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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): The centre will provide a positive regime offering high standards of education and training according to the individual needs of a trainee, with a view to maximising his/her potential. The programme will include 25 hours every week of conventional education appropriate to a trainee's academic level and based on the National Curriculum. It will also include tackling offending behaviour and crime avoidance and practical tuition in social skills and domestic training. Full details of the programme are contained in Section D of the Operational Specification in the contract, a copy of which has already been placed in the Library.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: The Government are studying this decision carefully. Before taking action we will wish to consider the recommendations of the Neill Committee on Standards in Public Life when it completes its review of political party funding and candidates' expenditure.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: It is not possible to give such a date. However we do expect to be in a position to resolve these applications by the summer. Current delays in dealing with applications are the result of the large backlog of cases in the Asylum Directorate and it is inevitable that some cases will take significantly longer than the average.
The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard): The question whether a particular Bill is suitable for consideration in Grand Committee is one for agreement through the usual channels. The use of the procedure has been endorsed by the Procedure Committee on several occasions, most recently in its First Report, Session 1996-97 (H.L. Paper 20), which was approved by the House on 21 January 1997. On that occasion, the Chairman of Committees said that "the prime purpose of the Procedure Committee in suggesting these reforms....was to save time in the Chamber. That remains the basic aim." (H.L. Deb., Col. 558).
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): The total number of vacant dwellings in England is down by 23,000 on the April 1996 figure. This fall is encouraging.
At 1 April 1997, a total of 81,200 council homes in England were empty, 2.4 per cent. of local authorities' stock. The 1996 figure was 79,600 (2.3 per cent). All of the increase was in "management vacants" (dwellings available for letting immediately or after minor repairs), which account for 61 per cent. of all vacant local authority homes.
We are disappointed to see that the total number of local authority vacants has risen for the third year running, after falling in successive years between 1990 and 1994. It is clearly part of good housing management practice for local authorities to keep their empty dwellings to a minimum. The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions Working Group on Best Value in Housing will be looking at performance indicators, and will consider whether it would be appropriate for local authorities to establish local targets for reducing the proportion of their housing stock which is out of effective use.
We are making nearly £800 million available to local authorities in 1997-98 and 1998-99 through the Capital Receipts Initiative, and we hope that local authorities will make the very best use of this additional spending power to improve and renovate their existing stock and make it more attractive to prospective tenants.
It is also disappointing to note that vacancy rates in the Registered Social Landlord (RSL) sector have risen from 23,600 (2.5 per cent.) at April 1, 1996 to 26,800 (2.7 per cent.) at April 1, 1997. The Housing Corporation has published research and held seminars to inform and encourage RSLs to take action to reduce void levels. RSLs should also benefit from the development of Best Value in Housing.
Many local authorities and RSLs already have good empty property strategies for which they can take credit. But there is still much to be done, and the Government will continue to encourage social housing providers to develop and implement effective empty property strategies to make the best use of existing housing stock.
The number of vacancies in the private sector fell from 667,000 in 1996 to 640,000 in 1997. This is the fourth successive year that the numbers have fallen. About 45 per cent. of private sector empty homes are "transactional" vacancies, which are properties lying vacant for a short period as part of the normal buying and selling process. Some 225,000 are problematic vacants which may require action to bring them back into use.
Baroness Hayman: New regulations have today been laid in the House setting environmental quality standards (EQSs) for 20 List II substances under the Dangerous Substances Directive. The substances are:
2,4 D (ester and non ester)
Last month, the Government published draft regulations relating to England, Wales and Scotland which propose additional protection for groundwater from a number of substances, including synthetic pyrethroids. During the consultation period, which ends on 14 April, we expect to receive further comments on the impacts of synthetic pyrethroids on the aquatic environment.
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