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Car Number Plates: EU Symbol

Lord Lamont of Lerwick asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions has consulted the public on proposals to amend the regulations on the display of vehicle registration marks. Views were invited on a number of issues, including whether the new regulations should permit the voluntary display of the European Union symbol in accordance with the Council Regulation (EC) No. 2411/98. In the light of the comments received, I announced on 30 March this year that new regulations would be made in the near future to include provision for the voluntary use of the symbol. A copy of the Department's Press Release (number 252) was placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The provision of number plates on new cars is a matter between the buyer and seller. The purpose of Council Regulation 2411/98 is to allow motorists to dispense with the need to display a separate national identity sticker when using their vehicles within the EU. Proposals for the Council regulation were discussed with member states in the normal way. I am not aware of any funding being made available to encourage the use of the EU symbol on number plates. It will be for individual motorists to decide if they wish to make use of this option or continue to use the traditional oval GB sticker when driving UK registered vehicles in other member states.

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Demolition in Conservation Areas: Shimizu Judgment

Baroness Gould of Potternewton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they propose to take following the House of Lords judgment in the case of Shimizu (UK) Limited v Westminster City Council in 1997. [HL2955]

Lord Whitty: The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport have today jointly issued a consultation paper inviting views on whether any further action should be taken by government following the House of Lords ruling in this case. The paper proposes that an application for planning permission should in future be required for certain works of partial demolition within conservation areas, such as the demolition of boundary walls and fences.

The proposals issued today are designed to address problems that have been identified as arising as a direct result of the Shimizu judgment. They are separate from, and do not prejudge, the broader review of heritage policy which my honourable friend the Minister for the Arts announced in November 1999.

Comments are requested by 14 August 2000. Copies of the consultation paper have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Imprisonment for Non-payment of Local Taxes

Lord Morris of Manchester asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What representations they have received from Barrister Trustees of the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust and from the Trust direct on the imprisonment of elderly and disabled people, and one terminally ill person, for local taxation debt; and, if so, what action they will be taking. [HL2728]

Lord Whitty: We have received several representations from the Chairman of the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust about the use of committal to prison for non-payment of local tax debts.

Local authorities have responsiblity for the billing and collection of local taxes. While the Government cannot comment on the actions local authorities take in individual cases, imprisonment for non-payment of local taxes is very much the last resort in the enforcement process. Before authorities can make an application for committal to prison, they must have tried other enforcement measures first to recover the debt. Even where an application for committal to prison has been made by a local authority, the procedures themselves are designed to ensure that magistrates cannot hand down prison sentences without a thorough examination in the presence of the debtor of the reasons for failure to pay. Magistrates can only order a sentence if they find that non-payment was due to wilful refusal or culpable neglect

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on the part of the debtor. Indeed, magistrates have the power to remit all or part of a debt if they consider this is justified, for example, on grounds of severe financial hardship.

Postal Services: Parliamentary Questions

Lord Bowness asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, when the Postal Services Bill is enacted, Ministers will answer written enquiries from Members of both Houses of Parliament or parliamentary Questions about postal services or whether such questions will be referred to the proposed Postal Services Commission for reply.[HL2779]

The Minister for Science, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): The Post Office Reform White Paper (Cm 4340) sets out the responsibilities of the Government, the Postal Services Commission and the Users' Council once the reform package including the Postal Services Bill is in place.

Ministers will of course offer Members of both Houses of Parliament the courtesy of a reply, but, in those cases where the substantive response is the responsibility of another, the matter will be referred on to them, so that as full and informative a response as possible can be given. Clearly a swifter response is likely if issues that are the responsibility of the Postal Services Commission or the Users' Council are put direct to them.

New Survey Vessels

Lord Lipsey asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress has been made on placing the contract for two new survey vessels.[HL2951]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): We are pleased to be able to announce that the prime contract for the procurement of two new specialist warships, known as Multi-Role Hydrographic and Oceanographic Survey Vessels, has today been awarded to Vosper Thornycroft (UK) Ltd. The contract includes the provision of 25 years' contractor support for the vessels and is worth some £130 million in total over the life of the ships.

Following a competition run by Vosper Thornycroft, the sub-contract to build the ships has been awarded to Appledore Shipbuilders in Devon. The ships, which are due to enter service in 2002 and 2003, will be named HMS "Echo" and HMS "Enterprise".

These important new warships demonstrate our commitment to the modern force structure that emerged from the Strategic Defence Review. They will be equipped with the latest survey systems, and provide a significantly enhanced surveying capability and much improved sea-keeping capability over the vessels which they will replace, which are old and

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increasingly costly to maintain. They will be part of the Fleet's front-line in a variety of world-wide operational roles, as well as undertaking specialist surveying tasks necessary to the long-term effectiveness of the Royal Navy.

Construction of the new ships will sustain some 500 jobs directly in the shipyard and some 300 in other suppliers, mainly in the local area.

Seizure of Criminal Assets: PIU Report

Baroness Uddin asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When the Performance and Innovation Unit will publish its report on the seizure of criminal assets.[HL2835]

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): The Performance and Innovation Unit's report Recovering the Proceeds of Crime was published on 14 June as agreed government policy. Copies have been placed in the Printed Paper Office and in the Library of the House. It is also available on the Cabinet Office website at

The PIU report sets out the Government's new approach to tackling crime through its finances. In implementing the report, the Government are determined to show that crime will not pay in the UK. We aim to reduce crime and to increase confidence in the criminal justice system. The report sets out a plan of action covering the following areas:

    a more strategic approach to asset recovery, including a dedicated National Confiscation Agency and greater cross-government co-operation;

    more emphasis on financial investigation to help law enforcement uncover criminal assets as a routine part of their business;

    a new legislative attack closing legal loopholes and calling all convicted offenders to account for their assets where they have clearly benefited from their crimes; and introducing civil forfeiture giving the courts power to recover unlawful gains currently beyond the reach of the law;

    tightening the money laundering regime, simplifying and consolidating the money laundering laws;

    taxing unlawful gains by using tax powers more effectively to target criminal wealth; and

    setting a higher international standard, working with our partners overseas to drive up standards and close boltholes.

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary, in collaboration with my right honourable friend the Chief Secretary, will take forward implementation of the conclusions of the report.

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