The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. Christopher Leslie): The Government intend to legislate, when parliamentary time allows, to lower the age at which a candidate may stand for election from 21 to 18 years old. Such a change in policy is consistent with the recommendation made by the independent Electoral Commission in its report "The Age of Electoral Majority" published in April 2004.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ivor Caplin): I am publishing today the Ministry of Defence paper "Review of Modelling of the Demolitions at Khamisiyah in March 1991 and Implications for UK Personnel". The purpose of the paper is to evaluate recent work undertaken by the US Department of Defence (DoD) which modelled the distribution of nerve agent released by US demolitions of Iraqi chemical weapons at the end of the 199091 Gulf conflict and to discuss its implications for UK personnel.
The MOD has assessed the 2002 DoD model carefully and welcomes the improvements incorporated. The model better estimates the size and nature of the possible area of exposure. However, MOD notes that it utilises wide parameters in order to include the maximum number of personnel who could potentially have been exposed to any level of nerve agent. While it is appropriate to include a margin of this kind, MOD believes that the limits used in the model somewhat overstate the potential risk to UK troops. Nonetheless, MOD has used the model for its own analysis and concludes that:
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): Following the expiry of the Dutch mandate in Iraq and the planned withdrawal of its force of 1,400 personnel from Al Muthanna province in Iraq in March, the United Kingdom has, in its role as framework nation, reviewed with allies how security should continue to be provided in this part of multi-national division (South East) (MND(SE)).
We have greatly appreciated the valuable contribution made by the Dutch Battle Group in Iraq. Dutch forces have made good progress in Al Muthanna, both in ensuring the stability of the province and building the capability of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). This means that a significantly smaller force package is now able to perform these tasks and the General Officer Commanding (GOC) MND(SE) has concluded that a force of some 600 personnel will be adequate to support and mentor Iraqi Security Forces in providing general security in Al Muthanna, as well as providing protection for the Japanese reconstruction battalion located there.
The majority of the personnel required will come from UK units already deployed in Iraq, principally the Queen's Dragoon Guards and the 2nd Battalion, the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment. A small number of additional personnel will also need to be deployed to provide logistics and other essential support to the force in Al Muthanna. This will temporarily increase the total number of UK personnel in Iraq by approximately 220, although this will subsequently fall to approximately 150, once the initial deployment to Al Muthanna is completed. Overall, however, the number of UK personnel deployed in Iraq is planned to fall by the end of February as the withdrawal of the extremely high readiness reserve takes place following the Iraqi elections.
The Minister for Housing and Planning (Keith Hill): I wish to announce that Margaret Ford has been reappointed as Chairman of English Partnerships to serve a further three year term with effect from 1 April 2005. English Partnerships is the national regeneration agency supporting high quality sustainable growth in England.
The Minister for Local and Regional Government (Mr. Nick Raynsford): I have today laid before the House, the Local Government Finance Report (England) 200506. This report establishes the amounts of revenue support grant (RSG) and non-domestic rates (NDR) to be paid to local authorities in 200506, and the basis of their distribution. A draft of this report was issued for consultation on 2 December 2004.
I have also today laid before the House the Local Government Finance Report (England) 200304: Amending Report 2005. This report sets out the
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amended basis for distribution of RSG and NDR for 200304 following the incorporation of revised data into the calculations for the local government finance settlement for that year. A draft of this report was issued for consultation on 18 November 2004.
The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister received a total of 299 written representations within the consultation deadlines from the Local Government Association and the Association of London Government, from local authorities, local authority groups and Honourable Members, and Ministers met with delegations from six local authority associations and representative groups to discuss the proposals.
Having considered the views of the local authority associations and others who have commented on the provisional settlement, I have decided to confirm my proposals on the bases of distribution for 200506 and the amended bases for distribution for 200304.
The final figures published today for the 200506 settlement reflect the more accurate data and resource totals that have become available since we published our proposals, and also appropriate data corrections to reflect errors discovered by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister or notified to us by local authorities.
This year's settlement represents a continued real terms increase in investment in local government, which will allow authorities to continue to deliver improving services at an affordable cost. We have provided an extra £408 million in formula grant above the published plans for local government for 200506. As a result, total formula grant for 200506 will be 5.6 per cent. higher than in 200405. This is the eighth successive year in which Government have provided local government overall with an increase in total Government grant above inflation, and combined with specific and special grants brings the total increase in money from Government to local councils to 33 per cent. in real terms since 1997.
I shall be sending copies of these reports to all local authorities, and making available full supporting information on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's website at http://www.local.odpm.gov.uk/finance/0506/grant.htm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Yvette Cooper): We are publishing today the Government response to the ODPM Select Committee Report on Gypsy and Traveller Sites. We welcome the Committee's report as a very helpful and thorough contribution to the work we already have underway in addressing the demand for Gypsy and Traveller accommodation and issues related to it.
We are already taking forward a number of measures to tackle the problems arising from the shortage of suitable Gypsy and Traveller accommodation experienced over many years and although our approach may differ in some ways from what the
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Committee suggests it is clear that we share common concerns and a determination to see effective remedies put in place.
We believe our decision to mainstream the funding and provision of Gypsy and Traveller accommodation needs within the housing and planning systems is the key not only to providing the Gypsy and Traveller accommodation which is so sorely needed but a means to foster greater social inclusion between the Gypsy and Traveller community and the settled community generally.
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