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Public Transport

Miss Geraldine Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what assistance he is providing for pensioners using public transport. [148961]

Mr. Hill: In total local authorities in England spend over £440 million on concessionary travel on public transport each year. That includes travel by young and disabled people, as well as by pensioners. The Local Government Finance Settlement 2001-02 takes account of local authorities responsibilities in this area. It includes an extra £54 million a year which has been made available to cover the costs of the statutory half-fare scheme for pensioners and disabled people on buses under the Transport Act 2000.

Miss Geraldine Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will estimate how many new rural bus services have been established since 2 May 1997. [148968]

Mr. Hill: The data collected on the number of local bus service registrations do not specifically identify rural areas.

However, our survey of local authorities on the use made of the new Rural Bus Subsidy Grant introduced in 1998 shows that 1,800 new or enhanced services were being supported in 1999-2000 by the grant.

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Asbestos

Mr. Worthington: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what advice he has received over the past 10 years about rising asbestos liabilities; and what action he has taken to ensure that those suffering from asbestos-related diseases were covered by employers liability insurance. [148915]

Mr. Meacher: Under the Employers' Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969, employers carrying on a business in Great Britain have been required since 1972 to insure their liabilities to employees for bodily injury or disease arising from their employment. The Act is enforced by the Health and Safety Executive. Most public sector employers are exempt from this requirement because their liabilities can be met from public funds. My Department is not aware of any case in the last 10 years where a sufferer was not compensated because an insurer did not indemnify a policyholder in accordance with their policy after liability had been established.

Fish Farming

Mr. Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions how many discharge consents for fish farms have been issued by (a) the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and (b) the Environment Agency under the Control of Pollution Act 1974; and on what date each (i) was issued and (ii) is due to expire. [149202]

Mr. Robert Ainsworth [holding answer 5 February 2001]: No discharge consents for fish farms have been issued by the Environment Agency under the Control of Pollution Act 1974. The Environment Act 1995 established the Environment Agency as the regulatory body responsible, among other tasks, for the issuing of water pollution discharge consents. The legislation in force at the time of the Environment Agency's establishment was the Water Resources Act 1991, and it is under this legislation that the Environment Agency has issued discharge consents for fish farms. Information about how many discharge consents for fish farms have been issued by the Environment Agency is not held centrally and I will write to the hon. Member with this information as soon as it is available. The information that the hon. Member asks for in relation to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency is now a devolved matter for the Scottish Executive.

Council Tax (Empty Properties)

Mr. Pike: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (1) what recent representations he has received on the policy of charging council tax on empty properties; [149283]

Ms Beverley Hughes: In the last three months we have received four representations on the policy of charging council tax on empty properties.

There are already a range of exemptions from council tax where a dwelling is left empty. These include up to six months for dwellings which are unoccupied and substantially unfurnished and up to 12 months where they

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also need major repair work to render them habitable or are undergoing structural alteration. Once an empty dwelling ceases to be exempt, it will attract a 50 per cent. charge.

We believe that the current exemptions are fair. However, we are aware of concerns about council tax on empty homes in areas where demand for housing is very low and we will continue to keep the fairness of the council tax under review.

Business Rates

Mr. Cox: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions how much revenue was raised from the business rate in the Greater London area during the last 12 months. [149368]

Ms Beverley Hughes: The information requested is not yet available. However, local authorities in the Greater London area contributed an estimated £2.720 billion from business rates to the non-domestic rating pool in 1999-2000. This figure is still subject to audit approval.

Social Housing

Dr. Lynne Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, pursuant to his answer of 5 February 2001, Official Report, columns 376-77W, if he will give the figures for investment in (a) council housing and (b) housing owned by registered social landlords at constant prices. [149590]

Mr. Robert Ainsworth: The capital resources made available by central Government to support housing investment by local authorities and registered social landlords in the years since 1990-91 at constant 1999-2000 prices are as follows:

£ million

(1999-2000)
CashConstant
Housing capital allocations to local authorities(2)
1990-911,7062,238
1991-921,6822,079
1992-931,5791,890
1993-941,3911,622
1994-951,1811,358
1995-961,1471,282
1996-971,0591,147
1997-98926975
1998-991,2111,240
1999-20001,2521,252
2000-011,8911,854
2001-022,5522,441
2002-032,8532,662
2003-042,9342,671
Housing capital allocations to registered social landlords(3)
1990-919861,293
1991-921,5211,880
1992-932,2842,733
1993-941,7612,053
1994-951,4411,657
1995-961,1121,243
1996-971,0071,090
1997-98667702
1998-99603617
1999-2000634634
2000-01678665
2001-02787753
2002-03958894
2003-041,2741,160

(2) Covers credit approvals, capital grants, PFI schemes for council housing and the resources to be made available under the arms length management initiative but excludes Estate Action allocations (which are now part of Regeneration Budgets). Local authorities housing capital programmes provide resources to improve poor condition private sector housing or develop new affordable housing as well as renovating or improving the council housing stock.

(3) Public funded investment in RSL housing through the Housing Corporation's Approved Development Programme (ADP) and, from 2001-02, the Safer Communities Supported Housing Fund.


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Crown Immunity

Mr. Kidney: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will review the extent of the Ministry of Defence's immunity from (a) civil and (b) criminal action under Crown immunity in cases involving (i) death and (ii) personal injury. [149584]

Mr. Meacher: The Queen's Speech on 6 December 2000 announced the Government's intention to draft a Safety Bill. We intend to use this opportunity to fulfil the commitment in our strategy statement "Revitalising Health and Safety" to remove Crown immunity from statutory health and safety enforcement.

In cases of civil claims, Crown immunity was removed by the Crown Proceedings Act 1947, as amended by the Crown Proceedings (Armed Forces) Act 1987.

Council Chief Executives

Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will review procedures for disciplinary proceedings in respect of chief executives in local government. [149470]

Ms Armstrong: We received a number of representations about these disciplinary procedures when consulting on drafts of our proposed guidance to underpin new council constitutions. In the light of these representations we have concluded that these procedures remain appropriate for Chief Executives and in the future should be extended to Chief Finance Officers and Monitoring Officers.


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