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Basildon: Local Government

Lord Williams of Elvel asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): We have announced that we have decided not to accept the outstanding recommendations on the reorganisation of the district of Basildon which the Local Government Commission have made. We do not believe that the recommendations offer a satisfactory way forward for Basildon in terms of efficient and convenient local government. We have also decided not to direct a further review by the Commission. This decision should end a period of uncertainty and enable the authorities concerned to plan more confidently for the future.

Filwood Playing Fields

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Hayman: No communication between officials in the Government Office and Ministers has been necessary as the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions was not, prior to the grant of planning permission by Bristol City Council, asked to exercise his powers.

Unauthorised Camping

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Hayman: The draft good practice on unauthorised camping has been prepared in consultation with a range of local authorities, representatives of

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travellers and the police. In addition, my department has consulted other government departments, and we propose to have another round of consultation shortly, with practitioners (including, for example, those concerned with traveller education and health issues) and others. We consider that this will ensure that the good practice, as published, will have a level of validity which reflects the views and experiences both of those dealing with unauthorised camping, and of the campers themselves.

The Government have no plans to extend the consultation exercise further.

English Partnerships

Baroness Mallalieu asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are their plans for English Partnerships following the creation of regional development agencies.[HL2413]

Baroness Hayman: The work of English Partnerships (EP) is to be carried forward in the main by the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) as part of the Government's commitment to put decision-making on regeneration and economic development at the regional level. Regeneration will be part of the RDAs' integrated regional strategies. The roles and functions of EP are to move to the RDAs as they are established; the assets will transfer from EP to the RDAs; and regional EP staff will transfer to the RDAs in April 1999 (and the following year for London).

This is a major organisational change and it will take time for the RDAs to get to grips with their new tasks and establish themselves as influential and credible organisations on the regional, national and international scene. Ministers envisage that there will be a transitional period of about five years when the experience and expertise of EP's remaining national capability will be critical in providing the continuity on some major projects and should also prove useful to RDAs as they bed in.

We are placing in the Library a copy of a note which sets out the background to the changes, the work remaining with EP, and the merger of EP and the Commission for the New Towns in 2000, which we have already announced. The note has been issued to the Government Offices for the Regions and to EP staff.

Transport Council, 17-18 June

Lord Gregson asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the outcome of the Transport Council held in Luxembourg on 17 and 18 June.[HL2427]

Baroness Hayman: My right honourable friend the Minister for Transport chaired the final Transport Council of the UK Presidency in Luxembourg on 17-18 June. My right honourable friend the Minister for Transport in London represented the United Kingdom.

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All our objectives were met. The Council adopted two negotiating mandates, reached a common position on one legislative measure and agreement on four others (pending receipt of the European Parliament's opinion), agreed two sets of Conclusions, and held useful discussion in some important areas.

Safety was a key theme. As chairman, we presented a paper by the UK presidency on Transport Safety in the European Union. Following discussion of this paper by Ministers, the Commission accepted an invitation to produce a first report in 1999 on transport safety across all modes in the EU.

Two important negotiating mandates were adopted by the Council. The first of these authorised the Commission to start negotiations, on behalf of the European Community and the Member States, towards the establishment of a new pan-European international organisation, to be known as the European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA). The second mandate authorised the Commission to negotiate Community membership of the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation (EUROCONTROL).

The Council reached a common position on a draft regulation amending Regulation 2299/89 on a code of conduct for computerised reservation systems (CRSs) in air transport.

The Council reached Conclusions welcoming a draft regulation amending Regulation 295/91 on Denied Boarding compensation in scheduled air transport, and calling for a decision on it at an early Council. The proposed amendment would strengthen the rights of passengers who are denied boarding to overbooked aircraft.

The Council also reached Conclusions supporting action at global level through the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) on the limitation of emissions of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) from jet aircraft engines, though noting that the possibility of Community legislation remains open if ICAO fails to agree worldwide rules. Council also reached broad agreement, pending receipt of the European Parliament's opinion, on the main elements of a draft directive to limit the use of re-certified civil jet aircraft, usually modified by the fitting of "hush-kits". Council agreed that the draft directive be transformed into a regulation, to facilitate early implementation.

The Council reached broad agreement on draft directives on roadside inspection of commercial vehicles, and on harmonisation of examination requirements for safety advisers for the transport of dangerous goods by road, rail or inland waterway, pending receipt of the European Parliament's opinions.

The Council continued the discussion begun at the Informal Council in April on the Commission Communication proposing step-by-step opening of the rail freight market.

