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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 9 December 2003


Building on the Best

The Secretary of State for Health (Dr. John Reid): The Department's document "Building on the Best—Choice, Responsiveness and Equity in the NHS", Cm 6079, has been published today. Copies have been placed in the Library.


Private Hire Vehicles (Dogs)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tony McNulty): I am pleased to announce that, from 31 March 2004, all private hire vehicle operators and licensed private hire vehicle drivers will be under a duty to carry guide, hearing and other prescribed assistance dogs and to do so without additional charge under Section 37A of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

From 31 December 2004, local licensing authorities will be able to consider applications from private hire vehicle drivers and to issue certificates of exemption to those who they consider merit an exemption from the duty on medical grounds. There is no exemption for operators.

I have today laid before the House the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (Private Hire Vehicles) (Carriage of Guide Dogs etc.) (England and Wales) Regulations 2003. The regulations prescribe three additional categories of dog to which these duties will also apply and deals with the notice of exemption that must be displayed by private hire vehicle drivers who are exempt from these duties on medical grounds.

Full guidance is being sent to all licensing authorities and a leaflet is available for operators and drivers informing them of the new duties and the arrangements for medical exemption. Copies of these documents will be placed in the House Library. The regulations cover England and Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland will be introducing similar requirements in due course.


Citizenship Ceremonies

The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Beverley Hughes): The White Paper, "Secure Borders, Safe Haven: Integration with Diversity in Modern Britain" published in February 2002, set out the Government's proposals for enhancing the significance of the acquisition of British citizenship. The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 duly

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included provisions which, when brought into force at the start of 2004, will require all adult applicants for British citizenship to take an oath of allegiance to Her Majesty The Queen and pledge of loyalty to the United Kingdom at a citizenship ceremony.

On 25 July we published a consultation document which set out the Government's provisional views on the form and content of that citizenship ceremony. The 12-week period of consultation closed on 17 October and 145 responses were received.

Broadly, the responses supported the proposal that national symbols such as the Union flag and national anthem should feature in ceremonies throughout the United Kingdom and that these should be augmented with local features and symbols. A small minority of responses did not support the idea. The Government remain strongly of the view that it would be right for these United Kingdom symbols to be used, given that the citizenship being bestowed is that of the United Kingdom as a whole. Other countries such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand certainly believe it appropriate to display national symbols at these events. We would encourage those who disagree to reflect further and to consider this issue from the viewpoint of the new citizens and what they might reasonably expect of a British citizenship ceremony, rather than impose their own views on what is appropriate.

There was a positive response to the suggestion that local authorities might wish to impart their own flavour on ceremonies taking place in their area, and to the notion that prominent and recognised members of the local community might take part in ceremonies and formally welcome new citizens to their area. The suggestions on what form this local flavour might take recognised the importance of local adaptations not detracting from the dignified, celebratory and meaningful nature that the Government intend for citizenship ceremonies. Many areas proposed that they would involve local schools and community groups in their ceremonies.

In terms of the musical content of ceremonies, the majority supported the playing of the national anthem immediately after the taking of the oath and pledge. Many areas said that they also intended to play recognised and appropriate pieces of music as new citizens entered and left the ceremony. A list will be given in the guidance for local authorities and registrars.

The consultation document proposed a form of words for the ceremony welcome speech and for the address given by the local dignitary. The majority of responses supported the notion of standardisation of the main portions of these addresses, but said that they would ensure that any local additions did not detract from the formal welcome to both the UK and the local area.

In terms of a commemorative gift, most thought that a commemorative certificate bearing that area's coat of arms or logo would be most appropriate. There was a unanimous view that any gift given must be meaningful of the event. A small percentage of respondents took the view that there was no need for a gift as such in that the grant of citizenship was in itself a gift.

The Government are grateful to all of those individuals and organisation who took the time to read and respond to this document. The nature of the

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comments give us reason to believe that our proposals carry general support. We shall therefore proceed broadly in line with the format set out in the consultation document. The cost of the ceremonies will be included in an increased nationality fee, the details of which have been included in a statutory instrument to be laid today, which will mean no additional charge to the taxpayer. Details are in the table:

Type ofProvisionCurrentFeeProposed01/01/04CeremonyFeeTotal01/01/04
6(1) Single£150.00£150.00£68.00£218.00
6(1) Joint£150.00£150.00£136.00£286.00
Reg. Adult£120.00£85.00£68.00£153.00
Reg. Minor Single£120.00£144.00£144.00
Reg. Minor Multiple£120.00£144.00£144.00


Mortgage Market

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gordon Brown): Professor David Miles' interim report, "The UK Mortgage Market: Taking a Longer-term View", is published today. Copies are available in the Vote Office.

Health Statistics

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Ruth Kelly): The report "Key Statistics for health areas in England and Wales", containing results from the 2001 Census, was laid before Parliament and published on 31 July 2003. Since this date, the Office for National Statistics has discovered errors that resulted in incorrect statistics being published in this report for a small number of Health Areas. The report has been reprinted to correct these errors, and the revised version is being published and laid before Parliament today, replacing the original laid document.

Further details can be found on the National Statistics website.


Mechanically Propelled Vehicles

The Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality (Alun Michael): I have become acutely aware of the growing concerns about problems caused by the use of mechanically propelled vehicles on

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rights of way. This can clearly be a real problem in some areas, and I have seen a number of examples during visits to different regions of the country.

In response to these concerns, I have reviewed the Government's policy on the use of vehicles in the countryside and am pleased to say that I am today publishing a public consultation paper; "Use of mechanically propelled vehicles on rights of way".

In this paper I offer new proposals that are intended to address what many have come to view as the inappropriate and unsustainable way in which vehicular rights are acquired and claimed on rights of way.

At present, historic evidence of use by horse drawn vehicles or dedications for vehicular use at a time before the internal combustion engine existed, can give rise to rights to use modern mechanically propelled vehicles.

The consultation paper proposes that any historic evidence or use dating from a time when it could not have been envisaged that the way would be used by the sort of mechanically propelled vehicles we have today should only enable that way to be recorded as a right of way for vehicles that are not mechanically propelled. We believe the new category of "restricted byway" provides this opportunity. These proposals go directly to the heart of issues that have been highlighted by EDMs 1589 and 1589A.

In addition, I want to promote better enforcement of the offences available to deal with illegal or inappropriate use of vehicles on rights of way. I have re- examined the many offences already available, including those under the Road Traffic Act 1988, and the new powers under sections 59 and 60 of the Police Reform Act 2002. These provisions appear to be under-utilised and I propose to better inform enforcement authorities on their use and point to examples of good practice in applying these provisions.

I also have to announce that we will not be implementing new section 34A of the Road Traffic Act 1988 as we have met with a human rights difficulty that cannot be overcome. Section 34A sought to limit, except in narrowly defined circumstances, the availability of a defence when charged with driving on certain categories of rights of way under section 34 of the Road Traffic Act. On further consideration, we have concluded it is not possible to implement the provision in a way which will not contravene Article 6(2) of the European Convention on Human Rights, which requires the presumption of innocence in criminal trials until guilt is proven. But I believe the new proposals in the consultation paper go more directly to the root of the vehicular problem so I hope that any disappointment that section 34A is not being implemented will be outweighed by our new proposals.

Copies of the consultation paper have been deposited in the House Library. The closing date for consultation responses is 19 March 2004.