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Local Government

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My honourable friend the Minister for Local Government (John Healey) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 provides for a reformed conduct regime for local authority members in which responsibility for standards of conduct and dealing with allegations of misconduct by members is largely devolved to each council’s independently chaired standards committee. The Standards Board for England will have the role of a light touch regulator, providing guidance to councils and their standards committees, monitoring the handling of misconduct allegations, and itself dealing with the most serious misconduct cases.

We intend this reformed conduct regime should be in force this May, following the local government elections. From this point all allegations of misconduct by council members will in the first instance be considered by the council’s standards committee, which may thereafter pass the most serious cases to the Standards Board.

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Accordingly, we will shortly be making the necessary order to commence the relevant provisions of the 2007 Act, and laying before Parliament regulations making provision about the procedures standards committees must follow when considering allegations of misconduct by members.

Earlier this year we consulted local authorities and stakeholders about the provisions for such regulations. I am today placing in the Libraries of both Houses a summary of the 571 responses that we received together with the Government’s response to the issues which have been raised.

Having regard to the consultation responses, we intend the procedure regulations will in particular make provision to ensure that standards committee members avoid any conflicts of interest when considering allegations; that given the personal nature of allegations which might be unfounded, there will be no public access to standards committee meetings or papers when allegations are being initially assessed; and to increase the maximum sanction available to standards committees from three to six months’ suspension from office.

Local Transport Bill

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Transport (Rosie Winterton) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

The Local Transport Bill will empower local authorities to deliver bus services that better meet the needs of their local communities. Among other things, it will enable quality partnership schemes to make more of a difference, by allowing them to cover frequencies, timings and maximum fares where there are no “admissible objections” from “relevant operators”.

The quality partnership scheme model was introduced by the Transport Act 2000 as a means by which a local authority agreed to invest in improved facilities at specific locations along bus routes (eg bus stops or bus lanes) and operators who wish to use those facilities agree to provide services of a particular standard (eg new buses, or driver training standards).

The Bill includes a power for the Secretary of State (and the Welsh Ministers) to make regulations defining the terms “admissible objections” and “relevant operators”. To assist the Public Bill Committee's consideration of the Bill, the Government will shortly be publishing a pre-consultation draft of these regulations, along with an updated draft of the supporting guidance which was first published in December 2007. The draft regulations and guidance relate to England only.

The draft regulations and guidance will be made available on the Department for Transport website, and copies will be placed in the Libraries of the House.

Marine Bill (Draft)

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): As the next major step in delivering the proposals set out in the Government's Marine Bill White Paper, A Sea Change,

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a draft Marine Bill will be laid before Parliament today. Copies of the draft Bill will be available in the Printed Paper Office.

NHS: Pharmaceutical Services

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Darzi of Denham): My right honourable friend the Minister of State, Department of Health (Dawn Primarolohas made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

We are today laying before Parliament the Government’s White Paper, Pharmacy in EnglandBuilding on Strengths, Delivering the Future, Cm 7341. This fulfils an undertaking I gave to the House on 24 July 2007. It also meets the commitment the Government gave in paragraph 4.47 of Our Health, Our Care, Our Say to develop pharmaceutical contractual arrangements in line with the wider ambitions of that White Paper.

This White Paper sets out our future proposals for developing pharmaceutical services. It demonstrates the Government’s continued commitment to pharmacy, its place in the NHS and its role as a leading clinical profession in delivering better access to high quality services to patients and consumers.

It sets out how pharmacists will work to complement general practitioners in promoting health, preventing sickness and providing care that is more personal and responsive to individual needs. Pharmacists already play a vital role for local communities in dispensing medicines, and providing services such as supporting people who want to give up smoking. This extended role will see more pharmacists being able to prescribe for and deal with minor ailments on the National Health Service, as well as supporting those with long-term conditions and preventing illnesses through additional screening and advice.

This will enable pharmacies, many of which already open out of hours, to provide increased access to the right medicines and the right care, in the right way—more personal and more responsive to individual needs.

Under the new proposals, pharmacies will:

become “healthy living” centres promoting health and well-being and helping people to take better care of themselves; be able to prescribe certain common medicines and be the first port of call for minor ailments—saving every GP up to the equivalent of one hour per day or up to 57 million GP consultations a year;provide support for people with long-term conditions—such as high blood pressure or asthma—50 per cent of whom may not take their medicines as intended—especially those starting out on a new course of treatment;be able to screen for vascular disease and certain sexually transmitted infections, such as chlamydia; work much closer with hospitals to provide safe, seamless care; andplay a bigger role in vaccination programmes.

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To support this important programme of work, the department will appoint two new pharmacist clinical directors later this year who will champion change in hospitals and in the community.

