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Ms Beverley Hughes: My right hon. Friend's general approach, like that of previous Secretaries of State, is not to interfere with the jurisdiction of local planning authorities unless it is necessary to do so. Parliament has entrusted them with responsibility for day-to-day planning control in their areas. It is right that, in general, they should be free to carry out their duties responsibly, with the minimum of interference.
There will be occasions, however, when my right hon. Friend may consider it necessary to call in the planning application to determine himself, instead of leaving the decision to the local planning authority.
His policy is to be very selective about calling in planning applications. He will, in general, take this step only if planning issues of more than local importance are involved. Such cases may include, for example, those which, in his opinion:
Call in procedure follows section 77 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and the Town and Country Planning (Inquiries Procedure) (England) Rules 2000 (SI No. 1624). Further guidance is available in DETR Circular 5/2000.
Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (1) what consultations he plans with local authorities concerning proposed changes in the second home council tax discount; 
Ms Beverley Hughes: In the White Paper, "Our Countryside: The Future", (Cm 4909), we said that we would consult on giving local authorities discretion to charge the full council tax on second homes rather than the 50 per cent. discount that they are required to apply at the moment.
We intend to issue a consultation paper to local authorities and others in the new year and will finalise our proposals in the light of comments we receive. Primary legislation would be needed to provide local authorities with this power.
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Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what discussions he has had with Railtrack on the feasibility of redoubling the track between Swindon and Kemble. 
Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what discussions he has had recently with representatives of Wales and West and First Great Western on the subject of train punctuality and reliability. 
Mr. Hill: Ministers have had no discussions with either Wales and West or First Great Western about train punctuality and reliability. The Franchising Director is in regular contact with both operators about their services as part of his monitoring of their franchises.
Mr. Green: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what estimate he has made of the additional superannuation costs for which local authorities in England and Wales will have to make provision in year 2001-02, as a result of changes to advance corporation tax. 
Ms Beverley Hughes: After changes were made to advance corporation tax we agreed, following consultation with the Local Government Association, to build £130 million into the annual settlement for 1999-2000, and subsequently each year thereafter, to meet additional local authority pension costs. Consequently no separate additional estimate has been made for 2001-02.
Mr. Laurence Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions how many fatal road accidents occurred in Gloucestershire in the last five years for which figures are available; and if he will make a statement. 
Ms Beverley Hughes: I have today laid before Parliament a draft Order under section 19 of the Local Government Act 1999, which modifies the list of 'non-commercial' matters, set out in Part II of the Local Government Act 1988, which are currently excluded from local authority contracting. The Order provides for
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relevant workforce matters to cease to be defined as 'non-commercial' matters for the purposes of Part II, to the extent that they are relevant to the achievement of Best Value and where the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981 (as amended) are to be applied.
Following completion of parliamentary consideration of the Order, a departmental circular will be published containing related guidance. The guidance will set out how Best Value authorities can consider workforce matters when selecting tenderers and awarding contracts. Our aim is to modify the restriction on consideration of workforce matters so that authorities can have proper regard to them in cases where they are relevant to Best Value and the quality of the contract.
These proposals meet two overriding objectives. Firstly by enhancing good procurement practice under Best Value and secondly by recognising that a well motivated and trained workforce is vital to the provision of quality local services. This will make a substantial contribution to achieving Best Value services in local government.
We have received over 120 responses to our Consultation Paper "Best Value and Procurement: Handling of Workforce Matters in Contracting" from local government, the private and voluntary sectors and individuals. I am grateful to those bodies and individuals that have responded. The revised Guidance takes account of the views expressed. A list of respondents is being placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
The Order and guidance applies to Best Value authorities in England and to police and fire authorities in Wales. The National Assembly will decide whether or not to make their own Order for local authorities in Wales.
Mr. Alan Johnson [holding answer 8 December 2000]: I intend to lay revised regulations governing the conduct of employment agencies and employment businesses shortly. Some employment rights already attach to agency workers but others do not except where they are engaged under contracts of service or apprenticeship. I plan to issue a discussion paper in due course on legal issues relating to employment status as it affects the coverage of statutory employment rights.
Mr. Duncan: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment he has made of the extent to which rural businesses will benefit from ADSL internet access following local loop unbundling. 
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Ms Hewitt: Local loop unbundling will allow other operators to provide high speed digital services such as ADSL over BT's copper wires. ADSL will however not work where the end user is more than 3-4 km from the local exchange, which means that only about 70 per cent. of the country is potentially able to receive it. There are other broadband technologies available, including satellite which can potentially cover the whole country. As stated in the White Paper "Our Countryside: The Future", the Government will
Ms Hewitt: BT has already rolled out ADSL to exchanges covering nearly 40 per cent. of the population. Subject to commercial considerations, it intends to upgrade exchanges covering 70 per cent. of the population by the end of 2002. ADSL will however not work where the end user is more than 3-4 km from the local exchange, which means that it will not be available to everyone. There are other methods of high speed internet access becoming available, including satellite which has the potential to cover the whole country.
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