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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 21 December 2004


Parliamentary Questions

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. Christopher Leslie): Access rights to information held by public authorities under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 come into force on 1 January 2005.

The following guidance sets out procedures for dealing with complaints about the handling of requests for information. This guidance makes clear that there should be no inconsistencies between the provision of information in answer to parliamentary questions and information given to citizens under the Freedom of Information Act.

Where a member is dissatisfied with the answer to a parliamentary question there are well-established parliamentary routes Members may follow such as: tabling further questions; seeking to raise the issues on the Adjournment; or a complaint to the Public Administration Committee, that may seek to follow up the issue with Ministers.

Alternatively Members may write to the appropriate Minister expressing their concern and setting out the information they are seeking. Such correspondence shall be treated by departments as a new request for information requiring a full internal review and fresh decision. The request will attract all the provisions and appeal mechanisms afforded by the Freedom of Information Act, including if necessary an appeal to the Information Commissioner.

Any investigation by the Information Commissioner will therefore be related to the correspondence to the Minister and not extend to the answer to the parliamentary question or to any other parliamentary proceedings which are protected by parliamentary privilege. In addition the Cabinet Office plans to issue revised guidance to officials on drafting answers to parliamentary questions taking account of the Freedom of Information Act.


Baton Rounds (Northern Ireland)

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): On 23 October 2002, I placed in the Library of the House details of the guidelines on the rules of engagement for the use of plastic baton rounds in Northern Ireland by the armed forces. We did this as an exceptional measure aimed at building confidence in Northern Ireland following a request from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.
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The guidelines were updated in the light of a recommendation made by the independent assessor of military complaints procedures and placed in the Library of the House on 15 May 2003.

The guidance has been further updated to take account of lessons learned from training and operations and as part of our commitment to review baton round guidance in consultation with the Association of Chief Police Officers. A copy has been placed in the Library of the House.

Ronald Maddison

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ivor Caplin): I wrote yesterday to the solicitors acting for the Maddison family apologising for the fact that Ministry of Supply employees at the Chemical Defence Experimental Establishment at Porton Down Wiltshire proceeded with a test involving Ronald George Maddison on 6 May 1953, which led to his death. This was undertaken notwithstanding the fact that an identical test on 4 May 1953 resulted in an adverse blood test result in one serviceman.

The Ministry of Defence has not received a formal claim for compensation from the next of kin of Mr. Maddison. However, any claim for compensation from his family would be considered favourably on the basis of the negligence referred to above.

The Ministry of Defence intends to challenge, by way of judicial review, the inquest verdict of unlawful killing.


Gypsy Sites

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Keith Hill): I am announcing today the publication for consultation of the new planning Circular "Planning for Gypsy and Traveller Sites". The new Circular will replace DoE Circular 1/94 "Gypsy Sites and Planning".

The advice in the Circular covers the procedures to be followed in ensuring that the planning system recognises, protects and facilitates the traditional lifestyle of Gypsies and Travellers by identifying and making provision in developments plans for their land and accommodation requirements.

It is the Government's intention that the accommodation needs of Gypsy and Traveller communities should be part of the mainstream of the plan-led system. The guidance contained in the Circular should result in a greater proportion of this need being provided for on sites allocated in development plans, providing greater certainty both for Gypsies and Travellers and local residents and reducing the need for local authorities to enter into lengthy and expensive enforcement actions against unauthorised sites.

The new Circular also updates the definition of Gypsies and Travellers to reflect the fact that many stop travelling permanently or temporarily because of health reasons or caring responsibilities but still want to maintain their traditional lifestyle.

The consultation will run until 18 March 2005. Copies of the consultation documents have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and are available to download from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's website.
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Gypsy Site Refurbishment Grant

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Keith Hill): I am today announcing the details of the successful bids under the second round of the Gypsy Site Refurbishment Grant for 2004–05. Under the first round, £4.82 million was allocated in April of this year, with a further £2.54 million now being paid in the second round.

The existing network of over 300 local authority authorised sites represents a valuable resource for Gypsies and Travellers. With the aid of this grant, local authorities are able to ensure that Gypsies and Travellers have access to high quality accommodation and that the networks of sites continues to meet the needs of the Gypsy and Traveller community into the future. The successful bids are:


Children Act Report

The Minister for Children, Young People and Families (Margaret Hodge): I have today placed copies of the Children Act report for 2003 in the Libraries of both Houses. This statutory requirement, as part of the Children Act 1989 (s83(6)), is met each year by drawing together information relating to research, statistics and inspection findings, which are consolidated to create a report.


Biological Weapons Convention

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): Members will wish to be aware of the outcome of the recent discussions in Geneva on the two subjects set for discussion by states party to the biological and toxin weapons convention (BTWC) in 2004. States party were mandated to discuss and promote common understanding and effective action on strengthening national and international efforts and existing mechanisms for the surveillance, detection, diagnosis and combating of infectious diseases affecting humans, animals and plants; and on promoting common understanding and effective action on the effects of cases of alleged use of biological or toxin weapons or suspicious outbreaks of disease.

On the concluding day of the meeting of states party to the BTWC, which took place from 6–10 December, there was agreement by consensus on a politically binding report where, inter alia, states party recognised
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the international aspect of these subjects and their relevance to the object and purpose of the BTWC, and agreed on the value of the following actions:

The preceding meeting of experts held in Geneva in July had prepared the way for this political decision making. At this earlier meeting, levels of attendance and participation were excellent with 87 states party contributing to international discussion and sharing of expertise on these subjects. For the United Kingdom, experts from across Whitehall made nine presentations which were well received.

That so many other states party sent experts from capitals and took an active part is an indication to us that delegations recognised both the importance of the two subjects and also the value of the work programme more generally in contributing to strengthening the BTWC. The success of the July meeting was reinforced at the December meeting of states party where states party, in their national statements, welcomed the substantial exchange of information.

The United Kingdom was grateful to the chair, Mr. Peter Goosen of South Africa, for the efforts he made to achieve consensus on a report that reflected the commonality of views and approaches that were demonstrated at the meetings. We believe that this has again demonstrated to the wider arms control community that the intersessional process has value.

The continued success of this process is particularly important to the UK as we look ahead to 2005 and our own chairmanship of the meetings of states party. Ambassador John Freeman, UK permanent representative to the conference on disarmament, was elected on the final day of this year's meeting as the chair. The subject for consideration will be "the content, promulgation, and adoption of codes of conduct for scientists". UK national preparations for this began in 2003. We have held a series of seminars with representatives of academia, NGOs and industry to seek their views and to assist in developing our ideas for next year. Ambassador Freeman wrote to states party on the
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final day of the 2004 meeting with some initial thoughts on the work ahead. The UK will continue to work co-operatively both nationally and internationally through 2005.

I will keep the House informed of developments and outcomes in 2005.

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