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Post Office: Statutory Monopoly

Lord Mancroft asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: In the light of the Communication Workers Union announcement last week of a series of four further strikes, consultations were initiated last week with the Post Office to establish as clear a view as possible of the implications of a suspension of the monopoly I am now consulting the Post Office on a proposal to suspend the Post Office's monopoly for an initial period of one month with effect from 26th July. If during that period it became clear that disruption of the postal services was likely to continue,

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I would propose a further suspension of the monopoly for a period of three months.

Drought Management: Environment Agency

Earl Peel asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In view of the Minister's reply to the noble Earl's previous question, why is it, given the drought conditions that have prevailed in certain regions, that the Environment Agency (or its predecessor, the National Rivers Authority) has not thought it appropriate to submit any draft statement containing provisions for determining minimum acceptable flows in any inland waters as set out at s.21(1) of the 1991 Water Resources Act.

The Minister of State Department of the Environment (Earl Ferrers): The Environment Agency is of the view that the appropriate legislation for drought management is that which is contained in Sections 73 to 81 of the Water Resources Act 1991. However, the agency will be considering its position in relation to the provisions for determining minimum acceptable flows which are set out in Section 21 of that Act and may make such proposals as may be appropriate in due course.

At the present time, the agency's policy is to protect river flow through the use of conditions which are specified in water abstraction licences. These conditions are widely applied and have an effect similar to that which might be obtained from setting minimum acceptable flows.

Surface Water Abstraction: Licensing Policy

Earl Peel asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What results, if any, are available from the trials being carried out by the Environment Agency in order to develop its surface water abstraction licensing policy, and, if none, when such results will be available and whether they will be made public.

Earl Ferrers: The Environment Agency is, during 1996-97, conducting trials of a methodology which could support a surface water abstraction licensing policy. Results from the trials are expected in the course of 1997 and will be made available to interested parties on request.

Empty Homes in the Civil Estate

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How departments performed against last year's targets for reducing empty homes and what new targets have been set for 1996-97.

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Earl Ferrers: The number of empty homes in the civil estate owned by government departments fell by almost 600 between 1st April 1995 and 1st April 1996, a reduction of nearly 40 per cent.

In 1995-96 almost all government departments reduced the number of empty homes they hold. We are particularly pleased that the Home Office, Department of Transport and Scottish Office all exceeded their targets.

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Departments' progress demonstrates the Government's continued commitment to reduce the number of empty homes. The new, more exacting, targets which have been set for 1996-97 will build on this success. We are also confident that the sale of the Ministry of Defence married quarters estate will lead to an improvement in performance in tackling MoD empty homes.

Details of achievement against targets for 1995-96 and new targets for 1996-97 are below.

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Total stock at 1 April 1996 1995-96 Target for % empty Achievement against target 1996-97 Target for % empty1995-96 Target for % habitable homes empty more than 6 months Achievement against target 1996-97 Target for % habitable homes empty more than 6 monthsAction being taken to dispose of homes empty more than 6 months
Home Office3,455<11%7% (242)<6%<3%0.3% (10)1%--
Department of Transport3,532<25%18.9% (669)<17%<9%8.3% (293)<7%194 of these homes are in the process of being sold, including 60 being auctioned. 99 are in the process of being let.
Welsh Office243<3%(1)20.5% (50)<15%<3%9.0% (22)<5%7 sales in progress, 1 under offer, 3 to be auctioned. 7 awaiting disposal as part of larger package.
Scottish Office213<10%9.8% (21)1%<3%1.8% (4)1%Anticipated occupation of all houses by Winter 1996.
Ministry of Defence70,409To dispose of 1,500 homes by April 1996 and to dispose of a further 2,500 by end summer 1996. 1,703 disposed of by April. To dispose of 4,000 empty homes. n/an/an/an/a

(1) The 3 per cent. target was based on the position at 1st April 1995. In relation to the properties empty at that time 2.8 per cent. are still empty. However, others have become empty since then. The targets for 1996-97 make realistic provision for properties becoming empty during the year.

< = less than.


1. Properties that are "habitable" include all properties except:

(a) derelict properties that await demolition (e.g. to make way for road schemes);

(b) those that are expected to be demolished in the near future where the expenditure required to make them habitable would be disproportionate to their expected life (e.g. where substantial investment would be required to connect essential services such as water, sewage or electricity;

(c) those that cannot be made accessible (e.g. due to adjacent construction works).

2. Figures for the National Health Service in England and Scotland are not included in the above table. The recent survey figures for England show a decrease in vacant properties from 1,800 at 1st December 1992 to 1,604 at 21st October 1995. The target for this period was to reduce the number of vacant properties to 1,100. The NHS is committed to future reductions in the number of empty properties held, but does not intend to carry out further surveys since the void rate equates to only about 3.5 units per NHS Trust. Figures for NHS Trust properties in Scotland at 1st April 1995 were: total stock 1,185--properties empty 113 [9.5 per cent.]. Figures at 1st April 1996 are: total stock 1,087--properties empty 162 [14.9 per cent.]. The NHS in Scotland is also committed to future reductions in the number of empty properties held.

3. The Welsh Office figure includes information about empty property belonging to health authorities and NHS Trusts in Wales.

4. The total number of empty homes in the civil estate owned by government departments (i.e. excluding MOD and the NHS) was 1,567 on 1st April 1995 and 970 on 1st April 1996, a reduction of 38.1 per cent.

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Footpath Management

Lord Leigh asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress has been made in taking forward the commitment in the rural White Paper, Rural England, to stimulate the more active participation of parish councils in footpath management and to develop, with the Countryside Commission, a pilot project to build on the experience of the Parish Paths Partnership.

Earl Ferrers: The aims of the Local Access Initiative will be to maximise the role of local people in access management and maintenance, to integrate more fully the rights of way network with other access and recreational opportunities and to provide opportunities for additional access on a voluntary basis.

We also intend that the initiative will consider the relationship of local management to the accurate recording of rights of way and look at the scope for changes to the network. We intend to set up projects in four or five areas in England.

We have asked the Countryside Commission to manage the initiative. The commission will be seeking to set up schemes involving partnerships of local landowners, farmers, other local people and interested groups or individuals on a parish basis. Participation in the initiative will be entirely voluntary and management of the scheme is expected to be through the local highway authority. We hope to announce the projects by the end of the year.

Defence Procurement

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why procurement has risen from 36.7 per cent. of the defence budget in 1992-93 to 40 per cent. currently, and is it expected to rise to 45 per cent. by the end of the century.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Earl Howe): We are committed to providing the Armed Forces with the modern and capable equipment they need to carry out their demanding role in the new strategic environment. Efficiency savings, achieved not least through the Defence Costs Study, have enabled us to devote an increasing proportion of the defence budget to equipment procurement. We plan to continue to increase that proportion as further efficiency savings are delivered.

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