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Online Consultation

46. Margaret Moran (Luton, South): Pursuant to his oral answer of 6 November 2001, Official Report, column 108, on online consultation, if he will make a statement on the use made of e-mail responses to consultation on draft Bills published on the internet. [17535]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Stephen Twigg): I am wary, after the previous exchange, of appearing to read my response.

E-mail responses to consultations are taken into account in the same way as other responses. More broadly, the Office of the e-Envoy is developing proposals to enhance opportunities for participation in the democratic process through modern information and communication technologies.

A Cabinet Committee on e-democracy has been established and will be chaired by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.

Margaret Moran: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that when we are using new technology, such as e-mails, we go out to groups normally unheard in this place to ensure that their voice helps to inform our legislative process? Will he ensure that in the proposals from the Office of the e-Envoy, every effort is made to explore the opportunities for the House to use the new technologies and for that to help inform our modernisation agenda?

Mr. Twigg: I am happy to concur with my hon. Friend and to pay tribute once again to the pioneering work that she has done in this field. I believe that there is a commitment on both sides of the House to ensuring that we reach out to people who may be disaffected with Parliament and modern politics. Enhancing modern technology to ensure that people have access to decision making, and democracy is an important way of achieving that.

The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire was asked—


47. Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South): To ask the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, representing the House of Commons Commission, pursuant to his oral answer of 6 November 2001, Official Report, column 106, on recycling, what plans he has to introduce more ambitious targets for the recycling of (a) paper and (b) glass in the next five years; and if he will make a statement. [17537]

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (on behalf of the House of Commons Commission): The House authorities will

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continue to follow Government guidelines. Future targets set by the Government for the recycling of waste are 25 per cent. by 2005, 30 per cent. by 2010 and 33 per cent. by 2015. The House will be pleased to know, however, that the House authorities have already exceeded the highest of these targets. In the current financial year, we expect 50 per cent. of waste to be recycled. In addition, the Serjeant at Arms is retaining a specialist to help set House of Commons targets recycling paper, glass and other materials for periods over the next five, 10 and 15 years.

The Administration Committee will be kept informed, and I also think that it would be appropriate for progress to be reported in the annual report of the House of Commons Commission.

Mr. Mullin: Grateful though we all are for the undoubted progress that has been made recently, does the hon. Gentleman share my disappointment that despite the lofty sentiments that emanate from this place on recycling, most of our waste still goes to incineration or landfill. That is certainly true of paper and probably of the several hundred bottles a day generated from the Committee Rooms—bottles of water, I should add. How can we hope to change the culture outside if we cannot change it inside?

Mr. Kirkwood: The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point but, with respect, he is slightly out of date. It is true that in the recent past landfill has been used to dispose of waste, recycled and recovered, from parts of the parliamentary precinct, but I think that that practice has now changed. Certainly the House authorities and the Administration Committee are working hard to establish best practice. The hon. Gentleman is right that if we cannot show a lead in this matter it is very sad indeed.

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge): Does my hon. Friend agree that we could save both paper and money if, instead of printing early-day motions daily, they were posted electronically every day and perhaps printed only once a week or once a fortnight?

Mr. Kirkwood: I understand my hon. Friend's point, which is well made, but as well as paying careful attention to the need for recycling, we must try to prevent waste occurring in the use of paper in the first instance. That is all most welcome. However, my hon. Friend should be careful about referring such matters to the Procedure Committee, as authenticity issues would be involved in the electronic posting of early-day motions. None the less, I think that the House authorities would encourage any such ideas and they should be put either to the Administration Committee or the Procedure Committee.

The President of the Council was asked—

Legislative Programme

49. Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): If he will bring forward proposals for a continuous programme of Government legislation in a Parliament. [17540]

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook): As I said to the House last month, it would be desirable to have a

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smoother flow of legislation, which would enable greater parliamentary scrutiny, and a rolling programme over two years might help to achieve that.

