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The table includes questions which were subsequently withdrawn and questions which were subsequently transferred to another Department.

Government Departments substantively answered 57 per cent. of the questions on the named day specified.

During the same period Government Departments issued 35 written ministerial statements, keeping the House informed of a wide range of domestic and international issues.

Following this experiment, a motion is now tabled to give the House the opportunity to express its view on the introduction of this new procedure and the earlier 2002 resolution of the House on September Sittings. This is for debate tomorrow, 1 November.

Northern Ireland

Chief Electoral Officer

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Hain): The Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland, Douglas Bain, is responsible for all aspects of electoral administration in Northern Ireland, including the conduct of all elections and referendums, as well as electoral registration. In accordance with section 14 of the Electoral Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1962—as amended by section 9 of the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006—the Chief Electoral Officer is required to submit an annual report to the Secretary of State.

I am pleased to announce that the annual report of the Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland for the year 2005-06 has been laid before Parliament today. Copies are available in the Library.

Trade and Industry

Isle of Grain Power Station

The Minister for Energy (Malcolm Wicks): I have today granted consent under section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989 to E.ON UK plc to construct a 1,200 MW combined cycle gas turbine generating
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station at Grain in Kent. Planning permission has also been deemed to be granted subject to the inclusion of 51 conditions agreed with Medway council.

In accordance with the Government's commitment that combined heat and power (CHP) should be used wherever feasible, E.ON has entered into an agreement to supply heat to a neighbouring industry, should that prove acceptable to both parties. If that is the case the proposed station would qualify as a good quality CHP power station.

Sustainable Construction Strategy

The Minister for Industry and the Regions (Margaret Hodge): I am today announcing the publication of the Review of Sustainable Construction. The review was launched in July 2005 and reflects the views of many in the construction industry and of other interested parties. It pulls together in one document the main strands of Government policy and industry initiatives on sustainable construction, taking account of developments since the publication of “Building a better quality of Life” in 2000. It also sets out some initial targets on how industry can meet the challenge of sustainable construction. Copies of the review are available in the Libraries of both Houses.

I have asked my officials to develop over the course of the next year a forward-looking strategy for sustainable construction. This will refine the initial targets set out in the current review and set out how Government and the industry can work together to deliver greater sustainability in the construction industry.


East Midlands and West Midland Franchises

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tom Harris): I am today announcing that we have issued bidders for the new east midlands, west midlands and new cross country rail franchises with an Invitation to Tender (ITT). Copies of
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stakeholder briefing documents, which give a synopsis of each ITT, have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and are available on the Department for Transport website at

On the 18 October 2005, Official Report, col 52-53 WS, the Secretary of State announced that three new rail franchises would be created (east midlands, west midlands and a new cross-country) from four currently existing franchises (Central, Silverlink, Cross Country and Midland Mainline). The new franchises will begin operation on Sunday 11 November 2007 and will provide over 2,000 daily rail services.

Each ITT has been informed by recent public consultations. Bidders have to provide the minimum service levels the ITT sets out and can propose additional services subject to any operational constraints and affordability.

Our aim is to build on the recent success of current operators, meet current and future passenger demand and facilitate increases in capacity. The changes proposed will increase the number of trains operated per day over the rail network. In many areas, timetables will change to help deliver more frequent and faster services. In particular the West Coast Main Line will see marked increase in capacity, following the significant investment on the route, with the implementation of a 2008 timetable. In the new cross country franchise, bidders will be required to price a 30 per cent. increase in capacity on key routes. The east midlands franchise starts the process of segmenting the long distance and commuter markets on the route, which will make train lengthening simpler to implement.

Bidders must deliver value for money for both passengers and tax payers, and deliver improvements for current and future rail users. Performance will be contracted to improve significantly across all three new franchises.

In the east and west midlands franchises, where the operators are responsible for stations, the busiest stations will achieve Secure Stations Accreditation to improve passenger safety. The winners of the three franchises will also accept interoperable smartcard ticketing across the whole of the franchise during its lifetime. Fares regulation will remain capped at a maximum average rise of RPI+1 per cent. on all regulated tickets.

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