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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 19 December 2006

Communities and Local Government

East of England Plan

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Meg Munn): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities is today publishing her decisions on the recommendations of the independent panel, who were appointed by the Secretary of State to conduct an examination in public into the draft east of England plan, together with her proposed changes to that plan, for public consultation. Also published are the reports of the sustainability appraisal and an assessment in accordance with the European habitats directive.

The east of England plan is crucial to putting in place the Government’s sustainable growth strategy within the east of England. It builds on the foundations of the draft east of England plan, which was prepared by the east of England regional assembly, and the findings of the independent panel.

The east of England plan will replace the regional planning guidance for East Anglia and relevant parts of the regional planning guidance for the south-east within the regional spatial strategy for the east of England. It contains the regional transport strategy. Its main purpose is to provide a framework for local planning authorities to prepare their development plan documents, which must be in general conformity with it.

The strategy aims to guide development in the east of England to 2021 and to set in place a direction of travel for the longer term. It requires the provision of 508,000 dwellings within the region between 2001 and 2021.

The panel concluded that much of the draft was broadly sound, but sought to remedy a number of weaknesses. They concluded that the case for higher growth was made and that it must and can be reconciled with sustainability and environmental constraints. They supported the spatial strategy with development focused on the main urban areas, such as Cambridge, Peterborough and Stevenage, including the recently announced new growth points at Norwich, Colchester, Ipswich and Thetford. The panel identified Hemel Hempstead, Welwyn/Hatfield and Chelmsford as additional growth locations close to London.

Other aspects of the strategy where the panel recommended changes include the regional transport strategy, the waste strategy, policies for achieving efficiency savings in water and energy consumption, and policies for improving water resource and waste water infrastructure.

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We are grateful for the recommendations of the panel, the large majority of which we accept. However, we are proposing some changes from them to address homelessness and affordability and ensure development is fully sustainable. In particular, the need to reduce carbon emissions has grown in urgency. We are requiring local authorities to promote renewable and low carbon energy development and the regional assembly to develop regional trajectories for the carbon performance of new development. We are putting a stronger emphasis on Harlow as a major growth location. We have also identified Watford as a key development centre.

In regard to green belt we have indicated that the review at Harlow should extend to the north of the town and clarified that the review at Welwyn, Hatfield may extend into St. Albans. We have added additional guidance on the basis for assessing the area to be released and are requiring compensatory green belt extensions, which will increase the extent of green belt in the region. In regard to transport we have identified priority areas where further measures are needed to tackle congestion and support growth.

The sustainability appraisal concludes that the proposed changes are in accordance with the principles of sustainable development and that the additional growth and changes to distribution do not give rise to adverse environmental impacts.

The panel recommended a broader approach to housing growth with a greater role for areas close to London. Subject to this being reflected in the final east of England plan, we will consider what support may be necessary to such towns where high rates of growth will require significant investment and coordination. We will aim to ensure they can benefit from the infrastructure and delivery support from growth area funding and related measures.

I have today written to the east of England regional assembly with the proposed changes. The public consultation period will end on 9 March 2007. Following consideration of responses to the consultation, the Secretary of State is expected to publish the finalised east of England plan in mid-2007. Copies of the relevant documents, together with the reports of the sustainability appraisal and habitats directive assessment are available in the Libraries of both Houses and have been provided for all of the region’s MPs, MEPs and local authorities.

Home Department

National Identity Scheme

The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Liam Byrne): The House will wish to know that I am publishing today Strategic Action Plans for the national identity scheme and also for Borders, Immigration and Identity. Copies of both documents have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The action plan for the national identity scheme draws on the recommendations made in the July 2004 report of the Home Affairs Committee and the August
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2006 report of the Science and Technology Committee on identity cards. The action plan sets out how we will provide a comprehensive and secure way of managing the personal identity data of everyone who legally resides or works in the United Kingdom, and confirms that the Home Office will begin issuing biometric ID to foreign nationals, from outside the European Economic Area (EEA), from 2008 and identity cards to British citizens from 2009.

An effective national identity scheme will deliver benefits in a number of key areas. It will:

Help secure our borders and tackle illegal immigration.

Effective identity management will make it much more difficult for people to live and work in the United Kingdom unless they are entitled to do so;

Prevent identity fraud

The use of false identity currently costs the UK economy more than £1.7 billion a year. The national identity scheme will make it much more difficult for such fraud to occur;

Become a key defence in the fight against crime and terrorism.

The national identity scheme will make it more difficult for false identities to be used to support crime and terrorism;

Enhance identity checks—including as part of safeguards for the vulnerable.

