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The Secretary of State for Social Security has asked me to reply to your recent Parliamentary Question asking about the plans to reduce processing times for Disability Living Allowance (DLA) claims.
We have been experiencing delays recently in the processing of DLA claims. We recognise that this situation is not acceptable and that ensuring the efficient and timely processing of claims is a priority. We are taking action to address the problems currently being experienced.
To reduce delays, we have moved staff from other, less critical areas, of our business and we have set up a special team to identify further process improvements. We are also taking action to reduce variations in performance between different processing units.
I hope this is helpful.
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Mr. Pike: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will ensure that pensioners receiving Minimum Income Guarantee do not have deductions made for repayment of loans from the Social Fund; and if he will make a statement. 
Angela Eagle: Interest-free budgeting loans from the Social Fund, designed to spread the cost of routine lump-sum expenses over a longer period, are available to a wide variety of groups receiving Income Support or income-based Jobseeker's Allowance. People who take out such loans, including pensioners receiving the Minimum Income Guarantee, are choosing to use some of their income to pay them back, by deductions from benefit, in the same way that they organise and manage their income to meet other weekly outgoings. It would not be fair or appropriate to exempt any one group from this straightforward repayment arrangement.
Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many pensioners are being targeted as possible qualifiers for the Minimum Income Guarantee in each of the age groups (a) 60 to 65, (b) 65 to 70, (c) 70 to 75, (d) 75 to 80, (e) 80 to 85, (f) 85 to 90 and (g) over 90 years old. 
|Age band||Total count||Male||Female|
Mr. Kidney: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what financial assistance his Department provides, pursuant to the Better Government for Older People programme for older people who seek access to computer training and Internet services. 
Mr. Rooker: This Department actively supports the Better Government for Older People programme, with many local offices working with the programme to examine ways to improve access to services for older people. While this has included a wide range of initiatives, none has provided access to computer training.
We recognise the need to provide quality services for older people and that they have their own needs and preferences as to how these are delivered. This is why we intend to bring together the current services the Department provides for pensions and pensioners into a new organisation. It will provide a unified, modern service for today's pensioners, whether they choose to deal with the Department by telephone, by post, face-to-face or through the Internet.
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Mr. Llew Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what assessment he has made of the recent report published by the Economic and Social Research Council on its global environmental change programme. 
Mr. Cohen: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions how many attributable (a) delays of 15 minutes or more and (b) station closures there were on London Underground on each line in (i) 1997, (ii) 1998 and (iii) 1999; what changes there have been since 1997 in the way the figures are compiled; and what impact these changes have had on the figures. 
|Train delays 15 minute or over|
|Station closures 15 minutes or over|
Mr. Edward Davey: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions how many new bus shelters have been built in each year since 1992; and how many shelters were upgraded in each year. 
Mr. Hill: Figures provided by London Transport, who have powers to erect and maintain bus shelters in London, are shown in the table (1996-97 is the first year annual figures are available in the form requested).
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Mr. Hood: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what was the outcome of the Environment Council held in Brussels on 30 March; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Meacher: I represented the UK at the Environment Council in Brussels on 30 March 2000. Three sets of Council Conclusions were agreed, and proposals to tackle acidification, and on environmental liability, were debated.
Through Council Conclusions, a strategy for addressing threats to the environment from endocrine disrupting chemicals was endorsed, as outlined in a recent Commission Communication. The strategy will involve the establishment of a priority list of substances for evaluation and to prioritise testing. The need for quick and effective risk management measures where preliminary scientific evaluation reveals grounds for concern was also identified.
Council Conclusions were also agreed in response to the Commission Communication on a review of the fifth Environment Action Programme. These will assist the Commission in preparing a proposal for the sixth Environment Action Programme, due by the end of this year. The Council called for this to be a strategic document, setting clear priorities for the next 10 years and promoting a range of instruments to break the link between economic growth and environmental pressures. Climate change, waste management, resource use, biodiversity, soil degradation, desertification and reducing the environmental and health risks caused by chemicals and GMOs were identified as priorities for the programme. The need for better analysis of environmental issues and the costs and advantages of measures was also noted as was the need to improve implementation and enforcement of Community environmental legislation.
In advance of the Fifth Meeting of the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity to be held in Nairobi next month, Council Conclusions set out the EU position on the main issues on the agenda. Ministers were also updated on the successful conclusion of the negotiations on the Biosafety Protocol in January.
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There was also some discussion on the Community position for the next Conference of Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), taking place in April.
Ministers debated, for the second time, two related proposals to improve air quality. The first would set national emission ceilings on emissions of air pollutants that cause acidification, eutrophication and ground level ozone formation, and the second, target values for ozone in ambient air. Agreement had not been possible on a related proposal controlling emissions from large combustion plants, considered at the last Environment Council in December. Further negotiations on these measures are expected in the remainder of the Portuguese Presidency.
A first Ministerial discussion was held on the White Paper on Environmental Liability, adopted by the Commission in February. The Commission presented two recently published policy documents on climate change, one concerned with an EU wide emissions trading scheme and the other on common and co-ordinated policies and measures. Climate change was further discussed over lunch when Ministers considered preparations for the Sixth Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change taking place in November.
Presentations to Council were also given by the Commission on its Communication outlining the application of the Precautionary Principle, and on environmental indicators. The Presidency reported on the progress of two dossiers subject to conciliation with the European Parliament, the draft Water Framework Directive and draft End of Life Vehicles Directive. In response to a Swedish point under Any Other Business, I explained that I hoped shortly to forward to the Commission a completed environmental risk assessment and risk reduction strategy for the brominated flame retardant penta-BDE, and encouraged other member states to agree prompt action.
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