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The Minister for Local Government and the Regions (Mr. Nick Raynsford): The Government are looking at many ways, including e-voting, to modernise our electoral system and to increase the opportunities that people have to vote. To test the robustness of the new options and to build public confidence in them, we are promoting an extensive programme of pilot innovations at local elections.
In September we, in conjunction with the Electoral Commission and the Local Government Association, published a prospectus inviting applications from English and Welsh local authorities to apply to run electoral pilots at local elections in 2003. The closing date for applications to run pilots in the May 2003 local elections was 29 November 2002.
I am pleased to announce that we have received 63 applications from authorities wishing to participate in this pilot round. Of these, 19 are proposing to hold e-voting trials, seven other applications include e-counting, and 37 involve all-postal ballots. Seven authorities propose testing other variations to the normal electoral process, including extensions to the voting hours.
The level of interest and enthusiasm shown by authorities is very encouraging. The widespread readiness to pilot new and innovative approaches to holding elections will benefit voters by testing ways to make elections more straightforward and accessible. Our electoral pilot programme is an important step towards achieving our aim of an e-enabled general election post2006.
Following consultation with the independent Electoral Commission, we expect to announce our decision on which non e-voting pilots have been approved later this month, and the decision on the remainder by mid-January 2003.
With this high level of interest shown by local authorities, our focus in the early part of 2003 will be on undertaking with the successful applicants the extensive groundwork necessary for them to hold their pilots. As a result, we do not anticipate giving approval to any requests for piloting at local authority by-elections that are to be held between 1 January and 31 March 2003.
Outside that period, our general approach on local authority by-election pilots is that we would be minded to approve proposals, including e-voting, for pilots only in certain circumstances. These are when the proposals
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meet the standard criteria set out in our September 2002 prospectus and contain innovative features or are from authorities that had run pilots before and are seeking to apply the same scheme to another election. We will, of course, consider carefully any application that is made.
In all cases, it is important for local authorities to make any application as early as possible given the tight timetable for by-elections. Local authorities may wish to submit outline proposals in advance of an application for a specific by-election.
The Minister for Work (Mr. Nicholas Brown): The Government are committed to rolling out the new Jobcentre Plus service between now and 2006. By spring 2003 we expect to have around a quarter of the network of offices providing the new Jobcentre Plus services.
Despite having record levels of employment, we cannot afford to be complacent about our labour market performance, or about working with our partners to deliver opportunities to a wider group of people than ever before. I am pleased therefore to be able to provide the House with further details of our plans to introduce the Jobcentre Plus service across Great Britain between now and March 2006.
Early planning for the next three years of the work programme is going well and I am now able to provide an indicative list of the remaining districts detailing in which financial year we expect those sites to be transformed.
There is still much to do to develop the local service delivery plans for each district and to prepare the sites for final delivery of the new services. We must be satisfied that a new office provides an environment in which the remodelled service will work and which is safe for staff and customers.
For these remaining sites, planning for delivery of the new services will be a locally driven process. As local plans begin to emerge, district managers will be involving local MPs and other local partners. District managers will be writing to local stakeholders to invite comments and seek views. A key priority for district managers is to ensure that the new services are developed and tailored to meet the needs of the community they serve.
The following tables indicate when Jobcentre Plus plans to introduce the new Jobcentre Plus service into the remaining Jobcentre Plus districts. As detailed planning work is undertaken at district level, changes may be made to this schedule.
|200304 (27 districts) District
|Norfolk*~ Lothian and Borders* Cheshire and Warrington* Halton & St. Helens* North East London* Dorset*~ Northumberland*~ Sussex* Surrey* Wakefield*~ Bedfordshire Glasgow Tayside Lancashire West Liverpool Cumbria Berkshire Central London West London Cornwall Tees Valley Cardiff & Vale North West Wales & Powys South Humber North Yorkshire Birmingham & Solihull~ Northamptonshire
|East England Scotland North West North West London South West North East South East South East Yorkshire & the Humber East of England Scotland Scotland North West North West North West South East London London South West North East Wales Wales Yorkshire & the Humber Yorkshire & the Humber West Midlands East Midlands
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For example, looking at the districts in Yorkshire and the Humber in the 200304 table above; Wakefield is planned to introduce the new service in the first half of the year followed by South Humber and finally North Yorkshire.
