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23 Mar 2001 : Column: 397W
Mr. Robert Ainsworth: The Airport Operators' Association environmental guidance manual is a private publication designed to assist airports by offering guidance on improved environmental performance. What use is made of the guidance is a matter for individual airports. We have no plans to monitor observance of the guidance.
Mr. Hilary Benn: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will issue guidance to local authorities on the phasing out of the retention system in respect of new contracts for construction work; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Syms: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what plans he has to abolish cash retentions in the construction industry; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Raynsford: I do not think it appropriate to consider abolishing retentions, or to demand that central or local government clients no longer use them. Retentions are symptomatic of a lack of trust between clients, contractors and sub-contractors that is common in construction. This goes to the heart of the issues raised by the Construction Task Force in its report, "Rethinking Construction".
There are significant signs of a shift in the construction industry towards a more co-operative and collaborative approach. If clients and suppliers can build a culture of trust throughout the supply chain, this may lead to a corresponding change in practice on retentions.
Leading central Government construction clients are moving towards performance based partnering contracts encouraged by revised guidance on procurement from the Office of Government Commerce which should reduce the need for retentions in future.
The Local Government Task Force, which was formed to promote "Rethinking Construction" in local government, has concluded that retentions are not compatible with collaborative approaches such as partnering. The Task Force will encourage authorities to replace retentions with robust quality control assurance systems.
Mr. Robert Jackson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what progress he is making in implementing his commitments contained in Waste Strategy 2000 to curb junk mail. 
Mr. Robert Ainsworth: My officials have had a number of meetings with representatives of the direct mail and promotions industry and other interested parties to discuss a producer responsibility initiative. Some progress has been made and I am hopeful that a voluntary scheme to increase the recycling of "junk mail" can be agreed.
23 Mar 2001 : Column: 398W
Department and agencies of his Department which have been (a) cancelled and (b) postponed owing to foot and mouth disease; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Meacher: The information requested is not held centrally. We would not expect cancellation or postponement of meetings and conferences to be necessary unless in a venue involving contact with susceptible livestock or land used by such livestock, and my Department and its agencies will continue supporting rural businesses in line with the Government's guidelines.
Mr. Don Foster: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions how many houses, broken down by region, have been empty for (a) less than 12 months, (b) 12 months to three years and (c) three years and over; and what percentage of empty homes are eligible for reduction in VAT on conversion costs. 
Robust estimates are not available of the number of empty homes that will be eligible for the adjustment to the zero VAT rate for the sale of empty homes, nor for the reduced rate for the refurbishment costs of empty homes, but estimates produced in conjunction with the Empty Homes Agency suggest that around 60 per cent. of all long term empty properties (defined as those empty for more than 12 months) in England will be eligible. No estimates are available at a regional level.
A separate Budget measure was introduced to lower the rate of VAT for dwelling conversions which lead to a different number of dwelling units. This applies to all dwelling conversions, whether the property was previously empty or not, and is expected to lead to a net increase of around 1,000 dwellings a year.
|Dwellings vacant for:|
|Tenure category||12 months or less||More than 12 months||Total vacant dwellings|
|Registered social landlords (RSL)||30,300||7,200||37,500|
|Other public sector||n/a||n/a||16,000|
|Registered social landlords (RSL)||n/a||n/a||2,100|
|Other public sector||n/a||n/a||700|
|Yorkshire and Humberside|
|Registered social landlords (RSL)||n/a||n/a||2,400|
|Other public sector||n/a||n/a||1,300|
|Registered social landlords (RSL)||n/a||n/a||2,600|
|Other public sector||n/a||n/a||1,800|
|East of England|
|Registered social landlords (RSL)||n/a||n/a||1,900|
|Other public sector||n/a||n/a||1,600|
|Registered social landlords (RSL)||n/a||n/a||7,300|
|Other public sector||n/a||n/a||1,700|
|Registered social landlords (RSL)||n/a||n/a||3,600|
|Other public sector||n/a||n/a||2,500|
|Registered social landlords (RSL)||n/a||n/a||2,700|
|Other public sector||n/a||n/a||2,300|
|Registered social landlords (RSL)||n/a||n/a||4,400|
|Other public sector||n/a||n/a||900|
|Registered social landlords (RSL)||n/a||n/a||10,500|
|Other public sector||n/a||n/a||3,200|
n/a = data not available
(31) Excludes LA dwellings situated in another local authority district
DETR Housing Investment Programme returns
23 Mar 2001 : Column: 399W
Mr. Meacher: The Lacock Post Office already receives 50 per cent. mandatory rate relief under the existing village shop rate relief scheme. This scheme gives 50 per cent. mandatory relief to the sole general store or post office in a qualifying small rural settlement. I understand that North Wiltshire District Council has increased this relief to 80 per cent. under the discretionary powers which enable billing authorities to top up the mandatory relief to 100 per cent.
23 Mar 2001 : Column: 400W
Mr. Robert Ainsworth: We have today published jointly with the National Assembly for Wales our "First Consultation Paper on the Implementation of the EC Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC)". The paper, which is the first in a series of planned consultations, marks the first stage in translating the Water Framework Directive into practical action in England and Wales. The paper invites views on our proposed approach to some initial questions and also provides an introduction to the Directive's provisions. I have placed copies of the paper in the House Libraries.
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