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Written Statements

Volume 403: debated on Monday 7 April 2003

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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 7 April 2003

Transport

Airports Consultation

Last summer the Government published a set of seven consultation papers on the future development of air transport in the United Kingdom.On 27 February 2003,

Official Report, columns 25–26WS, I informed the House of publication of the second editions of the main South East consultation paper, the summary South East paper and the questionnaires for both the South East and other areas of the UK.

The consultation paper highlighted the potentially significant risks of birds colliding with aircraft at the option for a new airport at Cliffe and advised that further work would be commissioned. The Government gave a commitment to publish this further work during the extended consultation period.

I am today therefore publishing the study which I commissioned and which was undertaken jointly by the Central Science Laboratory and the British Trust for Ornithology. The study provides a detailed assessment both of the populations, movements and behaviour of birds at and around the site and the risks of birdstrike after applying mitigating measures to a new airport at Cliffe. The key conclusions are:

Without a comprehensive and aggressive bird management programme in place, incorporating careful and considered airport design, appropriate habitat management and active bird control, an airport could not operate safely in this location.
Even with such world class management and mitigation measures in place, the hazard posed by the birds is severe and would probably be higher than at any other major UK airport.

I will consider these conclusions carefully together with all the consultation responses, before announcing my decisions in the air transport White Paper later this year.

The consultation, for all parts of the UK, will close on 30 June.

Copies of the study are now available in the Library. My officials will also distribute the study to key stakeholders, and it will be posted on my Department's website.

Home Department

Induction Centre Arrangements

On 3 March I confirmed that, after the consultation period was completed, I would make a decision on whether or not we would use the Coniston Hotel, Sittingbourne as accommodation to support an induction centre. I have also been considering whether to proceed with contract negotiations in respect of the Grand Ocean Hotel in Saltdean. I can now confirm how we intend to proceed with Induction Centre arrangements nationally.In light of a thorough review of all the facts, I have decided not to proceed with an induction centre at the Coniston Hotel, Sittingbourne, and not to proceed with negotiations at the proposed site in Brighton.These decisions reflect the facts of the two cases, and the arguments put to me, and do not diminish in any way our commitment to having a national network of Induction Centres. In creating such a network, we intend to build on existing arrangements by proceeding in partnership with regional consortia and voluntary groups. Induction Centres bring about obvious benefits in helping us to process asylum applications quickly and efficiently and allowing us to tell asylum seekers what is expected of them and give them health screening. At Dover the Induction Centre is working well and we will build on this to develop the good practices that will be subsequently implemented at other centres.

Deprivation Of Citizenship

Section 4 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, which amends section 40 of the British Nationality Act 1981, came into force on 1 April. The law now provides that a person can be deprived of his British nationality—provided that he has another nationality—if he has done anything seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the UK.I confirm that I have now commenced action under the new provision by giving written notice to Mr Abu Hamza of my decision to make a deprivation order in respect of him. I am satisfied that his activities have been seriously prejudicial to this country's vital interests. It will be open to Mr Hamza to appeal against my decision. Any appeal will in the first instance be heard by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission.

Asylum Seekers

Regulations were laid before Parliament on 18 March 2003 amending the Asylum Support Regulations 2000. The amendments, which come into effect today, increase the levels of support provided to destitute asylum seekers supported by the National Asylum Support Service (NASS). The changes in the support rates are detailed here:

Levels of NASS cash Support from 11 November 2002Levels of NASS cash support from 7 April 2003
Single person Aged 18–24£29.89£30.28
Aged 25 or over Qualifying couples£37.77£38.26
At least one member of the couple£59.26£60.03
Levels of NASS cash NASS cash Support from 11 November 2002Levels of Nass cash support from 7 April 2003
is aged 18 or over
Lone Parent aged 18 or over£37.77£38.26
Allowances for dependent children
Person aged under 16£37.00£38.50
Person aged at least 16 but under 18 (except a member of a qualifying couple)¢32.50£32.90

Northern Ireland

North/South Implementation Bodies And Tourism Ireland Limited

I have today placed in the Library details of the decisions that have been taken relating to the North/South Implementation Bodies and Tourism Ireland Limited under the terms of the exchange of notes of 19 November 2002 (Cmnd 5708).

