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14 Jan 1999 : Column WA79

Written Answers

Thursday, 14th January 1999.

Stonehenge

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether English Heritage has commissioned, or otherwise obtained, an academic study of the heritage value of Stonehenge; if so, from whom; whether (a) Ministers and (b) the three Stonehenge Working Parties have seen it; and whether it will be available for parliamentary and public examination before the public inquiries which will consider the Department for Culture, Media and Sport's most recent proposals.[HL253]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: In February 1998, English Heritage commissioned researchers from University College London's Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment to undertake a study to determine the "heritage value" of Stonehenge. Copies of the report were provided to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and to the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions in order to inform the inter-departmental working group's appraisal of options for improving the A.303. The interim results were reported to Ministers as part of their consideration of the proposals for the A.303 which have since been announced. Copies of the report have been placed in the Libraries of the House and the report will be available for public inspection at the exhibition on the A.303 scheme which will be held at Amesbury on 15 and 16 January.

National Museum Collections: Rationalisation

Lord Freyberg asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the comments by the Lord McIntosh of Haringey on 18 March (H.L. Deb., col. 786), what progress has been made on the redistribution of national collections.[HL81]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Progress in considering the possibility of a rationalisation of national museum collections has been delayed because of other pressures associated with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport's contribution to the Government's Comprehensive Spending Review. Nevertheless, the department will be considering this issue during the next few months and my right honourable friend the Secretary for State intends to raise the matter with the National Museum Directors' Conference.

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National Air Quality Strategy

Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will announce the outcome of the Review of the UK National Air Quality Strategy.[HL484]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): We are pleased to announce our proposals to amend the UK National Air Quality Strategy. Cleaning up the air that we breathe and delivering on the right to clean air is one of the top priorities of this Government. There is still some way to go to protect our health and the environment from the effects of air pollution. The proposals that we are announcing today deliver on our pre-election commitment to the right to clean air. But improving air quality is not just for government or industry: we all have a responsibility to do our bit to improve the quality of our air.

The National Air Quality Strategy was first published in March 1997 fulfilling the requirement under the Environment Act 1995 for a national air quality strategy setting out policies for the management of ambient air quality. The Government endorsed this strategy in July 1997, but announced that it would be reviewed at the earliest opportunity in order to look at the prospects for delivering cleaner air more quickly. The Government accordingly brought forward to the end of 1998 the previously announced review, and as a result we have been able to make rapid progress on delivering our commitment to the right to clean air.

The strategy sets health-based objectives for 2005 for the eight air pollutants which have the greatest impact on health. Our aim in the review was to look at the prospects for meeting the objectives sooner or introducing tougher objectives where feasible and justified. This has been a thorough and wide-ranging review, during which we considered the legal framework, the scientific, economic and technical basis for decision-making on air quality policy, and the case for changes to the scope and content of the strategy. The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions has worked closely with the Scottish Office, Welsh Office and Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland and we have consulted widely with stakeholders in producing our proposals.

We have not completed the review and propose to tighten the objectives for five pollutants. For benzene, 1,3-beutadiene and carbon monoxide, we propose to bring forward the date for achieving the objectives; for lead, we propose to bring forward the date for achieving the existing objective and to introduce a new tougher objective based on the most recent health advice; for nitrogen dioxide we propose to introduce a tougher hourly objective, while retaining the current annual objective. Action is in progress at EU level on ozone and we have concluded that it makes sense to await the outcome of that before deciding how to move forward on this pollutant. On particles (PM 1 0 or a smaller fraction of particles poses the greater threat to health. We have concluded that in the short term to incorporate the proposed EU values for PM 1 0 will provide adequate protection as an interim step towards achieving the existing objective. We will look at this objective again, as well as those for nitrogen dioxide, when we undertake a further review of the strategy in two years' time. On sulphur dioxide, we propose to retain the existing objective, supplemented by the proposed EU limit values. We are also proposing to extend the strategy to include objectives for the protection of vegetation and ecosystems. The changes we propose will also ensure that we deliver the limit values contained in the proposed first Air Quality Daughter Directive.

We will not consult widely on our proposals. We will produce a revised strategy later this year, which will itself be subject to consultation before being finalised by the end of the year. This is the first in a rolling programme of reviews of the strategy to keep it up to date with technological and scientific advances, improved modelling techniques and an increasingly better understanding of the economic and social issues involved, and to reflect developments in European legislation. We intend that the next review of the strategy should start once this one is complete and further information is available on costs and benefits, the health effects of air pollution and the impact that policy measures will have on improving air quality.

We all have a responsibility to do our bit to improve the quality of the air that we breathe and the environment that we live in. The proposals that we have announced today set in place the framework to take this forward. We have placed copies of our consultation document in the Libraries of the House and the Printed Paper Office.

Medway Secure Training Centre: Inspection Report

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will report on the inspection of Medway Secure Training Centre.[HL521]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): The report has been published by the Social Services Inspectorate today, and copies of the report have been put in the Library. The report identifies shortcomings in the management of the Secure Training Centre and makes 32 key recommendations for improving the standard of service being provided by the contractor. All the recommendations have been accepted, and Rebound are taking urgent action to implement these recommendations. The Home Office will be monitoring progress in conjunction with the Social Services Inspectorate.

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The report made a number of recommendations which required immediate action to strengthen management at the centre, and to improve operational procedures and monitoring. The Director at Medway has been working closely with Social Services Inspectorate to implement these recommendations, and to introduce more effective strategies for dealing with difficult young people. A stronger management structure has been put in place to support the staff, who were praised in the Report for their enthusiasm and commitment. More staff are being recruited, and a programme of repair work has been completed.

The Government remain committed to the public/private partnership approach, and to making a positive difference to the lives of persistent young offenders who, despite repeated efforts by the Youth Justice system, continue to offend. Secure Training Centres are a new and challenging initiative, and Medway as the first centre of its kind has had a difficult beginning, but action is now being taken to introduce the positive regime we require. I will be monitoring closely the position at Medway, and a further inspection will be undertaken by the Social Services Inspectorate later this year.

Civil Legal Aid: Funding

Lord Bach asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When the Legal Aid Board will publish its consultation document on the proposed Funding Code.[HL522]

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): The consultation document, The Funding Code--a new approach to funding civil cases, will be published tomorrow. Copies will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses. Consultees have until 30 April 1999 to respond.


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