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The position in respect of the draft South West RSS is that Government is currently considering its response to the recommendations in the Panel Report. The next
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stage in the process is the publication, for public consultation, of the Government's own Proposed Changes to the draft RSS which will occur in late July 2008. This will provide an opportunity for interested parties to make further representations.

Following consideration of comments and views arising from that consultation, the Secretary of State is expecting to publish the final Regional Spatial Strategy before the end of 2008.

With regard to the new Unitary Wiltshire Council, members of this new planning authority, once elected in 2009, will be able to determine how development plan documents address the requirements of the adopted South West RSS, including policies to meet the need for housing requirements in south Wiltshire. The Government also understands that Salisbury District Council is carrying out a further period of public consultation later this year on the options for housing growth in Salisbury and south Wiltshire for its Core Strategy development plan document. This Core Strategy is intended to form a part of the future development plan for Wiltshire for which the new unitary authority will be responsible. CLG is currently discussing transitional measures with Joint Implementation Teams in each area affected by restructuring, and will lay any necessary regulations before the House in due course.

Culture, Media and Sport

Digital Television Switchover

The Petition of those concerned about the extent of Freeview services in the Borders as a result of digital television switchover.,

Declares that, in November 2008, the Borders will be the first region in the UK to make the switch from analogue to digital television. Many people in this area receive their television picture from a relay transmitter, but after switchover they will not receive all the available channels on Freeview. Instead, they will receive a much reduced service known as ‘Freeview Lite’. Many channels enjoyed by viewers elsewhere will not be available to viewers who rely on relay transmitters for their television picture. Further declares that this situation is unfair.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to urgently review the impact of the digital television switchover on the Borders area and to take steps to intervene to prevent Borderers from missing out and ensuring that viewers in the Borders who currently receive their television signal from a relay are provided with all the Freeview channels after digital switchover.

And the Petitioners remain, etc. —[Presented by Mr. Michael Moore , Official Report, 15 July 2008; Vol. 479, c. 212 .] [P000244]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, received 29 August 2008:

Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) coverage is expected to reach 98.5% of households—the same as analogue terrestrial coverage. As part of the digital licensing regime, and to assist with Switchover, Ofcom require the Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) multiplex (mux) operators to maintain audience reach by broadcasting from all 1154 transmitters.

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The Government and Ofcom are committed to ensuring that digital coverage for the five PSB channels will substantially match current analogue services—98.5% of UK households—at digital switchover.

There are six digital TV multiplexes in the UK. Three are operated by PSBs and three are commercially-owned multiplexes. Even those who receive only the three PSB multiplexes still receive 20 of the most watched channels which is a much wider choice than is currently available with analogue television.

Coverage by the commercial mux operators is a commercial matter for them, although coverage levels post switchover cannot fall below current levels. That is as a minimum, they must broadcast from the 81 main transmitter sites, which gives 90% household coverage. In deciding whether to go beyond this level, they must make a judgement about the necessary investment needed to generate a marginal increase in coverage from each transmitter converted. It is worth noting that even if the multiplex operators were willing to build out the transmission network, there is only sufficient spectrum to enable coverage to be extended to 95% of households.

Digital UK will be making it clear to people who want more channels that they will still have a number of options for going digital, including non-subscription services such as PSB Freesat or Freesat from Sky. Digital Satellite services are available now to 98% of UK households.

The petition declares that in November 2008, the Borders will be the first region in the UK to make the switch from analogue to digital television. I should like to draw the petitioner's attention to Whitehaven/Copeland, Cumbria, which became the first area in the UK to successfully complete the digital TV switchover in November 2007. There has been extensive assessment of the Whitehaven switchover process and my Department—along with Digital UK, Ofcom and the Help Scheme—will ensure that future regions benefit from the lessons learnt during this first switchover phase.


Admiral John Byng

The Petition of the friends of All Saints Southill, the parishioners of Southill, Byng family members and the supporters of Admiral John Byng,

Declares that the conduct at his trail and the verdict of his trial in December 1756 and January/February 1757, which resulted in his execution on 14th March 1757 was unfair and unjust. Further declares that he was made the scapegoat for the inadequacies of the Government and his Naval Superiors at the time, whom the Petitioners believe to have been responsible for the loss of Menorca to the French.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Ministry for Defence and the Ministry for Justice to review the trial and the verdict of that trial, resulting in Admiral John Byng being declared innocent posthumously; his Honour should be restored for him, his family and supporters.

And the Petitioners remain, etc. —[Presented by Alistair Burt , Official Report, 19 March 2008; Vol. 473, c. 1050 .] [P000153]

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Observations from the Secretary of S tate for Defence, received 30 July 2008:

The Admiral’s case is well documented and I am aware of the considerable sympathy and admiration that many have felt for him. Indeed, one cannot fail to admire his courage and generosity of spirit when faced with execution.

