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Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Access to the English Coast

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Barry Gardiner): In July 2005 DEFRA asked the Countryside Agency, working with English Nature and the Rural Development Service, to advise the Government on ways to improve access to the English coast. We asked for that advice to be provided by the end of July 2006 in advance of the publication of a consultation document in October this year.

I have now decided that in view of Natural England assuming responsibility from the Countryside Agency in this area in October this year, Natural England should take forward the work which the Countryside Agency, English Nature and the Rural Development Service have carried out on coastal access. I am today announcing that I have asked the Natural England board to come forward with its recommendations on coastal access to the Government before the end of December this year. In line with these changes I am proposing that the public consultation should now be issued in early 2007.


Audiology Services

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Ivan Lewis): We acknowledge that there are pressures with regard to the waiting times for audiology services. Considerable progress has been made in improving the provision of audiology services although we accept that there is still some way to go.

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Between 2000-05, the Government invested £125 million in the Modernising Hearing Aids Service programme (MHAS), which was managed by the Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID), on behalf of the Department of Health. The outcomes of the programme have been significant and have ensured that by 2005 all NHS hearing aid services met the Government target of routinely fitting modern digital hearing aids.

There have been other significant improvements:

A key area of challenge to delivering the 18-week waiting target outlined in section 2 of the publication “Tackling hospital waiting: the 18 week patient pathway—An implementation framework” was audiology. Work is underway at official level to scope a national action plan for audiology, to be published in due course. The intention is to develop and take the work forward in partnership with stakeholders. This will involve working with eight physiological measurement sites to test ideas and to improve access to physiological measurement diagnostic services including audiology. These sites will be critical for informing the action plan and its eventual implementation.

The Government’s investment, through the work of MHAS, has improved outcomes for patients. Medical Research Council research shows that patients have reported a 40 per cent. increase in benefit with the new service.

International Development

Debt Relief (Clarification)

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): In my written statement of 5 July 2006, Official Report, column 43-44WS I said that 20 heavily indebted poor countries had had 100 per cent. of their debts to the IMF cancelled in January 2006, and that that applied to another, Cameroon, since. I wish to clarify that, in January, the IMF cancelled 100 per cent. of the debt stock held by 19 countries (including 17 HIPCs, 13 of which were African) and has cancelled 100 per cent. of the debt stock of two other HIPCs, Cameroon and Mauritania, since. Some 21 countries have now therefore received 100 per cent. debt stock cancellation at the IMF.

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Annual Reports

The Solicitor-General (Mr. Mike O'Brien): The annual reports of HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate, Revenue and Customs Prosecution Service, the Serious Fraud Office, Treasury Solicitor and the Crown Prosecution Service have today been published and laid before Parliament. Copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.


Journey Time Targets

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Douglas Alexander): The accessibility of our cities is key to their economic growth and success. It is therefore important that local authorities take responsibility for addressing the problem of road congestion, and the impact on journey times caused by the increasing numbers of journeys being made.

Each of the 10 largest urban areas in England therefore has a target to limit the increase in person journey time per mile, given the expected increase in travel over the next five years. The target relates to the overall average journey time on a representative set of the busiest roads in each of their major urban centres. The 10 are: London, Greater Manchester, West Midlands, West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, Tyne and Wear, Merseyside, Bristol, Nottingham and Leicester.

While ownership of these local targets, and implementing measures to deliver them, is the responsibility of the local authorities involved, we have weighted (according to traffic volumes) and averaged the journey times across the 10 areas to create a national composite PSA target for the Department for Transport, as we announced on 5 July 2005.

The national PSA target is therefore that:

By 2010-11, the ten largest urban areas will meet the congestion targets set in their local transport plan relating to movement on main roads into city centres. The target will be deemed to have been met if, on target routes in the 10 largest urban areas in England, an average increase in travel of 4.5 per cent. is accommodated within an increase of 3.7 per cent. in person journey time per mile. The local targets on which this is based include:

Each local authority is responsible for finding a balance between economic development, safety and journey
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times consistent with local circumstances and needs. The targets for each area are consistent with each authority’s local transport plans, which set out their wider transport strategies. The Department for Transport will be working with each authority, to encourage and support them in delivery.

London, Manchester and the West Midlands account for about two-thirds of the traffic in the 10 urban areas. Major scheme bids, including for the West Midland’s Urban Traffic Management and Control Project, are currently being considered.

We have today published a PSA technical note, with full methodological details, on the Department for Transport website. Copies have been placed in Library of the House.

Road Pricing Schemes

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): The Department is to release guidance on appraisal and modelling for local road pricing schemes. The guidance will advise scheme promoters in their preparation of business cases involving road pricing and can be found in the consultation section of the Department’s transport analysis guidance website at: The guidance has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

An overview of the analysis of road pricing schemes is provided by “Introduction to Modelling and Appraisal for Road Pricing”. This is supported by four other modules for analysts: “Designing Efficient Local Road Pricing Schemes” (TAG Unit 3.12.1), which discusses approaches to the design of effective road pricing schemes; guidance on the issues arising when
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modelling road pricing schemes is provided in “Modelling Road Pricing” (TAG Unit 3.12.2); guidance on the issues arising when appraising road pricing schemes is provided in “Appraisal of Road Pricing Options” (TAG Unit 3.12.3); and “Measuring the Social and Distributional Impacts of Road Pricing Schemes” (TAG Unit 3.12.4) provides guidance on the use of social research methods to assess the social and distributional impacts of road pricing.

During the consultation period, ending 1 October, the Department welcomes comments. The guidance will be kept under review and may be updated from time to time to reflect any comments made.

Work and Pensions

National Insurance Numbers and Illegal Working

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. James Plaskitt): I announced on 5 June that the DWP would introduce a “right to work” condition into Jobcentre Plus’s National Insurance Numbers allocation and decision making process for employment related applications from July. I can confirm that appropriate administrative arrangements are now in place making it a condition for the allocation of a NINO that there is a right to work. To further support this change, I intend to bring forward amendments to regulation 9 of the Social Security (Crediting and Treatment of Contributions and National Insurance Numbers) Regulations 2001 to make explicit the evidence which must be produced to demonstrate that the “right to work” condition has been satisfied.

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