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Petitions

Volume 480: debated on Monday 6 October 2008

Petitions

Monday 6 October 2008

Petition presented to the House but not read on the Floor

PETITION PRESENTED

Planning and Development (Hampshire)

The Petition of the Bordon for Option 1 Group

Declares that the Whitehill/Bordon Opportunity Town Enlargement and/or Bordon Eco-Town Development expansion proposals are not appropriate to the character of this small country town. Because of the size of the proposed town enlargement it will have an excessive and undesirable impact on the surrounding areas. The Petitioners respectfully ask that the currently proposed over-development plan for Bordon be stopped. This small town and its surroundings contain characteristics and important heathland and other biodiversity rich habitats, which will be lost or substantially damaged, even if they are mitigated for, by these development proposals and options.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, to limit the expansion of the town at Whitehill/Bordon to no more than 2000 houses and associated infrastructure: and to insist that the proposed town expansion should be situated only on the future brownfield sites that are currently barracks, which are to be vacated by the MOD in the town.

And the Petitioners remain, etc. [P000270]

OBSERVATIONS

Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

Post Office Closures (Essex)

The Humble Petition of the customers of 553 London Road Post Office, Westcliff-on-Sea, SS0 9LJ and others,

Sheweth

That said Post Office is widely used by the residents of Southend West and is a vital resource for our community of inestimable value to its elderly and most vulnerable constituents.

Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your Honourable House do request that the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform instruct the Chief Executive of the Royal Mail Group to keep 553 London Road Post Office open.

And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, &c.—[Presented by Mr. David Amess, Official Report, 21 July 2008; Vol. 479, c. 622 .] [P000255]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, received 6 August 2008:

The Government fully recognises the important social and economic role of post offices, particularly in rural and deprived urban communities. That is why it is determined to maintain a national post office network allowing people to have reasonable access across the whole country and has put in place a new policy and financial framework to achieve this. The Government has been investing substantial sums in the post office network, totalling £2 billion since 1999. That has, for example, paid for a computer link-up for every post office as well as support for non-commercial branches since 2003.

In its response to the consultation on the Post Office network the Government announced in May 2007 confirmation of its decision to extend funding of up to £1.7 billion to 2011, including provision of £150 million Social Network Payment to support the post office network up to 2011. The Government strategy includes provision for 2,500 compensated closures and 500 new Outreach services.

The 500 new and innovative Outreach locations, operated in partnership with other local services such as in pubs, village halls, churches or in mobile post offices, will mitigate closures, primarily in smaller and more remote communities. Post Office Limited (POL) announced on 9 April that it will extend Outreach trials into urban areas which, if successful, could mean additional Outreach branches over and above the 500 originally planned. Nevertheless, there will need to be up to 2,500 compensated post office closures within the defined access criteria.

POL is responsible for implementing the network change programme at a local level. It is developing a rolling programme of some 50 local consultations on detailed area plans, based on groups of Parliamentary constituencies. The first area plans went out to local consultation on 2 October last year and these plans will continue to be rolled out at regular intervals until August, with the whole programme scheduled to take around 15 months to complete. The consultation period for East Essex and Suffolk has ended and POL has published its Area Plan Decision Booklet. Having considered all representations and the criteria for the network change programme POL have confirmed that the London Road Post Office is to close. Details will be made available on the POL website at: www.postoffice.co.uk/networkchange.

POL develops its proposals with the participation of sub-postmasters, local authorities and the consumer watchdog, Postwatch, and takes into account the numeric access criteria set out by Government as well as local factors affecting ease of access, such as local geography: rivers, mountains etc when drawing up its implementation plans. POL is also required to consider the availability of public transport and alternative access to key post office services, local demographics and the impact on the local economy. Local consultations provide the opportunity to raise any specific concerns over particular proposals.

The Government does not have a role in proposals or decisions for individual post offices. No decisions on individual Post Offices are taken until after local consultations. Those decisions are made by POL in light of the responses to the consultation while subject to a four-stage appeals process involving Postwatch. The Review Process for closure decisions after public consultation process applies where Postwatch shows that, for an individual branch:

POL has not given due consideration to material evidence received during the public consultation in coming to its decision or;

where evidence emerges from the consultation that the proposal for the branch does not meet the Government’s policy requirements.

The aim of the further review process is for POL and Postwatch to reach an agreed way forward by bilateral review with 3 stages available at increasing levels of seniority. An addition to the review process last November provides that for very difficult cases which remain unresolved after stage 3, Allan Leighton, Chairman of Royal Mail Group will review the issues and reach a final decision.

