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5. Mr. Patrick Hall (Bedford): If he will make a statement on progress made in combating homelessness. [120143]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Chris Mullin): Shortly after taking office, the Government introduced secondary legislation to strengthen the safety net for households accepted as statutorily homeless and ensure that they were given reasonable preference in the allocation of permanent local authority housing. The housing Green Paper, which was published on 4 April, includes proposals to fulfil the Government's election manifesto promise to place a new duty on local authorities to protect those who are homeless through no fault of their own, and whose needs are a priority.

Mr. Hall: I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. I welcome the proposals in the Green Paper and look forward to their development in the Bill. Will my hon. Friend consider taking further the steps that the Green Paper outlines by placing a duty on local councils to prepare and publish comprehensive strategies to prevent homelessness? That would be the best way forward. I understand that the homelessness taskforce in Scotland has made such a proposal. Will my hon. Friend consider extending it to England and Wales?

Mr. Mullin: There is a strong emphasis in the Green Paper on preventative work. We should like local authorities, in partnership with the voluntary sector, to take a more strategic approach to tackling the causes of homelessness and preventing their recurrence. The housing Green Paper includes a proposal to require local authorities to carry out an audit of all forms of homelessness in their areas and the provisions for dealing with it. They will be required to consult locally on their findings and the steps that they propose for dealing with any problems. They will also be required to incorporate their findings and proposed actions in their housing strategy. The Green Paper is a consultative document, and we shall consider carefully the responses to it.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): On Sunday evening, I walked past nine people sleeping rough outside the Army and Navy store in Victoria street. Clearly, the Government's action is deficient. What further action and incentives can the Government introduce to ensure that extra places are made available for those who sleep rough in London?

Mr. Mullin: More beds are available for the homeless in central London now than at any time in the past. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is right. People slept

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rough under Tory Governments and people sleep rough under Labour Governments, but we are trying to do something about it. We are doing a darn sight more than the previous Government.

Beacon Councils Scheme

6. Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South): If he will make a statement on the progress of the beacon councils scheme. [120144]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Ms Beverley Hughes): The scheme is making excellent progress. More than 1,500 delegates have already attended roadshows to learn from beacon best practice. We have also announced 11 new themes for the second year, all of which involve council services that directly affect people's lives and the communities in which they live.

Mr. Cunningham: Will my hon. Friend commend Coventry city council for achieving beacon status? It was one of six councils to do so, out of about 90 applicants. Will she also commend the Coventry partnership for achieving a 44 per cent. reduction in crime overall and a 25 per cent. reduction in retail crime? Does she agree that that is a tremendous achievement and a pointer in the right direction for the Government's policies?

Ms Hughes: Yes; we were pleased to be able to award beacon status to Coventry city council last year. That reflected its excellence in preventing local shopping and town-centre crime and disorder and its overall good performance, to which my hon. Friend alluded. The particular strength was its partnership with the police and local business. As well as achieving the reductions that he mentions, it has led to greater use of shops and car parks in the city centre and has therefore had a beneficial effect on shoppers and local businesses.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury): With so many councils now back under Conservative control, will the Minister set out objectively and transparently the criteria used to select beacon councils and beacon schemes so that there can be no scintilla of a suggestion of political partiality in their selection?

Ms Hughes: We shall have to see what the implications are for the overall performance standards of those councils that have changed to Conservative control. The record of Tory authorities on performance in local services is not good. The hon. Gentleman will have read the prospectus on beacon status schemes, so he will know that an advisory panel applies clear and rigorous criteria in judging the many applications from across the political spectrum. He will also know that councils controlled by all political parties were awarded beacon status in the first phase of the scheme.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): Will my hon. Friend ensure that there will be incentives for district councils, not just the metropolitan and unitary authorities, to apply for beacon status?

Ms Hughes: Certainly. There is now a list of 11 themes for the second year of the beacon councils scheme,

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including a wide range of services that are important to local people. Many are delivered at district level. We have tried to ensure that the scheme includes the services that county councils deliver so that they can participate. It also includes cross-cutting themes so that we can encourage those councils that are making good progress in integrating their services across several departmental areas. As in the first phase, I am sure that councils will be tremendously interested in applying for beacon status.

