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Mr. Llew Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what proportion of housing in the United Kingdom falls below the Standard Assessment Procedure 20 rating for energy efficiency; and what programmes are in place to improve Standard Assessment Procedure ratings in (a) pensioner and (b) single-parent households. 
Mr. Meacher: Using the latest data from the English House Condition Survey, it is estimated that about 8 per cent. of dwellings had an energy efficiency rating under the Standard Assessment Procedure of below 20. The size of the total English housing stock was some 19.6 million dwellings.
The Home Energy Efficiency Scheme (HEES) has been radically overhauled as of 1 June 2000. The scheme now provides grants for packages of heating and insulation improvement measures, including the provision of high efficiency central heating systems for low income households aged 60 years or more. The grant maximum has been increased from £315 to between £700 and £2,000 depending on the composition of each household and the condition of the dwelling. The scheme is focused on the private sector where nearly 70 per cent. of the fuel poor in England are found. In the case of pensioners and single parents, eligibility is linked to the receipt of an income-related benefit or one of the main disability benefits. Of the 460,000 households that are expected to be helped during the first two years of HEES, some 280,000 are likely to be aged 60 years or more.
The Government have also substantially increased the resources available to local authorities over the lifetime of this Parliament, reversing the reductions planned by the previous Government. The extra resources in the first three years, 1997-98 to 1999-2000, were allocated through the Capital Receipts Initiative (CRI). Information collected to monitor the impact of the CRI found that around a quarter to a third of the work on local authorities' own stock financed from this initiative lead either directly or indirectly to improvements in energy efficiency. If this were replicated across all local authority housing capital expenditure on its own stock this would equate to around £400-500 million per annum.
The energy efficiency of low-income households is also likely to be improved through some of the regeneration schemes funded by DETR. These cover a wide range of activities depending on local need, and it is not possible to quantify the precise expenditure on energy efficiency improvements.
To support the installation of energy efficiency measures, the Government also reduced the level of VAT from 1 July 1998 on work carried out on low-income households through eligible schemes such as HEES. The revenue cost of the reduction was £8.5 million a year.
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This year's Budget extended the reduced rate at a total cost of £35 million a year. By 2002, the total cost is estimated at £85 million.
The Government are also introducing provisions to enable lessors to claim capital allowances on their investment in boilers, radiators and controls installed in residential properties under the Affordable Warmth Programme. The Programme will operate from 2000 to 2007, with the aim of helping up to one million low-income households benefit from improved energy efficiency. Estimate that Government assistance from this measure up to April 2002 will be approximately £10 million.
In addition to Government energy efficiency programmes, since 1994 public electricity suppliers have, under the Energy Efficiency Standards of Performance, been required to encourage and assist customers with energy efficiency measures. The new Director General of the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets has, from this year extended these to also include public gas suppliers and the overall size of the programme has been doubled to £50 million a year. Around two thirds of this help has gone to pensioner and low-income families.
Ms Armstrong: The Department has undertaken a preliminary study of the literature relating to regional government in England, which will be published shortly. No public consultation was involved. As substantive proposals are developed for taking forward the Government's commitments to regional government, there will be full consultation with regional and other interests.
Mr. Luff: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what recent assessment he has made of the performance of Advantage West Midlands; and if he will make a statement. 
Ms Beverley Hughes: My Department has commissioned consultants to undertake an evaluation of the strategies and action plans produced by all eight RDAs, including Advantage West Midlands. Research is also being carried out by consultants into partnership working by RDAs in the development and production of their strategies. It is the aim that both pieces of research will be published and that the findings will contribute to a report on the RDAs performance in their first year of operation.
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Dr. Marek: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if the Virgin Trains commercial study of the electrification of the North Wales main line has been made available to the National Assembly for Wales. 
Mr. Hill: The study was produced on a commercially confidential basis to the Franchising Director in March 1998 and he received an independent assessment of it, again on a commercially confidential basis, in September 1998. The Franchising Director has not since made the study or assessment available to the National Assembly for Wales.
Joan Ruddock: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what estimate he has made of the number of new GM farm-scale trials which will be required for (a) autumn planting this year and (b) spring planting next year. 
Mr. Meacher: The Scientific Steering Committee for the Farm-scale Evaluations has advised that 20 to 25 fields should be sought for the autumn sowing of the farm-scale evaluations of herbicide tolerant oil seed rape this year.
The original design for the evaluations was that for each GM crop 20 to 25 fields would be sought each year for three years. When it became apparent last February that there may be a shortfall in the number of farms for the spring sowings this year, the Steering Committee advised:
Mr. Matthew Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what the Government's policy is on auctioning landing rights at UK airports; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Mullin: I take the question to refer to take-off and landing slots, and not to traffic rights, which are negotiated separately. Slot allocation at congested airports is governed by European Regulation EC95/93. An independent co-ordinator makes the allocation using a set of priority criteria that reflect the European Regulation and international guidelines. The Government have no
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role in the process. Slots are allocated without charge. Under the existing Regulation once allocated, their holder has an indefinite claim on them as long as they are used.
Mr. Matthew Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what estimate he has made of the revenue which would be raised by auctioning landing rights at UK airports; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Mullin: None. The allocation of landing rights, or slots, at airports, is governed by EC Regulation 95/93 which does not explicitly authorise the buying and selling of slots. The Government do not therefore have information on which to base an estimate of the possible value of slots. The income raised would also depend on a number of variables including the number of slots auctioned, their location and how desirable they were to a particular airline.
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