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On 29 August, I issued the following statement :
"Earlier this year my Department received from Mr. Keith Beaumont, the Chief Executive of Sheffield Development Corporation, a letter criticising the Chairman's role in the conduct of the Corporation's business.
"The letter was sent by Mr. Beaumont quite properly in his role as the Corporation's Accounting Officer. I thought it right to ask Sir John Garlick, a former Permanent Secretary of this Department, who as a Member of the Board of London Docklands Corporation is familiar with UDC procedures, to look into the matters raised and report to me as quickly as possible. He has now done so.
"I am satisfied that Mr. Sykes has performed his role as Chairman with complete honesty and integrity. Sir John found no grounds whatever for thinking Mr. Sykes had attempted to secure improper financial gain through his role as SDC Chairman--nor had Mr. Beaumont made any such suggestion.
"Mr. Sykes has tremendous enthusiasm for and commitment to the regeneration of the Lower Don Valley and has my full support in continuing as Chairman of the Development Corporation.
"Sir John did however find a number of shortcomings in the way Corporation business had been conducted. Some of these were the responsibility of the Chairman, others of SDC officers. Sir John also concluded that some criticism could be made of the Department for not ensuring that the most effective guidance was available to the Chairman.
"The shortcomings in the conduct of SDC business were in four areas :
(1) The holding of Chairmanship of Hallamshire Investments plc concurrently with SDC Chairmanship. Mr. Sykes was instrumental in establishing Hallamshire Investments plc which is a joint public/private sector investment company set up with the specific objective of investing in the regeneration of Sheffield. Mr. Sykes is non-executive Chairman of Hallamshire, but has no financial interest in the company and is not involved in its investment decisions. On this basis my Department agreed, after discussion with Mr. Sykes, that he could properly retain the Chairmanship. This was an exception to the
Column 619normal rule that Development Corporation Chairmen give up Chairmanships of companies which operate in their area.
"Sir John found no evidence of harm or wrongdoing but concluded that, given the nature of the company's activities, for one person to hold the chairmanship of both Hallamshire Investments and the SDC was inconsistent with the need to avoid situations where public duties and private interests conflict or where there could be a suspicion of conflict. Sir John also found that my Department's views on his retention of the Chairmanship of Hallamshire Investments and of certain other business interests may have left the Chairman confused as to exactly what constraints applied to his activities, particularly in relation to Hallamshire Investments.
(2) "The Chairman's business interests. Mr. Sykes has a wide range of business interests both inside and outside Sheffield. He has been entirely open about these to the Department since his appointment and has in general followed the guidance given to Development Corporation Chairmen which is designed to ensure that there can be no conflict or suspicion of conflict between public and private interests. "Sir John was satisfied that the Chairman had no wish deliberately to disobey the rules and indeed noted that on several occasions he was at pains to ensure that he was acting entirely properly. But Sir John found a few occasions when a clear distance was not kept between his public and private activities and when as a result a suspicion of conflict might have arisen. He found no evidence whatever of any financial impropriety or wrongdoing.
(3) "Appointment of consultants to the SDC. The rules governing the appointment of consultants to public bodies are strict. Competitive tender is required in all but exceptional circumstances and the Corporation's systems need to be able to ensure and demonstrate that value for money is being achieved.
"Sir John told me that, in his wish to ensure that the SDC had access to high quality advice, the Chairman had, he judged pressed too hard for the appointment of a particular consultant. Sir John noted however that it was a matter of judgment as to how far it was reasonable for a Chairman to press for the appointment of a particular individual or firm, and that his own judgment in this case was inevitably subjective. He also noted that SDC officers had been slow in making progress on the appointment of any candidate in the particular case.
"Sir John also criticised the SDC's systems for selecting, appointing and subsequently monitoring consultancy appointments. These were the responsibility of the Chief Executive. Again Sir John found no evidence of financial impropriety or wrongdoing, but noted the need for proper observance of procedures and adequate systems to ensure that the SDC always obtained best value for money. (4) "Use of SDC facilities. Mr. Sykes' personal staff of two full time secretaries and one part time assistant work on both SDC and non-SDC business. The SDC pays for one full time member of staff, Mr. Sykes for the other two.
"Sir John found no evidence that the SDC paid for more secretarial time than it should under this arrangement. Indeed the SDC may well, on balance have gained. But he regarded the arrangement which the SDC had entered into as untidy and open to abuse.
