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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the Prime Minister personally expressed his view that there should be probity and the highest possible standards in local government and for local councillors, with "one strike and you are out". I pay tribute to the work done by my noble friend Lord Dean of Beswick during his time in local government. He was able to be involved

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because of the powers and abilities of local authorities to respond to the needs of the community. We wish to return to that following the consultation exercise.

Lord Bowness: My Lords, the forewords to the consultation papers, if not the contents of the papers themselves, suggest that the Government envisage a rosy future for local government under this administration. That being the case, perhaps the noble Baroness can tell us why the Government propose to keep their capping powers; and, further, why they propose establishing regional development agencies appointed by the Government to act for them and to interfere with, and to take powers away from, local authorities?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, as regards capping we have made it absolutely clear that we shall work in partnership with local government to ensure that the removal of the absolute and total capping system will occur when a system of best value is fully in place and working in partnership. We believe it is very important that this process takes place. The noble Lord referred to the consultation process and the importance of consideration being given to the way forward. As he is aware, consultation is necessary if we are to move forward. With the noble Lord's distinguished career in local government he will be aware that, under the partnership arrangements, this Government have a regular three-monthly series of meetings at the highest ministerial level with cross-party representation from local government.

Lord Islwyn: My Lords, can the Minister say whether a timetable has been laid down for the proposed reforms?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, there are proposals in a range of documents to which I referred earlier. They deal with the full spectrum of local democracy and community leadership, improving local services through best value, capital finance, business rates, improving local financial accountability and the new ethical framework. Following the responses to the consultation we hope to publish a White Paper in the summer to bring together the responses to the consultation.

Termite Infestation: Devon Outbreak

3.9 p.m.

Lord Methuen asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to control and eradicate the outbreak of termites in north Devon.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, my department is closely monitoring the situation with the Building Research Establishment which is also conducting research to determine if there is any risk of the problem spreading beyond the single property

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known to be affected at the present time. The first task for the Building Research Establishment is to research optimum means of eradicating the infestation, and it is seeking help from overseas in doing this. The report is being prepared as a matter of urgency in consultation with the industry. As soon as it is to hand, a decision will be made on what action is required.

Lord Methuen: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that information. Is she aware that the outbreak of termites in north Devon threatens a disaster comparable with that of Dutch Elm disease but is far more personal as it affects people's houses rather than just trees? It may interest the House to know that if only two of the insects--one of each sex--fly out of the existing colony they can establish further colonies. I understand that the site concerned is totally affected, including the whole of the garden and the greenhouse as well as the house and the retaining wall. If any of the colony remain after action has been taken, within only four to eight days the remaining inhabitants of the nest can produce a new king and queen further to propagate the colony. I wonder what the Minister cares to say about that.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am well aware that concerns have been expressed about the extent of the problem that could be posed by termites becoming established in this country. That is why my honourable friend the Minister responsible for construction has asked for urgent advice from the Building Research Establishment on the scale of the problem, its likely impact and, most crucially, on what effective measures can be taken to eradicate the termites. I should make it clear that only one building is affected currently; that that building was affected in 1994; and that it is possible that the source of the infestation was 10 years prior to that. Therefore, I believe that the timescale involved allows us to look at the issues involved--we are doing so urgently--and take the appropriate action.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, does the Minister know that Australia has termites known as "white ants"? They are common--in fact, they are everywhere--but buildings are still standing. Is the Minister aware that the echidna, or anteater, is a natural predator of termites and thrives on them? If the worst comes to the worst, will the Minister consider introducing a few echidna from Australia to deal with the problem?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am always grateful for the international comparisons which the noble Baroness is able to give us and for her lateral thinking on such issues. There will be a serious problem if we find that termites, inadvertently imported into this country, can survive in the British climate when we thought in the past that that was not possible. I understand what the noble Baroness says about some buildings remaining in Australia, but these pests cause great damage there and in southern Europe. If there is any danger of that happening here, we ought to take the appropriate action.

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Baroness Nicol: My Lords, while the Building Research Establishment is looking into the problem, has any attempt been made under the pest control by-laws to deal with the matter at local authority level? There should be a great sense of urgency about this because, if we have a warm summer, it could become a real problem. Has the local authority been involved?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, as I understand it, at the moment it is the Building Research Establishment which is very much involved. It is preparing a report on the building concerned. It would, of course, be willing to give advice on neighbouring buildings because it is important to know whether it is possible that the problem has spread. We are considering how to prevent similar importations in the future. Responsibility for that comes under the Plant Health (Forestry) (Great Britain) Order 1993. The Forestry Commission is at present carrying out a pest risk analysis of termites. If it indicates that certain measures are necessary, they will be taken forward.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, is the Minister aware that Australians should not talk about the introduction of strange species into other countries given what the rabbit did to Australia? Will the noble Baroness ensure that no termites or "anti-termites" are imported from Australia?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, these matters are covered in the Wildlife and Countryside Act, which very much takes into account the danger that the importation of species into other countries can have for the natural habitat and other species. I am sure that my colleagues will view any such proposals carefully.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, instead of eradicating this outbreak completely, will the Government consider transporting some of the termites to the government office building in Marsham Street where they could contribute to a popular demolition job?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I think there are other ways of dealing with Marsham Street.

The Earl of Halsbury: My Lords, do Her Majesty's Government recognise that in any occurrence or class of occurrences there is always one which, with the wisdom of hindsight, was historically the first and went unrecognised? Will Her Majesty's Government consider informing the local bug hunters in Devonshire, many of whom are amateur lepidopterists, of what to look for and who to report to if they find it?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, hindsight is an interesting aspect of this. With hindsight, the measures that were taken in 1994, which were considered then to be substantial enough to deal with the outbreak, turned out not to be substantial enough because the problem has recurred. It is important that we recognise that and the potential of termites surviving in the more temperate parts of Great Britain. As I understand it, the Building Research Establishment is putting in monitoring stakes

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as they are the most effective way of monitoring any potential spread. I am sure that any amateur help that could be given would be much appreciated.

School Standards and Framework Bill

3.17 p.m.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Blackstone, I beg to move the Motion standing in her name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That it be an instruction to the Committee of the Whole House to whom the School Standards and Framework Bill has been committed that they consider the Bill in the following order:

Clauses 1 to 11, Schedule 1, Clauses 12 to 20, Schedule 2, Clauses 21 and 22, Schedule 3, Clause 23, Schedule 4, Clause 24, Schedule 5, Clauses 25 to 30, Schedule 6, Clauses 31 to 33, Schedule 7, Clause 34, Schedule 8, Clause 35, Schedules 9 to 11, Clause 36, Schedule 12, Clauses 37 to 39, Schedule 13, Clauses 40 to 47, Schedule 14, Clauses 48 to 50, Schedule 15, Clauses 51 to 53, Schedule 16, Clause 54, Schedule 17, Clauses 55 to 65, Schedule 18, Clause 66, Schedule 19, Clause 67, Schedule 20, Clauses 68 to 71, Schedule 21, Clause 72, Schedule 22, Clauses 73 to 88, Schedule 23, Clause 89, Schedule 24, Clause 90, Schedule 25, Clauses 91 to 115,

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Schedule 26, Clauses 116 and 117, Schedule 27, Clauses 118 to 125, Schedule 28, Clauses 126 to 133, Schedules 29 to 31.--(Lord Whitty.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.


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