Post Office Closures (Halifax)

The Petition of those opposed to the decision to close Holmfield Post Office,

Declares that they do not believe that the Post Office has given consideration to the range of customers using this branch and the impact of its closure on the community; a large proportion of customers will find it difficult to travel to the suggested alternatives. Further declares that the Holmfield Community is also growing rapidly with a high number of new businesses moving into the areas and current businesses expanding. This they are sure will guarantee the viability of this branch for many years to come.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory reform to instruct Post Office Ltd. to keep Holmfield Post Office open.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mrs. Linda Riordan, Official Report, 21 July 2008; Vol. 479, c. 621 .] [P000246]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, received 11 September 2008:

The Government fully recognises the important social and economic role of post offices, particularly in rural and deprived urban communities. That is why it is determined to maintain a national post office network allowing people to have reasonable access across the whole country and has put in place a new policy and financial framework to achieve this. The Government has been investing substantial sums in the post office network, totalling £2 billion since 1999. That has, for example, paid for a computer link-up for every post office as well as support for non-commercial branches since 2003.

In its response to the consultation on the Post Office network the Government announced in May 2007 confirmation of its decision to extend funding of up to £1.7 billion to 2011, including provision of £150 million Social Network Payment to support the post office network up to 2011. The Government strategy includes provision for 2,500 compensated closures and 500 new Outreach services.

The 500 new and innovative Outreach locations, operated in partnership with other local services such as in pubs, village halls, churches or in mobile post offices, will mitigate closures, primarily in smaller and more remote communities. Post Office Limited (POL) announced on 9 April that it will extend Outreach trials into urban areas which, if successful, could mean additional Outreach branches over and above the 500 originally planned. Nevertheless, there will need to be up to 2,500 compensated post office closures within the defined access criteria.

POL is responsible for implementing the network change programme at a local level. It is developing a rolling programme of some 50 local consultations on detailed area plans, based on groups of Parliamentary constituencies. The first area plans went out to local consultation on 2 October last year and these plans will continue to be rolled out at regular intervals until August, with the whole programme scheduled to take around 15 months to complete. POL has announced final decisions for the West Yorkshire area plan. Having considered all representations and the criteria for the network change programme POL has confirmed that Holmfield Post Office is to close. Details of the closures are available on the POL website at: www.postoffice.co.uk/networkchange.

POL develops its proposals with the participation of sub-postmasters, local authorities and the consumer watchdog, Postwatch, and takes into account the numeric access criteria set out by Government as well as local factors affecting ease of access, such as local geography: rivers, mountains etc when drawing up its implementation plans. POL is also required to consider the availability of public transport and alternative access to key post office services, local demographics and the impact on the local economy. Local consultations provide the opportunity to raise any specific concerns over particular proposals.

The Government does not have a role in proposals or decisions for individual post offices. No decisions on individual Post Offices are taken until after local consultations. Those decisions are made by POL in light of the responses to the consultation while subject to a four-stage appeals process involving Postwatch. The Review Process for closure decisions after public consultation process applies where Postwatch shows that, for an individual branch:

POL has not given due consideration to material evidence received during the public consultation in coming to its decision or;

where evidence emerges from the consultation that the proposal for the branch does not meet the Government’s policy requirements.

The aim of the further review process is for POL and Postwatch to reach an agreed way forward by bilateral review with 3 stages available at increasing levels of seniority. An addition to the review process last November provides that for very difficult cases which remain unresolved after stage 3, Allan Leighton, Chairman of Royal Mail Group will review the issues and reach a final decision.

Post Office Closures (Merseyside)

The Petition of Birkenhead consitituents opposed to Post Office closure,

Declares that Holt Hill Post Office should remain open.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Business and Enterprise to keep Holt Hill Post Office open, as losing a local Post Office will be a detrimental loss when no other alternative is presented.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr. Frank Field, Official Report, 22 July 2008; Vol. 479, c. 24P .] [P000266]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, received 11 September 2008:

The Government fully recognises the important social and economic role of post offices, particularly in rural and deprived urban communities. That is why it is determined to maintain a national post office network allowing people to have reasonable access across the whole country and has put in place a new policy and financial framework to achieve this. The Government has been investing substantial sums in the post office network, totalling £2 billion since 1999. That has, for example, paid for a computer link-up for every post office as well as support for non-commercial branches since 2003.

In its response to the consultation on the Post Office network the Government announced in May 2007 confirmation of its decision to extend funding of up to £1.7 billion to 2011, including provision of £150 million Social Network Payment to support the post office network up to 2011. The Government strategy includes provision for 2,500 compensated closures and 500 new Outreach services. The General Secretary of the National Federation of Sub Postmasters said at the start of the change programme: “Although regrettable we believe that closures are necessary to ensure the remaining post offices are able to thrive in the future”.

The 500 new and innovative Outreach locations, operated in partnership with other local services such as in pubs, village halls, churches or in mobile post offices, will mitigate closures, primarily in smaller and more remote communities. Post Office Limited (POL) announced on 9 April that it will extend Outreach trials into urban areas which, if successful, could mean additional Outreach branches over and above the 500 originally planned. Nevertheless, there will need to be up to 2,500 compensated post office closures within the defined access criteria.