Mr. Bryant: I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments, but is not it time that we put paid to that stop-start process of legislation which, frankly, is worse than the west coast line? Is not it time that we looked at it over a full Parliament, instead of even a two-year process?

Mr. Cook: I am not sure that I can encourage my hon. Friend to hope for a full parliamentary period in which to pass legislation. It is desirable that there should be some time limit in which legislation has to be completed, but I share his concern that it cannot be good for Parliament

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for there to be half a year during which it is not profitable to introduce new legislation because it cannot complete the process. That is why so much legislation is rushed; it is in the interests both of the Government and of Parliament that legislation should not be rushed.


Mr. Speaker: I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

European Communities (Finance Act) 2001

Human Reproductive Cloning Act 2001

National Australia Group Europe Act 2001

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Local Government Finance (England) 2002-03

3.31 pm

The Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Mr. Stephen Byers): With permission—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I will not tolerate shouting. The Minister is putting a statement before the House.

Mr. Byers: I should like to make a statement about local authority revenue finance in England for 2002–03.

Public services are the clearest symbol of community and solidarity. They are literally what we provide together as a society. For millions of people, public services are social justice made real. The challenge for the Government is to take the action and introduce the measures necessary to raise standards, provide choice and improve quality.

I am pleased to be able to inform the House that this local government settlement will have total support from Government grants and business rates of £47.3 billion. That is an increase over this year of £3.3 billion or 7.4 per cent.—more than three times the underlying rate of inflation. The £47.3 billion will be made up of £19.9 billion in revenue support grant, £16.6 billion in business rates and £10.8 billion in special and specific grants.

Today, I am announcing details of the allocation to individual authorities of the £36.5 billion of revenue support grant and business rates. When taken together with the police grant of £3.8 billion and other minor adjustments, that represents an increase of 4.8 per cent. over this year's allocation.

The money will be going in, but on its own that will not be enough to secure the extensive improvements that the Government want in our public services. This extra funding must drive forward change. It must ensure that our programme of modernisation and reform is implemented.

I know that for some change is never easy, but we need to be clear that reform is not the enemy of good quality public services. Put simply, we cannot leave things as they are—the status quo is not an option, so we must invest in reform and insist on results. Today's statement, coupled with the local government White Paper, which we should publish before Christmas, shows how we intend to apply that approach to local government.

Councils deliver a wide range of services that affect all our lives and are vital in delivering real improvements to our economy and to our quality of life as well. They help us to provide better education services and to sustain a better deal for the more vulnerable members of our society. They are key players in providing a better quality local environment and safer communities.

This year, we introduced a system of minimum and maximum grant increases for those authorities with responsibility for education and social services. We believed that such a policy was necessary because we recognised the unfairness that could be caused by the simple application of the present funding formula, which we regard as unfair. I am pleased to be able to inform the

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House that this will be the final settlement based on the present funding regime. From 2003, we will introduce a system that is transparent, fair and just.

The introduction of a minimum level ensured that every authority in the scheme received a reasonable level of grant increase, but to pay for that minimum we imposed a maximum on grant increases and scaled back the rises received by authorities between those two levels. That approach was generally well received. This year, therefore, I am extending the scheme to shire districts and to a group of authorities comprising police authorities, fire authorities and the Greater London Authority. I am pleased to be able to announce that I am setting the minimum level for those authorities so that in 2002–03 they will receive a grant increase of at least the rate of inflation at 2.3 per cent. on a like-for-like basis.

I have, however, given special consideration to those authorities with responsibility for education and social services. Last year, the minimum increase for those authorities was set at 3.2 per cent. This year, with inflation at 2.3 per cent., I have had to consider whether we could match last year's figure. That would not be easy, but 3.2 per cent. would give those authorities an income well above the rate of inflation.

Some authorities and local government associations have put forward the case for an even higher increase. Some have suggested an increase of 3.5 per cent.; others 3.75 per cent. I have rejected those proposals. Instead, I want to reflect the value that the Government place on education and social services. Therefore, I shall introduce a minimum increase in grant of 4 per cent. for all authorities that provide those vital services.

