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19 Oct 1998 : Column WA127

Written Answers

Monday, 19th October 1998.

Wild Birds: Fisheries Protection

The Earl of Shrewsbury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will now lift the ban on the culling, except by licence, of mergansers, cormorants and other protected birds which prey on salmon parr, as an encouragement for greater survival of those fish; and, if not, why not.[HL3346]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): All wild birds are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 which implements the EC Wild Birds Directive in Great Britain. Member states may derogate from the general protection provisions of the directive to prevent serious damage to fisheries where there is no other satisfactory solution. The directive does not permit the removal of protection for cormorants, mergansers and other piscivorous birds. The 1981 Act provides for piscivorous birds to be shot under licence in strictly limited numbers, where they are causing serious damage to a fishery, and there is no other satisfactory solution.

The Government are funding a five year research programme on the distribution and impact of piscivorous birds. The results should be available in spring 1999.

West Moors Bypass

Baroness Cox asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the proposed West Moors bypass in Dorset fits with their policy not to build new roads when they are not strictly necessary; and, if so, how they come to that conclusion.[HL3355]

Lord Whitty: The West Moors bypass is a local road scheme, which is being promoted by Dorset County Council. The county council will need to assess the scheme using the new appraisal framework for transport projects, which was published on 31 July.

House Building: Funding

Lord Dean of Beswick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What sums of money they have made available to local authorities and other house building agencies for house building, including the recent announcement by the Prime Minister of further money for difficult areas; and what is their annual target for house building.[HL3366]

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Lord Whitty: Over the life of this Parliament, an additional £5 billion will have been made available for housing, fulfilling the manifesto commitment to reinvest set-aside receipts from the sale of council housing to build new houses and renovate existing ones. Most of this additional money is being directed through local authorities which the Government believe are best placed to take decisions on the balance between investment in the renovation of existing stock and the provision of new housing, taking into account local needs and priorities. The Housing Corporation's Approved Development Programme has been increased relative to the previous Government's spending plans, to ensure that it continues to play a key role in support of new social housing provision, complementing local authority housing strategies.

The Government have also announced the provision of a further £800 million for the New Deal for Communities over the next three years, to tackle the problems of the most deprived neighbourhoods.

The Government do not have a formal annual target for house building. House building requirements are contained in regional planning guidance, which are agreed by the local authority regional planning conferences and are based on a range of factors, including household projections.

Housing Stock: Renovation

Viscount Brentford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many homes they now consider to be unfit for habitation; and what action is being taken about them.[HL3374]

Lord Whitty: The 1996 English House Condition Survey estimates that approximately 1.5 million homes are unfit for habitation.

The Government have already acted to improve the condition of the housing stock. Nearly £800 million extra has been made available for housing last year and this year through the Capital Receipts Initiative, delivering improvements in around 300,000 homes. Following the Comprehensive Spending Review, an additional £3.9 billion are being made available for investment in housing over the next three years. Most of the additional resources over the next three years are being directed through local authorities, enabling them to begin to tackle the backlog of renovation work on their stock and deliver improvements to around one and a half million more council homes. Local authorities may also use these resources to enhance their existing programmes for the improvement of private sector stock, where this best meets local needs and priorities.

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Legal Aid Board: Civil Advice

Baroness David asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Legal Aid Board has responded to the Lord Chancellor's request for advice on how best to achieve exclusive contracting of civil advice and assistance.[HL3462]

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): The Legal Aid Board has responded to my request for advice on how best to give effect to the Government's policy of exclusive contracting for civil advice and assistance. A copy of its report, and an exchange of correspondence between me and the chairman of the board, have been placed in the Library of both Houses. I welcome the report and generally accept the board's proposals. They will provide an effective way of achieving the Government's policy of targeting quality assured services on people's priority needs for help with basic legal problems. In particular, the proposals will secure our objective of channelling a greater share of funding to the not-for-profit advice sector, and of opening up new ways of delivering advice to people, for instance when they cannot conveniently reach the adviser's office. These are only first steps, but are essential components in building the community legal service promised by the Government in our election manifesto.

Harbour Porpoises: Pembrokeshire

Lord Beaumont of Whitley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have yet received advice from the Joint Nature Conservation Committee on the report produced by the Wildlife Trusts and World Wildlife Fund examining the situation for harbour porpoises in West Wales: if so, what that advice was; and, if not, when they expect to receive it.[HL3336]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): The Countryside Council for Wales has received the report in question from the Wildlife Trusts and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and is considering it along with the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC). The report recommends the designation of a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) for harbour porpoises in Pembrokeshire.

The report is complex. It is not clear when the Government will receive advice on this matter, but it is hoped that it will not take too long.

Union Flag: Constitutional Status

Lord Ashbourne asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they intend to clarify the constitutional status of the Union Flag before its bicentenary in 2001.[HL3387]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: No. The Union Flag's status as the national flag of the United Kingdom was established by Royal Proclamations made at the time of

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the Union of the English and Scottish Crowns in 1606 and of the Union of Great Britain with Ireland in 1801. It is universally recognised as the emblem of the United Kingdom.

Airspace: Definition

Lord Hill-Norton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they recognise any definitions of the terms "airspace", "outer space", "deep space" and "interstellar space"; whether they will detail such definitions; and whether these are the same definitions as used by the United States Government. [HL3311]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): Her Majesty's Government recognise and use the term "airspace". The principle of airspace sovereignty is defined in the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation (1944), which states that a country has complete and exclusive sovereignty over the airspace above its territory, including its territorial sea. This airspace starts immediately above the surface of the earth.

There is no internationally agreed definition of where "outer space" starts. The most commonly used boundary between airspace and outer space is functional. This means, for instance, that the launching of satellites or other space objects is deemed to be an "outer space" activity and that the flight of aircraft is considered to be an activity in airspace. The use of "outer space" is governed by the United Nations Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and other Celestial Bodies (known as the Outer Space Treaty, 1967) which covers all activity beyond sovereign airspace. Both the UK and the US have ratified the Outer Space Treaty and UK legislation regulating such activity (the Outer Space Act 1986) is based on its principles.

"Deep space" and "interstellar space" are terms sometimes used by space scientists and astronomers. "Deep space" is a phrase often used to describe space missions to other planets, beyond the combined gravitational field of the earth and the moon. "Interstellar space" is not commonly used but could, for example, denote the space between stars within a galaxy.

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