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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 9 December 2004


Civil Contingencies Act

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Ruth Kelly): I am today launching the public consultation on the regulations and guidance in support of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, which received Royal Assent on 18 November.

The Act and accompanying non-legislative measures will deliver a single framework for civil protection in the UK, modernising outdated legislation to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

The purpose of the public consultation is to consider the suitability and content of the underpinning regulations and guidance for practitioners and is in accordance with the Government's commitment to launch the consultation shortly after Royal Assent.

Copies of the consultation document, the draft regulations and guidance will be placed in the Library of the House. They can also be viewed on the UK resilience website www.ukresilience.info/home.htm.

The consultation period will run until 3 March and is being carried out in accordance with the Cabinet Office code of practice on consultation. The final regulations and guidance will be drawn up in light of the responses to the consultation.


Electoral Commission Reports

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. Christopher Leslie): My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister and I are jointly publishing today the Government response to the Electoral Commission's report "Voting for change".

In its report "Voting for change: An electoral law modernisation programme", the Electoral Commission has made a range of proposals and recommendations for electoral reform to address the needs of the voter and make elections more accessible, to protect the integrity of the democratic process, and to modernise electoral registers. The Commission advocates the modernisation of registers, which would involve the introduction of individual registration building blocks on which safe and secure arrangements for voting away from polling stations could be delivered.

Our response welcomes many of the Electoral Commission's recommendations and sets out our priorities for change. These are focussed on three key outcomes: engaging more people in the political process; building public confidence in the electoral system; and delivering electoral services in a way that is more efficient and more responsive to the needs of the voter.
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We are committed to maintaining the security and integrity of the electoral process and to enhancing its openness and transparency. We will ensure that any innovative methods of voting that are introduced will be as secure, if not more secure, than the traditional methods. Specifically we are proposing, when parliamentary time allows:

We are sympathetic to the principles of individual registration and appreciate the benefits that it might bring, but are concerned about maintaining a simple and clear system, and comprehensive registers. We are therefore considering the options to support voting away from polling stations with an approach that preserves the completeness and integrity of electoral registers.

We hope that the publication of this response will substantially move forward the modernisation agenda for elections.

Copies of this Government response to the Electoral Commission's report will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.


Royal Air Force Manpower Drawdown

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence informed the House in his statement on 21 July 2004, Official Report, column 348, that changes in the force structure of the RAF and the achievement of planned organisational efficiencies would lead to a reduced RAF trained manpower requirement of around 41,000 by 2008. I can now inform the House that the RAF has completed initial work on how this reduction will be achieved, while maintaining a satisfactory balance of personnel with the skills and experience levels throughout the service to enable the delivery of operational capability in a more flexible, deployable and responsive way.

The RAF will achieve the required reduction, from a current regular trained strength of around 48,900, through a balanced strategy of normal outflow, reduced recruitment and a targeted redundancy programme. The service is therefore reducing its recruitment targets by some 4,000 (to around 6,000 in total) over the next three financial years and has identified a need for some 2,750 redundancies over the same period. Redundancy will be effected by a compulsory scheme, for which applications will be invited. It is hoped that as many of the redundancies as possible will be applicants but, in order to ensure the long-term balance of ability and experience across the RAF, it may not be possible to accept all applications received, in which case, it may be necessary to select some non-applicants.
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Applications for the first 450 redundancies are being invited today and those selected will leave the service by 31 March 2006. Details of the remaining redundancies (approximately 2,300), which are expected to be managed in two further phases, will be notified to RAF personnel when further work is complete.


Planning (Telecommunication Developments)

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Keith Hill): I am seeking to place a renewed emphasis on the importance of both the local planning authority and network operators participating in the annual rollout discussion process described in the code of best practice on mobile phone network development. The importance of this was recognised in planning policy guidance note 8 telecommunications (revised) (PPG8) and the code of practice and has recently been emphasised by the all-party group on mobile phones (apMobile) in their report into planning procedures. The report recognised the benefits of local planning authorities and operators working with the local community to review annual roll out plans and to develop local strategies for telecommunication developments.

The Government believes that information sharing and negotiation at this early stage could greatly reduce the levels of concern and conflict when specific applications are submitted in line with the agreed local plan or strategy. Therefore, it is desirable that in their local development frameworks, local planning authorities consider how they plan to manage the developments needed to meet the growing demand for communication services. Where appropriate, authorities may need to consider developing a suitable policy basis for communication developments in their local development documents. Such policies must of course be in accordance with the national policy as set out in planning policy guidance note 8 telecommunications (revised).

I am also reiterating the importance of effective pre-application discussions, especially in the absence of an agreed communications plan or strategy. It is of course open to local planning authorities to charge for such discussions under section 93 of the Local Government Act 2003, if they consider it necessary or appropriate.

The code of best practice sets out the traffic light model which is designed to help network operators and their representatives to identify issues that might arise should a site be selected for a telecommunication development and to help the preparation of consultation strategies to address such issues. It is important that the rating under the traffic light model is discussed with the local planning authority. In red and amber rated areas this discussion should include consideration of the optional elements of the consultation strategy that will be undertaken by the applicant. In accordance with the code of best practice, it is reasonable for the local planning authority to expect evidence of the consultation undertaken should be provided as part of the supplementary information sent with an application.
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The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has commissioned a study by the University of Reading and Arup to assess the impact that the code of best practice has had since its introduction and how local authorities have implemented the code and how the public perceives its operation. The mobile network operators have also commissioned the second independent review of their 10 commitments which will demonstrate in a quantitative way how their operations and procedures align with the requirements of the code. This will provide the Government with evidence on whether the code has been effective and whether there are any areas of weakness that need to be addressed. Informed by this evidence the Government will consider whether changes to the code are appropriate.

Finally, in respect of the Court of Appeal case, First Secretary of State v T-Mobile and others on 12 November, the court dismissed an appeal by the First Secretary of State against the decision of Sir Richard Tucker in relation to an application by T-Mobile for a shared mast in Harrogate. In essence the issue before the Court of Appeal was whether the judge in the High Court had dealt correctly with the extent to which public fears about the health risks arising from masts was material, when the development in question had the benefit of an ICNIRP certificate. Sir Richard had held that the inspector had misconstrued PPG8 when dealing with this issue in his decision letter.

The Court of Appeal gave consideration to the policy guidance in PPG8. Taking into account that advice, the court found the FSS' policy to mean that in cases where an ICNIRP certificate exists, only in exceptional circumstances would it be legitimate for a local planning authority to take public fears about health risks into account. They agreed with Sir Richard that the inspector had misconstrued this advice, and his decision was therefore flawed. We will be carefully reviewing the transcript of the judgment of Lord Justices Pill, Mummery and Laws before deciding what action may need to be taken in the light of this judgement.

Officials in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister will be writing to all local planning authorities and licensed communications code system operators drawing their attention to this statement.

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