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28 Oct 2002 : Column 515W—continued

Killyleagh Traffic Measures

Iris Robinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (1) what progress has been made with the construction of traffic calming measures at Frederick Street and Braeside Gardens in Killyleagh; [77079]

Mr. Paul Murphy: The subject matters raised are a matter for the Roads Agency. I have asked the Chief Executive to reply directly to the hon. Lady. A copy of the letter will be placed in the Library.

Selective Schools

Mr. Brady: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the future of selective schools in Northern Ireland. [75227]

Jane Kennedy: Extensive consultation on the Burns Report has demonstrated almost universal support for abolition of the Transfer Tests and a predominant view that academic selection should be ended although there was also substantial opposition to this proposal. In light of the views expressed the Department of Education will be meeting with key education partners to build on that consensus and develop new post-primary arrangements that are fair, enable all children to reach their full potential and provide a modern education system for the 21st century.


Affordable Housing

Martin Linton: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what action he has taken to address the housing

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shortage for (a) key workers and (b) tenants of registered social landlords in overcrowded accommodation in Battersea. [76229]

Mr. McNulty: The Government are very aware of the need to provide more good quality affordable housing for both workers and social housing tenants in Battersea and other parts of London.

By 2003–04 #482 million of the #1.2 billion funding from the Housing Corporation's Approved Development Programme will go directly to London projects. The Challenge Fund of #200 million is also being targeted on the south-east to increase supply. I expect London to get a significant proportion of this.

#146 million of the #250 million funding dedicated through the starter home initiative has also been allocated to London schemes. We expect about 4,600 nurses, teachers, police and other key workers to benefit as a result.

The Government Office for London and the Housing Corporation are working with local authorities to increase the delivery of affordable housing across London. They will encourage and support innovative schemes maximising the potential for redevelopment of local authority and other public sector assets for affordable housing; achieve improvements in planning performance; and identify and get action on blockages to the speedy delivery of sites for affordable housing.

The Government are aware of concerns that the current overcrowding standards need updating as they date from the Housing Act 1935 and have not been revised since then. We are considering the best way to tackle the problem.

Local Government Boundaries

Mr. Don Foster: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister by what date he expects the publication of the final recommendations of the Boundary Committee in respect of the periodic ward boundary review for the Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council; by what date he expects the recommendations to be implemented; and if he will make a statement. [76282]

Mr. Leslie: These are now matters for the independent Electoral Commission, to which the periodic electoral reviews functions of the former Local Government Commission for England and of the Secretary of State were transferred by the Local Government Commission for England (Transfer of Functions) Order 2001 (S.I. 2001/3962).

Empty Homes

Mr. Love: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what evaluation he has made of the introduction of a compulsory leasing scheme for derelict empty properties; and if he will make a statement. [77104]

Mr. McNulty: The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is currently evaluating the recommendation to allow local authorities to compulsorily lease empty homes put forward in the report by the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Select Committee on Empty Homes. A statement will be made in due course.

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Mr. Andrew Love: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what plans he has to strengthen the powers of (a) local authorities and (b) registered social landlords compulsorily to purchase empty properties; and if he will make a statement. [77105]

Mr. McNulty: The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has no plans to strengthen existing powers to compulsorily purchase empty properties.

Mr. Love: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what plans he has to enhance the power of local authorities to deal with derelict empty properties; and if he will make a statement. [77394]

Mr. McNulty: The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is considering a range of measures to assist local authorities in dealing with empty homes. A statement will be made in due course.

English Partnerships

Peter Bradley: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister (1) when decisions will be made as to which and when non-strategic sites will be transferred from English Partnerships to local authorities; [76774]

Mr. McNulty: These issues will be addressed in the Government's forthcoming response to the House of Commons Transport, Local Government Committee's report XThe New Towns: Their Problems and Future". I will write to my hon. Friend again when we publish our response.

Firefighters' Strike

Mr. Jenkin: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what the inventory is of green goddess fire engines; and how many are operational. [76376]

Mr. Leslie: The green goddess fleet numbers 1,027 in total. Of the 945 currently in issue and under the Ministry of Defence control, around 98 per cent. were operational as at 21 October.

Focus Group Research

Mr. Allen: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what use he and his Department have made of focus group research since June 2001; if he will identify for each research project the topics covered, the person or organisation carrying out the research, and the total cost; and if he will publish the research on his Department's website. [74995]

Mr. Leslie: Focus group research forms an element of a number of projects that come within the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister research programmes. This is

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not always costed separately and the conclusions of focus groups are incorporated into the final research reports.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has used focus groups research with members of the general public to help inform and develop the fire safety publicity campaign covering Careless Smoking, Fire Action Plan, Excuses Kill, and Smoke Alarms.

Research projects were carried out by Andrew Irving, Cragg Ross Dawson and the COI; the sums paid to each contractor for individual pieces of work are regarded as commercial in confidence. The overall spend on focus group research for the fire safety campaign since June 2001 is #69,481.

Specific focus group data are not published on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister website as they form part of a wide range of information and research used to inform public safety campaigns.

Local Elections

Ms Coffey: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will make a statement about the timing of local elections in England in 2004. [78132]

Mr. Raynsford: We want to see a modern, efficient electoral system, so that voting for all electors is as convenient and as straightforward as possible. We are therefore concerned that in 2004 many electors are being asked to vote on two separate occasions within the space of five weeks. Firstly, in local council elections or elections for the London Mayor and Assembly on 6 May, and secondly, for the European Parliament on 10 June.

As a result, I am, along with the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), who is responsible for European Parliamentary elections in England and Wales, launching today a consultation document inviting views on our proposal to postpone the English local elections and the Greater London Authority elections from Thursday 6 May 2004 to Thursday 10 June 2004, the same day as the European Parliamentary election.

In this consultation we are seeking views on the practical issues that would arise from making this change. We are also seeking views on the option of weekend voting. We are seeking views by January 2003. I am placing a copy of this document in the Library of the House.

We would need primary legislation to make this change. We are therefore considering introducing a clause in the proposed Local Government Bill, which would allow us to change the date of the 2004 local and GLA elections by means of Statutory Instrument. Subject to the outcome of our consultation, and to Parliament's approval of the necessary legislation, our aim would be to put in place any postponement of the 2004 local and GLA elections by autumn 2003.

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We are considering separately whether the programme of election pilots such as voting by the internet, by phone, or by all-postal voting should go ahead in full in 2004, were we to move the local and GLA elections to coincide with the European Parliamentary elections. We intend to reach a firm conclusion on this in good time, taking into account that any piloting in such combined elections would require separate primary legislation.

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