The introduction of a minimum increase of 4 per cent. will make a significant difference to a number of authorities. It represents, for example, an extra £3 million for Halton, £2.4 million for Middlesbrough, almost £8 million for Liverpool, £3 million for Nottingham and £3.5 million for Leeds. That money is over and above that which would have been received under a simple application of the formula. However, a minimum level has to be paid for. Some of the cost will be met by placing a ceiling on the grant increases to be received by authorities in each group. Those ceilings will be 7 per cent. for authorities with education and social services responsibilities, up from 6.5 per cent. last year; 4 per cent. for fire and police authorities; and 10 per cent. for shire district councils. However, those ceilings do not fully meet the costs of bringing education or social services councils up to a minimum of 4 per cent.

This year, councils had their increase scaled back to pay for the introduction of a minimum level. Scaling back would mean that some of those authorities, which have raised particular concerns about the level of funding— such as, for example, Birmingham, Oxfordshire, Worcestershire, Kent, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Warwickshire, which today get a good settlement—would see a reduction to provide other authorities with an increase to the minimum level. If we were to maintain the policy of scaling back, Birmingham would lose more than £1 million, Oxfordshire more than £800,000, Worcestershire more than £400,000, Kent more than £2 million, Nottinghamshire more than £650,000, Derbyshire £875,000 and Warwickshire more than £400,000.

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I have listened to the views of hon. Members, parents, teachers and those with responsibility for the care of the vulnerable. I believe that it would be unfair to scale back those increases. I have therefore decided to put an extra £41 million into the revenue support grant this year so that there will be no reduction in grant for those getting an increase that is below the maximum. I believe that that will be welcomed by all those with responsibility for providing these vital services.

The other groups of authorities between the minimum and the maximum levels will have their grant increase scaled back to pay for the floor for their group. However, for police authorities and fire authorities, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I will put an additional £5.5 million into revenue support grant to help to ensure that scaling back will be on a reduced scale.

In addition, following representations made on last year's settlement, I also propose to promote capital investment by excepting, from the floor and the ceiling limits, grant increases that result from new capital spending allocations. As a result of this change and by way of example, Salford will get an extra £1.7 million, Hertfordshire an extra £1.4 million, Bristol an extra £900,000 and North Lincolnshire an extra £600,000.

With those grant increases and the stability provided by a minimum level, there is no reason why this year there should be large increases in council tax. I have laid regulations before the House to ensure that taxpayers can see clearly by how much their council tax has changed for each tier of authority that is responsible. From next spring, that will be shown on the front of the council tax bill, not buried away in a leaflet. Our longer-term policies for council tax will be set out in the forthcoming local government White Paper.

The increases in general grant will be matched by further good increases in the grants that we will be providing for specific initiatives. For example, in the next financial year, I can confirm that, as has been previously announced, there will be £300 million for the neighbourhood renewal fund—money that will enable councils with the most deprived areas to tackle the real problems that they face. I can also confirm that £200 million will be available to help local authorities to build care capacity. That will be a significant contribution, allowing them to improve personal social services where we recognise that councils face real pressures at present.

Local authorities are a vital part of our democratic system. People rightly expect a great deal from their council. That is why, since we came to office in 1997, we have increased grant to local authorities by £11.3 billion—a real-terms increase of more than 20 per cent. This stands in stark contrast to the final four years of the Tory Government which saw a real-terms cut in grant of 7 per cent.

I believe that this settlement is an important step in ensuring that local councils can meet the needs and aspirations of the communities that they have been elected to serve. It shows that we value local government and the services that it provides. This settlement provides the means by which local services can be improved.

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Public services properly funded to meet the needs of our people; local councils again recognised as a democratic tier of government—that is the way forward for local authorities. It is the approach that is at the heart of today's settlement. As such, I commend it to the House.

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