|200405 (24 districts) District
|Hertfordshire Cambridgeshire Edinburgh Fife Lanarkshire Oldham and Rochdale Salford and Trafford Bolton & Bury Stockport and Tameside Wigan Kent South London South East London West of England City of Sunderland Eastern Valleys Swansea Bay Leeds Hull and East Riding Doncaster Hereford & Worcester Staffordshire Greater Nottingham North Nottinghamshire
|East England East England Scotland Scotland Scotland North West North West North West North West North West South East London London South West North East Wales Wales Yorkshire & the Humber Yorkshire & the Humber Yorkshire & the Humber West Midlands West Midlands East Midlands East Midlands
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|200506 (15 districts) District
|Forth Valley & Dumbarton Ayrshire, Dumfries & Galloway Highlands & Western Isles North London City & East London Gloucestershire Wiltshire County Durham Wrexham & North Wales Coast West Wales Barnsley & Rotherham Bradford Dudley and Sandwell Wolverhampton and Walsall Lincolnshire and Rutland
|Scotland Scotland Scotland London London South West South West North East Wales Wales Yorkshire & the Humber Yorkshire & the Humber West Midlands West Midlands East Midlands
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): There has been very substantial progress on agreeing the relationship between the Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs) and the EU after Cyprus' accession. Our hope is that the final agreement will be in line with the policy set out in Baroness Symons' answer of 5 December 2001, that the SBAs should remain outside the EU but with some technical adjustments to ensure the continued smooth functioning of the relationship between Cyprus and the SBAs. To that end, a clearly defined and limited part of the acquis would apply to the SBAs. These arrangements would be compatible with the 1960 treaty of establishment and with the undertakings which we made at that time in relation to the SBAs. In order to give effect to these arrangements we intend to sign two memoranda of understanding, on implementation and on co-operation on asylum seekers.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): There was a successful outcome to the recent 5th review conference of the biological weapons convention in Geneva. The agreement that was reached there on a set of practical measures will now be the focus for active consideration by the international community. It was of crucial importance that there should be unanimous agreement on the way ahead in meeting the pervasive threat from biological warfare, particularly in light of the growing menace of international terrorism.
The Green Paper on the threat from biological weapons, which I laid before the House in April this year, set out a range of practical measures that could be adopted for dealing with this issue. I was particularly glad to see that a number of the proposals in that Paper
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have been incorporated into the international programme of work that has been agreed for the next three years.
The first round of meetings in 2003 will see discussion of penal legislation to bolster the prohibitions of the convention and also of stricter regulations on the handling of dangerous pathogens. In 2004 states parties will study ways of better responding to and investigating cases of alleged use of biological weapons, and suspicious outbreaks of disease. There will also be an examination of ways to strengthen the worldwide surveillance of disease as it affects humans, animals and plants. Finally, in 2005 there will be discussion, and I hope adoption, of a code of conduct for scientists working in this area.
I believe it was vital that agreement on this programme should be reached by consensus among all states parties to the biological weapons convention. It was for this reason that we conducted extensive consultations throughout 2002 to try and establish a basis for compromise. Those efforts clearly bore fruit.
The seriousness and immediacy with which all countries view the BW threat is evident from this outcome. The programme of work won unanimous approval from the United States, our EU Partners and other western countries as well as Russia, China and members of the non-aligned movement. This broad support is vital and will help ensure that the international community brings its full authority to promoting and taking effective action on the potential dangers posed by the proliferation of biological weapons.
The United Kingdom has played a leading role in the search for ways of reinforcing the biological weapons convention. So this positive outcome to the review conference is all the more welcome. We will remain fully committed to seeing practical results emerge from this process which will help address an ever present threat both to international stability and the well being of humankind.