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Receipts from Sale of Council Housing

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Whitty: Sales of council housing mainly arise as a result of tenants exercising their right to buy or through large-scale voluntary transfers. They result in substantial proceeds which do not accrue in a pattern that reflects differences in the relative need to spend. Were set-aside not to apply, control of public expenditure would require an offsetting reduction in capital allocations, which would disproportionately affect those councils with the highest levels of need.

Central government debt is managed centrally by HM Treasury so the issue of departments repaying debt does not arise. There are specific agreements between departments and HM Treasury about the extent to which

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capital receipts can be used to finance expenditure rather than being surrendered to the Treasury.

Traffic Control Systems: Millennium Compliance

Viscount Simon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they are taking to ensure that all traffic signals and traffic control systems such as SCOOT (split cycle optimisation operating technique) are millennium compliant.[HL1535]

Lord Whitty: There is considerable activity under way to ensure millennium compliance of traffic signal and traffic control systems. The Highways Agency is working with local authorities and manufacturers to identify non-compliant equipment and validate remedial actions.

Guidance on dealing with the compliance of highway electrical systems has also been issued by my department to all local highway authorities in England and to the government departments for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

GM Crop Trials: Risk Assessment

The Earl of Haddington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What precautions are being taken to prevent the escape of genetically modified (GM) material from the controlled trial areas of GM crops, in particular with respect to the escape of brassica pollen into the natural environment where mutation could be established with brassica weeds.[HL1299]

Lord Whitty: Each application for the release of genetically modified (GM) plants for research purposes is supported by a rigorous risk assessment, which is evaluated by government experts and independent scientists on the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE). Their consideration will include the possible spread of GM pollen and its likely consequences. Based on the type of GM plant, how it has been modified and the circumstances of the proposed release it may be judged necessary to minimise the potential for cross-pollination of neighbouring sexually compatible crops or wild relatives by the GM plants. The precautions taken to reduce cross-pollination include specific isolation distances between GM and non-GM plants or borders of non-GM plants around the plots of GM plants.

The potential of brassica pollen from GM oilseed rape to cross-pollinate brassica weeds has recently been reviewed by Professor Alan Gray, who is a member of ACRE. A copy of that report entitled Environmental Risks of Herbicide Tolerant Oilseed Rape has been placed in the Library.

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Lord Swinfen asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they consider that a six-metre barrier of non-genetically modified plants around an area of similar but genetically modified plants is a suitable safety measure to prevent the spread of genetically modified pollen when pollen can be carried much further by insects or wind.[HL1308]

Lord Whitty: The provision of a six-metre wide border of non-genetically modified plants surrounding a trial plot of genetically modified plants is one way of reducing, but not preventing, the spread of pollen. I refer the noble Lord to my Answer (HL 1299) which gives further information on this point.

Nesscliffe Bypass

Lord Sefton of Garston asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they expect that the A5 Nesscliffe bypass will be completed.[HL1554]

Lord Whitty: I have asked the Chief Executive of the Highways Agency, Mr. Lawrie Haynes, to write to my noble friend.

Letter to Lord Sefton of Garston from the Chief Executive of the Highways Agency, Mr. Lawrie Haynes, dated 22 March 1999.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions has asked me to reply to your recent Parliamentary Question about the likely completion date for the A.5 Nesscliffe Bypass.

On 10 December 1998 Lord Whitty announced a start date of 2001-02 for the Bypass. That is the earliest practicable date that can be achieved within the available funding and allowing for the processes that have still to be completed. Those processes include confirming the necessary statutory orders, appointing consultants to carry out detailed design work and acquiring the land needed for this scheme. Construction would take about 2 years.

Caravans Occupied by Travellers

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they expect to publish the results of the January count of caravans occupied by gypsies and other travellers.[HL1565]

Lord Whitty: We expect to publish the results of the January count of gypsy caravans in late April, or early May, as is the usual practice. The precise timing of publication will be a matter for my honourable friend the Minister for London and Construction.

We will ensure that the noble Lord receives a copy of the published count.

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Contaminated Land

Baroness Byford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will make new finance available for clearing contaminated land with view to future development within urban areas which would help to relieve the pressures on building homes on greenfield sites.[HL1537]

Lord Whitty: Under the polluter pays principle, the statutory remediation of contaminated land is the responsibility of the polluter or owner.

The Government support remediation and regeneration of brownfield land sites through a range of programmes, including the Single Regeneration Budget, the New Deal for Communities and the Land Reclamation Programme of English Partnerships, and through the revenue support grant to local authorities. We plan to spend £4.6 billion on regeneration programmes over the next three years.

Regional Development Agencies: Membership Nomination

Baroness Byford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Which rural groups were consulted before recommendations were made concerning the rural representation to the new regional agencies.[HL1527]

Lord Whitty: Candidates for the boards of the regional development agencies (RDAs) were sought from as wide a field as possible. Three main approaches were taken to identify candidates: RDAs were included alongside other non-departmental public bodies in a general advertisement for board members; the databases of the Public Appointments Unit, DETR and other government departments were searched for suitable candidates; and a large number of regional and national stakeholders were contacted seeking nominations.

I have placed in the Library a list of the stakeholders which were approached for their capacity to nominate members who would provide rural expertise to the RDA boards.

Water Fluoridation

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether water fluoridation schemes in the United Kingdom have been and will in future be subject to environmental impact assessment under European Council Directive 85/337/EEC, since almost all of the hexafluorosilicic acid used for this purpose finds its way into the environment; and if not, why not.[HL1608]

Lord Whitty: Environmental impact assessment is required for projects listed in the annexes to Directive 85/337/EEC (as amended by Directive 97/11/EC) where they are likely to have a signficant effect on the environment. Water fluoridation schemes are not listed and so are not subject to EIA under the directive. Water

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companies add hexafluorosilicic acid at water treatment works at very low concentrations and also have to comply with standards for fluoride in drinking water specified in the relevant European and domestic legislation. The Environment Agency has developed operational environmental quality standards for fluoride for the protection of the aquatic environment.

Leasehold and Commonhold

Viscount Gormanston asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why, in the ministerial foreword to the consultation paper Residential Leasehold Reform in England and Wales, they state that leasehold "is totally unsuited to the society of the twentieth, let alone the twenty-first century . . . the Government believes the leasehold system is fundamentally flawed", when in the ensuing text of the consultation paper they propose retaining and supporting residential long leasehold tenure into the foreseeable future.[HL1508]

Lord Whitty: The Government are committed to introducing a new form of tenure--commonhold--which will enable flat-owners to own and manage their block collectively from the outset. We will consult separately on our proposals for its introduction in due course.

However, there are over 1 million existing leaseholders of flats in England and Wales. It is not realistic to imagine that all of these would wish to go to the trouble of converting to commonhold, even if a straightforward conversion procedure were devised. For the benefit of those who remain leaseholders, we propose a major overhaul of leasehold law to stamp out abuse and give leaseholders greater control over their own homes.

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