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20 Nov 2002 : Column 119W—continued

Housing Standards

15. Mr. Tony Clarke: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his plans to introduce legislation to improve housing standards and standards of management of private rented accommodation. [81553]

Mr. McNulty: As announced in the Queen's Speech last week, the Government intend to publish a draft Housing Bill this session. The Bill will make clear our commitment to introduce the mandatory licensing of houses in multiple occupation, the selective licensing of landlords in areas of low housing demand and replace the existing housing fitness regime with the evidence-based Housing Health and Safety Rating System. Taken together this provides a package of measures that targets poor property condition and management

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standards in the parts of the private rented sector which accommodate some of the most vulnerable in our society.

Additionally, this Bill will demonstrate how we intend to make the home buying and selling process more transparent and certain, and so reduce the stress and expense suffered by hundreds of thousands of consumers each year when home sales fall through or are delayed.

Climate Change

16. John Robertson: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will make a statement on climate change talks he has held since July. [81556]

The Deputy Prime Minister: I have raised climate change issues in a number of meetings with senior international figures. My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Margaret Beckett) represents the UK in international climate change negotiations.

Empty Homes

17. Mr. Kidney: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what initiatives he intends to take to reduce the number of empty homes in England. [81557]

Mr. McNulty: The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is taking forward the recommendations of the Select Committee on Empty Homes report of March 2002. We are working to provide local authorities with effective powers and guidance to enable them to reduce the number of long-term empty homes in England and maximise opportunities to convert commercial property.

Mr. Edward Davey: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister (1) what plans he has to update the Revised Guidance on Securing the Better Use of Empty Homes, issued in July 1999; [81938]

Mr. McNulty: We have not issued any updated material since the Revised Guidance was issued, but we plan to issue a new version early next year.

Social Exclusion Unit

18. Mr. Lazarowicz : To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the work programme of the Social Exclusion Unit. [81558]

Mrs. Roche: The SEU is contributing to the ODPM's aim to create thriving, inclusive, sustainable communities, with current projects looking at:

Mr right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister will decide on any new projects in due course.

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Regional Government

19. Mr. George Osborne: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what estimate he has made of the cost of establishing an elected North West Regional Assembly. [81559]

Mr. Raynsford: The costs of establishing elected regional assemblies will vary from region to region, mainly due to the different sizes of their electorates, but we expect them all to fall into a range of around #15million to #30 million a region, including the costs of a referendum and of the first assembly elections. The North West is likely to fall towards the upper end of this range.

Local Authorities (Taxation)

20. Mr. Goodman: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what plans his Department has to grant local authorities more power to raise taxation. [81560]

Mr. Leslie: I refer the hon. Member to the answer given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) on 16 July 2002, Official Report, column 236W. We also announced yesterday that we will be granting local authorities new powers to restrict council tax discounts on second homes and long-term empty properties.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how many representations his Department has received from Eddisbury constituency residents about local government funding in the last 12 months; and if he will make a statement on the arguments in those representations. [81033]

Mr. Raynsford: The county of Cheshire is one of the constituent authorities of the F40 education funding campaign, from whom a very large number of letters were received as part of the recent consultation on local government grant distribution. Our records show that five letters have been received directly from residents of Eddisbury constituency in the last 12 months.

British-Irish Council

22. Kevin Brennan: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the future programme of the British-Irish Council. [81562]

The Deputy Prime Minister: I will be leading the UK delegation to the next British-Irish Council summit in New Lanark, Scotland on 22 November. The Government remain fully committed to the Council.

Boundary Commission

23. David Taylor: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what Boundary Commission reviews are planned ahead of the referendums on regional assemblies. [81565]

Mr. Raynsford: If the Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill introduced in the House on 14 November 2002 is enacted, we intend to direct the Boundary Commission to undertake local government reviews of existing two-tier local government arrangements in those regions where there is deemed to be interest in holding a referendum on an elected

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regional assembly. The committee would be required to recommend the unitary structure that it considered most appropriate for the area.

Census Data

24. Andrew Bennett: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will make a statement about use of Census data in setting next year's council budgets. [81566]

Mr. Leslie: We distribute grant in support of local authority expenditure by means of a formula that uses the best available data. The Registrar General has advised that the 2001 Census provides the most accurate possible census result. We therefore expect to use population data from the 2001 Census in the grant formula for 2003–04.

Fire Dispute

25. Mr. Win Griffiths: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what progress has been made in solving the firefighters' dispute. [81567]

Mr. Raynsford: Informal discussions took place yesterday involving the FBU and the Deputy Prime Minister, and the FBU and the Local Government Employers. The Local Government Employers are ready to talk, and we urge the FBU to return to formal negotiations.

Michael Fabricant: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how many Green Goddess fire engines and associated equipment will be in Staffordshire during the firefighters' industrial dispute; and where they will be deployed. [81051]

Mr. Raynsford: Emergency cover in Staffordshire is currently planned to consist of 12 Green Goddesses, five breathing apparatus teams (BARTs), and one rescue team equipped with specialist equipment (a REST), manned by military personnel. The contingency arrangements also effect thousands of the police, NHS and local authority staff. The table sets out where the Green Goddesses, BARTs and RESTs will be based.

LocationNumber of Green GoddessesNumber of BARTs


The REST will be based at Stafford

The provision of Ministry of Defence emergency fire cover has been planned in consultation with the Chief Fire Officer to minimise call-out response times and maximise the availability of a range of firefighting capabilities.

The command and operational structure for emergency fire cover has been designed to enable maximum flexibility and use of available resources, whether from within a county or from assets deployed nearby in neighbouring counties. The deployment of firefighters will be based on the assessment of how best to respond to an emergency in the quickest time possible. The deployment will be kept under review.

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British Summer Time

Bob Russell: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will extend the British summer time arrangement to operate throughout the year; and if he will make a statement. [80753]

Alan Johnson: I have been asked to reply.

There are no plans to extend British summer time throughout the year. The start and end dates of summer time are harmonised across EC member states through a European Directive. The Directive stipulates that, in each member state, clocks are put forward annually by one hour during the period between the last Sunday in March and the last Sunday in October.

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