"Sir John emphasised that he found no evidence of actual harm arising from any of these matters. But noted that a continuation of what had happened in the past could lead to justifiable criticisms in future.
"I have discussed these findings with Mr. Sykes and with my officials. Mr. Sykes entirely recognises the procedures and standards involved in public business and the need for the SDC to improve its official systems and procedures. He and his board have given me an assurance that the Corporation will maintain the highest possible standards in future. The Corporation is also taking steps to review its systems and procedures.
"As far as Sir John's criticism of the Department is concerned, I am making arrangements to strengthen the guidance given to all Chairmen and board members.
Column 620Detailed guidance will be given to cover the difficult issues that can arise for a Chairman who has a range of local business interests. Local knowledge and connections can in themselves be of considerable value to an urban development corporation. But a clear distance needs to be kept between the activities of the public body and private business interests to avoid any suspicion of a conflict of interest. "As far as the Chairmanship of Hallamshire Investments is concerned, I am satisfied that Mr. Sykes behaved entirely properly in continuing to hold both Chairmanships after the first discussions with the Department. But we both accept Sir John's conclusion that, given the nature of the company's activities, there are difficulties in one man holding the Chairmanships of both the SDC and Hallamshire. Mr. Sykes has therefore told me that he will be talking to the Board of Hallamshire Investments with a view to resigning his Chairmanship.
"I am most grateful to Sir John for the speed and thoroughness with which he has completed his work. I am happy that the Corporation will now be able to get on with its vital work of regenerating the Lower Don Valley. The Corporation has made excellent progress so far in securing environmental and economic improvements. I confidently expect that positive change to continue and accelerate over the next few years".
Mr. Blunkett : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he has anything to add to his answer of 20 December 1990, Official Report, column 329, in respect of the practice adopted by the development corporations in the letting of contracts or the funding of consultancies, following the statement issued by the Minister of State on 29 August in respect of the investigation which had been undertaken into the running of the Sheffield Development Corporation ; and if he will make a statement on the new guidance to be given to the chairmen of development corporations in respect of the separation of public and private interest.
Mr. Portillo : I have nothing to add to the answer given by my right hon. Friend on 20 December 1989. When the Department's revised guidance to UDC chairmen and board members on handling conflicts of interest is issued a copy will be placed in the Library.
Mr. Blunkett : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment whether, in the guidelines to be issued to development corporation chairmen, advice will be given on (a) the appointment of staff without public advertisement or interview for the post concerned, (b) the separation of payment from public and private funds for those employed by, or paid on behalf of, the development corporation and (c) the calling of ad hoc and unminuted meetings of selected members of the board of development corporations for discussion of business to be considered by the whole of the board membership ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Portillo : All urban development corporations have been advised that staff should be recruited on merit on the basis of fair and open competition and in accordance with the standards expected of public sector employers. My Department will shortly issue guidance on the separation of payment from public and private funds for those employed by or paid by UDCs. Arrangements relating to meetings of a UDC board are a matter for the corporation to determine.
Mr. Blunkett : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when officials of his Department were notified of suggestions of impropriety or concerns relating to the procedural or other conduct of the workings of the
Column 621Sheffield development corporation about which he subsequently initiated inquiries ; what action was taken at that time as a consequence of the reference made ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Portillo : In July 1989 a member of the public expressed concern about the conduct of SDC's affairs. In September that year the chief executive raised similar concerns informally with the Department. In neither case did the Department consider that there was any evidence of impropriety.
At the end of May this year, the chief executive wrote to the Department criticising the chairman's role in the conduct of the corporation's business, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State asked Sir John Garlick to carry out a formal investigation. That investigation found no grounds whatever for thinking that the chairman had attempted to secure improper financial gain through his role as SDC chairman.
Mr. Blunkett : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment whether development corporations are now to be made subject to the provisions of the compulsory competitive tendering legislation contained in regulations arising out of the Local Government Act 1988 ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Dalyell : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment (1) what further resources he has made available for successor agencies to the Nature Conservancy Council in addition to his estimate of the notional cost required to perform the new range of statutory duties ;
(2) pursuant to his reply of 25 July, Official Report , column 453, if he will make it his policy that the final additional costs of reorganisation of the Nature Conservancy Council will be made available to Parliament before the Environmental Protection Bill concludes its parliamentary stages ;
(3) what funding he proposes to enable successor agencies to the Nature Conservancy Council to carry forward new initiatives to enhance nature conservation ;
(4) what is his latest estimate of the increase in staff numbers and resources as a result of the Nature Conservancy Council being split into four separate agencies ;
(5) what percentage of the agreed posts in successor authorities to the Nature Conservancy Council, on current estimates, will be staffed by April 1991.
