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Vehicle Tax

Mr. Alexander: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions how many owners of vehicles were prosecuted in 2000 for (a) not registering and (b) not paying tax on their vehicles in 2000. [153760]

Mr. Hill: In 2000 there were 4,755 successful prosecutions for failure to comply with registration requirements and an additional 7,772 offenders paid out of court settlements. There were also 229,069 successful prosecutions for not paying Vehicle Excise Duty. An additional 202,020 motorists paid out of court settlements.

Abandoned Motor Vehicles

Mr. Cox: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions which agencies are responsible for the reporting, checking and removal of abandoned motor vehicles; and if he will make a statement. [153800]

Mr. Hill: The agencies responsible for the reporting of abandoned motor vehicles are the local authorities, the police and the Environment Agency. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and the police are responsible for checking abandoned vehicles and contractors employed by these bodies and the local authorities are responsible for their removal.

New arrangements for closer working between these bodies are currently being piloted.

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Rail Accident (Hither Green)

Mr. Horam: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will make a statement on the collision of two Connex South Eastern trains outside Hither Green station on 12 March. [153755]

Mr. Hill: At 08.30am on Monday 12 March, the 07.58am Connex South Eastern Sevenoaks to Cannon Street passenger train passed a signal at danger at Hither Green. It continued for approximately half a mile before running through points which were set for the 08.08am Connex South Eastern Crayford to Cannon Street passenger train. A collision then occurred with the front of the Crayford train striking the side of the Sevenoaks train. There was no derailment, but both trains sustained superficial damage.

Four people were taken to hospital for treatment of minor injuries. The traction current was isolated to allow passengers to begin to leave the train at 10.00am. The Health and Safety Executive's (HSE's) Railway Inspectorate (HMRI) were at the scene and have confirmed that the collision was caused by the driver of the Sevenoaks train passing a signal at danger (SPAD).

All serious SPADs are thoroughly investigated by HMRI and the rail industry. Further details of this incident will be reported in a future edition of HSE's monthly SPAD report, copies of which are placed in both House Libraries each month.

Initial indications suggest that this incident would have been prevented by the Train Protection and Warning System (TPWS). Regulations made under this Government require that TPWS be installed across the network by the end of 2003.

Audit Commission

Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions how many times in (a) this Parliament and (b) the last Parliament, the Audit Commission has given evidence to the House of Commons Environment and Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committees. [153942]

Ms Beverley Hughes: The Audit Commission has in this Parliament given evidence to the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Select Committee on five occasions. The Audit Commission is reviewing its archives to ascertain the number of occasions it gave evidence to the Environment Select Committee in the last Parliament and the Controller of Audit will write to the hon. Member.

Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will make a statement on the changes the Government have made to the powers of (a) the Audit Commission and (b) the District Audit Service in the past three years. [153799]

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Ms Beverley Hughes: The Government amended the powers of the Audit Commission, and of auditors appointed by it, in the Local Government Act 1999, the Health Act 1999 and the Local Government Act 2000. The Audit Commission was given a new power to inspect compliance by Best Value authorities with the requirements of Part 1 of the Local Government Act 1999; and to work jointly with the Commission for Health Improvement in the Health Act 1999. Auditors appointed by the Audit Commission have been given new a new power to audit the best value performance plans of Best Value authorities under the Local Government Act 1999. The powers of auditors to issue prohibition orders have been replaced by a power to issue advisory notices. In the Local Government Act 2000, the auditors' surcharging powers were repealed.

Local Government

Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions when the Government (a) signed and (b) ratified the European Charter of Local Self-Government. [153817]

Ms Beverley Hughes: The European Charter of Local Self-Government was signed by this Government on 3 June 1997 and ratified on 24 April 1998.

Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will make a statement on Government policy towards scrutiny by local government of services provided by (a) the National Health Service and (b) local water companies. [153806]

Ms Beverley Hughes: Under their new constitutions, a council's overview and scrutiny committees can make reports or recommendations on any matters which affect their local areas or communities.

The Government have long recognised the democratic deficit in the NHS at local level, and for this reason are making provision to ensure that scrutiny of the NHS is placed in the hands of democratically elected councillors.

The Health and Social Care Bill, which is currently before Parliament, provides for overview and scrutiny committees of county councils, county borough councils (in Wales), unitary authorities and London borough councils, established under Part II of the Local Government Act 2000, to take over the scrutiny of local NHS services from Community Health Councils. The Bill also provides for the involvement of district councils under joint scheme arrangements.

Overview and scrutiny committees will have new powers to review local NHS bodies, and will make reports and recommendations to the bodies which they review. Local NHS bodies will have to provide clear justification for any recommendations which they do not accept. They will be subject to a duty to provide information about their operation and activities requested by an overview and scrutiny committee, and their Chief Executives will be required to attend committee meetings twice a year to answer questions about their organisations.

Health authorities will have a specific duty to consult overview and scrutiny committees on any major changes to services in their area. If a committee finds that the proposed changes are not in the interests of the local community it will be able to refer the matter to the new

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national Independent Reconfiguration Panel. A committee may also refer proposed changes to the panel if it believes that the process of involving patients and the public in their development is inadequate.

As to local water companies, under section 77 of the Water Industry Act 1991, local authorities have a duty to keep themselves informed about the wholesomeness and sufficiency of water supplies, including private supplies, provided to premises in their area. Section 200 of the Act also gives a duty to every sewerage undertaker to provide local authorities with copies of maps of public sewers and any modifications to those maps.

Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will list the guidance on councillors' allowances issued since May 1997. [153904]

Ms Beverley Hughes: In August 1997, the DETR issued a guidance document entitled "Guidance on Councillors' Allowances, Tax and Social Security". This updated an earlier version of this guidance which had been issued in 1993. We are currently consulting on draft statutory guidance which will give guidance to councils about members' allowances following the introduction of the requirement to establish and maintain independent remuneration panels and the abolition of attendance allowance.

Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will list the pilot schemes that have been initiated with local councils since May 1997 and the councils which have been involved in each pilot. [153818]

Ms Beverley Hughes: This information is not held centrally.

Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what steps the Government have taken to attract more (a) women, (b) young people, (c) people of an ethnic minority background and (d) people with disabilities to become local councillors. [153903]

Ms Beverley Hughes: In our White Paper "Modern Local Government: In Touch With the People" (Cm 4014) we stated our belief that a combination of the new rewarding roles envisaged for councillors and steps taken to address some potential financial and other disincentives would serve to encourage a wider cross section of the community to serve as councillors. We have now legislated for new council constitutions which will open up new and rewarding roles, and we are consulting on a new regime for allowances including, for example, proposals for a new child carers and dependant carers' allowance.

Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what his policy is on local councils holding annual elections with a third of councillors up for election each year; how many councils currently hold annual elections; and how many did so in 1997. [153772]

Ms Beverley Hughes: Our policy on councils electing one third of their members each year for three years out of four is set out in the White Paper "Modern Local Government--In Touch with the People" (Cm 4014). There are 131 local authorities in England which elect one

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third of councillors each year for three years out of four. Of these, two authorities held elections during 1997. Part IV of the Local Government Act 2000 provides us with powers to implement fully our policy.

Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will (a) publish Ministers' instructions to civil servants relating to the allocation of local government grants and (b) take steps to make the local government finance settlement process more transparent. [153902]

Ms Beverley Hughes: We consulted local government on the provisional local government finance settlement for 2001-02 in November. The reasons for our decisions on allocating grant in response to that consultation were given to the House by my colleague, the Minister for Local Government and the Regions, on 29 January 2001, Official Report, column 19W.

The method of grant calculation is laid out in the Local Government Finance Report (England) 2001-02. Other related documents and statements are publicly available and can be found in the Official Report, the House of Commons library and on the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions website.

Creating a more intelligible and transparent local government finance system is one of our key aims; and reforms to this end were outlined in last September's local government finance green paper. Our White Paper later this year will set out our decisions on the way forward.

Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what Government policy is on the establishment of more unitary authorities in local government. [153776]

Ms Beverley Hughes: The Government have indicated that a move to elected regional government in England would imply changing to a predominantly unitary system of local government. It is too early to say what this would mean in practice, as Government would need to take careful note of what the people in the regions think. In the meantime, there are no plans at present to reform the structure of local government in England and no presumption that, if there is to be any local government restructuring, it would have to come before the introduction of regional government.

Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if proposed referendums on regional assemblies will include options involving abolition of county councils in two-tier areas. [153773]

Ms Beverley Hughes: We remain committed to move to directly-elected regional government, where there is support as demonstrated in referendums. No decisions have been taken on the form of the proposals which might be the subject of such referendums.

Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what guidances he has issued on the conduct of referendums held by councils on local issues; and if he will make a statement. [153940]

Ms Beverley Hughes: I refer the hon. Member to my answer of 13 March 2001, Official Report, column 539W.

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Mr. Nigel Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what steps he is taking to introduce simpler local government grant system which is based predominantly on population. [154142]

Mr. Gray: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what steps he is taking to simplify the local government grant system and to base it predominantly on population. [153847]

Ms Beverley Hughes: Last September's local government finance green paper consulted on options for making the current grant distribution system for all local authorities fairer. A White paper will be published later this year setting out our decisions on the way forward.

The existing formulae for distributing revenue grant are based predominantly on local authority population figures including relevant client groups (such as schoolchildren or elderly people). Were we to decide to continue to distribute grant by formula, this would continue to be the case.

As with the present system, such a formula could be modified to take other factors into account such as levels of deprivation and the higher costs of recruiting and retaining local authority staff--but in a more transparent and comprehensible way than the present system.

Mr. Gray: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what steps he is taking to ensure that a future grant system will reflect the importance of community consultation to local democracy. [153848]

Ms Beverley Hughes: Last September's local government finance green paper consulted on options for making the current grant distribution system for local authorities fairer. One option was to distribute grant on the basis of consideration of an authority's corporate plan. Clearly, such a plan would reflect community consultation processes.

The other option was a grant distribution system based on formulae plus safety valve grant, targeted grant and local public service agreements (PSAs). Under such a system, local PSAs would provide the scope to reflect the priorities of the local community.

A White Paper will be published later this year setting out our decisions on the way forward. More generally, the green paper noted the welcome trend of consulting local taxpayers about local tax and spending decisions--and the Government are working with the Local Government Association to devise good practice in doing so.

Mr. Gray: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if future grant distributions will ensure that the specific needs of town and country authorities which have both urban and rural characteristics are adequately met through the SSA system. [153850]

Ms Beverley Hughes: I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave on 13 March 2001, Official Report, column 537W.

Mr. Gray: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions when he will publish a White Paper on local government finance. [153852]

19 Mar 2001 : Column: 23W

Mr. Nigel Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions when he plans to publish a White paper on local government finance. [154137]

Ms Beverley Hughes: A White Paper on local government finance will be published later this year.


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