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Development Plans

Angela Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions when he expects to publish new guidance on the preparation of development plans. [102904]

Mr. Raynsford: Following the public consultation on a draft earlier this year, I have today published a revision of Planning Policy Guidance note 12--Development

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Plans (PPG12). This sets out new procedures to improve the delivery of development plans in England. PPG12 provides a strategic overview of the role and importance of development plans within the planning system. It stresses the need for plans to be prepared and up-dated more quickly and efficiently; emphasises that plans should be clear and succinct; and highlights the importance of integrating sustainable development and transport with land-use policies in development plans.

As a further measure to improve the delivery of development plans, Town and Country Planning (Development Plan) (England) Regulations 1999 have been laid before Parliament today, and are due to come into force on 4 January. These regulations will provide a statutory framework for the new development plan procedures. In addition, my Department has published two new codes of practice for the public explaining the procedures for both structure plans, and for local plans and Unitary Development Plans.

This package of measures to improve the delivery of development plans confirms the Government's commitment to the plan led system and is an important step towards our objective of modernising planning. I have arranged for copies of PPG12 and the codes of practice to be placed in the House Libraries.

Housing Corporation

Dr. Palmer: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will make a statement about the forthcoming Finance Management and Policy Review of the Housing Corporation. [102973]

Mr. Raynsford: As part of the Government's programme of regular five-yearly finance, management and policy reviews of non-departmental public bodies my Department will conduct a thorough review of the Housing Corporation beginning today. The first stage of the review will take the form of a "prior options" study. This will assess the extent to which the Housing Corporation's functions are necessary for the achievement of the Government's policies, and whether there is scope for contracting out or transferring all or part of its functions to another body.

The progress made by the Housing Corporation since the previous review in 1995 will be examined and the results of that examination and of the prior options study will inform a detailed review of the Housing Corporation's policy and financial management systems. The review will look particularly at the effectiveness of the Corporation's regulatory framework for registered social landlords, its arrangements for making informed decisions on investment in social housing and ways of stimulating improved performance in the registered social landlord sector.

To minimise the uncertainty the prior options study will cause, I expect that study will be completed in April 2000 and the conclusions published shortly afterwards. The time required for the more detailed review cannot be foreseen, but I would expect it to be complete by autumn 2000 followed by publication of the conclusions.

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An advisory group including members from bodies with an interest in the Housing Corporation's work has been set up and the Department will be seeking the views of a wide range of bodies which deal with the Housing Corporation.

Drink Driving

Mr. Alexander: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (1) if he will make a statement on the number of reported incidents there were of drink driving in the last 12 months, broken down by region; [101916]

Mr. Charles Clarke: I have been asked to reply.

Statistics of screening breath tests and the number positive or refused are published annually in "British Test Statistics, England and Wales", a Home Office Statistical Bulletin. The 1998 edition, Issue 16/99, was published on 9 September 1999, and contains figures for each police force area. Figures for each month of the year are also shown, December being the nearest to the Christmas and the new year period in the statistics held centrally. (The Association of Chief Police Officers has continued to monitor this period, but in recent years only in terms of tests given after collisions).

Figures for 1999 are not yet available.

A copy of the bulletin referred to is in the Library.


Council Tax Benefit

Mr. Coleman: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) when the consultants' review on the impact of the introduction of the changes to Council Tax Benefit Regulations will be published; and if he will make a statement; [101040]

Angela Eagle: In March 1999 we commissioned independent researchers to monitor the effects of the Council Tax Benefit (CTB) restriction introduced in April 1998. Because of the complexities of the research involving a small, tightly specified group of CTB claims and their corresponding council tax accounts and the interrogation of two IT systems, we began with a feasibility study. In July 1999 we decided that there was just enough evidence to suggest that local authorities (LAs) would be able to provide us with the required information to assess whether the research was practical.

We originally approached 55 local authorities with a view of obtaining data from 40. However, so far we have only received data from 22 authorities, and in some cases these are partial data. On the whole, participating LAs have sought to co-operate but have encountered difficulties and delays in extracting usable data. Currently we do not have enough data of sufficient quality to carry out reliable analyses. Therefore, we are planning to write

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again to the 33 local authorities who have not yet provided data to ask them to help us. At this stage, therefore, we cannot be precise about the research and publication details.

Participation in social research conducted on behalf of the Department is entirely voluntary; this applies to individuals and organisations. In order to encourage involvement and ensure as representative a picture as possible, we protect the confidentiality of respondents. As we provide a contractual assurance that participants, including local authorities in this case, will not be identified, we cannot list the names of authorities which have taken part in the review of the impact of changes to the Council Tax Benefit Regulations. However, individual local authorities may choose to indicate they have participated.

Housing Benefit

Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make a statement on his proposals to reform Housing Benefit. [102094]

Angela Eagle: We are committed to driving forward improvements in the benefit services authorities provide, so that they are faster, more accurate and more secure, while also achieving value for money and taking account of the views and needs of local people.

We are already working towards this aim. For example we have introduced a regime which requires more rigorous verification and checking, (including a legal requirement which involves establishing a person's identity). In addition, over 200 local authorities have already joined the Royal Mail "Do Not Redirect" scheme, to prevent fraudulent claimants submitting benefit claims from false addresses.

From next April the Best Value regime will be introduced. This will drive up standards of service delivery in local authorities through a series of challenging targets against key areas of performance.

We will present further proposals for reform of the Housing Benefit scheme in a Green Paper in due course. This will further tackle the weaknesses of the system we inherited.


Miss Kirkbride: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what plans he has to allow personal pension fund holders to purchase fixed-term annuities as an alternative to life annuities. [102188]

Mr. Rooker: There are no plans to allow personal pension fund holders to purchase fixed term annuities as an alternative to life annuities. An essential feature of a pension is that it provides a guaranteed income for the rest of the pensioner's life. A fixed term annuity would not achieve this and would run the risk of leaving pensioners without any source of income in their later years.

Family Credit

Mr. Wigley: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what is the entitlement period for family credit payments; and if payments are made (i) in arrears or (ii) in advance of an entitlement period. [102493]

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Angela Eagle: Family Credit benefit weeks run from Tuesday to Monday. If the date of the claim is a Tuesday, entitlement begins then. Otherwise, entitlement begins on the first Tuesday following the date of claim. The entitlement period is for 26 weeks. There are two main methods of payment, Automated Credit Transfer (ACT) and order book.

ACT payment is made in arrears on the last working day in each four-week period for the duration of the 26 week period. Payment by order book payment is made weekly in arrears each Tuesday.

Working Families Tax Credit, which is administered by the Inland Revenue, replaced Family Credit from 5 October 1999. It has the same entitlement period.

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