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Lady Hermon: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many people in Northern Ireland are waiting for treatment with Remicade; and how many of these people have been waiting (a) less than six months, (b) between six and 12 months, (c) between 12 and 18 months, (d) between 18 and 24 months and (e) longer than 24 months. [144387]

Angela Smith: Remicade is one of the specialist medicines, known as biologic therapies, used for the treatment of severe rheumatoid arthritis. Information in relation to the number of people waiting for all biologic therapy treatment and the length of time they have been waiting is as follows:

Rheumatoid ArthritisNumber
Less than six months89
Between six and 12 months91
Between 12 and 18 months77
Between 18 and 24 months79
Longer than 24 months53

The decision as to whether to prescribe Remicade or another medicine for the treatment of an individual patient is a matter for clinical judgment and is the individual responsibility of the prescriber at the time when treatment is to commence.

Road Accidents

Lady Hermon: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many (a) fatal and (b) non-fatal road accidents there were on the A2 Bangor to Belfast road in each of the past five years; and what steps he is taking to reduce such accidents. [143586]

Mr. Spellar: I have asked the Chief Executive of Roads Service to write to the hon. Lady in response to this question. A copy of the letter will be placed in the Library.

Road Congestion

Lady Hermon: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what plans he has to introduce tolls on roads in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the steps he is taking to tackle road congestion in Northern Ireland. [143818]

Mr. Spellar: The Regional Transportation Strategy (RTS) for NI 2002–2012, whose strategic direction and underlying principles were endorsed by the Assembly in

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July 2002, contains no proposals to introduce tolling in NI. It does, however, contain a commitment to monitor the impacts of fiscal demand management measures, such as road user charging.

In the meantime, the issue of road congestion is being addressed as part of the wider transportation picture set out in the RTS. The RTS proposes that congestion be tackled through selected highway improvements and measures designed to encourage greater use of public transport, walking and cycling facilities. Overall it envisages £427 million in strategic highway improvements, £250 million on rail services, £98 million on bus services and "park and ride" in Belfast and almost £40 million on making it easier to walk or cycle. The actual level of resources invested in transportation will, however, depend on the normal budgetary processes, satisfactory economic appraisals and satisfactory progress through statutory processes (where relevant).

The RTS will be progressed through three Transport Plans—the Regional Strategic Transport Network Transport Plan, the Belfast Metropolitan Transport Plan and the Sub-Regional Transport Plan. The first two plans have reached an advanced stage with 'Emerging Plans' being subject to separate working conferences earlier this year. Both plans are expected to be published in the first half of 2004.

Road Haulage Industry

Mr. Beggs: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many tonnes of freight were transported by road within Northern Ireland by goods vehicles over 3.5 tonnes in each of the last five years. [144221]

Mr. Spellar: Figures for the Continuing Survey of Road Goods Transport are as follows:



Housing Benefit

Mr. Hayes: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what discussions he has had with private landlords regarding proposals to pay housing benefit directly to tenants; and what the outcome of those discussions was. [145297]

Mr. Pond: The Department consulted both formally and informally on the Government's proposals for a Local Housing Allowance (LHA), which is now in operation or about to go-live in 9 "Pathfinder" local authorities.

The formal consultation exercise was, as is customary, conducted through the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC). The Committee received 73 responses from both individuals and organisations with an interest in the LHA reforms, including

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representative bodies of landlords. SSAC made a number of recommendations, to which the Government responded. The relevant Command Paper, 5955 was presented to Parliament on 24 September 2003 and is available in the Library.

Additionally, Ministers and officials have received numerous informal representations about the Allowance. Many have been from landlords who have concerns about our decision to remove routine direct payments to them.We welcome this feedback and we are now encouraging it routinely in newsletters that the Department issues to landlords and welfare groups in the Pathfinder areas. We remain committed to the idea of making payment of Benefit to the tenant where possible in order to encourage them to take more personal responsibility for managing their affairs.

Discussions are ongoing and the views and experiences of landlords will form an important part of the Department's evaluation of the Local Housing Allowance.

Interest Rates

Mr. Stunell: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has to bring calculations of claimants' notional rates of interest on savings into line with current average building society and bank deposit account interest rates. [142297]

Mr. Pond: The tariff income rules, whereby money is deducted from benefit in respect of capital, are not intended to represent any rate of return that could be obtained from investing that capital.

The capital rules within the income related benefits exist to ensure that help is targeted on those with least resources while not completely denying help for those who have moderate amounts of capital. Where customers have substantial capital, current rules ensure that some of those funds are used for their maintenance before their needs can be met from public funds. The tariff income rules are designed to avoid a "cliff edge" effect which would occur if there was a simple capital limit beyond which benefit is completely withdrawn.

We have made it clear that we will keep the treatment of capital in the income related benefits under review so that they strike a reasonable balance between providing targeted support for those who need it and not penalising those who have acted responsibly by saving.

Pensioner Poverty

Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what time-frame he has set for ending pensioner poverty. [145110]

Malcolm Wicks: One of the Government's key priorities is to tackle pensioner poverty. We want all pensioners to have a secure income in retirement and to share in the rising prosperity of the country.

Our strategy is already working. Compared with the 1997 system, as a result of Government measures, from April 2004, on average pensioner households will be £1,250 a year better off in real terms. Our target is, that by 2006, Pension Credit should be in payment to at least 3 million pensioner households.

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In addition, we also recognise the need for long-term solutions. Our proposals in Action on Occupational Pensions—Working and Saving for Retirement contain measures for reform to address the issues faced by an ageing population.

Age Discrimination

Sandra Gidley: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) how many employers have adopted the voluntary Code of Practice on Age Diversity in Employment; [143855]

Malcolm Wicks: The information requested is not available. However, research shows that in the 18 months after the introduction of the code in June 1999 that awareness of the code rose from 14 per cent. to 37 per cent. of employers, and the proportion of employers who reported that age was considered as a selection criterion when recruiting fell from 27 per cent. to 13 per cent. We will be commissioning further research with employers in the coming year.

Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what steps his Department is taking to persuade employers of the economic benefits of having an age-diverse workforce. [145108]

Sandra Gidley: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what steps the Government are taking to promote the Age Positive campaign among (a) employers and (b) older people. [143937]

Malcolm Wicks: The Government are committed to extending opportunities for older workers and to introducing age discrimination legislation in 2006. Under the legislation, compulsory retirement ages are likely to be unlawful unless employers can show that they are objectively justified.

In the meantime, our Age Positive campaign is encouraging employers to adopt non-ageist employment practises. Through Age Positive, we are promoting the business benefits of an age diverse workforce by encouraging employers to adopt the voluntary Code of Practice, "Age Diversity at Work, A Practical Guide For Business". Over 750,000 copies of the Age Positive Code have been issued to employers and individuals and it is available on the Age Positive website, which has 75,000 visits per month.

The Age Positive campaign is widely promoted to employers and individuals through advertising, the website and press features in national, local and specialist publications and at exhibitions and workshops for employers. Age Positive awards help to further publicise the achievements of businesses and individuals who conquer age prejudice.

Age Positive also works closely with organisations such the Federation of Small Businesses, Employers Forum on Age, Institute of Directors, TUC, CBI and Age Concern.

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