statement that NATO out-of-area military activities are not subject to, and do not require the authorisation of, the United Nations Security Council[HL3447]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: I refer the noble Lord to the answers I gave to his questions on 19 June (H.L. Deb., col. 1848) and 9 July (WA 147-148).

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USAF Training Exercises over the Pacific

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the United States Administration informed them of, or consulted them about, the dispatch of three B-2 and three B-52 bombers to "training exercises" over the Pacific Ocean in early September; whether they were based in Diego Garcia; and whether they have been consulted by the United States Administration in the course of the latter's consideration (as reported in Aviation Week, 14 September, pages 58-9) of a pre-emptive strike to destroy Taepo Dong missiles in North Korea.[HL3451]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Her Majesty's Government were not informed of USAF training exercises over the Pacific in September; no aircraft based in Diego Garcia took part in such exercises; and we have not been consulted over possible American consideration of a pre-emptive strike against North Korean missiles.

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