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Capping Powers

Mrs. Gilroy: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what plans he has to use the reserve capping powers for 2000-01; and if he will make a statement. [138469]

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Ms Armstrong: It is the Government's policy that local authorities should accept greater responsibility for setting their own budget and council tax increases. That is why we abolished crude and universal capping. However, we retain reserve powers to protect council tax payers from excessive increases. We identified three authorities whose council tax and budget increases in 1999-2000 and 2000-01 were at the top end of the range of increases for all authorities in England. I met those authorities in July. I have considered carefully the points they put to me. I have also taken account of the fact that the average council tax increases in England fell in 2000 for the second year running. On balance, I have decided not to use the new reserve powers this year. Against a background in which the Government have announced a significant increase in funding for local authorities for the next three years, all local authorities should budget responsibly.

Climate Change

Mr. Quinn: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will make a statement on his objectives for the forthcoming climate change negotiations in The Hague. [138611]

Mr. Prescott: The Sixth Conference of the Parties (COP 6) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change will aim to agree a detailed framework for the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol.

The Government want to negotiate an agreement which can be endorsed by all countries; pave the way to ratification by sufficient numbers of countries for the Protocol to enter into force by 2002; and will lead to action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by developed countries which are currently responsible for 60 per cent. of the world's emissions. We will work for an agreement that safeguards the environmental integrity of the Protocol, taking into accounts its economic impacts and providing certainty for business.

Health and Safety Laboratory

Mr. Burgon: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions when the Health and Safety Laboratory will publish its annual report and accounts for 1999-2000. [138695]

Mr. Meacher: The Health and Safety Laboratory has today published the 1999-2000 Annual Report and Accounts, and copies have been placed in the Libraries of the House.


Business-Government Links

53. Maria Eagle: To ask the President of the Council what progress has been made in improving the Government's links with the business community through the business communications unit. [136378]

Mrs. Beckett: The Business Coordination Unit in my Department is making a significant contribution to improving Government contact with all sectors of

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business across the UK. Business representatives have warmly welcomed the work of the Unit and I look forward to further progress.


Oral Questions

49. Mr. David Heath: To ask the President of the Council if she will bring proposals to the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons to allow for greater topicality in oral questions to Ministers. [136374]

Mr. Tipping: There is a matter which has concerned Committees of this House over several decades. The Modernisation Committee are currently reviewing their work programme--I will ensure that this issue is raised as a potential area for consideration.

House of Commons (Maintenance)

51. Sir Teddy Taylor: To ask the Chairman of the Finance and Services Committee what has been the total sum spent on repairing, improving and maintaining the House of Commons buildings over the past 12 months. [136376]

Mr. Stuart Bell: The House of Commons spent some £25 million on repairing, improving and maintaining the House of Commons buildings in the last full financial year.

Commission Minutes

52. Angela Smith: To ask the Chairman of the Finance and Services Committee to ask the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, representing the House of Commons Commission, if he will undertake to publish notes of minutes of the meetings of the House of Commons Commission within two weeks of each meeting. [136377]

Mr. Kirkwood: The Commission's meetings are deliberative. The Commission does publish considerable details about the House's management and services for Members in its annual report, the last of which was published on 19 July 2000 (HC 808).

I can tell the hon. Member that we are considering ways of providing hon. Members with information on a more regular basis, including information on the parliamentary intranet, in line with recommendations of the Braithwaite review of management and services. As soon as decisions about this are made, I will ensure that the House is informed.

Regional Standing Committee

54. Dr. Naysmith: To ask the President of the Council what progress has been made in setting up the regional Standing Committee. [136379]

Mrs. Beckett: I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Clark) on 14 November 2000, Official Report, column 799.

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Portcullis House

Mr. Dismore: To ask the Chairman of the Accommodation and Works Committee if he will make a statement on progress of the commissioning of Portcullis House. [136367]

Sir Sydney Chapman: The first hon. Member moved into the building on 11 September and of the 210 Members' offices over 180 have now been occupied. It is expected that all moves will be completed this month.

As I indicated in the answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) on 31 October 2000, Official Report, column 352W, the overwhelming response from hon. Members and their staff has been very positive, welcoming the ambience and good working facilities provided in the building.

The Vote Office, Post Office and Serjeant at Arms Service desk opened in time for the return of the House after the summer adjournment. The meeting and conference rooms were also available, and the Select Committee rooms are now operational.

The e-Library has been handed over to that Department and should be operational by the State Opening.

The Refreshment Department's accommodation was handed over on 6 November. I understand that after a period to move in their stock and equipment and conduct staff training, the Department hopes to open "the adjournment" brasserie and "the debate" self service restaurant in time for the State Opening. The refreshment service to the first floor meeting rooms will start operating on a trial basis this week with a view to starting a full operation by 4 December.

Public Tours (Summer Adjournment)

Mr. Pike: To ask the Chairman of the Administration Committee what assessment she has made of the operation of arrangements for public tours during the summer adjournment. [136365]

Mrs. Roe: A report by the Visitor Manager on the results of the trial opening to visitors from 7 August to 16 September was considered by my Committee at its meeting on 7 November, together with the results of a visitor satisfaction survey conducted by the University of Greenwich Business School. The Committee was pleased, and encouraged, to note that visitor satisfaction level with both the guided tour itself and the performance of the tour guides was exceptionally high. Visitors felt very strongly, and were very positive, about the importance of continuing to offer public tours during the summer recess. My Committee will be considering our draft Report, which, when agreed, will be put before the House for its consideration shortly. I understand a similar assessment of the trial opening is being carried out by the relevant Committee of the House of Lords.

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Mr. Streeter: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development if she will list the Government Departments she is funding in Malawi and the amount funded in each case. [136643]

Clare Short: We do not fund individual Departments directly. We support a number of sectoral programmes, each of which may be sponsored by one or more Departments. Our approach to this, in common with other donors, is set out in the Departmental Report 2000 (CM4610, e.g. page 14, page 93), a copy of which is in the Library of the House.

Education Programmes

Mr. Cox: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what action she is taking to encourage Third World countries which benefit from debt relief to use such benefits to develop education programmes for young people. [137383]

Clare Short: The reason for debt relief is to assist on poverty reduction. The country-led approach to development embodied in the Poverty Reduction Strategy Programmes (PRSP) process provides a framework for allocating all Government resources, including savings from debt relief and development assistance, so that they make maximum impact on poverty. Investing in education is vitally important for development and poverty reduction. Achieving universal primary education by 2015 is one of the International Development Targets. We and others have repeatedly made it clear that real progress will only be achieved and sustained if education, and basic education in particular, is given the priority it deserves within PRSPs. Since May 1997 we have committed over £400 million to helping Governments in developing countries to put in place sustainable education systems able to provide high-quality primary education to all their children. We will do more.

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