The White Paper also provides the Government’s response to a review of National Health Services pharmaceutical contractual arrangements led by Anne Galbraith, former chair of the Prescription Pricing Authority. Her report, Review of NHS pharmaceutical contractual arrangements, which was completed last year, has been placed in the Library and copies are available to honourable Members from the Vote Office. I am most grateful to Mrs Galbraith for the speed and efficiency with which she completed her report and for her insights, which have helped shape our thinking as set out in this White Paper.

We have also taken account of the work of the All-Party Pharmacy Group, which published its report The Future of Pharmacy in June last year.

The Government have concluded that a number of structural changes are needed—in terms of reforms which will enable appropriate action to be taken in the small minority of cases where performance is not meeting accepted standards and to shift funding arrangements so that rewards are based on the quality, not the quantity, of the services provided.

We set out proposals to reform 100-hour-a-week pharmacies. We want the NHS to have adequate levers which ensure such pharmacies better meet local needs.

The White Paper also considers the position of dispensing doctors and appliance contractors—with proposals to allow dispensing doctors to sell over-the-counter medicines and for appliance contractors to meet professional and high quality standards.

We will proceed quickly with the next stages to support implementation of the actions set out here. We are holding a series of events around the country beginning on 1 May 2008, to hear views from the public, from the NHS and from the professions. We will then consult fully later this summer on some of the key proposals for structural reform needed. That consultation will take full account of the final NHSNext Stage Review report to be published in due course.

Planning: Eco-towns

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My right honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Planning (Caroline Flint) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

In July last year, the Government published a prospectus outlining their intention to build up to 10 “eco-towns”.

Eco-towns are a response to the twin challenges of an acute housing shortage and climate change. They will test out new ways of designing and building towns to achieve zero carbon standards and promote more sustainable living.

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The eco-towns prospectus outlined the criteria for a successful eco-town:

that they should be new settlements of between 5,000 and 20,000 homes, separate and distinct from existing towns, but well linked to them;the development as a whole should reach zero carbon standards, and each town should be an exemplar in at least one area of environmental sustainability;it should include a good range of facilities—a secondary school, a medium scale retail centre, good quality business space and leisure facilities;between 30 and 50 per cent of the housing should be affordable, with a particular emphasis on larger family homes;there should be a management body to help develop the town, support people and businesses moving to the new community, and to co-ordinate service delivery.

In response to our invitation, we received 57 proposals for eco-towns. There has been a rigorous cross-government assessment of these bids, particularly focusing on the existing transport infrastructure and local environment. We have also looked at the likely benefits to existing communities, the contribution the eco-town would make to local housing needs, and the likelihood of the proposal being successfully delivered.

We are today publishing a shortlist of 15 locations which will go through to the next stage of consultation. These are:

Pennbury, Leicestershire—12,000 to 15,000 homes on a development incorporating brownfield, greenfield and surplus public sector land four miles south east of Leicester;Manby and Strubby, Lincolnshire—5,000 homes, largely on brownfield land including a former RAF base. The nearest town is Mablethorpe;Curborough, Staffordshire—5,000 homes on the brownfield site of the former Fradley airfield, 10 miles from Burton;Middle Quinton, Warwickshire—6,000 homes on a former Royal Engineers depot, six miles south west of Stratford upon Avon;Bordon-Whitehill, Hampshire—5,000 to 8,000 homes on a site owned by the Ministry of Defence. The nearest town is Guildford;Weston Otmoor, Oxfordshire—10,000 to 15,000 homes on brownfield land, three miles south-west of Bicester;Ford, West Sussex—5,000 homes on a site which includes the former Ford airfield. The nearest town is Littlehampton;Imerys China Clay Community, Cornwall—Around 5,000 homes to be built on former china clay workings, industrial land and disused mining pits. Close to St Austell;Rossington, South Yorkshire—Up to 15,000 homes regenerating the former colliery village of Rossington, three miles south of Doncaster;

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Coltishall, Norfolk—5,000 homes on a former RAF airfield, eight miles north of Norwich;Hanley Grange, Cambridgeshire—8,000 homes, incorporating a former science park;Marston Vale and New Marston, Bedfordshire—Up to 15,400 homes, on both brown and greenfield land south of Bedford;Elsenham, Essex—At least 5,000 homes north east of the existing Elsenham village;Rushcliffe, Nottinghamshire—An eco-town proposal was submitted for Kingston-on-Soar, to the south of Nottingham. In response to representations from Rushcliffe Borough Council (RBC), this site is not to be pursued. However, the Government are proposing to carry out a further review in partnership with RBC to consider whether there is a suitable alternative location with the potential to be viable within the Rushcliffe local authority area; andLeeds City Region, Yorkshire—A number of eco-town proposals were submitted for locations within the area of Leeds City Region partnership of 11 authorities and principally between Leeds and Selby. The Leeds City Region Partnership has indicated support in principle for an eco-town within the sub-region. The partnership has proposed a further study to compare the best alternative locations across the Leeds City Region partnership area. The Government have agreed to support this approach, on the basis that it will allow a further announcement to be made shortly of one or more sites for consultation.