The Commission reported on progress with developing legislative proposals to extend working time rules to the road transport sector.

In maritime transport, the Council reached broad agreement, pending receipt of the European

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Parliament's opinion, on a directive requiring safety inspection of passenger ferries, the last of a series of measures brought forward in the wake of the 1994 "Estonia" tragedy. The Council also debated the Commission's Green Paper on ports and maritime infrastructure. There was widespread support for the Commission giving priority to further work on principles for port and maritime infrastructure charging and financing, including an inventory of public funding, and on a regulatory framework for port services.

There was also a first exchange of views on two recent Commission proposals on the crewing of vessels operating regular passenger and ferry services within and between member states.

During the Council, on behalf of the European Community, Commissioner Kinnock and ourselves signed a tripartite agreement, with the Directors-General of EUROCONTROL and the European Space Agency, on a European contribution to a Global Navigation Satellite System.

Environment Council, 16-17 June

Lord Gregson asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the outcome of the Environment Council held in Luxembourg on 16 and 17 June.

Baroness Hayman: My right honourable friend the Minister for the Environment and my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions chaired the final Environment Council of the UK's Presidency in Luxembourg on 16-17 June. My right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister also attended the Council.

We are delighted to report an extremely successful Council. All of our objectives were met, with the Council agreeing member states' share of the EU's Kyoto target, reaching four common positions, agreeing five sets of Conclusions and having useful discussions in a number of other areas.

The Council gave highest priority to securing agreement on how the EU would share out the 8 per cent. reduction of greenhouse gases agreed at Kyoto. After protracted and difficult negotiations which involved a continual series of bilaterals lasting throughout the Council, Ministers reached agreement on this, and on Conclusions on the closely related issue of common and co-ordinated policies and measures for implementing these targets. Reaching agreement on climate change was one of the UK Presidency's main environmental objectives and we are delighted that we have achieved our goal. On negotiations with the industry to reduce CO2 from passenger cars, the Council agreed Conclusions welcoming the European car industry's improved offer, but agreed that more work was needed before agreement could be reached.

The Council agreed common positions on four proposals. We agreed a directive setting legally binding limits for airborne levels of four major pollutants which will greatly increase protection for people particulary sensitive to air pollution. We also took further steps

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towards eliminating acid rain by agreeing a directive which will significantly reduce the sulphur content of heavy fuel and gas oil. Council also reached agreement on a directive establishing a system for licensing and inspection of zoos, so securing one of the UK's main objectives for its presidency. We also agreed a revised European Environment Agency regulation.

The Council also reached a very considerable degree of common understanding on the proposal for a Water Framework Directive which should allow a common position to be reached once the European Parliament's opinion is available. This is a major environmental proposal which will establish the general orientation of Community water policy over the next 30 years.

Conclusions were agreed preparing the EU's position for the Fourth Pan-European Conference of Environment Ministers in Denmark later this month, on the Community's Biodiversity Strategy and on the follow-up to the Bergen-Northsea Intermediate Ministerial Meeting on the Integration of Fisheries and Environmental Issues.

We also held the first ministerial discussions on a number of important proposals. The debates on proposals to reduce emissions from Heavy Goods Vehicles (part of the Commission's Auto-Oil Programme) and the revision of a directive on the deliberate release of genetically modified organisms will enable the Austrian Presidency to make progress with both of these over the next six months. The Commission will revise its proposal in the light of a very useful debate on eco-labelling. The Council also briefly discussed the Commission's proposal to end the Austria and Luxembourg bans on genetically modified maize, although no decision will be taken on this issue until after the European Parliament has delivered its opinion on 14 July.

The Commission presented its Communication on Environment and Enlargement, which will be discussed further by the Council during the Austrian presidency.

My right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister reported on the Conclusions on the environment agreed by Heads of Government at the European Council in Cardiff on 16 June. These Conclusions establish a new framework for integrating environmental issues into all European policy decisions. Responding to the Spanish Minister's report on the toxic waste spill near Donana National Park in southern Spain, my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister, who visited the area on 5 June, proposed that there should be a review of current provisions for responding to disasters of this nature and, if these proved unsatisfactory, that there should be a conference to discuss possible alternatives. The Commission responded positively to this proposal and will report on its findings in the autumn.

At the outset of the presidency, the UK set itself an ambitious environmental agenda, with six areas identified as priorities (climate change, air quality,

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biodiversity, enlargement, fisheries and transport). We are delighted to report that, with the conclusion of this Council, we have achieved our objectives in all those areas.

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