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Written Answers

Volume 591: debated on Thursday 2 July 1998

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Written Answers

Thursday, 2nd July 1998.

Hedgerows: Protection

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

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they have received the Advisory Committee on Packaging's report on the Review of Packaging Regulations. [HL2573]

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 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

asked Her Majesty's Government:When a decision will be reached on the treatment of the debts of the Humber Bridge. [HL2574]

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.

Local Government Commission For England

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]

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 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

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]

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

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 number of life peerages, excluding those created under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876, created during the premierships of various Prime Ministers is as follows:

    Number
    (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.

    Sierra Leone: Support To Ecomog

    asked Her Majesty's Government:How they reconcile the Common Position adopted by the Council of the European Union 95/544/CFSP of 20 November 1995, which provides for an embargo on weapons designed to kill and their ammunition, weapon platforms, non weapon platforms and ancillary equipment, spare parts, repairs, maintenance and transfer of military technology, and the provisions of paragraph 2 of the Security Council Resolution 1171 of 5 June, which decides that restrictions in the sale and supply of arms and related material to Sierra Leone shall not apply to any such sales for the sole use in Sierra Leone of the Military Observer Group of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOMOG). [HL2274]

    The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
    (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

    The Common Position defined by the Council of the European Union on 20 November as set out by the noble Lord is in fact 95/515/CFSP (copies have been placed in the Libraries of the House).This Common Position will be taken fully into account in any support we may provide for ECOMOG in Sierra Leone. We and other EU member states have made similar contributions to ECOMOG in Liberia despite a parallel EU arms embargo. We have, however, imposed conditions on the use of our funds to ensure that any equipment supplied to ECOMOG in Sierra Leone could not be misappropriated by any party, including the Nigerian military. These include a stipulation that any such equipment must not leave Sierra Leone. UN Military Observers on the ground can monitor this. There is no question of providing arms; we are looking to give logistic support to ECOMOG.

    Fissile Materials: Proposed Treaty

    asked Her Majesty's Government:What progress is being made with the proposed treaty to ban production of such fissile materials as plutonium and uranium; and whether they will support the inclusion in the treaty of the banning of trigger materials such as tritium. [HL2419]

    Her Majesty's Government continue to press for the early start to negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament on a treaty to ban the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons and other explosive devices on the basis of the mandate agreed in 1995. Negotiations have not yet started due to the insistence by some non-aligned states on linking this with other issues.Tritium is not a fissile material and the Government do not support its inclusion in a fissile material cut-off treaty.

    Immigration And Nationality Directorate: Complaints Report

    asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they have received the annual report for 1997 of the Complaints Audit Committee of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate. [HL2572]

    A copy of the report has been placed in the Library. It is a wide-ranging and informative document and we are grateful to the committee for its comments and its recommendation. The committee's comments about asylum interviewing are being brought to the attention of staff, and interview training will be reviewed in the light of the recommendation.

    Prison Population Data

    asked Her Majesty's Government:What was the prison population of England and Wales on 31 May; and by how much had it risen or fallen since:

  • (a) the end of the previous month;
  • (b) 12 months previously; and
  • (c) the end of 1992. [HL2411]
  • The prison population in England and Wales was 65,227 on 31 May 1998. This figure was 280 below the population on 30 April 1998 (65,507) but 4,892 above that for 31 May 1997 (60,335) and 24,621 above the figure for 31 December 1992 (40,606).Information on the prison population at the end of each month is published in

    Prison Statistics England and Wales and in Home Office Statistical Bulletin The prison population in 1997. Copies of these are in the Library.

    Boards Of Visitors: Chairmen And Vice Chairmen

    asked Her Majesty's Government:Further to the Answers by the Baroness Blatch on 11 December 1996 (HL Deb, cols. 1077–1078), whether it remains the policy of the present Government that Ministers of the Crown should appoint the chairmen and vice chairmen of the Boards of Visitors of prisons in England and Wales; and if so, whether it will now be reviewed. [HL2381]

    It does; all boards have been requested to hold secret ballots at their October board meetings to elect members for the posts of chairman and vice chairman. Details of the elections and the nominees for the posts will be sent to the Director's secretariat by the end of October. The secretariat will then prepare and forward submissions to the Minister of State to consider appointing the nominees to the posts of chairman and vice chairman, with effect from 1 January 1999. There are presently no plans to review this particular policy.

    "Campsfield Five": Removal From Uk

    asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether, in view of the fact that the "Campsfield Five" have been detained in custody for 10 months on charges of riot and violent disorder, on which the prosecution presented no evidence and of which they were acquitted on 17 June, they will grant the applicants temporary admission pending the further consideration of their cases by legal advisers. [HL2418]

    The trial interrupted arrangements for the removal of those who had no claim to remain in the United Kingdom. As the trial has been concluded, arrangements will proceed for the removal of those who have no claim to remain here. It would not be appropriate to make preferential arrangements for the five who were acquitted on 17 June but who then remained in detention under Immigration Act, 1971 powers, when the cases of others who were present at Campsfield House on 20 August 1997 but who were not prosecuted, have since followed the normal, established procedures. However, one of the five concerned was given bail on 26 June and another has a bail hearing listed for 2 July. Those remaining in detention enjoy the same full access to legal advice as all other immigration detainees.

