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Controls on Smoking (Northern Ireland)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Shaun Woodward): This statement sets out my intention to introduce comprehensive measures to protect all workers and the public from the dangers of passive smoking and second-hand smoke in workplaces and in all enclosed public places in Northern Ireland including all pubs and all bars.

On 28 June I announced my intention to introduce partial controls throughout Northern Ireland on where people smoke. I also indicated that, over the coming months, I would decide whether to go further and extend controls on where people smoke in all workplaces.

To help inform my decision I made fact-finding visits to Dublin and New York where controls had already been introduced to assess the benefits to public health and the impact of controls on businesses, especially the hospitality industry.

The messages from both visits were similar. Both impressed upon me the improvements that have been made to the protection of public health for the general public and employees by controlling where people smoke.

The Department had already carried out a major consultation exercise between December 2004 and March 2005. This elicited 70,823 responses to questions about strengthening existing controls on tobacco use. 91.18 per cent. of respondents expressed support for comprehensive controls similar to those already in place in the Republic of Ireland. These controls will also be introduced in Scotland next year.

Trade Unions (with one exception) in Northern Ireland all supported the move to prohibit people from smoking in all workplaces and all enclosed public spaces. In addition organisations such as the Health and Social Services Boards, the BMA, local councils and the voluntary sector have made strong representations to the Department for a complete ban on smoking in all public places and workplaces to protect public health.

There is strong cross-party support for a complete ban from the majority of MLAs (Alliance, DUP, the SDLP, Sinn Fein and the Ulster Unionists all registering their support).

The proposals will be issued for consultation in the New Year.


Windfarm (Little Cheyne Court)

The Minister for Energy (Malcolm Wicks): The Government have today given consent under section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989 to Npower Renewables Ltd's application to build 26 turbines with a capacity of up to 78 MW, at Little Cheyne Court, near Dungeness,

Following objections by the relevant local planning authorities, the Government held a public inquiry into the application and appointed Clive Richardson, an
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Inspector from the Planning Inspectorate to preside over it. Mr Richardson recommended the application be granted.

The decision to grant consent was taken after extensive and thorough consideration of the representations received, both for and against consent being granted. The extensive, independent public inquiry ensured that community and environmental concerns were heard.

We are aware that this decision will come as a disappointment to those local people who opposed the application. Conversely, the decision will be welcomed by those local people who supported the application. Today's approval takes into account the concerns raised, and includes a number of conditions recommended by the inquiry Inspector to mitigate any impacts.

This wind farm will generate clean, renewable electricity and make a vital contribution towards reducing carbon emissions and meeting the UK's international obligations on tackling climate change.

Copies of the decision letter have been placed in the Library of the House.

National Minimum Wage

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): I am pleased to announce that the Government wrote to the Low Pay Commission on 14 October setting out our non-economic evidence on the national minimum wage.

The evidence outlines the Government's view on the following issues:

The evidence has been placed in the Libraries of the House and will also be available on my Department's website at


Rail Franchising

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling): The Future of Rail White Paper (Command Paper 6233), published in July 2004, announced our intention to consider how rail passenger franchises could be best aligned with Network Rail's regional and route structure.

On the 19 October 2004, I announced that, following expiry of the current Central Trains franchise, the existing services would be distributed amongst other train operators in the region. This change is designed to improve the efficiency and performance of the railways, achieving savings through economies of scale and improving service to customers. Since then, much work has been done, in consultation with the rail industry, to determine the most appropriate way of achieving these objectives.
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I am today announcing the new structure of rail franchises which will be implemented. The structure incorporates market-based groups of services with an operational focus, which are better aligned to Network Rail's routes in order to encourage joint working between track and train. Three new franchises will replace four existing franchises.

There will be an option to transfer the Liverpool to Nottingham service to the TransPennine Express franchise if this demonstrates better value for money. There will also be an option to transfer the services to and from Birmingham Snow Hill to Chiltern Railways, if this, too, can demonstrate better value for money.

Detailed discussions are taking place regarding the possible transfer to Transport for London of the London inner-suburban services operated by Silverlink Metro.

I shall keep the House informed of further developments as we continue to implement the proposals set out in the White Paper.
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Draft Occupational Pension Schemes

The Minister for Pensions Reform (Mr. Stephen Timms): I am pleased to announce that on 9 September 2005, the Department for Work and Pensions published a consultation document containing draft Occupational Pensions Schemes (Disclosure of Information) regulations 2006.

The draft Regulations introduce a requirement that annual benefit information for non money-purchase benefits is provided automatically. This proposal was originally included in the June 2003 Command Paper "Simplicity, Security and Choice: Working and Saving for Retirement" (Cm 5835).

The draft Regulations also establish a new approach to disclosure, replacing the rigid timescales of the current disclosure regime with a simple requirement that information be furnished within a reasonable period. These changes reflect recommendations made by Alan Pickering in his report, "A simpler way to better pensions" published in July 2002. The Pensions Regulator is also simultaneously consulting on a corresponding Code of Practice regarding views on what constitutes a reasonable period.

These Regulations will ensure that scheme members get important automatic information about their non-money purchase pensions, assisting them to make informed choices about the adequacy of their overall retirement provision.

The consultation period is 9 September 2005 to 2 December 2005. A summary of responses, including the next steps will be published by 17 February 2006.