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Written Ministerial StatementsWednesday 21 January 2004

HOME DEPARTMENT

UK Passports (Birth Certificates)

The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Beverley Hughes): I have decided that the shortened form of birth certificate, which omits names of parents, will no longer be acceptable evidence of nationality for the purpose of applying for a British passport in the United Kingdom. This will help with our aims of combating identity fraud and in ensuring the integrity of the British passport. It will also bring practice in the UK into line with that at British consular posts overseas, the Channel Islands and Isle of Man.

Since the British Nationality Act 1981 came into force on 1 January 1983, British nationality has not automatically been acquired by the fact of birth in the UK or a British Overseas Territory. The Act provides that a child born in the UK will be a British citizen if one of the parents is a British citizen or is settled in the UK. Equivalent provisions apply to the overseas territories. A short birth certificate, which establishes only the place and date of birth, is therefore not sufficient to establish eligibility for a passport. The practice introduced on 1 January 1983 was to accept the passport applicant's own declaration on the application form as to the identity and nationality of the parents upon whom the child's British nationality depended. This was a satisfactory interim measure, but is no longer appropriate over 20 years after the change in the law.

The new requirement will introduce an important safeguard against false claims of British nationality and will make identity fraud more difficult. I am aware that although over 75 per cent. of new parents obtain a full standard certificate when registering a birth, many people only have a short birth certificate and will therefore face a small additional expense in obtaining a passport. However it is in everyone's interest that British passports are issued only on production of adequate evidence of British nationality. The change, which will normally affect only those applying for their first passport, will be implemented on 4 May 2004.

TREASURY

Commemorative Crown

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gordon Brown): Her Majesty the Queen has been graciously pleased to approve my recommendation that a commemorative crown should be issued in 2004 to mark the 100th anniversary of the entente cordiale between Britain and France.

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Collector versions of the coin will be released at a premium above face value and, during the course of the year, the coin will also become available at its face value of five pounds from banks and post offices.

TRADE AND INDUSTRY

Gas Desulphurisation Plant

The Minister for Energy, E-Commerce and Postal Services (Mr. Stephen Timms): I have today granted consent under Section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989 to Rugeley Power Limited for the construction of flue gas desulphurisation plant at the 1,000 MW coal-fired power station at Rugeley in Staffordshire. Planning permission for the plant has also been deemed to be granted, subject to 47 planning conditions agreed with the Staffordshire County Council, the Cannock Chase District Council and the Lichfield District Council.

Copies of the press notice and decision letter are being placed in the Library of the House.

HEALTH

Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Miss Melanie Johnson): I am pleased to announce that, after a two year period of consultation and consideration, we propose to seek Parliament's approval for regulations, under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, to enable people conceived by donated sperm, eggs or embryos in future to know the identity of their donor.

We propose that donors who donate from 1 April 2005 will do so on the understanding that any child born as a result of their donation will be able to obtain from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority identifying details about them when the child reaches the age of 18. This will not apply to people who have donated before that time. It means that the first donor-conceived people to receive identifying information about their donors would do so in 2023.

I must stress that removal of anonymity will not lead to the donor having any responsibility, parental, financial or otherwise, for the child.

In addition, as we announced on 28 January 2003, the regulations will provide for non-identifying information about donors to be given, on request, to donor-conceived people who were born after the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority's register came into effect in 1991. This will be available to 18 year olds in 2010. The non-identifying information will be standardised so that, from 2022, all donor-conceived people who request it will be able to receive the same categories of information.

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The decision that it is right to remove donor anonymity has been informed by a public consultation on the provision of information to donor-conceived people; a programme of work with clinics and donors; consideration of the position in other countries; and a comparison with the information available to adopted people. We have also listened to the voices of donor-conceived people. Our conclusion is that the interests of the child are paramount, and that the position of donor-conceived people should be aligned more closely with that of adopted people, with access to identifying information about their donor when they reach age 18.

We intend to use the opportunity of the removal of anonymity to encourage a change in the culture of sperm, egg and embryo donation. By bringing more openness to it, we want to see wider recognition of the value and importance of such donations, and greater public appreciation of the dramatic difference that the donors can make to lives and families. To support the transition to identifiable donors we will raise consciousness of the need for donors and the contribution they make to our society through a campaign for public awareness.

The regulations will be laid before Parliament as soon as possible.

We have also considered developments that are taking place more widely in the assisted reproduction area. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act has been in force since 1991. It was landmark legislation at the time, setting up the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and introducing the first regulatory regime in the world specifically for the newly developing field of assisted reproduction. Since then, over 73,000 babies have been born in the UK as a result of treatment procedures regulated under the Act.

Bearing in mind the speed at which new technologies in the fertility field develop, and the complex ethical issues often associated with them, the Act has stood the test of time remarkably well.

However, any cutting-edge legislation, no matter how successful, at some stage needs to be reconsidered and any necessary readjustments made to ensure that it continues to be effective. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act is no exception. Developments in new technologies, changes in public perception of ethical issues, and the effect of international developments all have an impact and need to be considered.

I have concluded, therefore, that it is time to review the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. The review will begin in 2004 and will include a full public consultation exercise in 2005. The review will be carried out by the Department, and will include taking account of the work of the Science and Technology Committee, which is considering human reproductive technologies and the law and plans to report later this year. We welcome the work of the Committee.

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The review will be wide-ranging, but will exclude certain issues such as embryo research, stem cells and cloning which have been extensively and conclusively debated in Parliament in recent years. The issues that we envisage the review addressing include the range of procedures covered by the Act, checking the safety and efficacy of techniques, ethical considerations and effective regulation.

The Act has been very successful landmark legislation. We believe that it is right to review it to ensure that it continues to be effective in the 21st century.

TRANSPORT

Rural Bus Challenge

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tony McNulty): I am pleased to announce today the results of the 2003 rural bus challenge competition. A total of £20 million pounds has been awarded to 33 local authorities for 42 schemes which will provide improved local transport in rural areas.

This announcement brings to £110 million the sum awarded under the rural bus challenge scheme, supporting a total of 300 projects. A list of the 2003 awards will be deposited in the Library of the House.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

Sound Insulation

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Phil Hope): I have decided to allow robust details, as developed by the House Builders Federation (HBF), to be used as an alternative to pre-completion testing to demonstrate compliance with Part E of the Building Regulations. This applies only to the sound insulation between new houses and flats. The HBF's proposals have been subjected to public consultation with a generally favourable response. They have also been considered by the Building Regulations Advisory Committee (BRAC) who have recommended acceptance, subject to a monitoring procedure, and a review of the situation in three years. I anticipate that the option to use robust details will come into force on 1 July 2004, and I propose to publish amendment regulations before then.

Future development, maintenance and monitoring of the robust details will be carried out by an independent company set up for the purpose called Robust Details Ltd. This company will be run by a management board whose members represent industry (building and product manufacturers), building control, and consumer interests. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister will be represented by an Observer.

I am confident that use of robust details will result in significantly improved standards of sound insulation, while imposing much less of a burden on industry than pre-completion testing.

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