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3 Dec 2003 : Column 97Wcontinued
Alan Keen: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what use is intended to be made of any surplus released consequent upon the solvent liquidation of the New Millennium Experience Company. 
Keith Hill: Use of any Lottery grant money not drawn upon by the New Millennium Experience Company (NMEC) will be a matter for the Millennium Commission.
Alan Keen: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister when he expects the completion of the solvent liquidation process for the New Millennium Experience Company. 
Keith Hill: Almost all of the issues in the current solvent liquidation have been completed, and all creditors have been paid. Only residual matters are outstanding.
These issues however are not within the direct control of the New Millennium Experience Company liquidators and as such, it is not possible to predict with any accuracy when they will be resolved.
Simon Hughes: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister (1) what the Government's policy is on (a) calling in planning applications and (b) reviewing local authority planning decisions where they affect (i) greenfield sites and (ii) semi-natural green belt sites; and if he will make a statement; 
Keith Hill: My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister's general approach is not to interfere with the jurisdiction of local planning authorities unless it is necessary to do so. Standard policy is to be very selective about calling in planning applications. In general, this step is only taken if planning issues of more than local importance are involved and if those issues need to be decided by my right hon. Friend rather than at a local level. Such cases may include those which: may conflict with national policies on important matters; could have
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significant effects beyond their immediate locality; give rise to substantial regional or national controversy; raise significant architectural and urban design issues; or may involve the interests of national security of foreign Governments. Each case is, however, considered on its own merits
The Government's general policy and practice is not to review decisions taken by local authorities on individual planning applications. When a planning application comes before my right hon. Friend, on appeal for example, he will determine it in accordance with the development plan for the area and relevant national planning policies, including Planning Policy Guidance notes (PPG). PPG2 (Green Belts), PPG3 (Housing) and PPG7 (The Countryside) would be particularly relevant in relation to greenfield sites. Where relevant, regard will also be had to the requirements of the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment)(England and Wales) Regualtions.
Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what plans his Department has to revise his proposed all-postal ballots to include additional voting systems for the benefit of disabled people. 
Phil Hope: One the of the reasons for using remote voting such as all-postal voting is to assist those people who find it inconvenient or difficult to go to polling stations to vote. In its evaluation of the 2003 pilots, the Electoral Commission recommended that staffed delivery points should be provided at both mobile and fixed locations as part of all-postal elections. These offer voter the opportunity to vote in conditions similar to polling stations for those who find it easier or more convenient to do so.
The Government intend that staffed delivery points will be features of future pilots. Following the successful piloting of innovative processes in the local elections in 2000, 2002 and 2003, the Government plan to ran pilots in the 2004 European parliamentary elections and in any local elections combined with them.
The Government accept the broad thrust of Electoral Commission's recommendation to roll out of all-postal voting to all local elections and will be consulting on the detailed arrangements shortly. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister will also be consulting on the arrangements for the local and regional referendums which we intend to be by all-postal ballot.
Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what representations have been made to his Department regarding coercion and secrecy issues in relation to his proposed postal voting systems. 
Phil Hope: A number of letters received from members of the public have mentioned concerns about the security and secrecy of all-postal voting. The same concerns were raised by some respondents to the recent consultation on our proposals for holding all-postal pilots at the European parliamentary and any combined local elections in June 2006.
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Mr. Rosindell: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister which local government (a) systems and (b) administrations would be removed if a region votes in favour of setting up a regional assembly. 
Mr. Raynsford: Where an elected regional assembly is established, existing two tier local government will be restructured as unitary authorities. Recommendations on options for the unitary structure in a region are a matter for the independent Boundary Committee for England. The Committee might recommend structures based on existing districts, counties or something different. They published their draft recommendations for two tier areas in the three northern regions on 1 December. Copies are available in the Libraries of the House.
Voters living in each two tier area will have a choice between at least two options for a unitary local government structure, in a local referendum held at the same time as the referendum on whether to establish an elected assembly.
The new unitary authorities will exercise all the functions currently carried out by the county and district councils in the region.
Mr. Rosindell: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what criteria he is using to decide whether or not to grant referendums to regions about proposals for a regional assembly. 
Mr. Raynsford: The background to and explanation of my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister's decision to move towards referendums in the three northern regions is laid out in the Government's "Your Region, Your Say" summary of its soundings exercise. This was published on 16 June 2003 and copies are available in the Libraries of both Houses.
The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister does not propose to hold a further exercise during this Parliament.
Mr. Rosindell: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what requirements need to be met by a region before that region is deemed suitable to have its own regional assembly. 
Mr. Raynsford: Our White Paper "Your Region, Your Choice" made clear that a simple majority yes vote will be needed in a referendum before an elected assembly is established in any region. The Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Act 2003 allows my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister to call a referendum once: he has considered the level of interest in the region in holding such a referendum; and the Boundary Committee for England have made recommendations about the structure of local government in that region.
Mr. Stunell: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will set out the timetable for the formal consultation on implementing the proposals set out in paragraph 4.31 of the Energy White Paper; whether the outcome of this
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consultation will be incorporated within the final version of Planning Policy Statement 22: Renewable Energy; and what form this consultation will take. 
Keith Hill: The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, in discussion with other Government Departments, is considering how best to take forward the commitment in paragraph 4.31 of the Energy White Paper to bring consideration of the use of renewables and energy efficiency more within the scope of the planning system. Should the Government decide that PPS22 is the most appropriate means of implementing this commitment, then a public consultation paper will be produced outlining the Government's proposals. If proposals were positively received, then changes would be made to the final version of PPS22.
Miss McIntosh: To ask the Minister for Women what recent assessment she has made of the implications of the Working Time Directive for women's employment. 
Ms Hewitt: In general, as the working time regulations benefit both men and women, studies of the impact of the regulation covers all those who are affected. However, my Department has looked at women's employment since the introduction of the regulations in October 1998. Full-time employment for women grew by 5.7 per cent. from JulySeptember 1998 to JulySeptember 2003 while the average actual hours of full-time women in employment fell by 0.4 hours per week over the same period (from 34.4 hours per week in JulySeptember 1998 to 34.0 hours per week in July September 2003).
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