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Container Ports

Dr. Julian Lewis: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will make a statement about anticipated increases in container port capacity in Harwich, Felixstowe and on the Shell Haven site in Essex. [157108]

Mr. Hill: The three cases, and any others, are or are likely to be subject to formal public inquiries before they are decided by the Secretary of State. On the general question of container port capacity, I refer to my answer to the hon. Member on 13 February 2001, Official Report, column 141.

Half-fare Scheme

Mr. Rapson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions when men aged over 60 years will be able to benefit from the national half-fare scheme. [157199]

Mr. Hill: As soon as we are able to amend the relevant legislation, which currently links entitlement to travel concessions to the state pension age.

24 Apr 2001 : Column: 207W

Bus Lanes

Dr. Tonge: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what plans he has to allow licensed minicabs to use bus lanes. [158748]

Mr. Hill: It is for the relevant highway authority, usually the local authority, to decide what classes of vehicles, if any, other than buses should be allowed to use bus lanes.

My Department provides guidance for local authorities on bus priority measures in Local Transport Note 1-97 "Keeping Buses Moving". The use of bus lanes by licensed minicabs is not recommended. When a wide range of vehicles are allowed access, enforcement can be more difficult and the benefits to buses reduced. In particular, where licensed minicabs do not have obvious features to identify them as minicabs, it is difficult to distinguish them from private cars and this can encourage more widespread violation as other cars follow them into a bus lane.

Local highway authorities would need to consider these issues, in liaison with the police, in deciding whether to allow licensed minicabs to use a particular bus lane.

London Underground

Mr. Wilkinson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he intends Transport for London to assume full responsibility for London Underground before 7 June. [157182]

Mr. Hill: It is the Government's intention to transfer London Underground to the control of Transport for London once the framework is in place to deliver the massive long-term investment that the Underground requires. Our view is that the best way to do this is through the PPP. London Underground is making every effort to conclude the PPP as speedily as possible, consistent with the paramount requirement to maintain and improve safety and deliver best value, but it will be some months before contracts can be signed.

Environmental Health Inspectors

Mr. Alan Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions how many full-time equivalent staff have been employed as environmental health inspectors in British (a) airports and (b) ports in each of the last 10 years. [157032]

Ms Stuart: I have been asked to reply.

Responsibility for employing environmental health officers at airports and ports rests with the local authorities which have responsibilities for the ports' health work. The number of enforcement officers is determined by the local authorities. The numbers of such officers are not held centrally and could be provided only at disproportionate cost.

Electricity Demand

Mr. Gibb: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what assumptions have been used for growth in electricity demand in table 1 on page 53 of the Climate Change, The UK Programme. [157606]

24 Apr 2001 : Column: 208W

Mr. Hain: I have been asked to reply.

The energy projections which underlie the UK's Climate Change Programme were published as Energy Paper 68 in November 2000. Energy Paper 68 presents baseline energy demand projections. These do not take account of measures set out in the Climate Change Programme.

The growth in electricity demand between 2000 and 2010 is projected to be around 1 per cent. per annum, before taking account of measures in the Climate Change Programme. Further details are given in chapter 5 of Energy Paper 68. Energy Paper 68 is available in the Library of the House.


Basic State Pension

Mr. Hurst: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will estimate the cost to the Treasury of uprating the basic state pension by (a) £5 per week for a single pensioner and (b) £8 per week for a pensioner couple. [158765]

Mr. Rooker: I refer my hon. Friend to the written answer I gave to the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) on 30 January 2001, Official Report, columns 138-39W.

Council Tax

Ms Harman: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what the percentage was of average income paid in Council Tax by Londoners (a) in 1996 and (b) on the latest date for which figures are available. [157894]

Angela Eagle [holding answer 10 April 2001]: The information that is available is as follows:

Average net Council Tax bill as a percentage of average gross household income

London (per cent.)


1. The source of the data in the table is the Family Resources Survey (Great Britain). The latest year for which data are available is 1999-2000.

2. For the purposes of this analysis, Council Tax is taken to be net of Council Tax discount and any deductions to the bill resulting from the receipt of Council Tax Benefit.

3. Those households who do not pay Council Tax (such as students) have not been included in this analysis.

4. The estimates are based on sample counts, which have been adjusted for non-response using grossing factors that control for region, Council Tax band, tenure and a number of demographic variables. Estimates are subject to sampling error and to variability in non-response.

5. Estimates of the size of small changes between one year and another, as shown in the table, may be particularly vulnerable to estimating error.

6. All percentages have been rounded to the nearest 0.1 per cent.

Housing Benefit

Mr. Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will list the contractors for each London borough who are responsible for the administration of

24 Apr 2001 : Column: 209W

Housing Benefit; how many complaints have been received in the past year about each contractor; and what inspections he has authorised. [158653]

Angela Eagle [holding answer 23 April 2001]: The administration of Housing Benefit is the responsibility of local authorities, regardless of whether or not it is contracted out.

From May, we will be collecting information on local authorities who contract out Housing Benefit work.

The following table represents, to the best of our current knowledge, the London boroughs that currently contract out this work and the contractors (two are in-house). The table also shows the number of written complaints we have received about the contracting-out of the administration of Housing Benefit in these boroughs, but not all specifically mention the contractor.

London boroughContractorNumber of complaints
EalingVertex Datasciences Ltd.0
Tower HamletsIn-house0
Waltham ForestICL1

We also received two complaints relating to the administration of Housing Benefit in Hackney by ITNet (the contract was terminated on 31 March 2001).

All of the boroughs in the table except Bexley and Hounslow have been inspected by the Benefits Fraud Inspectorate (BFI). These inspections were undertaken as part of a programme of inspections in England, Scotland and Wales which included local authorities which have contracted-out the administration of Housing Benefit and those which have not.

Child Support Agency

Mr. Hurst: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what plans his Department has to introduce a more rigorous assessment procedure on the part of the Child Support Agency. [158125]

Angela Eagle: Our reforms of the child support system will make both assessment and collection procedures more clearly focused on the needs of children and their parents--and on ensuring that maintenance due becomes maintenance paid. We intend to introduce the reformed scheme for new cases by April 2002, with existing cases transferring once the new system is shown to be working well.

24 Apr 2001 : Column: 210W

Stakeholder Pensions

Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will place in the Library a copy of his Department's research on businesses' understanding of stakeholder pensions which he referred to on BBC Radio on 6 April. [158686]

Mr. Darling: The 2000 Survey of Employers' Pension Provision commissioned by the Department will be completed and published later this year. However, initial findings into employer awareness of stakeholder pensions show that 90 per cent. of firms with more than 12 employees were aware of stakeholder pensions, 60 per cent. of firms with between five and 12 employees were aware, as were more than 50 per cent. of firms with fewer than five employees.

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