POL is responsible for implementing the network change programme at a local level. It is developing a rolling programme of some 50 local consultations on detailed area plans, based on groups of Parliamentary constituencies. The first area plans went out to local consultation on 2 October last year and these plans will continue to be rolled out at regular intervals until August, with the whole programme scheduled to take around 15 months to complete. The consultation period for Merseyside finished on 17 December. Having considered all representations and the criteria for the network change programme POL have confirmed the proposed closure of Holt Hill Post Office. Details of the closures and any further reviews are available on the POL website at: www.postoffice.co.uk/networkchange.

POL develops its proposals with the participation of sub-postmasters, local authorities and the consumer watchdog, Postwatch, and takes into account the numeric access criteria set out by Government as well as local factors affecting ease of access, such as local geography: rivers, mountains etc when drawing up its implementation plans. POL is also required to consider the availability of public transport and alternative access to key post office services, local demographics and the impact on the local economy. Local consultations provide the opportunity to raise any specific concerns over particular proposals.

The Government does not have a role in proposals or decisions for individual post offices. No decisions on individual Post Offices are taken until after local consultations. Those decisions are made by POL in light of the responses to the consultation while subject to a four-stage appeals process involving Postwatch. The Review Process for closure decisions after public consultation process applies where Postwatch shows that, for an individual branch:

POL has not given due consideration to material evidence received during the public consultation in coming to its decision or;

where evidence emerges from the consultation that the proposal for the branch does not meet the Government’s policy requirements.

The aim of the further review process is for POL and Postwatch to reach an agreed way forward by bilateral review with 3 stages available at increasing levels of seniority. An addition to the review process last November provides that for very difficult cases which remain unresolved after stage 3, Allan Leighton, Chairman of Royal Mail Group will review the issues and reach a final decision.

Post Office Closures (Shropshire)

The Petition of users of Post Offices in the Ludlow Constituency,

Declares that plans to close 14 Post Offices in the Ludlow constituency, 9 of which are in the last remaining shop in the village, will affect many users of Post Office services, particularly vulnerable people with limited access to alternative branches and undermine sustainability of the local community. Withdrawal of the Post Office from the local shop will threaten the future of many remaining village shops, and introduction of a mobile van service for a few hours a week in 7 villages does nothing to reduce this threat to our communities.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to be aware of the Petitioners concerns against closure of Post Offices in the Ludlow constituency and to instruct Post Office Ltd to halt the closure of these Post Offices.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr. Philip Dunne, Official Report, 9 June 2008; Vol. 477, c. 133 .] [P000209]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, received 25 July 2008:

The Government fully recognises the important social and economic role of post offices, particularly in rural and deprived urban communities. That is why it is determined to maintain a national post office network, allowing people to have reasonable access across the whole country, and why it has put in place a new policy and financial framework to achieve this. The Government has been investing substantial sums in the post office network, totalling £2 billion since 1999. That has, for example, paid for a computer link-up for every post office, as well as support for non-commercial branches since 2003.

In its response to the consultation on the Post Office network, the Government announced, in May 2007 confirmation of its decision to extend funding of up to £1.7 billion to 2011, including provision of a £150 million Social Network Payment to support the post office network up to this time. The Government strategy includes provision for 2,500 compensated closures and 500 new Outreach services.

The 500 new and innovative Outreach locations (operated in partnership with other local services, such as pubs, village halls, churches and mobile post offices) will mitigate closures, primarily in smaller and more remote communities. Post Office Limited (POL) announced on 9 April that it will extend Outreach trials into urban areas which, if successful, could mean additional Outreach branches over and above the 500 originally planned. Nevertheless, there will need to be up to 2,500 compensated post office closures within the defined access criteria.

POL is responsible for implementing the network change programme at a local level. It is developing a rolling programme of some 50 local consultations on detailed area plans, based on groups of Parliamentary constituencies. The first area plans went out to local consultation on 2 October last year and these plans will continue to be rolled out at regular intervals until August, with the whole programme scheduled to take around 15 months to complete. The consultation period for Shropshire and Staffordshire, including the Ludlow constituency, finished on 9 June, and POL will publish its Area Plan Decision Booklet on its website in due course. I understand that in 6 of the cases where the post office is the only shop in the village there will be an Outreach replacement service. Details of the closures and any further reviews will be available on the POL website at: www.postoffice.co.uk/networkchange.

POL develops its proposals with the participation of sub-postmasters, local authorities and the consumer watchdog, Postwatch. It takes into account the numeric access criteria set out by Government, as well as local factors affecting ease of access (such as local geography), when drawing up its implementation plans. POL is also required to consider the availability of public transport and alternative access to key post office services, local demographics and the impact on the local economy. Local consultations provide the opportunity to raise any specific concerns over particular proposals.

The Government does not have a role in proposals or decisions for individual post offices. No decisions on individual Post Offices are taken until after local consultations. Those decisions are made by POL, in light of the responses to the consultation, while subject to a four-stage appeals process involving Postwatch. After the public consultation process, the review process will apply when Postwatch shows that:

POL has not given due consideration to material evidence received during the public consultation in coming to its decision or;

evidence emerges from the consultation that the proposal for the branch does not meet the Government’s policy requirements.

