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The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): As part of the continuing commitment to prepare and protect the UK, I have signed a memorandum of agreement with the US for co-operation in science and technology for critical infrastructure protection and other homeland security matters.
The agreement establishes a framework for co-operation in science and technology and formalises the UK's strong relationship with the US in scientific research and development. This includes: sharing scientific knowledge; increasing the exchange of information and personnel with expertise in these areas; and taking advantage of each country's respective research, development, testing and evaluation capacities.
The agreement represents the continuing commitment by the UK and the US to share knowledge, expertise and research in addition to development, testing and evaluation capabilities that will help us find the best technologies and tools to prepare and protect our citizens.
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. John Spellar): Earlier today I placed in the Libraries copies of the annual report on the implementation of the Regional Development Strategy for Northern Ireland 2025 (RDS) covering the period 200304.
Implementation of the RDS is not simply a process for the Department for Regional Development. It is a shared process involving a wide variety of public and private organisations, businesses, voluntary and community organisations and individuals. Annual reporting on the implementation of the RDS involves assessment of progress being made against a number of critical threshold indicators (CTIs), and each of the strategic planning guidelines (SPGs) contained within the strategy.
The RDS sets out a regional brownfield target of 60 per cent. by 2010 for towns with populations of more than 5,000. Recent information provided by
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the Department of the Environment shows a fall from almost 88 per cent. in 200102 to 81 per cent. in the period 200203.
Progress is also measured against each of the SPGs. This information is published annually in the monitoring report and is available on the Department's website. With only three years monitoring it is not possible to draw any significant conclusions on the data collected so far.
During 2003 and 2004, the Department engaged with a wide range of stakeholders in the public and private sectors and in the community. A series of four sub-regional seminars were held in the north-west, the south-east, the west rural and the north-east. The aim was to identify the development needs of sub-regions, and to examine the potential of the RDS to provide a framework through which these needs could be addressed.
The Planning (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 2003 requires the Department to examine emerging development plans for "general conformity" with the RDS. In March 2004, the Department received the draft Magherafelt area plan for consideration and a statement of general conformity was issued in the same month.
The annual report comments on the RDS commitment to a five-year review, a focused assessment of the strategy to be carried out in the period 200506. The purpose of this focused assessment is to consider any aspects of the RDS where in-course adjustments to strategic guidance would be important prior to a major review at the 10-year point. Work has already commenced on a review of regional housing figures and I expect to make an announcement on this shortly. The focused assessment process will provide the opportunity for consultation on the outcome of this housing work.
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Alan Johnson): I am pleased to announce the publication of the department for Work and Pensions autumn performance report. The report is intended to supplement the Department's annual report published in April 2004 (Cm 6221).