Trade And Industry

Employment Laws (Working Parents)

On 6 April 2003, the Government introduced new employment laws to provide working parents with more choice and support to help them balance their work and family responsibilities, to the benefit of employers, employees and their children.The new rights include: the extension and enhancement of maternity leave and pay, so that most new mothers can take six months' paid leave with a further six months' unpaid if they want; the introduction of two weeks' paid paternity leave; the introduction of adoption leave and pay which broadly mirrors the rights available to biological parents; and the introduction of the right for parents with children under six, or disabled children under 18, to apply to work flexibly, with a corresponding duty on employers to consider these requests according to a set procedure.All these rights have been the subject of extensive public consultation, and we have ensured that we have taken fully into account the needs of business in developing the detail. In particular, the new right to request a flexible working pattern is a light touch approach based on best practice, and has been designed specifically to be workable for all businesses, whatever their size.We believe that together these changes will help to provide effective n, and we have ensured that we have taken fully into account the needs of business in developing the detail. In particular, the new right to request a flexible working pattern is a light touch approach based on best practice, and has been designed specifically to be workable for all businesses, whatever their size.

We believe that together these changes will help to provide effective support for parents with young children in a way that is compatible with the needs of business.

The new right to apply for flexible working aims to promote dialogue in the workplace, and to create a framework in which culture change can happen more quickly. Employers who already offer their employees flexible working opportunities do so because they recognise the benefits they can bring, such as greater commitment and loyalty, better morale and reduced absenteeism and staff turnover costs. This legislation ensures that flexible working practices are now on the agenda of every business, and encourages employers and employees together to think creatively about the solutions which suit them both.

A package of support accompanies the legislation to help employers and employees use these new measures. Summary and detailed guidance, including sample forms and case study material, is available on both the DTI website and in hard copy, www2.dti.gov.uk/er/workingparents.htm Tailored interactive guidance is also available for both employers and employees on the internet at www.tiger.gov.uk. A national helpline 08457 47 47 47, staffed by Acas advisors is also available.

To ensure awareness of the new rights and of the guidance available the Government has taken steps to highlight these to key business intermediaries and employee and parenting groups, An advertising campaign has also been running in the national press and trade press since February to ensure high levels of awareness among both employers and employees.

Copies of the guidance and the Regulatory Impact Assessments for all these new rights have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Deputy Prime Minister

Fire Authority Integrated Risk Management Plans

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister
(Mr. Christopher Leslie)

Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Fire Services, Sir Graham Meldrum, published Fire Service Circular 7/2003 on "Fire Authority Integrated Risk Management Planning" on 2 April 2003. On 3 April, he issued for consultation two guidance notes on developing Integrated Risk Management Plans and on consultation arrangements fire authorities should undertake in developing these plans. Consultation on these guidance notes closes on 30 May 2003.Copies of these documents are available on the ODPM website http://www.safety.odpm.gov.uk/fire/consult/irmp/index.htm and have been placed in the Libraries of the House.

Satellite Antennae

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister
(Mr. Tony McNulty)

Today the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is publishing a consultation document on proposed changes to the General Permitted Planning Order (GPDO) pertaining to the treatment of satellite dishes and other antennae. The three-month public consultation looking at the siting of satellite dishes and antennae will offer communities five choices, ranging from no change to full deregulation except in particularly sensitive areas such as national parks and conservation areas.The Government are committed to delivering equality of access to broadband and digital TV across the country and this document is an important step in that direction. However, we must ensure that whatever changes are made provide proper protection for the environment, particularly in sensitive areas such as national parks and conservation areas.Copies of the consultation document have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Local Authority Allowances And Pensions

As part of our agenda on modernising local democracy, I have today laid before Parliament Regulations dealing with remuneration and pensions for members of local authorities. This is in line with our White Paper commitment to reduce the burden of red tape on local authorities and providing councils with flexibilities in managing their business, balanced by local accountability.The Local Authorities (Members' Allowances) (England) Regulations 2003—the allowances Regulations replace six existing sets of regulations and put in place a consolidated and simplified regime for allowances.The Local Government Pension Scheme and Discretionary Compensation (Local Authority Members in England) Regulations 2003—the pensions Regulations will allow councils to decide whether their councillors should have access to the Local Government Pension scheme.These two sets of Regulations give effect to the broad policy which I announced 28 November 2002 in my response to the Urban Affairs Select Committee Report on the Local Government Act 2000.Both the allowances and pensions Regulations, which we have introduced following extensive and detailed consultation, will provide a simple, fair system for remunerating local councillors. Local authorities will have discretion to come up with remuneration schemes reflecting local circumstances. The system also provides for clear and transparent local accountability since councils will have to have regard to the recommendations of local independent remuneration panels. This approach is in line with our commitments given in the White Paper—Strong Local Leadership, Quality Public Services—to remove unnecessary red tape and regulation from local government, and balancing this freedom with the responsibility to be clearly accountable to their communities.The allowances Regulations replace the six previous sets of Regulations dealing with allowances for elected local authority members, dating back to 1991

1 , which we have now revoked. As before councils will be able to decide for themselves the levels of allowances for elected

members, and in doing so will have to have regard to the recommendations of a local independent remuneration panel.