The Scheme will introduce a high level of efficiency in authentication of identity in a variety of transactions—for example the checks on people working with children and the most vulnerable;

Improve public services.

The national identity scheme will make it possible to deliver more efficient and effective public services, by ensuring we have a consistent means of identifying customers.

In delivering these benefits we will:

Ensure that the Scheme delivers best return on investment.

Not only are the benefits economically tangible, but around 70 per cent. of the cost of the combined passport and ID card will be required to keep our passports up to international standards;

Take an incremental and pragmatic approach.

We will keep risks and costs down by using existing Government investment in IT systems and delivering incrementally based on extensive piloting and trialling;

Provide key safeguards which protect the privacy of the individual and ensure the integrity of the Scheme.

These exist at every level, from the legislative framework that underpins the Scheme and the national identity scheme Commissioner who will oversee it, to the security of the systems that will hold information;

Deliver a positive customer experience.

The Identity and Passport Service has a customer service reputation that is second to none and we will ensure that those standards are maintained as we introduce the key changes described in the national identity scheme action plan.

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The Borders, Immigration and Identity Action Plan sets out how we will use the national identity scheme to strengthen our borders and enforce compliance with our immigration controls within the United Kingdom. It is an important step forward in delivering the reform plan, “Rebuilding Confidence in our Immigration System”, published in July 2006.

The Borders, Immigration and Identity Action Plan explains how we will use biometric technology and identity management to help us deliver the transformation we need in our immigration system. From 2008, we will:

This improved identity management system will help us to deliver against five key objectives:

We have already comprehensively tested the technology we need to do this, and we know that it delivers results:

We will build on this success, using proven technology and practical expertise. And we will continue to work closely with a range of partners across Government, the private sector and internationally.

We have already laid before Parliament on 9 October 2006 the first report of the likely costs of the ID cards scheme and, as required by the Identity Cards Act 2006, we will provide further reports of cost estimates on a six-monthly basis.

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As with any such long term plans, they will evolve over time. The plans we are publishing today set out our current intentions and focus in particular on what we intend to deliver between now and 2010. As with any undertaking of this scale, there is still much detailed planning work to be done, and we will learn many lessons as we start to deliver. We shall adjust the details of the action plans as required by experience and we shall keep Parliament and the public informed of any changes.

The national identity scheme is an ambitious and long-term programme that will create a comprehensive identity management infrastructure for the whole of the United Kingdom.

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (Seventh Annual Report)

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. David Hanson): I have laid before this House a copy of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission's Annual Report for the year 2005-06 which was published today, in accordance with Schedule 7 para 5(2) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.

This is the seventh Annual Report published by the Commission.

Prime Minister

Future of the United Kingdom's Nuclear Deterrent

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): The Government White Paper “The Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent”, published on 4 December, said that we had sought and received a number of assurances of continued and future co-operation from the Government of the United States of America. Those assurances will ensure that future Governments are able, if they wish, to retain an operationally independent nuclear deterrent capability throughout the life of the replacement class of submarines announced in the White Paper.

In my statement to the House of 4 December, I said that those assurances would be set out in an exchange of letters between the President of the United States and me. I have placed copies of the letters in the Libraries of both Houses. Details are also available on the No. 10 website.


Autumn Performance Report 2006

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Douglas Alexander): have today published my Department's Autumn Performance Report for 2006. Copies have been laid before Parliament and placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The Report sets out the Department's progress made on our Public Service Agreement targets over the last six months since the publication of the Annual Report in June 2006.

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tom Harris): My hon. Friend the Minister of State for Transport tabled a written statement on 18 October 2006, Official Report, column 56WS announcing that legal powers and planning consent had been granted to Network Rail in respect of the Thameslink modernisation scheme. I now want to update Parliament on the work that is being done by the Department on the issue of whether to fund the scheme.

The scheme, which involves extending and upgrading the existing Thameslink network to operate more frequent and longer trains, is estimated to cost £3.5 billion. This is a major scheme, both financially and strategically, and it must be considered in the context of next year’s comprehensive spending review, and the Department’s five-year plan for rail, the high level output specification. As the Department has already made clear, the final decision on Thameslink will be made when these processes conclude—this is likely to be by the summer of 2007.

Before the final decision on funding is made, more work needs to be done on the project to improve the robustness of the plans and cost estimates, and to maintain the opportunity of delivering the project to the planned timetable. Therefore my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has written to Network Rail today authorising £30 million funding for project planning and design development.

This will enable a more informed decision to be made regarding the case for funding the implementation of the project in summer 2007. It also safeguards the opportunity to deliver the first set of outputs of the Thameslink modernisation scheme by December 2011. This funding is being granted without prejudice to the final decision on the funding of the scheme.

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