These potential locations have been published as part of a consultation document Eco-towns—Living a Greener Future, inviting views on both the broader objectives and benefits of eco-towns, and on those locations which we regard as the most promising.

We will also be looking at the proposed schemes from promoters and we expect each proposal to be further refined and improved over the coming months. We will be looking for clear evidence that each scheme:

achieves the highest possible environmental standards, not only mitigating the impact of development but positively enhancing the site as well as reducing the need for residents to rely on cars;is clearly deliverable, with funding identified and proper management arrangements set out; andis affordable, with a clearly agreed basis for contributions from private investors and public sector agencies.

A panel of experts will advise and challenge those leading the proposals to improve the environmental credentials of each project. Government will also be providing support to the relevant local authorities, comparable to the support on offer to local authorities designated as growth points or growth areas. We will continue to work in partnership with local government and the LGA as we move forward.

This consultation is the first of four key stages in the planning process for eco-towns.

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stage 1—three-month consultation on preliminary views on eco-town benefits and these shortlisted locations;stage 2—further consultation this summer on a sustainability appraisal, which provides a more detailed assessment of these locations, and a draft planning policy statement;stage 3—a decision on the list of locations with the potential to be an eco-town as part of the final planning policy statement, later this year; andstage 4—like any other proposed development, individual schemes will need to submit planning applications which will be decided on the merits of the proposal.

Our objective is for five eco-towns to be completed by 2016, and up to 10 by 2020. We expect work to begin on some sites by 2010.

Renewable Transport Fuel Obligations Order 2007

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jim Fitzpatrick) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

During the debate on the draft Renewable Transport Fuel Obligations Order in the House of Commons Seventh Delegated Legislation Committee on 23 October 2007, I agreed to commission a review of the likely impacts of the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) on the other UK industries which use tallow as a feedstock. I said that in the light of the review's findings, the Government would consider whether changes needed to, and could, be made to the design of the RTFO.

The Government are keen to publish the review prior to the start of the RTFO on 15 April. The review will therefore need to be published during Recess, and I will arrange for copies to be placed in the Libraries of the House.

The Government will take the findings of the review into account in EU negotiations on the Renewable Energy Directive as well as in policy decisions on the future design of the RTFO. The Government will also ensure that the review's findings are fed into the review of the wider “displacement” impacts of biofuels, which was announced by Ruth Kelly on 21 February and which will be reporting in June.

Safety Service Delivery and Logistics Group: Targets

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jim Fitzpatrick) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport has set a range of high-level targets for the 2008-09 year on behalf of the agencies within the Safety, Service Delivery and Logistics Group: the Driving Standards Agency, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, the Vehicle Certification Agency, the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency and the Government

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Car Despatch Agency. They are included in the agencies’ business plans together with their associated measures. The plans also include a range of management targets, performance indicators and key tasks which are appropriate to the agencies’ businesses. Copies of the business plans will be placed in the Libraries of the House shortly.

The key targets for the Driving Standards Agency are:

Secretary of State Targets (target measures are italicised)

To achieve customer satisfaction with the overall service received at 90 per cent for candidates and 73 per cent for business customers.

To deliver 6,000 Arrive Alive presentations to include 10 per cent or more targeted at special needs groups such as young offenders, older drivers and people with disabilities.

Initiate five pilot projects aimed at improving driver education and training and raising the driving standards of high risk groups such as young novice drivers.

Introduce new EU compliant CPC qualification for bus and coach drivers by 10 September 2008.

In order to deliver the new EU motorcycle test:

Develop a network of off-road manoeuvring areas for motorcyclists.

By 29 September 2008 ensure that 51 per cent or more of the population of Great Britain is within 45 minutes or 20 miles of such a facility

To reduce the level of impersonations we will progress to conclusion, by 31 March 2009, 750 investigations in relation to impersonation or identity fraud, and seek prosecutions where applicable.

Achieve online bookings of 65 per cent for all existing services by 31 March 2009.

Deliver the first year of the Comprehensive Spending Review by achieving £6 million of efficiency savings. Maximise productivity by improved attendance management to reduce sick absence to an average of no more than 10 days per employee.

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