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Ultra-low Sulphur Diesel

Mr. Paice: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, pursuant to the oral statement by the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Miss Johnson) of 24 April 2001, Official Report, column 217, if he will set out the basis of the calculations for the cost per tonne of carbon saved for (a) biodiesel and (b) road fuel gases compared with ultra-low sulphur petrol. [159992]

Mr. Hill: As my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury emphasised in her 24 April statement, the primary benefit of biodiesel is the carbon saved compared to fossil diesel, whereas that of road fuel gases is the improved air quality. Therefore, the Government do not seek to compare or base decisions on the two types of fuel on the basis of the relative carbon saving and their costs.

The carbon cost estimates for biodiesel from oilseed rape quoted by my hon. Friend are based on the estimated cost of production, and the estimated greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil diesel emissions, including greenhouse gases emitted from the use of agricultural machinery, fertilisers and pesticides, and from the extraction, production and transportation of biodiesel.

Private Hire Vehicles

Mr. Bob Russell: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions following the case in the Queen's Bench Division between L. Benson and Copeland borough council, what plans he has to seek to restore the previous position whereby the spouse of a licence holder could use a private hire vehicle for any purpose other than for hire; when the case was heard; and if he will make a statement. [159863]

Mr. Hill: I refer the hon. Member to my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough (Mr. Ennis) on 26 July 2000, Official Report, column 611W.

Footpath Closures (Kent)

Mr. Wyatt: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he required

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Kent county council to conduct a risk assessment before it took decisions to (a) close all footpaths and (b) keep them closed. [159990]

Mr. Meacher: My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) has made a series of amendments to The Foot and Mouth Disease Order 1983 since 27 February this year, which conferred on certain local authorities, including Kent county council, the power to close public rights of way in the interests of preventing the spread of foot and mouth disease. Those amendments did not require local authorities to undertake risk assessments before exercising the power. MAFF published a veterinary risk assessment on the risk of causing new outbreaks of foot and mouth disease if footpaths were open to the public on 22 March, which provided the basis of guidance to local authorities on reopening paths issued by MAFF on 28 March. This was supplemented with a framework, which my Department issued on 25 April, for assessing the risks associated with reopening rights of way, which is intended to help local authorities speed up the reopening process.

Bed and Breakfast Accommodation

Ms Buck: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what action the Government propose to take to reduce the numbers of homeless households being housed in Bed and Breakfast accommodation; and if he will make a statement. [160120]

Mr. Raynsford: The reasons behind the increased use of Bed and Breakfast are complex. I am therefore setting up a specific Bed and Breakfast Unit to look at what more can be done to help get people, particularly families with children, out of Bed and Breakfast and into more appropriate accommodation.

We believe that people have a right to decent accommodation especially when at their most vulnerable. At the moment almost 10,000 homeless households are in Bed and Breakfast accommodation. I have told this House in the past that this figure is unacceptable. The Government have a clear policy on the use of Bed and Breakfast accommodation for homeless families with children: it should be used only as a last resort. As well as the high financial costs of Bed and Breakfast, there are unquantifiable social costs in terms of health, education and lost employment opportunities

Many authorities are successful in minimising their use of Bed and Breakfast accommodation. I appreciate and commend local authorities' efforts in these areas. However the circumstances and the performance of local authorities vary and some are struggling to meet their statutory duties on housing homeless people.

The new Unit will look at developing solutions to help these authorities reduce their use of Bed and Breakfast. The Unit will be small and have a limited lifespan of two years to reflect the specific nature of its remit. It will be led by someone with hands-on experience and will work closely with existing bodies and practitioners from local authorities, RSLs and voluntary agencies. One of the Unit's key tasks will be to disseminate existing good practice to help authorities implement or pilot new ideas. It will help local authorities to set targets where appropriate, and to develop implementation programmes to meet those targets. As well as providing advice and

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support, the Unit will also influence wider debates and ensure that people working on regeneration and other related projects take into account the impact of their work on homelessness.

Housing families in Bed and Breakfast is good for no-one--it is expensive, it is inadequate and it has unacceptable long-term effects. I am convinced that by working together we can find ways of reducing this unhelpful dependence on Bed and Breakfast accommodation.

Public Service Agreements

Mrs. Lawrence: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what progress is being made in concluding local Public Service Agreements. [160198]

Ms Armstrong: We have today concluded a third group of local Public Service Agreements (PSAs). The agreements are with the following authorities: Camden, Coventry and Newham. The three signed today, taken together with recent signatories Milton Keynes, Newcastle and Surrey, mean that local PSAs have now been signed with all the 20 authorities that took part in the pilot scheme announced last summer.

Local PSAs will enable councils to deliver even greater improvements in services for local people. The targets set by councils have a direct impact on communities--from initiatives to tackle drug abuse among young people, dealing with abandoned vehicles, to strategies to reduce the number of deaths on the roads. We will be working with the pilot authorities and others to make them a success, and to roll out local PSAs to other upper-tier authorities over the next two years.

SOCIAL SECURITY

Expenditure and Caseloads

Mr. Goggins: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will place in the Library information on social security expenditure and caseloads on a benefit by benefit basis. [160154]

Mr. Rooker: I have placed in the Library seven statistical tables showing breakdowns of historical and forecast benefit expenditure and caseloads for Great Britain. This information will be made available on the Department's internet site shortly.

The tables show that social security spending is now firmly under control; the total cost of benefits and tax credits together is growing at under 2 per cent. this Parliament compared to 4 per cent. in the last Parliament--the lowest rate of growth for any Parliament since the Second World War.

Minimum Income Guarantee

Mrs. Betty Williams: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what assessment he has made of the time it takes citizens to make contact with an operator regarding the Minimum Income Guarantee when telephoning 0800 028 1111 from Wales. [158836]

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Mr. Rooker: There is no difference in the level of service offered by operators of the Minimum Income Guarantee Teleclaim service when answering telephone calls from customers in Wales. On average, operators are taking around a minute and a half to answer calls and the duration of an incoming call is four minutes or 20 minutes where a customer opts to be taken through the electronic claim form process.

SERPS

Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what entitlement to inherited SERPS remains after someone who has contracted out of SERPS into an occupational scheme subsequently transfers to a personal pension plan; and what action his Department has taken to inform people that they could lose out by making such a change. [159701]

Mr. Rooker: Since 1997, there has been no link between contracted-out pension rights and SERPS. A transfer of rights accrued since that date would have no bearing on possible entitlement to inherited SERPS.

For the transfer of pension rights accrued before 1997 in a contracted-out salary related pension scheme, the situation will depend on an individual's circumstances.

We therefore recommend that a person should seek independent financial advice before transferring pension rights from an occupational scheme to a personal pension.

Pension Credit Consultation Paper

Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will place in the Library the responses to the pension credit consultation paper (Cm 4900). [159704]

Mr. Rooker: I refer the hon. Member to my written answer on 24 April 2001, Official Report, column 210W.


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