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Written Ministerial Statements

Friday 14 May 2004


CBRN Decontamination Guidance

The Minister for Local and Regional Government (Mr. Nick Raynsford): The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has today published the "Strategic National Guidance for the Decontamination of Buildings and Infrastructure Exposed to Chemical, Biological, Radiological or Nuclear (CBRN) Substances or Material". The guidance is available on the ODPM website www.odpm.gov.uk and the UK Resilience website http://www.ukresilience.info/. The guidance may be downloaded from those sites. A copy of the guidance is also available in the Libraries of the House.

The guidance has been prepared to help everyone who may be involved in planning for and decontaminating buildings and infrastructure in the event of a deliberate or accidental release of CBRN material.

The guidance is part of a suite of CBRN guidance developed under the CBRN Resilience Programme led by the Home Office. This particularly complements the guidance my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and Agri-Environment published on 25 March 2004 on decontamination of the open environment.

The guidance will be updated periodically. These updates will be available on the ODPM and UK Resilience websites. We welcome feedback on the document. This can be sent to cbrnenquiries@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk.

The strategic guidance is accompanied by publication today of separate guidance on "Precautions to Minimise Effects of a CBRN Event on Buildings and Infrastructure". This is available in hard copy and on the ODPM and UK Resilience websites. A copy of this guidance is also being made available in the Libraries of the House. Comments and queries can be sent to cbrnenquiries@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk.

The guidance on precautions provides generic advice to building and infrastructure owners and managers on pre-planning measures to prevent contamination from CBRN events, to limit the extent of any contamination which does occur, and to facilitate the decontamination process itself.


Tornado GR4A ZG710 (Accident Summary)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ivor Caplin): The Ministry of Defence has today placed in the Library of the House copies of the military aircraft accident summary of the RAF Board of
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Inquiry into the accident to Tornado GR4A ZG710, which was shot down during Operation TELIC by a US Patriot battery on 22 March 2003.

The Board of Inquiry found that the immediate cause of the accident was that the Patriot battery, in following its self-defence rules of engagement, misidentified Tornado ZG710 as a hostile anti-radiation missile and engaged it. However, like most aircraft accidents, no single cause was to blame. There were several contributory factors. These included the failure of the Tornado's IFF (identification friend or Foe), the wide classification criteria for anti-radiation missiles programmed into Patriot system and the Patriot rules of engagement, which were not sufficiently robust to prevent a friendly aircraft without a functioning IFF system being classified as an anti-radiation missile.

The war in Iraq was completed in a highly efficient and effective manner, for which all those involved must take great credit. As part of that campaign, the crew of ZG710 conducted a dangerous and demanding combat mission in an exemplary manner yet did not return safely. ZG710 was the only Royal Air Force aircraft lost during the war. The Board of Inquiry has established the causes of this tragic accident and has highlighted the various factors that contributed to it. The Board's recommendations are now being implemented.


Communications Data Code of Practice

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Caroline Flint): The voluntary code of practice for retention of communications data under Part 11 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 came into force on 5 December 2003, pursuant to the retention of communications data (code of practice) order 2003 (SI 2003/No. 3175). Paragraph 33 of the code requires that its effectiveness would be assessed, against criteria identified in the code, three months from the date it received parliamentary approval. The review period, which began on 5 March 2004, will assess the code against the criteria:

The voluntary scheme is working in the sense that there are a number of communications service providers that have volunteered, or are volunteering, to retain communications data in line with the code. However most of these volunteers need to prepare themselves, in technical terms, to be able to do so. Consequently it is still premature to evaluate whether investigative work has been facilitated by the voluntary retention of communications data in line with the code or to determine what data has been acquired by investigators that was available only because of its voluntary retention in line with the code.

Although communications service providers are volunteering to retain data in order to support the important task of safeguarding of national security,
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service providers are sensitive to any commercial impact from being identified as volunteers. The Government shall not be identifying providers that have volunteered or are indicating a likelihood of volunteering. Equally there are no indications that sectors of the industry that have not adopted the code of practice, are enjoying an unfair commercial advantage.

We do not believe, at this time, that identifying the volunteers' precise share of the communications service market is helpful, since it could enable deductions to be made, accurately or inaccurately, about which providers have volunteered. However the Government are confident that a significant proportion of communications data is being retained in line with the code.

Once the volunteers are able to indicate that they are retaining data in line with the code, it will be possible to conduct a more thorough evaluation of the effectiveness of the code.

The Government are keeping the issue of retention of communications data under review in the context of the recommendations of Lord Newton's Committee, who reviewed the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, and the declaration of European Council on 25 March 2004 that proposals for establishing rules on the retention of communications traffic data be examined by the Council with a view to their adoption by June 2005.

In the meantime the voluntary code of practice remains in place and the Government are continuing to engage with service providers which are considering volunteering.


NHS (Overseas Visitors)

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Hutton): We are publishing today a consultation paper on proposals to revise and clarify the rules on eligibility for free National Health Service primary medical services. Copies have been placed in the Library.

The consultation paper sets out proposals to strengthen the current system so that eligibility for primary medical services would be aligned as closely as possible with that for free hospital care. It sets out proposals for introducing a system of charges for those overseas visitors who would not be eligible for free treatment and seeks views on how such charges should operate.

Under the proposals overseas visitors would continue to be entitled to receive emergency or immediately necessary treatment free of charge. The paper also invites views on whether any other treatments should continue to be free for the protection of public health.

The proposed new rules are intended to allow general practice staff and primary care trusts to distinguish more easily between those eligible for free treatment and those not.

The consultation begins today and runs until 13 August 2004.
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EU Presidency 2005: European Council Dates

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): The United Kingdom will hold the Presidency of the European Union from 1 July until 31 December 2005. During that period my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will chair two meetings of the European Council: on 27–28 October 2005 and 15–16 December 2005. Both meetings will take place in Brussels.

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