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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): We are today laying before the House, the Mines (Notice of Abandonment) Regulations 1998. The regulations will come into force on 1 July 1998. On 4 March, my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Angela Eagle) made the necessary commencement order to bring the remainder of Sections 58 and 60 of the Environment Act 1995 into force on 1 July. This period of notice will allow mine operators time to put in place the necessary
These regulations are being introduced following extensive consultation with interested parties. Copies of the responses received are available from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions libraries. The regulations will help the Environment Agency ("the Agency") avoid an unexpected minewater breakout resulting in serious contamination of controlled waters by enabling the agency to identify appropriate action to prevent pollution or treat minewaters when a mine or part of a mine is abandoned.
The regulations require mine operators to notify the agency at least six months before abandoning a mine or part of a mine and to publish a notice in at least one local newspaper where the mine is situated. They set out the precise contents of both the notice to be given to the agency and the public notice in a local newspaper. The notice for the agency requires the operator to give an opinion as to the consequences of the proposed abandonment with relevant supporting information. Variations to the timing of the notice will apply where abandonment follows an emergency, and in some cases of insolvency. Where a phased programme of abandonment is planned, this could be notified to the agency and published in a local newspaper at one time, so as to reduce the burdens on the operator.
My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Angela Eagle) has also brought into effect the remainder of Section 60 of the Environment Act 1995. This removes the statutory defence against prosecution from the owners and former operators of mines abandoned after 31 December 1999, where a polluting discharge is "permitted" to flow from an abandoned mine or part of a mine.
The Minister for Roads, Baroness Hayman, has asked me to reply to your Question about the different speed limits in operation on the M.6 motorway in England and the M.77 and M.8 motorways in Scotland.
The Scottish Office is responsible for motorways and trunk roads in Scotland, whereas the Highways Agency is responsible for the operation of the motorway and trunk road network in England. Colleagues in the Scottish Office have advised that the M.8/M.77 passes through the centre of Glasgow and that it was designed to cater for the needs of urban traffic. The junctions are
In contrast, the M.6 motorway, to the north of Birmingham, was designed to 1970s motorway standards. The junctions are farther apart and consequently a 70 mph limit is more appropriate. There are times, though, when the very heavy flows of traffic lead to severe congestion. We are currently considering the possibility of adopting controlled motorway technology, similar to that already in use on parts of the M.25, so that the maximum permitted speed can be varied to make best use of the network.
Baroness Hayman: Civil liability for damage caused by genetically modified organisms is governed by the common law as developed by the courts. Depending on the facts of the case, a public authority regulating the marketing of genetically modified organisms may be liable if it acts negligently. On the basis of common law principles, a firm marketing the genetically modified crop may be liable in law for any damage arising from ill effects attributed to the crop. There is no requirement placed on firms to take out insurance against this eventuality. Depending on the facts of the case, the statutory regime for product liability may also be relevant.
Baroness Hayman: During recent strengthening operations on two of the older overbridges on the M.5 in Gloucestershire, an unexpected deterioration was noted in some of the concrete columns below ground level. Consultations with the Building Research Establishment (BRE) identified this as the thaumasite form of sulphate attack. Foundations on a further three bridges were examined and were found to be exhibiting similar deterioration.
The Highways Agency's view is that this does not pose a threat to the structural stability of the bridges, nor is there any risk to the safety of road users. The agency is drawing up a programme to identify which
BRE has been conducting research into this form of sulphate reaction since 1990 for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, but, until the cases on the M.5 were discovered last week, only three such incidents of damage to concrete foundations had previously been identified in the UK. It appears that compliance with standard design guidance on protection against sulphate attack does not guarantee protection of concrete against the thaumasite form of reaction. At present, BRE is undertaking both laboratory and long-term field studies into this phenomenon. These studies have led it to the conclusion that this form of sulphate reaction can only occur when there is a combination of:
In the light of the problems discovered on the M.5, we have today appointed Professor Leslie Clark to chair an expert group to study the phenomenon further and to report to me as soon as possible. The group will develop guidance and advice on any implications for existing buildings and structures and on the design and specification of new construction.
Baroness Hayman: The statement Planning for the Communities of the Future (Cmnd 3885) points out, in paragraph 33, the need for an orderly transition from the old to the new policy. The new approach will be introduced as soon as possible, through reviews of regional planning guidance. We will discuss with the regional planning conferences how far it will be possible to introduce the new arrangements into existing review processes, some of which are likely to be completed next year. In the meantime, where development plans are being replaced or altered, they should continue to have regard, inter alia, to existing regional guidance. However, in considering whether to object to proposals put forward in development plans, the Secretary of State will treat each case on its merits, taking account of national policy, including that in the statement. A more detailed note on the transitional position has been placed in the Library.
Baroness Hayman: My right honourable friends the Secretary of State for Wales and the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions are publishing today water charging proposals. The driving principles behind our policy on water charging are to have a system which provides for fair water charges and gives customers more choice in the way they pay for water. That system has to look after vulnerable customers. It also has to help ensure that water is used efficiently. We propose four key measures:
We also propose to remove the powers of water companies to disconnect domestic water supplies in the event of non-payment. This will be particularly reassuring to those who are most vulnerable. Access to water is essential to the maintenance of general good health and well-being, and the water charging arrangements need to reflect that. Of course, water companies are entitled to be paid for the services they provide, but other debt recovery procedures are available to them. Our concern about public health demands that we maintain the flow of water supplies to households in all circumstances.
Measured charges may, in the right circumstances, encourage individual customers to use water efficiently. Some consumers, such as single people or pensioners in larger properties, will see an advantage in moving to a measured charging basis for their bills. We propose that in future customers should have the choice to have a meter fitted, free of charge. But those who choose a meter should also have the opportunity to revert to an
Companies should draw up imaginative new tariffs which increase customer choice. Those should bring benefits to customers who have not previously seen any point in being metered. And tariffs can also be designed to give customers strong incentives to economise on water for discretionary purposes without discouraging essential use. It must be for the companies to take the lead in developing such tariffs, but we look to the regulator to see that they do so. In particular, we see a strong case for ending standing charges for metered customers, which can be a particular problem for people on low incomes with low water use.
For new homes, and those substantially altered since 1990, there are no rateable values. We do not believe that any of the unmeasured charging options for these homes are attractive. We therefore propose that metering should continue to be the normal charging method. But we will consider constructive proposals for alternative charging options which consultees wish to put forward, including possible unmeasured options for new houses.
A particular concern of this Government is the position of vulnerable customers. So we propose that households on low incomes, particularly large families, and those with special medical needs who live in houses with a metered supply should have the right to opt for a charge based on average use rather than their actual meter reading. This should provide targeted and effective assistance to the groups who could be most disadvantaged as a result of metering.
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