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31 Jan 1995 : Column WA107

Written Answers

Tuesday 31st January 1995

CASSINI SPACE PROBE: SAFETY

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have examined NASA's plan to send into space in 1997 a probe, Cassini, powered by 32 kilograms of plutonium and whether they have formed any views on the safety of this project.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Earl Ferrers): The US National Aerospace and Space Administration (NASA) has issued a draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Cassini mission. In this document, NASA has estimated that the risks arising from any potential accidents during the Cassini mission are small and are less than many risks faced by the public from the construction and/or operation of large industrial projects.

Her Majesty's Government have obtained expert advice on NASA's draft Environmental Impact Statement. This confirms that the risk to an individual member of the public is minimal.

FINANCIAL SERVICES ACT 1986: OUTSIDE INSPECTORS

Lord Clinton-Davis asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will identify those cases (or, in the event that they are unable to do so, the number of cases) in which the Department of Trade and Industry has appointed outside inspectors pursuant to the powers conferred by the Companies Act 1989 and the Financial Services Act 1986 respectively since 1st January 1992, stating in each case the length of time taken to complete the inquiries or to receive interim reports; and on how many occasions the report of the inspectors has led to prosecution, providing where appropriate the result of each such prosecution.

Earl Ferrers: There are no powers to appoint inspectors under the Companies Act 1989. Outside inspectors—i.e. non-departmental inspectors—have been appointed under Section 177 of the Financial Services Act 1986 in two cases since 1 January 1992; one in 1993 which is ongoing and one in 1994 which was completed in five months—no prosecution was commenced following receipt of the inspectors' report.

Lord Clinton-Davis asked Her Majesty's Government:

    On how many occasions the Department of Trade and Industry has decided not to appoint outside inspectors in cases which have been referred to it by the regulators acting pursuant to the powers conferred by the Financial Services Act 1986 or by the Stock Exchange between 1st January 1992 and the present time.

Earl Ferrers: Regulators including the London Stock Exchange refer on average 40 to 50 matters a year to

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the department's investigation division. Such references are not for the specific purpose of the appointment of outside inspectors and only one such appointment has resulted since 1 January 1992. In addition, 10 appointments of departmental inspectors have resulted.

QUANGOS AND THE CIVIL SERVICE: EMPLOYEE NUMBERS

Lord Barnett asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many officials were employed in quangos and other non-departmental bodies at the latest available date; and how many civil servants were employed at the same, or nearest, date.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earl Howe): At 1 April 1994, the number of officials employed in non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs), formerly known as quangos, was 110,200. The figure includes a number of officials working in NDPBs who are civil servants on secondment from parent departments. It also includes 5,200 staff employed by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, the Health and Safety Commission and the Health and Safety Executive, who, although directly employed by these bodies, are civil servants.

The total number of civil servants employed in the Civil Service as at the same date was 533,000.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT FINANCE SETTLEMENT

Lord Broughman and Vaux asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they expect to announce the outcome of consultation on the local government finance settlement.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Viscount Ullswater): We are today laying before the House the Local Government Finance Report (England) 1995/96, the Limitation of Council Tax and Precepts (Relevant Notional Amounts) Report (England) 1995/96 and the Special Grant Report (No.12). These reports establish the amounts of revenue support grant (RSG) and non-domestic rates (NDR) to be paid to local authorities in 1995/96, and the basis of their distribution; specify the amounts which are to be used as the basis of comparison for measuring increases in certain local authorities' budgets in 1995/96 for the purposes of capping; and provide for a special grant to be paid to certain authorities for 1995/96. Two hundred authorities made written representations and Ministers met 90 delegations from local councils.

We shall be sending copies of these reports to all authorities as soon as possible, together with a table showing each authority's Standard Spending Assessment and its entitlement to RSG, NDR and special grant. We have also placed copies of the reports and the table in the Libraries and the Vote Office.

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PLANNING APPLICATION FEES

Lord Brougham and Vaux asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What decision they have reached on proposals to allow local planning authorities to set their own planning application fees.

Viscount Ullswater: Last summer we issued a consultation paper, Planning Application Fees, which proposed giving local planning authorities the power to set their own fees for determining planning applications. Our intention was to enable authorities to recover the costs they incur in processing planning applications. We envisaged that fee increases would be subject to authorities meeting qualifying criteria—in relation to development plans and development control performance—and establishing, by 1996, an accounting system for identifying costs.

We received over 300 responses, all of which have been carefully considered. We have concluded that the particular package of proposals we put forward did not attract sufficient support to justify legislating now for the devolution of fee-setting responsibilities within the proposed timescale.

For the present, therefore, planning application fees will continue to be set centrally. However, we shall be giving further thought to refining the fees regime to see whether a better match can be achieved between the costs and price of the service provided by local planning authorities.

WASTE MANAGEMENT STRATEGY

Lord Brougham and Vaux asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress has been made with the plans for a waste strategy for England and Wales which was announced in July 1994, in response to the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution's Report on Incineration of Waste.

Viscount Ullswater: The Government is today issuing for public consultation a draft waste strategy for England and Wales. The strategy aims to use the

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principles of sustainable development to provide a coherent framework for waste management policy and practice throughout England and Wales. Copies of the document have been placed in the Library of the House.

However well managed, waste always has the potential to cause harm to the environment. We must give priority to reducing the amount we produce, and to adopting better waste management practices. Much can be done harnessing the power of the market to encourage more environmentally friendly waste management. The Chancellor's announcement in his Budget statement of the introduction of a landfill tax is one, very important, development in this direction.

Industry can do a great deal, and has a good incentive to do so because, as a number of demonstration projects have shown, better waste management frequently results in reducing operating costs. Good waste management practice is a competitiveness opportunity. Householders also have a major role to play by choosing not to buy over-packaged goods, by reusing goods and materials within the household, and by using the recycling facilities provided by their local councils.

We hope that this draft strategy will start a wide debate about future aims and direction of waste management policy, and the role of industry, the public sector, consumers and householders; in achieving those objectives. We are allowing an extended consultation period until 28 April 1995 to enable proper consideration of the many significant issues which the strategy raises.

NATIONAL PARKS: DRAFT CIRCULAR

Lord Cochrane of Cults asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they intend to make available the national parks circular which they have undertaken to issue in connection with the national parks provisions in the Environment Bill.

Viscount Ullswater: We have today issued for consultation a national parks circular which contains guidance on matters which have arisen in the context of the Government's proposals for the future of the national parks. Copies of the draft circular have been placed in the Library.

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