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Written Statements

Volume 406: debated on Wednesday 11 June 2003

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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 11 June 2003

Home Department

Family Visitor Appeals

In January 2001, we announced a review of the family visitor appeal system introduced under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. The review was undertaken by officials from UK visas, the Lord Chancellor's Department, the Home Office, HM Treasury and the Legal Services Commission. A discussion exercise was held towards the end of 2001 and research was commissioned from the Home Office Research, Development and Statistics Directorate to inform the review.I am pleased to announce that the final report of the review team is published today, and has been placed in the Library of the House.

Deputy Prime Minister

Planning Inspectorate

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

I am pleased to announce today the targets I have set this year for the Planning Inspectorate Executive Agency.We are reforming the planning system to make it faster, fairer and more efficient. I need to ensure that the Planning Inspectorate is well placed to respond robustly to the increasing demands for its services and to the changes we are introducing. We have set in hand a business process "end to end" review

* of the Planning Inspectorate which will be completed by the Autumn and there are implications for the Inspectorate in the provisions of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill which is currently before Parliament.

Against this background I have decided to maintain most of the existing targets in place for this year. These are set out below. The exceptions are the targets for the completion of Inspectors' reports on called-in planning applications and recovered appeals and for appeals going to hearings.

In line with the Office's PSA6 target, by March 2004 80 per cent. of Planning Inspectors' reports to the Secretary of State on called-in and recovered appeal cases must be delivered within seven weeks of the close of the inquiry.

The only other change involves the timeliness target for planning appeals going to hearings, which, in order to deal with a backlog of cases, is now the same as for planning appeals going to inquiry.

These targets are not just about speed, they are about reaching the right decision and providing the community with a quality service. The Planning Inspectorate is responding well to the challenge this presents.

TIMELINESS

Planning Appeals

Eighty per cent. of all planning appeals decided by written representations to be determined within 16 weeks.

Eighty per cent. of all planning appeals decided by hearings to be determined within 30 weeks.

Eighty per cent. of all planning appeals decided by inquiries to be determined within 30 weeks.

Enforcement Appeals

Eighty per cent. of all enforcement appeals decided by written representation to be determined within 32 weeks.

Eighty per cent. of all enforcement appeals decided by hearings to be determined within 33 weeks.

Eighty per cent. of all enforcement appeals to be decided by inquiries to be determined within 43 weeks.

Called In and Recovered Appeals

By March 2004, 80 per cent. of Inspectors' reports to the Secretary of State on called-in and recovered appeal cases to be delivered within seven weeks of the close of the inquiry.

Development Plan inquiries

To provide an Inspector for development plan inquiries in 90 per cent. of cases on the date requested by the local authority, provided that the objection period has ended and at least six months' notice has been given.

To deliver 90 per cent. of Inspectors' reports on development plan inquiries to local authorities according to timescales agreed under service agreements.

QUALITY

To satisfy the Advisory Panel on Standards for the Planning Inspectorate, and thus the Secretary of State and the First Minister of the National Assembly for Wales, annually and following rigorous monitoring, that the quality of all the Inspectorate's work is being maintained at a high standard, with 99 per cent. of its casework free from justified complaint.

INFORMATION AND GUIDANCE

To undertake a time series customer satisfaction survey of the Inspectorate's performance and to act upon the results.

* This review, whose conclusions will feed into the 2004 spending review round, was announced in Parliament by Mr Tony McNulty, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, on 4 February, 2003, Official Report, column 9WS.

Aggregates

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

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has today published the following revised regional guidelines for the amount of rock and sand and gravel to be produced for use in construction to 2016. These replace guidelines contained Minerals Planning Guidance Note 6 (MPG6), 'Guidelines for Aggregates Provision in England', published in April 1994. The policy sections of MPG6 remain in force pending the outcome of public consultation on a revised text, which will take place later this year.The new figures are about 19 per cent. lower nationally than the previous guidelines, published in 1994, although there may be regional and local variations from that average. They reflect up-to-date information in the patterns of supply and demand, the extent of use of recycled and alternative materials, and projections of the requirements of the construction industries. A new target of 60 million tonnes per annum is set for the use of recycled materials and industrial by-products in place of natural aggregates by 2011, building on a 63 per cent. increase in the use of these materials since the 1994 guidelines were issued.Over the next six months, the Regional Planning Bodies, in association with the Mineral Planning Authorities, will consider how the guidelines should be broken down to local level, taking environmental implications into account, and then applied in regional and local plans.The Government will regularly monitor the operation of these new guidelines.Copies of the guidelines are available in the Library of the House.