The aim of the further review process is for POL and Postwatch to reach an agreed way forward by bilateral review, with 3 stages available at increasing levels of seniority. An addition to the review process last November provides for very difficult cases which remain unresolved after stage 3. At this final stage, the Chairman of Royal Mail Group will review the issues and reach a final decision.

The Petition of users of Montford Bridge Post Office,

Declares that that the plan to close five Post Offices in the Shrewsbury and Atcham constituency will have a detrimental effect on the lives of local residents. The local Post Office is a vital and integral element of the local community, supporting social interaction between residents. They should not simply be assessed on an economic basis without taking into consideration the social economic value they offer to the local community. The proposed partial replacement of three of the Post Offices earmarked for closure by a mobile vehicle with restricted hours, and in some cases parked on the side of roads or in lay-bys, is a substandard solution not benefiting the world we live in today.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to instruct Post Office Ltd. to ensure that Montford Bridge Post Office is kept open.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Daniel Kawczynski, Official Report, 25 June 2008; Vol. 478, c. 465 .] [P000215]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, received 11 September 2008:

The Government fully recognises the important social and economic role of post offices, particularly in rural and deprived urban communities. That is why it is determined to maintain a national post office network allowing people to have reasonable access across the whole country and has put in place a new policy and financial framework to achieve this. The Government has been investing substantial sums in the post office network, totalling £2 billion since 1999. That has, for example, paid for a computer link-up for every post office as well as support for non-commercial branches since 2003.

In its response to the consultation on the Post Office network the Government announced in May 2007 confirmation of its decision to extend funding of up to £1.7 billion to 2011, including provision of £150 million Social Network Payment to support the post office network up to 2011. The Government strategy includes provision for 2,500 compensated closures and 500 new Outreach services.

The 500 new and innovative Outreach locations, operated in partnership with other local services such as in pubs, village halls, churches or in mobile post offices, will mitigate closures, primarily in smaller and more remote communities. Post Office Limited (POL) announced on 9 April that it will extend Outreach trials into urban areas which, if successful, could mean additional Outreach branches over and above the 500 originally planned. Nevertheless, there will need to be up to 2,500 compensated post office closures within the defined access criteria.

POL is responsible for implementing the network change programme at a local level. It is developing a rolling programme of some 50 local consultations on detailed area plans, based on groups of Parliamentary constituencies. The first area plans went out to local consultation on 2 October last year and these plans will continue to be rolled out at regular intervals until August, with the whole programme scheduled to take around 15 months to complete. The consultation period for Shropshire and Staffordshire ended on 9 June and POL published its final decision on 1 July. Having considered all representations and the criteria for the network change programme POL has confirmed that it is to proceed with the proposed closure of the Montford Bridge branch and its replacement with an Outreach service. The Area Plan Decision Booklet for Shropshire and Staffordshire is available on the POL website at: www.postoffice.co.uk/networkchange.

POL develops its proposals with the participation of sub-postmasters, local authorities and the consumer watchdog, Postwatch, and takes into account the numeric access criteria set out by Government as well as local factors affecting ease of access, such as local geography: rivers, mountains etc when drawing up its implementation plans. POL is also required to consider the availability of public transport and alternative access to key post office services, local demographics and the impact on the local economy. Local consultations provide the opportunity to raise any specific concerns over particular proposals.

The Government does not have a role in proposals or decisions for individual post offices. No decisions on individual Post Offices are taken until after local consultations. Those decisions are made by POL in light of the responses to the consultation while subject to a four-stage appeals process involving Postwatch. The Review Process for closure decisions after public consultation process applies where Postwatch shows that, for an individual branch:

POL has not given due consideration to material evidence received during the public consultation in coming to its decision or;

where evidence emerges from the consultation that the proposal for the branch does not meet the Government’s policy requirements.

The aim of the further review process is for POL and Postwatch to reach an agreed way forward by bilateral review with 3 stages available at increasing levels of seniority. An addition to the review process last November provides that for very difficult cases which remain unresolved after stage 3, Allan Leighton, Chairman of Royal Mail Group will review the issues and reach a final decision.

Communities and Local Government

Car Boot Sale (Catchpenny Farm)

The Petition of concerned members of the public,

Declares that the mid-weekly car boot sale and market at Catchpenny Farm, near Fitzwilliam has, for the moment, ceased. The Petitioners believe that this mid-weekly market has been beneficial to the local economy, contributes to strengthening the community and is highly popular. The Petitioners further expect, since they pay their Council Tax to Wakefield MDC, that this Council exists to promote economic development and community well-being and therefore will wish to restore the weekly car boot sale and market.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to do all in its power to co-operate with Wakefield MDC in order to reinstate a mid-weekly car boot sale and market such as the one formerly held at Catchpenny Farm near Fitzwilliam.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Jon Trickett, Official Report, 10 June 2008; Vol. 477, c. 280.] [P000211]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, received 31 July 2008:

The Secretary of State acknowledges the concerns of the petitioners in relation to the cessation of the Catchpenny Farm car boot sale and market.