The petition alleges unfairness and lack of justice in the conduct of his trial. However, I should point out that the conduct of the Court Martial, its verdict and the sentence were the subject of comprehensive and extensive review at the time. Whilst fairness is a subjective concept, the matter of unjustness is not. A properly constituted Court Martial was held in accordance with the regulations in force at that time, and resulted in a sentence that was fully in accordance with the, then, Articles of War. Although the thirteen senior naval officers who presided at the Court Martial were unanimous in their verdict, the Admiralty, Courts and Parliament exhausted all avenues available to them in seeking to absolve Admiral Byng of the charges against him. This included the final step in the appeal process, an application to the Monarch for clemency. This was refused.

This petition asks for the trial and verdict to be reviewed and for Admiral Byng to be declared innocent posthumously, thereby restoring his honour. Having considered this request several times previously, my view remains that it would not be appropriate to attempt to re-open this case. I take this view notwithstanding the merits or otherwise of the case but because it is a matter which has passed out of living memory and into history. In these circumstances, it has become a subject for historical scrutiny and not for Government intervention.

Gurkhas (Citizenship and Pensions)

The Petition of the Havant Ex-Servicemen’s Club, the Havant Royal British Legion and others of like disposition.

Declares that the treatment of Gurkhas is an ongoing disgrace: Gurkhas who retired from the British Army after 1997 can automatically stay in the UK, but those who retired earlier must apply for citizenship, and many have been refused and face deportation. Pension rights for years served by Gurkhas before 1997 count at only around a quarter of the level of years served after that time.

Further declares their support for the fifty Nepalese soldiers who handed back their Long Service and Good Conduct medals in March 2008, in protest at the difference in treatment of Gurkhas with other British soldiers, such as those from the Commonwealth.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Defence to ensure that all ex-Ghurkha soldiers and their families British citizenship on leaving the service.

And the Petitioners remain, etc. —[Presented by Mr. David Willetts , Official Report, 8 July 2008; Vol. 478, c. 24P .] [P000228]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Defence, received 19 August 2008:

The Government fully recognises the courage and commitment that the Gurkhas have given to this country over many decades and greatly values the contribution of the Gurkhas both past and present.

Gurkha service in the British Army is enabled through an agreement made between the Governments of the
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UK, Nepal and India in 1947, the Tripartite Agreement. The Tripartite Agreement permits the recruitment in Nepal of Nepalese citizens into the British Army’s Brigade of Gurkhas, something that ultimately depends upon the goodwill of the Government of Nepal.

Gurkhas who served on or after 1 July 1997 are entitled to be granted settlement in the UK and then to apply for citizenship. Extending this entitlement to those who served before 1 July 1997 as a reward for military service would not be in line with Home Office immigration rules. The current arrangements recognise that since July 1997, the close residential or physical ties to the UK required to comply with immigration rules have developed for the Gurkha soldier, and his family, in a way that was not normally possible for previous generations of Gurkhas.

Under Her Majesty’s Forces Immigration Rule, introduced in October 2004, Gurkhas have a pathway to settlement in the UK and citizenship, should they choose to follow it. A successful application for settlement in the UK requires a former Gurkha to have completed at least four years’ service as a Gurkha with the British Army and to have been discharged after 1 July 1997. Once settled in the UK, Gurkhas can apply for British citizenship using their military service to count towards the qualifying period of five years.

Those who were discharged before the 1 July 1997 immigration qualifying date can still apply for Indefinite Leave to Enter or Remain in the UK under immigration discretionary arrangements, and can subsequently apply for citizenship.

Careful consideration has been given by the UK Border Agency to the circumstances in which it would be appropriate to exercise discretion where cases fall outside the provisions of the new immigration rules. This is done on a case by case basis.

The Tripartite Agreement also established a link between the British Brigade of Gurkhas and Indian Army terms and conditions of service (TACOS). Although until last year Gurkhas served under different TACOS from the rest of the British Army, it has been the policy of successive UK governments to ensure that Gurkha terms and conditions of service are fair and meet the aspirations of successive generations of Gurkha soldiers and their families. The 2007 review of Gurkha TACOS recommended that, with some exceptions to satisfy the Government of Nepal and to maintain the Brigade's operational effectiveness, Gurkhas should be offered British terms and conditions of Service, including pensions. As a result, serving Gurkhas and retired Gurkhas who served in the Army on or after 1 July 1997, had the option to access to benefits under the Armed Forces Pension Scheme. All their service counted, though service before 1 July 1997 was given an actuarial value.

Those Gurkha veterans discharged prior to 1 July 1997 fell outside the scope of the TACOS review. It has been the policy of successive governments not to implement improvements to pensions and similar benefits retrospectively - a policy that has been applied across the public sector in the United Kingdom, not just to Gurkha veterans. To do so now would not only be counter to this policy but would also be at a cost running into many hundreds of millions of pounds to the country because of the potential claims of other groups in public sector schemes. Those veterans who retired before 1 July 1997 will continue to receive benefits under the Gurkha Pension Scheme. Most Gurkha veterans
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are in receipt of a Service Pension under the provisions of the Gurkha Pension Scheme, a Scheme that was designed for retirement in Nepal and offers different benefits to those serving under British terms and conditions of service. By providing immediate payment of pension after 15 years service from an early age of average 35, it was well suited to the conditions prevailing for earlier generations of Gurkhas.