Mr. Trippier : The Government have made an extra £1.4 million available in the current financial year to cover initial reorganisation costs. Detailed work on the cost of reorganisation in 1991-92 has been carried out by the existing agencies and the relevant Government Departments. It is already the Government's intention to make the main results of this work available to Parliament very shortly and before the Environmental Protection Bill concludes its parliamentary stages.
The Government's statement will include details of the manpower requirements of the new agencies and the outcome of the current work being undertaken by the
Column 622Nature Conservancy Council and Countryside Commission to meet those requirements by assigning existing staff to the new agencies. Any vacancies which remain will be filled by trawls or recruitment and every effort will be made to complete this process before 1 April 1991.
Decisions about the total resources to be made available to the successor agencies to cover all their responsibilities in 1991-92 will be taken within the timetable and context of the annual public expenditure round.
Mr. Dalyell : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will state the number of grants given by the Nature Conservancy Council in the year ending 31 March 1990 for the management of land which is not SSSI and not related to net profits forgone, and the total cost of such grants.
Mr. Dalyell : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment on what dates in 1988, 1989, and 1990 he met the chairman of the Nature Conservancy Council to discuss formally his proposed changes in the Nature Conservancy Council.
Mr. Trippier : The Secretary of State or his predecessor, as well as other Ministers, met the chairman of the Nature Conservancy Council on a number of occasions in 1989 and 1990 to discuss the Government's proposals to reorganise the Nature Conservancy Council.
Mr. Dalyell : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, pursuant to his answer of 26 July, Official Report, column 387, if he will make a statement on the final report into evaluation of nitrogen oxide abatement technologies for large combustion plant.
Mr. Key : The Department has to date made payments of £790,174 to London boroughs on the basis of initial claims under the terms of the scheme of special financial assistance established in January 1990 for London local authorities which incurred in 1989-90 extra expenditure directly as a result of the influx of Turkish asylum seekers
Column 623into the United Kingdom in April, May and June 1989. Final audited claims are due to be submitted to the Department by 31 December 1990. The housing investment programme allocations made to the London authorities for 1990-91 took account of the housing capital needs related to the arrival of refugees, including Turkish asylum seekers.
Dr. Marek : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will list the management consultancies (a) his Department and (b) the executive agencies for which he is responsible have employed in connection with the Next Steps agency programme ; and if he will list the task for which they were employed, and the fee paid.
Mr. Chris Patten : Consultants have been employed on eight occasions to advise on the development of financial and management systems for my Department's agencies and agency candidates. Details of the individual contracts are commercially confidential.
Mr. Spearing : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will publish a list of land disposals by regional water undertakers, stating in each case the reasons for the disposal of each parcel of land.
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : No. The Department does not hold this information since land disposals do not normally require the Secretary of State's specific approval. Customers interests in disposals are protected by the Director General of Water Services. Proposed disposals in National Parks, the Broads, areas of outstanding natural beauty and sites of special scientific interest must be cleared by the Countryside Commission, and, in the case of SSSIs, the Nature Conservancy Council. Water undertakers as private companies can exercise their commercial judgment on disposals, subject to meeting their obligations under the Water Act 1989.
Mr. French : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will take steps to end the entitlement of the mature student spouse of a top income tax rate payer to pay the reduced rate of 20 per cent. community charge.
Mr. Key : Pursuant to the reply given on Tuesday 24 July at column 182, a student for the purposes of the community charge is defined by reference to the nature of the studies undertaken not the source or level of income available. The administrative cost of assessing the resources of all students and their spouses would far outweigh the increased charge revenue collected to the disadvantage of all chargepayers and taxpayers and would serve only to create new anomalies.
Mr. Dalyell : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what is the result of the work of a team from his Department and English Heritage in investigating the stonework round the crypt font in the Palace of Westminster.
Mr. Key : Work to solve the problem of damp penetration which has caused the deterioration of the marble is proceeding on two fronts. Recent excavations by English Heritage have revealed evidence of a pre-Victorian culvert running parallel to the south wall of St. Stephen's Hall. The culvert is damp leading to the thought that it may be drawing up ground water. English Heritage's proposals are now awaited for further excavations to try to establish the relationship, if any, of the culvert to the dampness in the Chapel.