It is understood that the car boot sale and market at Catchpenny Farm, Fitzwilliam, ceased following action taken by Wakefield Metropolitan District Council through the Courts to secure an injunction against the operator.

Primary responsibility for the day to day administration of planning control rightly rests with the local planning authority for an area. Local planning authorities are best placed to carry out what is in their view proper planning for their areas. They have a wide range of discretionary enforcement powers to enable them to deal with unauthorised development and can, if they feel an unauthorised development is unacceptable, take enforcement action against those concerned. They can also take action in the Courts under section 187B of the Town and Country Planning Act where they consider it expedient for any actual or apprehended breaches of planning control to be restricted.

It is for the local authority concerned to determine whether Civil or enforcement action should be taken in any particular case and, if so, the type of action appropriate, taking account of local circumstances. These are not matters in which the Secretary of State would become involved, unless an appeal is made against an enforcement notice issued by a local planning authority. It would not therefore be appropriate for the Secretary of State to offer any comments or observations on the propositions raised by this petition.

Planning and Development (Essex)

The Petition of J Everett, the residents of Castle Point and others,

Declares that they suspect that there is a hidden agenda in respect of the public open space bounded by the Chase Thundersley on the north side, and by Runneymede Chase on the east side. They have reached this conclusion firstly because a large area adjacent to the annex of the SEEVIC College has been fenced off and they challenge the legal right for this to have been done. Second because Castle Point councillors have decided to no longer regularly cut the grass allowing it to become largely overgrown, and they suspect this is an attempt by councillors to deter people from using the public open space so that the land can be developed. Third, because lately it appears that students of SEEVIC College have been allowed or encouraged to take over the area during breaks, making other users of this public open space feel like interlopers and leaving the space littered with food wrappers, drinks cans and bottles and other rubbish, adding to its dereliction. They further believe that this land, like all public assets, belongs to the people, not to the council or the councillors, and councillors should respect that fact and keep the public fully informed of their and their officers' discussions and intentions regarding land use and the future of all our public assets. They therefore urge councillors to return this land to full and proper public use and to protect it in future, for many valid planning and community interest reasons, and to ensure that this matter is dealt with by councillors rather than officers given its importance to the wider community and the need to protect their valuable public open spaces.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to press all Castle Point councillors, since they have the direct responsibility for this matter, to ensure this public open space is retained for its ancient and established previous use and to immediately publish its discussions and intentions regarding land in this area and behind the Runnemede swimming pool and to be transparent in future with the public on all planning and land use matters.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Bob Spink, Official Report, 2 July 2008; Vol. 478, c. 994.] [P000227]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, received 31 July 2008:

The Secretary of State acknowledges the concerns of the petitioners regarding the land bounded by the Chase Thundersley on the north side and by Runneymede Chase on the east side.

It is our understanding that the land which is subject of proposals by SEEVIC is not public open space and has been allocated for Local Government purposes. This area has been fenced and SEEVIC have applied to Castle Point Borough Council for planning permission to build on this land. The land concerned is bounded to the north by an area of public open space which has not been fenced. Further information on planning, including the minutes of meetings of the Planning Committee are publicly available on the Council's website.

Planning and Development (Salisbury)

The Petition of the citizens of South Wiltshire,

Declares that the Government proposals to impose the building of an additional 12,400 houses on our community will change forever the character of this unique part of rural England's landscape and heritage; has been proposed with inadequate time for proper consultation; is not supported by proposals for new physical or social infrastructure and will result in the loss of prime agricultural land.

Further declares that the underlying planning assumptions of economic and population growth in central southern England are speculative and flawed and ignore the special nature of the open landscape and natural environment which enhances biodiversity in a precious, pollution-free, low-carbon area which is as important to the whole of England as the speculative construction of new houses.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to annul these proposals and bearing in mind the imminent abolition of Salisbury District Council and Wiltshire County council and their replacement by a new Unitary Wiltshire Council as Planning Authority to delay any decision on future housing options for at least one year and to leave development policy in the hands of their locally-elected planning authority, pursuing organic and sustainable growth in our local economy and in the provision of new homes.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Robert Key, Official Report, 12 June 2008; Vol. 477, c. 566.] [P000212]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, received 31 July 2008:

The Secretary of State acknowledges the concerns of the petitioners regarding the recommendations of the Panel Report into the draft Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS) for the South West in relation to the future development of Salisbury and south Wiltshire.

As the process of producing the draft South West RSS is bound by regulation and propriety guidance, which seeks to put all interested parties on an even footing, it is not possible to discuss the merits of the Regional Spatial Strategy or the recommendations of the independent Panel Report at this stage.

This guidance is to ensure that the process is fair and transparent and that representations to the Secretary of State are channelled through the proper statutory consultation process.

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 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.

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.

