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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 19 April 2006


Armed Forces (Ethnic Minority Recruiting)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Don Touhig): A key aim of the armed forces diversity policy is that they should become more representative of the society they serve. The intention is that by 2013 the proportion of ethnic minority personnel serving in the armed forces should broadly reflect UK society (i.e. around 8 per cent. of personnel should come from ethnic minority backgrounds).

To achieve this will require sustained effort, building on the achievements of recent years to ensure that the armed forces attract personnel from the rich UK ethnic minority talent pool. As an integral part of this strategy, the armed forces have set a further round of annual UK ethnic minority recruiting goals from financial year 2006–07 for the next five years at 0.5 per cent. above the previous year's achievement for each service, or rolling forward the previous year's target where this would provide a greater challenge. This means that in the financial year 2006–07 the goals will be for the Royal Navy to recruit approximately 3.5 per cent. of intake from ethnic minorities, the Army approximately 4.3 per cent. and the RAF approximately 3.6 per cent.

MOD Training Agencies

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Don Touhig): Hon. Members will wish to be aware that with effect from 1 April 2006, the Naval Recruiting and Training Agency (NRTA), the Army Training and Recruiting Agency (ATRA), and the Royal Air Force Training Group Defence Agency (TGDA) will cease to hold Agency status.

This change is being made to facilitate the individual services plans for restructuring their headquarters and to improve the cohesion of training between training individuals and training formed units. It also seeks to recognise the changes taking place as a result of the implementation of programmes such as the Defence Training Review which aim to rationalise the services specialist training to achieve improvements in its delivery and to meet the increasing requirement for joint operations. We take our duty of care responsibilities very seriously and the well being of our personnel remains fundamental to the core values and standards of the armed forces and the establishments responsible for training them. I am confident that these changes will both contribute towards a more joined-up approach to tri-service training and the achievement of broader efficiencies. These changes will have no impact on the current initiatives to improve the arrangements for the care and well being of recruits. They are part of a package of broader measures that seek to improve all
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aspects of individual training capability. I also wish to stress that the recent report by Nicholas Blake QC has no influence on this decision.

I will ensure that the key benefits of agency status, such as customer focus and a strong performance management, will be carried forward under the new arrangements. We will continue to publish information about the work of the successor organisations and be proactive in releasing information under the Freedom of Information Act.


Housing and Regeneration

The Minister of Communities and Local Government (Mr. David Miliband): I am today announcing a review of the institutional structures for delivery of housing and regeneration.

Achieving mixed, sustainable communities in the 21st century is a key Government priority. These are communities that meet the needs of existing and future residents, are sensitive to their environment and contribute to a high quality of life. The Government have a role not only in articulating their vision for the future but also putting in place the mechanisms which turn the vision in to a reality.

To date successful programmes led by English Partnerships and the Housing Corporation have made an important contribution in achieving the Government's ambitions. At the start of March we approved the Housing Corporation's latest programme which will see almost £4 billion of public resources being allocated and 84,000 new affordable rented and low cost home ownership homes delivered in the next two years. In the year to March English Partnerships exceeded the previous year's outturn in respect of housing starts on sites commissioned, housing completions, employment floorspace and private sector investment. English Partnerships have also been successful in the acquisition of former public sector sites including 98 former NHS hospitals and the Oakington barracks in South Cambridgeshire which will provide an additional 10,000 new homes.

However, housing and regeneration activities are changing and becoming more closely integrated. The Government's response to the Barker review of housing supply, the growth in non-registered social landlord investment, the strategic housing role of local authorities, developing mixed, sustainable communities and helping registered social landlords flourish as social businesses are demanding and fast-moving agendas. We need to ensure that our delivery agencies have the right tools, the critical mass they need to deliver and the right structures to respond to these challenges.

As we move towards creating genuinely mixed, sustainable communities throughout England, we know that we will require even greater focus and skill in the future.

That is why the Deputy Prime Minister and I have asked for this review. It will not only look at the existing activities of the Housing Corporation and English Partnerships, but will consider more widely how we can bring innovative solutions to the range of challenges we face.
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The review will consider the best way of organising national delivery mechanisms to maximise the use of private investment, public subsidy and land holdings, and assets funded by past public investment, to support the delivery of new homes and mixed, sustainable communities.

The Deputy Prime Minister and I expect to be in a position to announce initial findings of the review in the summer.


Avian Influenza

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): On 29 March, the wild bird surveillance helpline was notified of a single dead swan in Cellardyke Harbour, Fife. It was collected and samples taken from it were sent to the Veterinary Laboratory Agency at Weybridge and arrived on 31 March. Confirmation of H5 high pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) became available late on the afternoon of 5 April.

Avian influenza contingency plans were immediately activated, and in line with EU legislation a 3 km radius protection zone and 10 km radius surveillance zone were put in place around the location of the finding. The main effect of these controls was a requirement for any poultry in the protection zone to be housed. They also imposed restrictions on movement of poultry and poultry products in the area and the wider 10 km surveillance zone. The state veterinary service have subsequently carried out clinical inspection and sampling of all flocks within the protection zone and all flocks in the surveillance zone have been clinically inspected.

Further laboratory results obtained on 6 April confirmed high pathogenic avian influenza H5N1. As a precautionary measure the decision was taken to require the housing of birds in a wider area, known as the wild bird risk area, covering Fife, parts of Kincardineshire, Angus and Perthshire. The decision was based on veterinary, scientific and ornithological expert advice, and the proximity of important waters where there are swans and other wild birds. In additional to the housing requirement a ban on bird gatherings within the 2,500 sq km approximate area was also introduced, and wild bird surveillance has been intensified.

On 11 April DNA sequencing completed by the Central Science Laboratory in York confirmed that the bird was a whooper swan. In a joint statement the UK CVOs confirmed their current hypothesis that the swan originated from outside of Great Britain. The movement of swans associated with cold weather and on migration has been a feature of the recent avian influenza cases in wild birds across Europe. Based on this finding a further veterinary risk assessment has been carried out which concluded that the current measures put in place in relation to the discovery of H5N1 in the swan are adequate and proportionate. I have placed copies of the risk assessment in the House Libraries. The date for the lifting of the wild bird risk area is being kept under review and is subject to any further findings of H5N1 avian influenza in the area.
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Animal health in Scotland is a devolved matter. Scottish Ministers are leading on the current bird flu situation in Scotland. However, Great Britain is seen as a single epidemiological unit, and both Defra officials and those in the devolved administrations are working very closely together, as they always do in this area.

Efforts were made to reassure the public that there is no reason for public health concern. avian influenza is a disease of birds and whilst it can pass very rarely and with difficulty to humans evidence suggests that this requires extremely close contact with infected birds.

We continue to monitor the situation, working closely with stakeholders to minimise the impact on the poultry industry and the wider rural economy and society. I will continue to keep the House informed as more information becomes available on the current incident, and the studies on epidemiological, surveillance and laboratory tests that are now in progress worldwide.

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