Consultant architects have also been considering the means of preventing the seepage of moisture through the stonework. Because of the pressure of the rising ground water they do not recommend the application of a damp proof outer membrane. Instead they propose the construction of a new waterproof retaining wall. This will be considered together with the results of English Heritage's further work.
Mr. Dalyell : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on his Department's discussions with the sculpture conservation department of the Tate gallery on the progress of the restoration of the purbeck marble in the Crypt of the House of Commons.
Mr. Key : The head of sculpture conservation at the Tate gallery visited the Crypt Chapel in January 1990 when he saw at first hand the complexity of the conservation problem under consideration. It was agreed that before any action could be taken within the Chapel, the source and entry route of the ground water has to be established.
63. Mr. Wigley : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has received concerning the level of United Kingdom overseas aid and the ways in which it is allocated ; and if he will make a statement.
Mrs. Chalker : Increasingly people who talk to me about aid recognise the importance of aid supporting sound economic policies and good government, and doing more to tackle the key issues of poverty, population and the environment.
Column 626ODA supports activities which directly or indirectly enhance sustainable sheep production in developing countries, priority being given to nutrition, health and breeding in the context of land use systems.
Mrs. Chalker : Gross disbursements of bilateral official development assistance provided by the United Kingdom to Bangladesh over the calendar years 1987, 1988 and 1989 amounted to £31.6 million, £44.9 million and £52.9 million respectively. In addition the share of aid given through multilateral institutions, and attributed to the United Kingdom was £25.3 million in 1987 and £27.2 million in 1988. Figures for 1989 are not yet available.
Mrs. Chalker : We have committed emergency aid worth over £35 million to Ethiopia since the beginning of 1989. This includes the provision of 5,859 tonnes of sorghum, and other relief assistance, totalling some £6.18 million for the hungry in those areas of northern Ethiopia where the Relief Society of Tigray works. A further 2,500 tonnes of wheat valued at £0.733 million is currently on its way to Tigray.
Anguilla : Coastal zone inventory.
Belize : Coastal zone inventory.
British Virgin Islands : Coastal zone inventory.
Cameroon : Environmental advice.
Egypt : Study of impact of pollution on acquatic communities, Lake Manzala ; Ecological studies, Lake Maryut.
Kenya : Further support for Kenya Wildlife Service.
Madagascar and Mauritius : Creation of nature reserve areas on off-shore islets.
Namibia : Fisheries resource management.
Nigeria : Conservation adviser, conservation education programme. Tanzania : Support for Ruaha game park.
(a) extension of earlier assistance to the Central Statistical Office ;
Column 627(b) assistance with rehabilitation of Lusaka urban district council water supply, sanitation and other utilities ;
(c) provision of fisheries instructors ;
(d) a second phase of assistance under the Central Province district development project ; and
(e) payment of the first £5 million tranche of a £30 million programme aid grant in support of economic adjustment.
Items (b) and (c) are under consideration, the former in company with other donors. The remaining requests have been accepted and implementation is in hand.
Mrs. Chalker : Under the memorandum of understanding on environmental co-operation, signed in July 1989, we have agreed four projects with the Brazilian authorities with a total cost to Her Majesty's Government of £4.6 million. We expect to agree a further four projects soon. We are discussing a number of further proposals with the Brazilian authorities.
As part of our programme of environmental assistance, we are also supporting--as a tripartite initiative, involving the Brazilian Government and ICI--a conference on the theme of "Ecological Restoration for Forest Conservation". It will be held in Brasilia from 30 October to 1 November 1990. I am looking forward to the conference and I will be taking the opportunity whilst in Brazil of discussing with the Brazilian authorities, including their Secretary for the Environment, our present and proposed programme of environmental projects.
Mrs. Chalker : Providing immediate and effective humanitarian assistance is one of the key areas of the aid programme. Last year we spent over £61 million in disaster relief, help for refugees and emergency food aid.
Mr. Dalyell : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the outcome of the discussions of the right hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) over the summer with Dr. Neil Chalmers, Dr. John Peake and other officials of the natural history museum about the future of the collections relative to the Overseas Development Administration.
Mrs. Chalker : My recent visit to the natural history museum was informative and useful. Working particularly with our Natural Resources Institute, the museum will play a valuable role in ODA's research and development programmes for developing countries and identify new opportunities for fruitful collaboration. The institute and museum will pursue these opportunities and I will be kept informed of developments.