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Mr. Wigley: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, pursuant to his answer of 29 January 2001, Official Report, column 9W, on driving licences, what discretion (a) he and (b) the DVLA has to waive the two year rule regarding the period during which a test pass certificate is valid as the basis for the issuing of a full driving licence. 
Mr. Hill: Neither the Secretary of State, nor the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, has any discretion to waive the two year validity period for a driving test pass certificate. This period is fixed by section 89(1)(a) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (as amended by the Road Traffic (Driver Licensing and Information System) Act 1989).
The practical test pass certificate carries a clear warning to candidates that they should change the certificate for a full licence within two years of the date of the test; otherwise they will lose the entitlement.
Miss Geraldine Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (1) what measures he is taking to improve the availability of social housing in rural areas; 
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We have set a target to bring all social housing up to a decent standard by 2010. This target will be delivered through a range of investment options available to local authorities and through a significant increase in resources for housing. An extra £1.8 billion is being made available over the next three years to improve existing stock and provide new affordable housing.
In our recent housing policy statement "The way forward for housing" we have set out a range of proposals to tackle poor conditions in the private sector. These will give local authorities more flexibility to help poorer home owners with repairs to their homes and make it easier for them to target interventions on concentrations of poor condition stock in the private sector.
This strategy includes ensuring the housing needs of rural areas are properly assessed and planned for in local housing strategies. We have significantly increased resources for delivering new affordable housing, by nearly doubling the Housing Corporation's Approved Development Programme with an extra £872 million over the next three years. We will double the number of affordable homes provided through the Housing Corporation's rural programme in settlements of less than 3,000 people over the next three years.
We are also encouraging local authorities to fund new social housing in rural areas where there is high demand, using additional resources allocated to them. We want local authorities to make greater use of their planning powers to negotiate the provision of affordable housing as part of new private housing developments.
Mr. Wigley: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what steps he is taking to ensure the compatibility of planning legislation in Wales and England with European legislation and with the Human Rights Act 1998. 
Ms Beverley Hughes: I refer to the response by my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning to a question from the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) on 19 December 2000, Official Report, column 119W. The judgment of the divisional court has been appealed. The appeal will be heard in the House of Lords on 26 February.
Ms Beverley Hughes: We have consulted on a revision to Planning Policy Guidance Note 13: Transport. Work on the final version of the guidance is at an advanced stage and we intend to publish it as soon as possible.
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to issue a planning policy statement to clarify the approach that the Government expect local authorities to take towards farm diversification proposals. 
Mr. Raynsford: My Department published today a consultation document on the revised draft of Planning Policy Guidance Note (PPG) 25 "Development and flood risk". The Government have revised the original consultation draft published in April 2000 to take account of consultation responses, lessons from the floods and the Second Report of the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee "Development on, or affecting, the flood plain", which was published on 20 December 2000.
The revision toughens and sharpens the precautionary risk-based focus of the original draft and we feel it necessary, therefore, to seek views from the interested parties before finalising the PPG. This consultation is being conducted in accordance with the Government's January 2001 "Code of practice for written consultation" over a shorter period of four weeks, rather than the standard 12 weeks. The reasons for the shorter consultation period are that this is an urgent matter, on which new guidance is required without delay, and that a full initial round of consultation has already been carried out. The revised draft substantially reflects the Select Committee report. The Government have concluded that, in the light of continuing experience with major flooding, and in line with the views of the Select Committee, the final text should be issued as soon as is consistent with consulting on the important changes to the previous draft.
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The Government are committed to monitoring the implementation and effectiveness of the new guidance when it is issued through the MAFF high-level targets and the relevant Government statistics. They are also committed to reviewing the impact of the guidance on development three years after its publication and with particular reference to the latest information about climate change.
I am also considering the possibility of a Flooding Direction, which would ensure that the views of the Environment Agency on flood risk are properly considered. However, I propose to wait before consulting on such a Direction until the compatibility of the Secretary of State's call-in power with the Human Rights Act 1995 has been considered by the House of Lords within the next few months, on appeal from a number of decisions by the High Court in December 2000.
The experience of the last few months has demonstrated the costs to all parties of development being located in vulnerable areas. Flood risk has to be taken more seriously, particularly since climate change is likely to increase the scale and frequency of flooding in the future. A proper consideration of flood risk requires the stronger and tougher guidance on which we are now consulting. As part of the consultation, we will be seeking views on the regulatory impact and the costs and benefits of implementing this guidance.
Ms Beverley Hughes: It is vital that the planning system be open and transparent if it is to command public confidence. It needs to encourage the positive involvement of local people and others in the process and ensure that high standards of probity are maintained.
Through our "Modernising Planning" programme we are taking a range of initiatives to promote these objectives--for example, through improvements to the arrangements for preparation of regional planning guidance and development plans, through the introduction of Best Value, and in our forthcoming proposals on planning obligations.
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The Government endorse the Local Government Association's "Probity in Planning", which recommends the practices and procedures which local authorities' codes of conduct should cover to ensure propriety in decision-making.
Mr. Ben Chapman: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what arrangements his Department has for examining the codes of conduct prepared by local authorities. 
Ms Beverley Hughes: At present councillors are guided by the National Code of Local Government Conduct as set out in DOE Circular 8/90. Part III of the Local Government Act 2000 provides for the replacement of the national code by a new statutory model code of conduct. This will contain mandatory provisions which must be included by councils in codes of conduct that they will be required to adopt. Once adopted, councils' codes of conduct will be subject to the scrutiny of a new independent body--the Standards Board for England--which will be able to investigate breaches of a council's code by its members.
Mr. Ben Chapman: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what plans he has to monitor the observance of planning codes of conduct by individual local authorities. 
Ms Beverley Hughes: We have no current plans to do so. However, the Government endorse the Local Government Association's "Probity in Planning" which recommends the practices and procedures which local authorities' planning codes of conduct should cover. This advises that failure to follow its recommendations without good reason could be taken into account in investigations of maladministration, either by the Local Government Ombudsman or a council's internal investigation of a complaint, and have implications for the standing of councillors and professional officers.
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