National and Regional Guidelines for Aggregates Provision in England, 2001–2016 (million tonnes)
Guidelines for land-won productionAssumptions
New RegionsLand-won Sand & GravelLand-won Crushed RockMarine Sand & GravelAlternative MaterialsNet Imports to England
South East England2123512011885
London19053826
East of England2568321108
East Midlands1655230950
West Midlands1629308816
South West10645391214
NorthWest55167410150
Yorkshire & the Humber7322031280
North East201199760
England10681618230919169

Defence

Met Office

The Chief Executive of the Met Office is responsible for providing meteorological and related environmental services, including climate change prediction, to a wide range of customers, including the armed forces, Government, civil aviation, shipping, emergency services, media, commerce, industry and the general public. The Met Office also undertakes research related to meteorology and climate.The next 12 months will be one of considerable challenge for the Met Office as it completes its relocation from its present home in Bracknell to a brand new, purpose built headquarters and operations centre in Exeter. The move is believed to be one of the largest IT relocation projects ever undertaken in Europe. It is the Met Office's intention that the transition will be as seamless as possible from the perspective of its customers, but nevertheless it represents a significant upheaval for the staff and their families and its ultimate success will require the utmost dedication of all concerned. It is in the context of prioritising the maintenance of its service delivery to customers through relocation, and thereby establishing a solid base from which to improve future efficiency and profitability, that the Met Office has been set the following challenging targets for 2003–04:KEY TARGET 1:

To achieve a value for the Numerical Weather Prediction Index of at least 111.8 on 31 March 2004, from a baseline of 100.0 on 31 March 2000.

KEY TARGET 2:

To achieve a value for the Service Quality Index of at least 120.1 on 31 March 2004, from a baseline of 100.0 on 31 March 1997, in line with customer requirements.

KEY TARGET 3:

To achieve a value for the Efficiency Index at 31 March 2004 of at least 120.1.

KEY TARGET 4:

To deliver an operating profit before strategic investments of at least £14 million in FY 2003–04. This is in support of a long term target to achieve a return on capital employed, averaged over the period from 1 April 2002 to 31 March 2007, of at least 4 per cent.

KEY TARGET 5:

To transfer our Bracknell-based weather forecasting operations to our new operations centre in Exeter by 30 September 2003.

KEY TARGET 6:

To achieve a total contribution from commercial activities in FY 2003–04 of at least £4.0 million.

KEY TARGET 7:

To achieve a value for the Staff Skills Index of at least 107.5 by 31 March 2004, from a baseline of 100.0 as at 31 March 2001.

Democratic Republic Of Congo

The House will be aware of the humanitarian crisis in the Ituri province in the Democratic Republic of Congo, particularly in and around the town of Bunia in the north-east of the country.The UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has requested an interim multinational force to stabilise the town of Bunia and to facilitate the arrival of UN reinforcements. This is likely to be a EU-led operation under European Foreign and Security Policy auspices.The UK is discussing possible contributions with EU Member States and other potential contributors. We are considering providing a small contingent of support elements together with aircraft to assist in the deployment of the force. The House will be informed once final decisions have been taken on the size and scale of UK contributions.

Iraq

In the Written Statements of 11 April 2003, Official Report, columns 38–39WS and 30 April 2003, columns 15–16WS, I described UK force level adjustments to reflect the evolving strategic situation in Iraq, including the call-out of up to 1,200 reservists. In the subsequent Written Statement of 22 May 2003, Official Report, columns 44–45WS, I announced the call-out of a further 1,500 reservists to support continuing operations within Iraq. We continue to assess the requirements for a continued UK presence in Iraq in support of the Iraqi people. This process is dependent on a number of factors, including progress made against our military campaign objectives, and multinational contributions to stabilisation operations.Positive discussions continue with a number of nations regarding military deployments to Iraq. We have so far received commitments from seven countries for contingents comprising a total of around 5,500 personnel to contribute in the UK area of operations. A Danish Marine battalion has already arrived, and is making a valuable contribution to Coalition operations in Al Qurnah.Overall, 25,000 UK servicemen and women have returned from operations in the Gulf—more than half those originally deployed. Some 17,000 UK servicemen and women currently remain in the region. We will maintain a balanced and flexible force to suit the operational situation in Iraq. To this end, I am now in a position to announce a number of further adjustments to our forces in the region.Since the statement of 30 April, we have continued where possible to scale back our military presence within Iraq and the surrounding region. The maritime presence in the Gulf now comprises two frigates, currently HMS Richmond and HMS Chatham, and a nuclear-powered submarine, supported by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels Brambleleaf and Diligence. On current plans, we envisage maintaining a maritime presence at this level for the foreseeable future.For land forces, the planned withdrawal of 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines and of other land personnel, which I announced on 30 April, is now complete. In addition to the movements set out in that statement, 16 Air Assault Brigade has now been withdrawn, including 3 Parachute Regiment arid 3 Army Air Corps. We have also withdrawn the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, 1