Road Improvements

7. Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): What progress has been made towards completing the schemes in the targeted programme of road improvements. [120145]

The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. John Prescott): My noble Friend Lord Whitty confirmed on 3 February that we would let contracts for 13 of the 37 schemes this year. The Government have provided an additional £25 million in the Budget to enable contract awards for six schemes to be brought forward. We have announced the addition of four schemes to the programme. Government policy on roads is no longer based on the old system of predict and build; it is based on the new approach to appraisal, against the five criteria of environmental impact, safety, economy, accessibility and integration.

Mr. Bruce: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that answer. He will know that the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill), is coming to view the Dorchester relief road, which is in my constituency, on 13 July. He will also know that that scheme was ready to be built when the Government came to power and that they have become unpopular by cutting road schemes. May I urge him, in a spirit of cross-party support, to come to the aid of the Weymouth and Portland Labour party, which lost so heavily, and the Liberal Democrats, who control the county council and lost even more heavily in my constituency, and award them that scheme, which will be universally welcomed by all political parties?

Mr. Prescott: The hon. Gentleman was doing quite well in impressing me until the second part of his question. His criticisms about cutting road programmes should be directed to the previous Conservative Government. The 500 road schemes decided in 1990 represented a wish list, because 60 per cent. of them had not seen the light of day before the previous Government left office.

The great majority--236--had been cancelled, along with other programmes.

The hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman) should be aware of the situation. As he has said a number of times in the House, he has waited 11 years for improvements to the A21. I am pleased to tell him that the Government have now agreed to the implementation of the Lamberhurst bypass scheme.

Mr. Ben Bradshaw (Exeter): Devon county council, which is run by the Liberal Democrats, underspent by £1.4 million on its roads maintenance budget last year, despite the appalling condition of the roads in my constituency. I fell off my bike recently, having hit one

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of the many potholes that are the result of the council's incompetence. Is that not another argument for the Deputy Prime Minister to give Exeter city council--another beacon council, Labour run--control of its own affairs, and the unitary status that it so desperately needs?

Mr. Prescott: I agree with a great deal of what my hon. Friend has said. This is really about road programmes. I should apologise to the hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce): the Weymouth relief road is a local road, the improvement is among those that we are considering, and we have talked to the local authority about it. We are not too happy about the scheme that they have presented, but we are discussing how they might present it in a way more acceptable to us.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex): How can the Deputy Prime Minister say that he really cares about our crumbling road infrastructure and keep a straight face, given that he is spending less than the Conservative Government on road maintenance? Will he confirm figures that I have obtained from the House of Commons Library, which reveal that he is not only spending less than the average spent by the previous Government on road maintenance, but spending less on transport in total--less on local transport grants and credit approvals, less on infrastructure improvements and trunk roads on motorways, less on London Transport and less on support for the railways? When will he admit that the only programme on which he is spending more--an extra £100 million--is that represented by the running costs of his own Department? How is he to improve the transport infrastructure if he continues to lose all his battles with the Treasury?

Is it not the case that, as the Government tax motorists £36 billion a year--£1 in every £7 that they spend comes from the motorist--the Deputy Prime Minister is delivering less and less? Is that not why we say that his Government tax more and deliver less?

Mr. Prescott: The hon. Gentleman's rant is just not true. The resources that we have provided for maintenance are a considerable increase on what was provided by the previous Administration. We have spent £2.8 billion on trunk road maintenance; the previous Administration cut road maintenance spending considerably.

As for the overall figures, because in our first two years of government we decided to accept the expenditures laid down by the previous Government in their Red Book, they may seem lower. Our priority is finding a way in which to begin to improve public transport, while also giving greater priority to road maintenance. We are doing that, and it is beginning to have an effect.

I will take no criticism of the state of our roads from those who supported the previous Administration, who spent 18 years in government. The roads are in the worst possible state because of a lack of investment over the past 10 or 15 years.

Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye): Given the encouraging progress on the roads programme to which my right hon. Friend referred, and the fact that the A21 is at the forefront of his mind, may I ask him

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whether, if--as is assumed--the access to Hastings study will result in a yes later this summer, the scheme will get somewhere in the next few years?

Mr. Prescott: As we said in our paper on the roads programme, the 37 schemes that we identified are to go ahead; the others were passed to local authorities to consider in their transport plans. As I said to the hon. Member for South Dorset, some are to be dealt with in that way. We will give them the order of priority, and exercise the criteria, laid down in our paper.

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