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16 May 2000 : Column WA7

Written Answers

Tuesday, 16th May 2000.

South Downs: Restoration and Access

Baroness Byford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are the objectives of their plans to bring farmland in the South Downs into public ownership under proposals being prepared in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and by certain agencies associated with that department; and[HL2321]

    What is the estimated cost of their intention to bring farmland into public ownership in the South Downs in each of the next five years under proposals being prepared by officials in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and by agencies associated with that department; and[HL2322]

    Whether their intention to bring farmland into public ownership in the South Downs under proposals being prepared in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and by certain agencies associated with that department, will include compulsory purchase; and[HL2323]

    How many hectares of farmland are to be purchased in the South Downs with public money in each of the next five years under proposals being prepared by officials in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and by agencies associated with that department; and[HL2324]

    Which organisations have been consulted, formally or otherwise, about their intention to bring farmland into public ownership in the South Downs under proposals being prepared by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions or by agencies associated with that department.[HL2325]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): Her Majesty's Government have no current plans to bring farmland into public ownership in the South Downs. The Countryside Agency has submitted a bid to DETR for additional funding for a new restoration initiative involving research and piloting demonstration projects, building on and integrated with existing initiatives to restore open downland and provide access to it in the South Downs. This could involve a number of mechanisms, of which targeted land purchase on the open market might be one. However, detailed proposals have not yet been developed. The Countryside Agency is currently discussing its preliminary ideas with a range of local organisations.

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Merseyside Objective 1 Single Programming Documents

Lord Inglewood asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will ensure that the Merseyside Objective 1 Single Programming Document will be submitted to the European Commission for approval on 20 June.[HL2349]

Lord Whitty: The outstanding issues on all the Objective 1 Single Programming Documents are in the process of being resolved and they are on course to be submitted to the European Commission in time for approval at the June Committee meeting.

Waste Incineration Directive

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Answer by the Lord Whitty on 9 April (H.L. Deb., col. 699) on what dates there were communications between officials of the Department of the Environment (and later the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions) and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on the draft Incineration of Waste Directive and in particular upon the matter of small incinerators specialising in disposal of animal carcasses; between which individuals any such communication took place; and in what terms.[HL2292]

Lord Whitty: All the information requested could only be provided at disproportionate cost. The Air and Environment Quality Division of the Department of the Environment, and subsequently of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, has included the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in all inter-departmental contact on the proposal for a waste incineration directive since the European Commission's initial soundings on its first working paper in February 1994. This includes the period of discussions of the "working paper on the incineration of waste" in meetings of national experts convened by the European Commission from April 1997 to summer 1998.

There was numerous and frequent correspondence between DETR and other interested departments, including MAFF, following the German Presidency's decision to take the draft waste incineration directive to Council Working Group at the start of its term of office in January 1999. Meetings of interested government departments, including MAFF, concerning the proposal were also held on 25 January, 19 March and 14 May 1999. DETR and MAFF officials additionally met bilaterally on 16 April 1999. MAFF concerns about the implications of the proposal for animal carcass incinerators were raised in a letter from the Minister of State of 16 February 1999 and were discussed at all the subsequent meetings involving the two departments.

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The Council of Ministers is currently considering the European Parliament's amendments to the waste incineration directive Common Position, including those affecting the scope, at official level. DETR and MAFF remain in close contact during these negotiations.

Agricultural Buildings and Council Tax

Baroness of Byford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will take into account the difficulty of obtaining planning permission for the conversion of uninhabitable farm properties before making the owners of those properties liable for council tax.[HL2212]

Lord Whitty: Non-domestic agricultural buildings are exempt from non-domestic rates and council tax does not apply. Also, if a domestic property is derelict it will not constitute a dwelling for the purpose of the council tax.

Where an unoccupied dwelling is entered on the council tax valuation list but requires or is undergoing major repair works or is undergoing structural alteration, it can benefit from up to a year's exemption. We believe this is a reasonable period of exemption, after which the dwelling is subject to 50 per cent council tax whilst it remains unoccupied.

Government guidance in PPG 7--The Countryside--encourages the re-use of rural buildings and should be taken into account by local planning authorities in preparing development plans and in individual development control decisions. In preparing the Rural White Paper we are considering whether that guidance might be strengthened or clarified, consistent with the principles of sustainable development.

Tourism and the Planning System

Baroness Anelay of St Johns asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions will publish the report of their research findings on the impact that the planning system has on the development of tourism.[HL2394]

Lord Whitty : The research project on Planning for Leisure and Tourism is now in its final stages. We hope to publish the report soon.

Mobile Phones: House of Lords Rules

Lord Williams of Elvel asked the Chairman of Committees:

    What are the rules governing the use of mobile phones within that part of the Palace of Westminster controlled by the House of Lords.[HL2435]

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The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): The following rules relating to the use of mobile phones in the House of Lords were agreed by the Offices Committee in July 1997 [HL Paper 20, Session 1997-98):

Mobile telephones must be silent in all public areas of the House including the Chamber; mobile telephones may be used only in offices or where conventional telephones are located, and mobile telephones may not be used while moving round the Palace.

Mobile telephones may not therefore be used in Refreshment Department premises or the Library.

Husbandry Panel on Cattle TB: Report

Lord Dubs asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they will publish the report of the independent Husbandry Panel on Cattle TB.[HL2495]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman): The panel's report is published today. Copies are being placed in the Parliamentary Libraries and will be made widely available. I would like to thank Dr Clive Philips, the panel chairman, and his colleagues for their work. The Government will now consider the panel's recommendations in consultation with the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB and other interested parties before deciding how best to take them forward.

Genetically Modified Crops: Objections Process

Lord Beaumont of Whitley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why Members of Parliament should be charged the sum of £30 when lodging an objection to the introduction of a genetically modified crop with the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.[HL2139]

Baroness Hayman: No charge is made to anyone objecting to the DETR or the FSA about the approval of GM crops or foods. If any new information is provided which calls into question the relevant safety assessments, this would be considered carefully and appropriate action taken. The Novel Foods applications process has, from December 1999, been made yet more open by the publication of UK applications for novel foods on the Internet.

The fee in question appears to relate to the statutory requirement under the national list regulations for making written representations about proposed national list decisions and applies equally to GM and conventional varieties. The requirement pre-dates the advent of GM plant varieties and was introduced to help meet the cost of operating the representations and hearings arrangements in the national list system.

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The national list system does not itself address the safety aspects of GM traits. This is dealt with under quite separate legislation. No GM plant variety may be proposed for addition to the national list until the appropriate GM consents have been obtained.


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