Defence

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]

Observations from the Secretary of State 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 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 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 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.

This area has a dynamic coastline, most of which has been progressively retreating over past centuries. There are many stretches of the coastline which will be defendable in the future, however there may be a few areas where for good reasons (such as considerable cost in relation to benefits, or that the actual defence structure is not technically feasible) that this is not possible. That is why DEFRA is looking at ways to help communities to adapt to increasing risks of flooding and erosion. For example, we recently launched a consultation on ways to increase the uptake of property-level resilience and resistance measures. This is a key way for individual property owners to receive better protection against flooding. We welcome the participation of the North Norfolk District Council in work looking at ways to adapt to erosion risk, and will continue to engage closely with them.

Home Department

Immigration (John and Stella Park)

The Petition of residents of Teesside and others,

Declares the Petitioners' serious concerns about the possible deportation of John and Stella Park (Home Office Reference Number K2218457) to the Republic of Korea with their mother.

The Petitioners' further declare that John and Stella (aged 14 and 16 years) are two brilliantly talented young musicians. They are in the process of completing their education at Yarm School.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for the Home Department to use her powers to prevent John and Stella's removal from the UK taking place, at least until they have been able to finish their school education.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Ms Dari Taylor, Official Report, 7 July 2008; Vol. 478, c. 1255 .] [P000229]

Observations from the Secretary of State for the Home Department, received 24 September 2008:

To maintain effective immigration control, the United Kingdom Border Agency must remove from the country foreign nationals whose leave to remain here has expired. Should they wish to stay in the United Kingdom to study, such persons ought to apply for entry clearance from abroad to enter the country properly under the Immigration Rules. To grant leave to remain to such people before they have applied for entry clearance provides them with an advantage over those who comply with the law.

Foreign nationals who have been refused leave to remain on the basis of their studies may appeal to an immigration judge. When considering an appeal, a judge has regard to the appellant’s rights, and that of their dependents, to private life (including education) in the United Kingdom enshrined in Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998. In doing so, a judge will determine whether the interference, caused by the appellant’s removal, with the appellant’s private life is proportionate to the aim of achieving immigration control.

The child of a student would be expected to leave with the parent on completion of the parent’s studies. Discretion can be given for a short period only, and leave granted outside the rules to enable a child to sit exams or complete the school year rather than be required to leave shortly before an important examination.

The United Kingdom Border Agency, and immigration judges, when deciding whether or not a person’s rights under Article 8 will be breached by their removal, will have regard to the relevant circumstances to which he or she will be returned. Furthermore, their opportunity to apply for entry clearance to enter this country to resume their private life here is also considered.

To protect the privacy of the individuals, the Government is unable to comment on the details of the case.

Perry Family (Citizenship)

The Humble Petition of Marcus, Cain-Dean and Joshua Perry and others undersigned hereon,

Sheweth

That they are against any law that discriminates against long standing and successful marriages of over 20 years, where a British citizen is forced to be apart from their chosen spouse.

Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your Honourable House urges the Government to reflect over the case of the Perry family and allow Karen Perry to enjoy legal status within the United Kingdom and enjoy family rights as should her sons and husband.

And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, &c.—[Presented by Frank Cook, Official Report, 31 March 2008; Vol. 474, c. 599 .] [P000161]

Observations from the Secretary of State for the Home Department, received 8 September 2008:

The Government does not discriminate against long standing successful marriages. They are subject to the same immigration requirements as all applications for marriage.

As has been made clear to the petitioner, the onus is on individuals to establish what the requirements of entry are before they travel to the United Kingdom.

For those seeking to settle in the UK as spouses, it is important that we have provisions to enable us to differentiate between a genuine marriage and a failed or sham relationship.

This Government has introduced a number of legislative and policy changes to tackle abuse of the Rules relating to marriage. The “no switching” provision is one such measure, introduced in April 2003 for anyone who had leave to enter for six months or less in category other than fiancé(e).

To protect the privacy of the individual, the Government is unable to comment on the individual case.

Justice

Sentencing (Dangerous Driving)

The Petition of those concerned about the length of sentences given to people convicted of dangerous driving.

Declares that Amanda Coulton was killed by Daniel Storey. He was charged with causing death by dangerous driving with excess alcohol and under the influence of cocaine, driving with no licence and no insurance. The car he was driving did not belong to him. Mr Storey was sentenced to 8 years in prison after pleading guilty. The petitioners believe that he should have recieved the maximum sentence of 14 years for these crimes.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Home Secretary to reveiw the sentence given in the case of Daniel Storey, and to review sentencing policy in respect of dangerous driving.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Chris Ruane, Official Report, 21 July 2008; Vol. 479, c. 624 .] [P000254]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Justice, received 6 October 2008:

The Government strongly supports the need for stiff penalties for dangerous drivers and we have the following observations to make.