The decision to apply the date of 1 July 1997 to the pension and immigration rule changes for Gurkhas is a rational one. Between 1971 and 1997 only one battalion of Gurkha infantry was stationed in the UK, at Church Crookham. During that time many Gurkha soldiers who served for 15 years before leaving the Brigade would spend only one full two-year unaccompanied tour in the UK during their career. Between the formation of the Brigade of Gurkhas in 1948 and the withdrawal from Singapore in the late 1960s, Gurkhas were stationed almost exclusively in the Far East and before 1948 Gurkhas served as part of the Indian Army. Because of this, most Gurkhas discharged before July 1997 would not have developed any strong residential ties with the UK. At the time the Tripartite Agreement was made, it was with the understanding that once they had completed their service they would return to Nepal.

The rate of pension under the Gurkha Pension Scheme provides a good income in Nepal, broadly equivalent to a very good salary. The value of the pension has been maintained over the years, for all pensioners; including the doubling of the pension in 2000 to take account of benefits in kind provided by the Government of India to its service pensioners. Last year, in addition to the annual inflationary uplift, pensioners who were of the rank of corporal or below received an increase to their pension of on average a further 19 per cent. They also received a further 5.7 per cent. increase for inflation this year.

Although some retired Gurkhas have challenged the pension arrangements in relation to the 2007 review, an independent Judicial Review in June 2008 ruled that the Ministry of Defence’s position was fair and reasonable.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Sea Defences

The Petition of residents of North Norfolk and others.

Declares the Petitioners serious concern at the option contained in a paper from Natural England for an area of approximately 25 square miles to be inundated by the sea. The Petitioners consider that the news of this option being under consideration has caused a great deal of unnecessary distress.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to confirm he will take every step necessary to protect this area of North East Norfolk from the sea by defending the coastline.

And the Petitioners remain, etc. —[Presented by Norman Lamb , Official Report, 22 July 2008; Vol. 479, c. 757 .] [P000249]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, received 12 September 2008:

Coastal erosion and flooding has affected stretches of our coastline for generations. The Government remains committed to managing the impact of these natural process, and invests significant public funds in maintaining and constructing a range of physical barriers against
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the sea. However, there will be those areas where the power of nature is such that we cannot maintain the current shape of our ever evolving coastline. As such, the Government is also looking at ways that people can be helped to adapt to increased risk, as well as work to understand potential impacts.

The Petition refers to a draft report prepared by Natural England which looks at the potential impacts of climate change on the natural environment of the Broads, and considers possible options. Natural England act as advisors on environmental matters and do not make flood or erosion risk management decisions. The draft paper contained a number of possible scenarios, and did not advocate any of these as the preferred approach. The Environment Agency has responsibility for maintaining the sea and tidal river defences which protect the Broads area from saltwater flooding. In 1993, the Environment Agency embarked on a 50 year works programme aimed at maintaining the existing sea defences by constructing a series of offshore reefs, rock groynes and beach recharge.

Government investment in flood and erosion risk management has increased, rising from £307 million in 1996-97 to some £800m by 2010-11. In the Norfolk Broads area, over the past 15 years, more than £40m has been invested in strengthening the coastal frontage from Eccles to Winterton, and the Environment Agency have recently awarded a £7.5m contract for further beach management works which will start later this year. Flood protection for inland low-lying land and properties is provided by 240kms of riverside earth embankments. The Environment Agency are implementing a 20-year programme of improvement works on these embankments through a £120m public/private partnership project, which commenced in 2001.

Managing a stretch of coastline is a very complex matter, with decisions to intervene in one particular area impacting on others downstream of it. Shoreline Management Plans (SMPs) allow the Environment Agency to set out a strategic approach for a whole section of coastline, managing the interdependencies between the coastal processes. They also give a long-term view, considering coastal management over the next 100 years. The management policy for this length of coast is set out in the 2nd generation Kelling to Lowestoft Ness SMP, which was published for public consultation in December 2004. This Plan states that it is currently the Environment Agency's intention to 'Hold the Line' by maintaining the existing sea defences in the short and medium term (i.e. for 50 years).

DEFRA guidance for the preparation of SMPs recognises the inherent uncertainties with longer term predictions, and highlights the importance of reviews and updates at appropriate intervals to take account of up-to-date science and the latest policy guidance. In the case of the Kelling to Lowestoft Ness SMP, it currently predicts that it will become much more difficult to maintain the coastline in its current position between Eccles and Winterton as the impacts of climate change increase, and the 'Hold the Line' policy is unlikely to be sustainable for the 50 to 100 year period. Future reviews of the SMP will be able to incorporate any new information and provide an opportunity to review this position. If it is still considered unsustainable to hold the current line of defence, the reviews will establish where a sustainable line of defence may be established.

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