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Written Ministerial Statements

Friday 16 October 2009

Children, Schools and Families

Auditory Standards for School Buildings

The Minister for Schools and Learners (Mr. Vernon Coaker): Good acoustics are essential to a successful learning environment for all children, particularly for those with special hearing requirements, and my Department works hard to achieve this, in partnership with other Government Departments such as Communities and Local Government and with the National Deaf Children's Society (NDCS). I should place on record my appreciation to the NDCS for their commitment to breaking down the barriers faced by deaf children.

To continue our drive for improvement, I am announcing a package of measures designed to ensure that school buildings have good acoustics and that the needs of those with special hearing requirements are met.

My Department and Communities and Local Government are taking a number of actions to improve acoustics in schools. These include:

In addition, my Department will:

CLG is due to commence an evaluation of part E of the Building Regulations later this year. This is the first stage of a full review of part E that could lead to revised regulations and guidance in 2013. The NDCS will be asked to contribute to this process and my Department will be fully involved on any aspects relating to schools to ensure consistency with my Department's guidance.

Finally, in the light of the major study that the NDCS has undertaken into recent testing in schools, I have asked DCSF officials to work with CLG officials to examine the implications of introducing mandatory acoustic testing in all new schools. I have asked for this advice by June 2010. Depending on the outcome of this work, it would be our intention to issue a formal consultation on the question of mandatory testing.

My officials will place details of these proposals on teachernet.


Pandemic Influenza

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Gillian Merron): The Government's response to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee Report on Pandemic Influenza has today been laid before Parliament (Cm 7722).

The Committee's report was published on 28 July of this year. The report highlights a range of issues relating to pandemic influenza planning in general and to the Government's response to the current swine flu pandemic. The report focuses on:

The Government response addresses the points raised by the Committee individually, setting out the work and planning undertaken prior to the outbreak of swine flu and the reasoning behind the various stages of the response to the pandemic.

Our response clearly demonstrates that United Kingdom planning prior to the swine flu pandemic made the UK one of the best-prepared countries in the world, a fact widely recognised in the international community. With one of the largest stockpiles of antivirals in the world and every NHS organisation with a pandemic contingency plan in place, we were in a very strong position to face the threat of swine flu when it emerged earlier this year.

Our response to the Committee's report also testifies to the tremendous work that has been done since the outbreak of swine flu-at the front line and behind the scenes-in trying to limit the spread of the initial wave of infection and in preparing ourselves for a second wave this autumn or winter. On behalf of the Government,
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I would like to thank all those involved in helping to mitigate our worst fears, which a pandemic inevitably brings.

The staff of the national health service, Health Protection Agency, the devolved Administrations and Government Departments, in collaboration with those from many other organisations, responded tremendously to a very difficult situation. We were able to limit the spread of the virus from the initial cases entering the UK and cope with very significant levels of infection in some areas during the initial wave.

We now have further stockpiles of antivirals and antibiotics and we have tested the resilience of NHS planning in exercise peak practice. We are also beginning to receive the first batches of a new swine flu vaccine, which will be given initially to those most at risk and to health and social care workers, in order to minimise the potential harm that the virus could still cause. This is a very significant development and one that the Government greatly welcome.

I would like to take this opportunity to express the Government's thanks to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee for its work on this subject. Scrutiny by such a distinguished group of experts has been a valuable part of the development of our policy.

Extremely Low Frequency Electromagnetic Fields

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Gillian Merron): I am making this statement on behalf of my hon. Friends, the Minister of State for the Department of Energy and Climate Change, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Mr. Austin) and myself.

Today, we have placed in the Library the Government response to the "Stakeholder Advisory Group on Extremely Low Frequency Electromagnetic Fields (SAGE) First Interim Assessment: Power Lines and Property, Wiring
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in Homes and Electrical Equipment in Homes" published in 2007. SAGE is a group of stakeholders representing sectors engaged with electricity transmission, regulation, property valuation, academic research and public concern campaigning. The remit of SAGE is to explore the implications for a precautionary approach to extremely low frequency electric and magnetic fields (ELF EMF) and to make practical recommendations to Government. This first assessment considered two sources of EMF: high voltage overhead power lines and electrical wiring and equipment inside the home. SAGE is jointly funded by the Department of Health, the National Grid Company, the Energy Networks Association and the charity Children with Leukaemia.

SAGE made recommendations for relatively low-cost and proportionate action in four key areas. The Government have decided to take forward these measures proposed by SAGE on:

SAGE also put forward an option to introduce a moratorium on building new homes and schools near high voltage power lines and new high voltage power lines near homes and schools. However, SAGE's cost benefit analysis does not support this option. The Government therefore consider this option to be disproportionate given the evidence base on the potential health risks arising from exposure to ELF EMF and has no plans to take it forward.

The Department for Communities and Local Government will take forward recommendations relating to planning, buildings and house wiring. The Department of Energy and Climate Change will take forward recommendations on high voltage electricity transmission. The Department of Health will take forward provision of health protection information about electromagnetic fields and support of health risk research.

Copies of the Government's response are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office.

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