Review of sentence

The Attorney-General, with the leave of the Court of Appeal, has powers under sections 35 and 36 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, to refer to the Court sentences which appear to the Attorney-General to be unduly lenient. This must be done within 28 days of the sentence being imposed. The time limit is mandatory and cannot be extended. These powers are limited to sentences for indictable only offences and a limited number of triable 'either way offences’ that have been specified by statutory order. Causing death by dangerous driving is indictable only and falls within the scheme. The Attorney-General did not make a reference in this case and the time limit expired on 7 July 2008.

Current sentencing policy for dangerous driving

The Government increased the penalty for causing death by dangerous driving from 10 to 14 years in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and we have no plans for a further review at this stage.

In July 2008, the Sentencing Guidelines Council issued guidelines on causing death by driving. The guideline followed the usual process of full public consultation. The guideline makes it clear that an offence will be considered more serious where there is evidence of driving impairment attributable to the consumption of alcohol or drugs, where the presence of alcohol or drugs does not form part of the offence.

There was an extensive review and consultation exercise of road traffic offences involving bad driving in 2005 following which two new offences were included in the Road Safety At 2006: causing death by careless driving which has a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment; and causing death by driving when unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured which has a maximum penalty of two years' imprisonment. Prior to the introduction of these new offences the maximum sentence for careless, uninsured or unlicensed drivers who caused death on the roads was a fine. These offences complement the existing offences of causing death by dangerous driving and causing death by careless driving when under the influence of alcohol or drugs (maximum penalty of 14 years' imprisonment) and provide an effective framework for bad drivers.

Transport

Driving Test Centre (Spalding)

The Petition of the people of South Holland and the Deepings and others,

Declares that due to the closure of Spalding Driving test Centre the cost of learning to drive will increase for the residents of South Holland, as they will be forced to travel to Peterborough. This will further increase the CO2 emissions and the carbon footprint as a result of the extra miles travelled.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Transport to reverse the closure of Spalding Driving Test Centre.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr. John Hayes, Official Report, 22 July 2008; Vol. 479, c. 25P .] [P000259]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Transport, received 9 September 2008:

The Driving Standards Agency (DSA) has a statutory responsibility for setting standards for theory and practical driving tests and assessing the standard of driving at the practical driving test.

DSA is a self-financing organisation, reliant upon test fee income for the provision of its services. This means the Agency needs to ensure it can deliver a cost-effective service to avoid unnecessary costs, which would have to be recovered from its customers via the driving test fee.

Consequently, when the opportunity arises the location, size and number of driving test centres (DTC) are closely scrutinised, taking into account:

the continued operational suitability of the location;

the facilities it offers;

the customer base;

the proximity of these and any other suitable alternative centres; and

the creation of the national network of Multi-Purpose Test Centres (MPTCs) linked to the introduction of new EU requirements for the motorcycling test in Autumn 2008.

The acquisition of the Peterborough MPTC presented the Agency with the opportunity to review its service provision in the Spalding area. DSA has a service standard that most practical test customers should not have to travel more than our travel distance criteria of 7, 20 or 30 miles depending on the population density of the area. The criterion appropriate to the Spalding area is 30 miles. Peterborough MPTC is about 20 miles from Spalding.

In addition to Peterborough, alternative local test centres are located at:

Boston DTC (approx 14 miles from Spalding);

Wisbech DTC (approx 19 miles);

Kings Lynn MPTC (approx 27 miles); and

Grantham DTC (approx 29 miles).

The closure of the Spalding DTC will maximise the utilisation of these facilities and will ensure there is no wasteful over-provision of facilities in the area. These centres will be suitably resourced so that waiting time targets for car and motorcycle tests will not be compromised.

It should not be necessary for learner drivers to travel from Spalding to test centre locations for every driving lesson unless it is for pre-test familiarisation. This should minimise any additional costs, the environmental impact of those journeys and reduce the time spent in traffic. Experience should be gained on a variety of roads as part of the lesson plan whilst candidates are accompanied by an experienced instructor, rather than as an unaccompanied novice driver.

In a further move to cut carbon emissions from driving, the practical driving test will feature advice on Eco-Safe Driving from September 2008. Eco-safe driving is a recognised and proven style of driving that contributes to road safety whilst reducing fuel consumption and emissions.

Electric and Hybrid Cars

The Petition of Andreas Sowa and Sam Lumley of Year 9 Castle View School, Canvey Island, residents of Castle Point and others,

Declares that the use of gas guzzling petrol and diesel vehicles is helping to damage our environment, and that society should switch to electric and hybrid cars since these are less polluting, cause fewer accidents, with less serious consequences of those accidents because of the generally lower speeds of these cars, might encourage people to walk more, therefore reducing the amount of obesity and are more sustainable since oil is a depleting asset.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to adopt policies to promote the development, production and use of electric and hybrid cars in order to help to protect our environment and for connected matters, particularly given the importance of this issue to the wider community.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Bob Spink, Official Report, 14 July 2008; Vol. 479, c. 110 .] [P000236]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Transport, received 9 September 2008:

The Government recognises the potential environmental benefits of moving to greater electrification of vehicles for both public and private transportation, particularly as our electricity generating system move to increasingly lower carbon power sources.

