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Training Support Programme Budget

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Hayman: The training support programme budget for 1998-99 is £35.45 million. It is set to rise to £39.0 million for 1999-2000 and there are planning figures of £42.5 million and £44.5 million for the two subsequent years. This provides a sound basis on which local authorities can plan their local expenditure.

Airport Night Flight Restrictions

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): This is the second consultation in the two-stage process announced earlier this year.

Part 1 of this consultation invites comments on detailed proposals for future night restrictions at the three airports. Part 2 deals with Heathrow only, and invites views on options for the possible introduction of night-time runway alternation and on changing westerly preference at night. It also includes a summary of the assessment of the continuing trial procedure for landings over London in the early morning. The Government wish to consider all responses to Part 2 before reaching a view.

In developing these proposals, we have taken into account the responses received to the preliminary consultation paper. We have sought to strike the right balance between the need to protect local communities from excessive aircraft noise at night and the need to allow air services to operate at night where they benefit the local, regional and national economy.

A ban on night flights is not considered practicable but further steps are proposed to restrict operations by the noisiest types of aircraft at night and to encourage the use of quieter types.

Our aim is to put in place arrangements which, over time, will bring about improvements in the noise climate during the night quota period (11.30 pm-6.00 am) around Gatwick, and further improvements around Heathrow. We also wish to provide for the planned development of Stansted, broadly as envisaged in 1993, while maintaining and strengthening the incentive for airlines to use quieter aircraft.

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The main proposals are:

    to reduce the seasonal noise quotas for Heathrow to nearer the level of current usage, in order to safeguard the improvements in the night quota period achieved since 1993;

    to reduce the seasonal noise quotas for Gatwick from winter 2001-2002 onwards, and to balance the movement limits pro rata per season, from winter 1999-2000 onwards;

    to increase the Stansted noise quotas gradually from winter 1999-2000 onwards, while maintaining the incentive for airlines to use quieter aircraft;

    to ban aircraft classified QC/4 in the noise quota count (QC) system from being scheduled to land or take off during the quota restricted period from the start of the 2002 summer season at all three airports, subject to the technical reviews of the quota count system; and

    to reduce to 5 per cent. the amount of end of season flexibility permitted, except when there are calendar reasons for retaining 10 per cent.

Copies of the consultation paper will be placed in the House Library. The closing date for responses to the consultation is 12 February 1999.

New Towns Pension Fund

Lord Sefton of Garston asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have had any discussions with the New Towns Pension Fund concerning the division of the surplus in the fund between shareholders and policy holders; and, if so, what view they have formed of this issue as a result of those discussions.[HL3786]

Lord Whitty: The New Towns Pension Fund, like all tax approved occupational pension schemes, is subject to an underlying trust deed, and to the requirements of legislation governing pension schemes. As the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions is not a party to the trust deed, it is a matter for the fund's trustees, having obtained the necessary consents from the remaining employer, the Commission for the New Towns, to deal with any surplus in accordance with the trust deed and rules.

We understand, however, that discussions have taken place between the fund's trustees and the CNT over ways in which the surplus might be applied, but that the trustees are seeking to resolve various legal issues first.

Street Furniture and Abnormal Loads

Earl Attlee asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the maximum width of abnormal load that they would expect to be transported on motorways and primary routes without the need for temporary removal of street furniture.[HL3849]

17 Nov 1998 : Column WA147

Lord Whitty: There is no single width of an abnormal load that would result in the automatic removal of street furniture. Whether it was necessary to remove such objects would depend on all the dimensions of the load, its manoeuvrability and the specific road layout. It is unlikely that any street furniture would be required to be removed on motorways other than at the entrances to or exits from other primary routes.

Burma: Refugees

Lord Alton of Liverpool asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In the context of the growing humanitarian crisis in Burma, what representations they have made to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees concerning the establishment of an adequate refugee admission procedure for Burmese refugees, including the processing and designation of refugees.[HL3544]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): Her Majesty's Government have made clear our support for UNHCR's effective involvement in relation to the refugees on the Thai-Burma border, through the British Embassy in Bangkok, which is in close touch with UNHCR. The Thai authorities and UNHCR have been discussing the role UNHCR should play. Progress is being made: two UNHCR offices have recently opened in the border area.

The British Council

The Earl of Carlisle asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the direct grant to the British Council of £133 million in 1997-98 is sufficient to fund the Council activities, including those abroad; if not, whether they will increase the grant; and by how much.[HL3688]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The Government have no plans to increase the grant-in-aid which the British Council will receive during the course of the current financial year. The Council has worked out its expenditure plans for the year on the basis of the available grant-in-aid, which will enable it to fund its activities at home and abroad. However, as a result of the Comprehensive Spending Review, the Government have been able to secure for the Council an uplift for inflation over the three years from 1999-00, plus a further real increase of approximately £2 million for each of those years. This will enable the Council to plan ahead securely and to continue to help to deliver the Government's objective of promoting Britain abroad.

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The Earl of Carlisle asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When a new Director-General of the British Council will be appointed.[HL3689]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The British Council is treating the matter of the appointment of a new Director-General with urgency and aims to complete the recruitment process as soon as possible.

The Nomination Sub-Committee of the Board of the British Council will manage the process of recruiting a new Director-General.

Closure of Diplomatic Posts

Lord Marlesford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How they determine the level of relevant British commercial interests in the areas concerned in deciding on the closure of diplomatic missions abroad.[HL3736]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: A wide range of factors must be balanced in determining the future of a particular post. These include the degree of development and openness of the market in question; its long term prospects; the need of British exporters for help and advice; the demand for commercial services and whether resources might bring greater overall benefits if deployed elsewhere.

Lord Marlesford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What procedures are in place for deciding on the closure of British diplomatic missions abroad; and whether the decision to close missions is made by Ministers collectively.[HL3737]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Britain's global network of posts is under constant review. The outcome of the CSR has enabled the FCO to begin a wide-ranging modernisation programme to ensure that the deployment of staff and resources meets government priorities. Geographical strategic reviews put forward options to the Board of Management, which makes recommendations on post enhancements and closures. Relevant Ministers are consulted and the final decision rests with the Foreign Secretary.

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