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Elections: Pilot Schemes

The Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): The Government are continuing to look at ways to modernise our electoral system and to increase the opportunities that people have to vote. To test the effectiveness and robustness of these innovations and to build public confidence in them, we are continuing to conduct a programme of pilots in 2006 which maintains the momentum that was started in 2000.

With this aim in mind, at the end of October 2005, in conjunction with the Electoral Commission, we issued a prospectus inviting expressions of interest from local authorities seeking to run electoral pilots at the May 2006 local elections.

Today I am pleased to announce that I have accepted 16 applications from local authorities to hold pilots at the May 2006 local elections. The names of the successful local authorities are attached at the end of this Statement. A background paper providing further details on the pilots has been placed in the Library.

The local authorities will pilot innovations including:
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Some of these pilots will assist us in planning the implementation of the proposals in the Electoral Administration Bill, in ensuring the ongoing integrity of electoral mechanisms and in refining and developing the programme of work for ensuring
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electoral processes fit with the needs of modern lifestyles.

The next step will be for us, working in consultation with the Electoral Commission and the local authorities, to draw up the statutory orders authorising the pilots.

We are grateful to all local authorities that applied to pilot in May 2006 and are keen to continue to engage local authorities in looking at innovative ways to improve the elections process and take advantage of new technologies.

EU: Economic and Financial Affairs Council

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Items on the agenda are as follows:

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House of Lords: Broadcasting

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): The Information Committee has recently made two changes to the arrangements for broadcasting in the House. These changes originate from the report Members Only? Parliament in the Public Eye by the Hansard Society Commission chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam.

Filming in the Chamber

From Monday 13 February to Thursday 16 March a trial will be held of a new protocol governing filming in the Chamber. The new protocol relaxes the rules and conventions that govern what the broadcasters can film when the House is sitting. The purpose of the new protocol is to enable broadcasters to provide more engaging footage of the business in the Chamber.

The new protocol is as follows:

Television interviews

From Monday 13 February to Tuesday 25 July a trial will be held of a television interview point for broadcasters in the House of Lords. The point will be in the north-east corner of Peers Lobby, and the backdrop will be looking across the Lobby towards Brass Gates.
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Initially, broadcasters will be able only to record interviews from this point and not broadcast live. The BBC funded the provision of the facility in Central Lobby and, like the independent broadcasters, has expressed a clear interest in establishing a Lords interview point. However, no broadcaster has, at this stage, indicated any desire to fund a "live" technical link to their studios.

The trial will enable an assessment of the level of genuine interest among broadcast companies for such a facility. It will also allow the Information Committee to make an informed decision about whether a live interview point should be installed.

Immigration: Child Visitors

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My honourable friend the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Tony McNulty) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I have, as of 12 February, made changes to the Immigration Rules regarding children coming to the United Kingdom with a visa or entry clearance issued for the purpose of a visit. Some of these are accompanied by adults; many are not accompanied by an adult even though it has in the past been possible to obtain a visa without declaring that this will be the nature of the journey made. These changes will, therefore, provide further safeguards for children when entering the UK as visitors.

We will require that a child seeking to visit the UK in their own right—that is, unaccompanied—must demonstrate that there are adequate arrangements for their care here and that they identify a person in their home country who is responsible for them. Where a visa national child is seeking entry to the UK as a visitor in the company of an adult, that adult must be identified, and the child's visa must identify the adult with whom they seek to enter.

At present a child can apply for entry clearance at the same time as other close family members, be granted an entry clearance, and then travel to the UK either alone or in the company of an adult other than one of those who applied for a visa along with them. This can allow children to enter the UK in the company of an adult who is either unrelated or with whom they have little connection. By doing this they can evade the extra scrutiny of the reception and care arrangements awaiting the child in the UK which is given to children who travel unaccompanied. Some instances can be well intentioned but highly irregular, but in others the child is used to facilitate fraud, and can endure serious physical harm. However, the main cause of concern is the subsequent difficulty in tracing these children.

The rules will now contain additional requirements for visa national children coming to the UK for a visit, be they travelling alone or with an adult. Each child will be issued with a separate entry clearance vignette. When applying for a visa for a child, the parent or guardian will be required to indicate whether the child
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will travel to the UK alone or with a nominated adult. The child's entry clearance will be endorsed to indicate the adult who will accompany the child. The entry clearance will not be valid for travel other than when accompanied by the identified adult. The visitor rules have been amended to reflect this (at paragraphs 41 to 46F of the Immigration Rules).

The changes will create an official and accessible record which is not there at the moment. These measures are aimed at tackling some of the problems associated with unaccompanied minors arriving in the United Kingdom, chief of which is the lack of information about their circumstances in their home country. They will contribute to the ability to act, where necessary, when individual children come to attention after arrival for welfare and other reasons. They will ensure that children who enter the UK in the company of an adult do so in a recorded way, with a specific destination for their future care, and with a record of their parents' details in the place where the entry clearance was issued. The records which this provision will allow us to keep will be a deterrent to abuse, as all those involved in the child's travel will be traceable.

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