The allowances Regulations make a number of changes to the system of allowances, following from consultation we conducted in 2001 and further detailed discussions with key stakeholders, including the Local Government Association.

Local authorities will now determine their own travel and subsistence allowances, having regard to the recommendation of their independent remuneration panels. The Secretary of State will no longer be involved in setting maximum levels. Councils will have to set out the circumstances in which they will pay these allowances, so that these are open to public scrutiny. Local authorities and other bodies will to be able to pay a cycling allowance to be determined in the same way as other travel allowances.

Parish councils will be able to make payments to their members, and in doing so will have to have regard to the recommendations of a local independent panel. This brings the approach allowances to parish councillors very much in line with the allowances for principal councils.

Combined fire authorities and the conservation boards of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty will be able to establish their own schemes of allowances, rather than members being paid by their constituent authorities. All secondary authorities which set up allowance schemes for their members will be required to have regard to the recommendations of the panels of those authorities which make nominations to the secondary authority.

Councils will be able to pay co-opted and appointed members of principal councils a "co-optees' allowance". This will be determined by the local authority taking into account the recommendations of the independent remuneration panel.

Authorities will be able to make provision for the withdrawal of allowances where a member has been wholly or partially suspended because of a breach of the Code of Conduct. Authorities will be able to make provision for the repayment of any allowance which has been paid in respect of a period when a member was suspended, or had ceased to be a member.

The council's local independent remuneration panel will make binding recommendations on which councillors may be eligible for access to the Local Government Pension Scheme.

The Association of London Government may pay special responsibility allowance to those serving on it. The ALG must establish a scheme specifying for which responsibilities the allowance may be paid, and the levels of payments.

The allowances Regulations clarify that authorities may backdate changes to their allowances to the beginning of the financial year. They similarly clarify that authorities may alter their allowance levels by reference to an index.

The allowances Regulations finally provide a transitional period until 30 September 2003 to allow authorities to make any necessary changes to their schemes in line with the revised arrangements.

The Local Government Pension Scheme and Discretionary Compensation (Local Authority Members in England) Regulations 2003 modify the Principal regulations, The Local Government Pension Scheme Regulations 1997. They are intrinsically linked to the allowances Regulations. In effect the amendments provide access to the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) to those Councillor members' whose authorities, acting on the recommendations of the locally appointed Independent Review Panel (IRP), decide should be eligible for membership.

The key changes to the LGPS as it applies to eligible Councillor members are: they will be treated as if they are in local government employment for the purposes of the regulations; an eligible councillor will have to positively elect to become a member of the LGPS; a councillor member's pay in any year comprises (a) the basic allowance and (b) any special responsibility allowance payable under the allowances Regulations; pension benefits will be calculated by reference to career average pay not final salary; the retirement age for a councillor will be age 70; and councillor membership will not count towards calculating any other period of local government employment/LGPS membership. An eligible councillor will be able to contribute to AVCs to enhance his pension benefits where appropriate.

Essential consequential changes have also been made to the injury allowances and gratuities provisions of the Local Government (Discretionary Payments) Regulations 1996 to exclude eligible councillors, the Mayor of London and members of the London Assembly in connection with their employment. The Local Government (Early Termination of Employment) (Discretionary Compensation) (England and Wales) Regulations 2000 have also been amended so that the calculation of discretionary compensation for redundancy for a person does not include a period of membership as a councillor member, Mayor of London or member of the London Assembly that he may have in the LGPS.

The Regulations reflect our commitment made during the passage of the Local Government Bill which gave rise to the Local Government Act 2000.

The provisions for pensions take into account the commitment of local councillors, and their contribution to public life. Many members of local authorities may have lower personal or occupational pension provision than they could otherwise have had, due to missing out on full time employment or forgoing promotions and other opportunities on account of their public duties.

The pensions Regulations address this disincentive from serving in local politics.

1 the Local Authorities (Members' Allowances) Regulations 1991;
the Local Authorities (Members' Allowances) (Amendment) Regulations 1995;
the Local Authorities (Members' Allowances) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2000;
the Local Authorities (Members' Allowances) (Amendment) (England) (No. 2) Regulations 2000; and
the Local Authorities (Members' Allowances) (England) Regulations 2001.