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Mr. Wiggin: To ask the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, on behalf of the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission what plans the Commission has to review legislation regarding financial contributions to political parties. 
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Mr. Beith: I understand from the Chairman that the Electoral Commission will be launching this summer a review of the funding of political parties, which will examine a number of issues including the capping of donations. The Commission is also undertaking a review of the operation of the financial regulatory framework set out in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, and a separate review of the policy development grants scheme that it administers.
Mr. Stinchcombe: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what statutory powers are vested in (a) local housing authorities, (b) local social services authorities and (c) other authorities to offer financial assistance to intentionally homeless families with a child in order to secure for that child a permanent home with his or her family. 
Mr. McNulty: Under section 190(2)(b) of the Housing Act 1996, local housing authorities have a duty to ensure that applicants who are eligible for assistance, intentionally homeless and who have dependant children are provided with advice and assistance in any attempts they may make to secure accommodation for themselves. Advice and assistance may include the provision of financial assistance.
Where the child is a child in need solely as a result of family homelessness the social services authority can assist the family to obtain accommodation, possibly by providing temporary accommodation or a rent deposit, if they consider that this is the best way of meeting his needs.
Under section 2 of the Local Government Act 2000, local authorities have a power to promote the economic, social or environmental well-being of their area, which includes a power to give financial assistance. If the authority chooses, the power in section 2 can be exercised for the benefit of individuals in the area. This power does not apply where an activity is prohibited by other legislation.
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The Government have introduced an amendment to the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill, currently being considered by Parliament, that will curtail the support that local authorities can provide to certain categories of new arrivals in the UK who seek support.
Clive Efford: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister (1) what discussions he has had with the Department of Trade and Industry regarding the need to maintain sub-post offices in deprived urban areas; and if he will make a statement; 
Mr. McNulty: The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has been working closely with the Department of Trade and Industry to develop a scheme to maintain sub-post offices in deprived urban areas. In particular ring-fenced funding of £15 million has been set aside to support a fund that is being set up to contribute to practical measures to improve and modernise post office premises in deprived urban areas.
Virginia Bottomley: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what assessment he has made of the degree to which cost of living elements are adequately weighted in the local government funding formula; and by what mechanism sparsity and rurality elements are included in the present mechanism. 
Mr. Raynsford: The cost of living is allowed for within the local government grant distribution system by the Area Cost Adjustment. We are currently consulting on options for a new grant distribution formula, and this includes a range of alternatives to the existing Area Cost Adjustment. We will be carefully considering all the views that are put to us during the consultation period before making a final assessment on the best way forward.
In the existing formula, sparsity and rurality are reflected by using a population sparsity indicator that reflects the number of hectares per capita in each authority. This indicator is used in the current formulae for education, elderly domiciliary social services, police and environmental, protective and cultural services. Full details are in the Local Government Finance Report that we publish each year, and which is available in the Libraries of the House.
Mr. Gummer: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how he will ensure that the new financial system for local authorities will provide an effective framework within which councils can initiate innovative ways of delivering customer-food services. 
Mr. Raynsford: Our comprehensive agenda for reform of the local government finance system was set out in last December's White Paper "Strong Local leadershipQuality Public Services". Our finance reforms will give councils more space to innovate in all areas of service delivery by providing local authorities with greater freedom to borrow, invest, trade, charge and set spending priorities.
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Mr. Raynsford: The implementation plan which we issued, following the publication of the 2001 White Paper "Strong Local Leadership, quality Public Services" indicated that we would be reviewing the local authority access to information regime from June 2002. Officials have now begun discussions with the Information Commissioner, the Local Government Association and others to identify key issues for analysis in the review.
We intend, as the next step, to publish during the summer a policy paper to examine the key issues involved, including the future implications for the local government sector of the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The paper will seek to identify practical issues which local authorities are now facing and invite views, in particular from councils, the Local Government Association and the Campaign for Freedom of Information, on the issues discussed and to come forward with examples of good practice. We will place copies of the policy paper the House Library.
We plan to continue working with the Local Government Association, the Information Commissioner and others to secure the most sound and practical implementation by local government of the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. We want to link this with a streamlining of the current access to information requirements to maintain and re-enforce the culture of openness and transparency which is essential to effective, democratic local government.
Mr. Raynsford: My Department issued a consultation paper on 20 May, setting out a proposed framework within which the Standards Board for England would refer certain allegations of misconduct for local investigation and determination by standards committees. We have received around 1,000 responses to that consultation which we are now considering carefully. We intend in October, having had regard to these responses, to make regulations putting in place a regime for local investigation and determination of misconduct allegations.
Mr. Beith: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what the cost was of publishing his Department's annual report and those of the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions in each of the past five years; and if he will provide a breakdown of the costs incurred. 
Mr. Raynsford: Before June 2002, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister was part of the Cabinet Office, and its expenditure and work were therefore not separately reported. The Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions was created in June 2001, from the former Department of the Environment,
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Transport and the Regions (DETR). The publication costs of the DETR Annual Reports for 19982000 can be identified only at disproportionate cost; those for the 200001 report were approximately £5,200. The final publication costs for the DTLR report for 200102, which was published last month are not yet known. I will write to the right hon. Member with the details when they are available.
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