st Battalion The Light Infantry, the Queens Royal Lancers and 1st The Queens Dragoon Guards. These adjustments will be followed by the replacement of HQ 1 (UK) Armoured Division with HQ 3 (UK) Armoured Division, which we anticipate will complete by mid-July. As I have previously announced, we envisage that 19 Mechanised Brigade will deploy within the same timescale, and preparations are underway to prepare for and to facilitate this movement. HQ 102 Logistic Brigade completed its hand-over to HQ 101 Logistic Brigade in early May as planned, and the Brigades' sub-units are currently engaged in a phased rotation. When fully assembled, these units will represent a total of around 10,000 servicemen and women.

Around 90 fixed-wing aircraft and some 80 helicopters have returned following the highly successful contribution of the Royal Air Force and the Joint Helicopter Command to the Coalition air campaign. The deployment of the 1st Air Control Centre to Tallil to contribute to an overall ground-based radar picture over Iraq has allowed for the withdrawal of our two deployed E3D aircraft. The Royal Air Force now has 8 Tornado GR4s remaining in theatre with a number of supporting aircraft. In addition, the Joint Helicopter Force retains a balanced rotary-wing presence, 18 helicopters comprising Chinook, Sea King, Lynx and Gazelle helicopters.

Since the statement of 30 April, around 850 additional reservists have been accepted into service, and the call-out process continues. Our reservist men and women continue to play a vital role in supporting stabilisation operations in Iraq, in accordance with the aims of the Strategic Defence Review that the reserve forces should be more integrated, relevant and useable. In parallel to the call-out process, we have so far demobilised over 1,700 reservists who have returned from Iraq as a part of the wider programme of withdrawals.

I pay tribute to all the men and women who have contributed so successfully and professionally to the military campaign in Iraq. We continue to assess the situation as military operations contribute to the gradual return of stability to the country, and to respond in an appropriate manner; our presence will continue to be dictated by the requirements of Iraq and the Iraqi people. The House will be kept informed of any further significant developments.

Work And Pensions

Local Worklessness

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of Exchequer announced last November plans to test a new approach of offering intensive support to residents in neighbourhoods with very high concentrations of worklessness.From April 2004 pilots will begin in 12 sites to help residents access the jobs that can often be found within travelling distance of where they live. In each pilot area

residents claiming Jobseeker's Allowance will benefit from accelerated access onto the New Deal programmes after just three months of unemployment
partners and lone [parents will attend more frequent interviews with personal advisers
new Incapacity Benefit claimants will also be given more help to ensure that employment opportunities and barriers to work are regularly discussed.
There will be access to a flexible discretionary fund to allow personal advisers, working in cooperation with Local Strategic Partnerships. To tackle the substantial and varied barriers that prevent residents in these neighbourhoods from returning to work. This will prove flexibility to deliver services in ways that best meet the needs of the local community.

I can now announce that these pilots will be allocated in neighbourhoods based in the local authority wards set out in the table. Over the coming months Jobcentre Plus will work with Local Strategic Partnerships and other key stakeholders to plan how the pilots will operate locally to deliver the help residents need.

Local Authority

Wards

Tower HamletsBromley-by-Bow East India & Lansbury Limehouse
KnowsleyNorthwood
WirralBirkenhead

Local Authority

Wards

SheffieldManor
Newcastle-upon-TyneMonkchester
BirminghamAston
MiddlesbroughThorntree North Ormesby Barmbles Farm
SwanseaPenderry
Great YarmouthCentral & Northgate Nelson
HastingsCastle
Glasgow CityParkhead Ward
Glasgow CityHutchesontown Ward