    Alcohol Abuse By Children

    asked Her Majesty's Government:What evidence they have received about alcohol consumption by children between the ages of 8 and 18, and in particular about rates of increase over the last five years; and whether they have introduced any new measures to combat alcohol abuse by children since they came into office. [HL2391]

    Information on alcohol consumption by children aged 8–18 is not available centrally. The following tables show the weekly alcohol consumption (in units) of school children aged 11–15 in England and people aged 16–17 in Great Britain.

    Table 1: Alcohol consumption in the seven days preceding survey (in units) by children aged 11–15, 1992–1996, England
    Percentages and units
    199219941996
    None83%80%78%
    under 1 unit2%2%2%
    1–1.75 units2%3%3%
    2–3.75 units4%4%5%
    4–5.75 units2%2%3%
    6–9.75 units4%4%4%
    10–14.75 units1%2%2%
    15 or more units2%2%4%
    Mean (per person)1.11.31.8
    Mean (per drinker)6.06.48.4
    Base3,1422,8892,676

    Source:

    Office for National Statistics, Young teenagers and alcohol in 1996: England.

    Table 2: Usual alcohol consumption level and mean weekly alcohol consumption (in units) of men and women aged 16 and 17: 1992–1996, Great Britain

    1992

    1994

    1996

    Men

    Non-drinker14%18%13%
    under 1 unit19%15%13%
    1–10 units43%41%38%
    11–21 units12%14%17%
    22–35 units6%6%11%
    36–50 units3%1%4%
    51+ units2%4%5%

    Women

    Non-drinker15%17%11%
    under 1 unit21%22%24%
    1–7 units47%38%32%
    8–14 units9%13%18%
    15–25 units7%7%9%
    26–35 units1%3%3%
    36+ units1%2%3%
    Bases
    Men245225249
    Women257198207

    Source:

    Office for National Statistics, General Household Surveys 1992–1996.

    (The standard definition of a unit of alcohol is that which contains 8 grammes of ethanol. One unit is the amount of alcohol contained in half a pint of normal strength beer, a small glass of wine, a single measure of spirits, or a small glass of fortified wine.)

    The Government have set up a Ministerial Group to look at alcohol misuse by children. The group issued a statement last July, copies of which are available in the Library, which sets out the action which it expects the drinks industry to take in order to tackle the problem. The group will review the industry's progress in the autumn.

    To reinforce the industry's efforts, the Home Office have brought into force the Confiscation of Alcohol Act and will be legislating to prevent adults buying alcohol on behalf of unsupervised children and to clarify the law on the use of children in test purchases of alcohol.

    Additionally, this week my honourable friend the Minister for Public Health launched the Health Education Authority's new Parents' Guide to Drugs and Alcohol, which will be very useful in empowering parents to make an effective contribution in preventing their children from misusing alcohol and taking drugs. Copies of the guide will be placed in the Library.

    Hepatitis "C": Haemophilia Society's Representation

    asked Her Majesty's Government:What further representations they have had from the Haemophilia Society following the debate on 5 June about financial assistance for people with haemophilia infected with hepatitis "C" by their NHS treatment; what replies they are sending; and whether there is any action they will be taking. [HL2423]

    The Haemophilia Society wrote to us on 24 June, to pursue issues raised in the debate on 5 June. We are giving careful consideration to the points made in the letter before replying.

    Harcourt Corridor: New Light Fittings

    asked the Chairman of Committees:Why it is necessary to install new light fittings in the Harcourt corridor in the Palace of Westminster; and what is the cost of the installation. [HL2435]

    I understand that the Administration Officer has now written to all occupants of the Harcourt corridor to explain the installation of new light fittings, which are planned to replace the existing fluorescent tubes. I also understand that the budget for that aspect of the project is in the region of £9,000.

    House Of Lords: Offices

    asked the Chairman of Committees:Whether he will produce a map showing which rooms in the House of Lords are used as offices by Lords and which by persons other than Lords; and [HL2368]

    Whether he will produce a table showing which rooms in the House of Lords are used as offices; whether each room is used by Lords or persons other than Lords; how many desks there are per room; and which of the desks allocated to Lords are shared. [HL2369]

    I have given instructions for the production of the map and tables requested. When they have been completed they will be placed in the Library and I will inform the noble Lord.

    House Of Lords: Staff

    asked the Chairman of Committees:Whether he will produce a table showing the numbers of House of Lords staff in each department and the extent to which these staff have face-to-face contact with Lords as part of their job. [HL2370]

    I have set out the staff numbers for each department as follows:

    • Accountant's Office 10
    • Black Rod's Department 85
    • Clerk of the Parliaments' Office 9
    • Committee Office 23
    • Computer Office 6
    • Establishment Office 9
    • Hansard 36
    • Journal Office (including Printed Paper Office and Information Office) 17
    • Judicial Office (including Law Lords' Office) 15
    • Legislation Office 11
    • Library 19
    • Record Office 9
    • Refreshment Department 85.5
    In the Legislation Office, the Computer Office, the Judicial Office and the Committee Office, all staff have regular face-to-face contact with Lords as part of their job.All staff in Black Rod's Department except the 42 part-time housemaids have regular face-to-face contact with Lords. In the Refreshment Department, face-to-face contact with Lords varies, although all management and waiting staff have such contact.All but three of the staff in the Clerk of the Parliaments' Office, most of the staff in the Library and the Journal Office and about half of the staff of Hansard have regular face-to-face contact with Lords.In the Accountant's Office, only the Accountant and Peers' expenses staff have face-to-face contact with Lords. In the Establishment Office only the Establishment Officer has such contact, while in the Records Office such contact is limited.