Currently, there are only very limited options available for those wishing to drive an electric vehicle. No major manufacturer offers electric vehicle options in the UK. For private motorists; there are a limited number of small city cars available on the market—not all of which meet modern crash safety standards. Wider market penetration of electric vehicles has been hindered by the high costs of batteries, the limited range and performance achieved by the vehicles and the need for a more widespread re-charging infrastructure.

Advances in battery technology have the potential to improve the performance of electric vehicles and much research is taking place in the UK and globally. Higher oil prices, if sustained over long periods, would also improve the relative economics of electric vehicles over conventional options—and thus also provide a commercial environment in which a more widespread re-charging infrastructure for electric vehicles could be developed.

The Government has a number of measures to help increase use of electric vehicles. These include advantageous treatment within the UK taxation system - they are exempt from annual vehicle excise duty and use of electricity is taxed at a significantly lower rate than petrol or diesel. In addition the Government is providing grants to support the rollout of recharging infrastructure.

In the light of recent technology advances and high oil prices, we have commissioned further work to examining the potential for electric vehicles to contribute to our long term carbon reduction and renewable energy targets as well as potential interactions with the UK power system.

This work will inform our wider policy development in this area, alongside assessment of the scope for other technological options—including more fuel efficient conventional engines and hydrogen powered fuel cells—to help us move to a more sustainable transport system over the coming decades.

Planning and Development (Heathrow)

The Petition of the Supporters of the Campaign to Save Cherry Lane Cemetery,

Declares that the proposal by the British Airports Authority to construct an access road to the proposed Third Runway and Sixth Terminal at Heathrow Airport through Cherry Lane Cemetery, which is the only functioning cemetery in this part of the London Borough of Hillingdon, is an act of outrageous, sacrilegious destruction, which is causing considerable distress to the families of loved ones buried at the cemetery and concern to the local community.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons calls upon the Government to reject this proposal and safeguard this site.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by John McDonnell, Official Report, 16 July 2008; Vol. 479, c. 374 .] [P000235]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Transport, received 9 September 2008:

The Government acknowledges the concerns over the protection of Cherry Lane Cemetery in Hillingdon, but believes they are unfounded. Plans published as part of our Adding Capacity at Heathrow Airport consultation and illustrating access roads to an expanded airport were clearly marked as ‘indicative’. They do not purport to show the proposed third runway precinct or road layout in any detail, because at the moment any such plans are at an early stage. If policy approval is given by the Government for development at Heathrow and BAA proceed to submit a planning application, detailed final plans will need to be drawn up and be subject to further consultation in the context of a planning application. This would need to include detailed plans for road access, developed by BAA through a proper process of feasibility study and option selection.

I understand that BAA are very much aware of public concerns about Cherry Lane Cemetery and have made clear their commitment not to disturb graves or inhibit access to the cemetery.

Road Safety (Norfolk)

The Petition of residents of South West Norfolk,

Declares that the safety of children and other pedestrians outside schools is vital; that the numbers of road fatalities per year is far too high, that the roads outside schools are particularly sensitive areas; that reducing the speed limit on roads past schools would be an effective way of addressing this.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to consider reducing the national speed limit from 30 miles per hour to 20 miles per hour outside schools

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Christopher Fraser, Official Report, 17 July 2008; Vol. 479, c. 502 .] [P000243]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Transport, received 9 September 2008:

The Government supports and encourages the introduction of 20mph speed limits and zones on the roads around schools, but it may not always be practical to do so, for instance on roads with a strategic function.

Local traffic authorities are responsible for setting local speed limits and therefore have the power to introduce 20mph speed limits on any of their roads, if they believe it appropriate to do so. The Department’s role is to provide local authorities with guidance to ensure those speed limits are appropriately and consistently set.

The Department fully supports local authorities that wish to introduce 20mph speed limits and 20mph zones on their roads, particularly in residential areas where vulnerable road users, such as children, are likely to be present. This is reflected in our guidance to local authorities on setting local speed limits issued in August 2006.

It must also be recognised that simply reducing a speed limit does not automatically achieve a similar reduction in vehicle speeds unless proven traffic calming measures are also introduced. This is backed by research which shows that simply reducing the speed limit from 30mph to 20mph without additional traffic calming only reduces vehicle speeds by around 1mph.

Typically, a 20mph zone will cover a number of roads, often incorporating school premises and must contain proven traffic calming measures within its parameters to physically force drivers to reduce their speeds. Research has shown that accident frequency fell by around 60% and the number of accidents involving children reduced by 67% where 20mph zones were introduced.

For these reasons the Department firmly believes that a local authority’s knowledge of the roads within their area means that they are better placed to decide which speed limits are appropriate for their roads as they will invariably understand local needs and conditions. I believe that this process will not only improve road safety but will also lead to increased respect for and compliance with speed limits.

We are collecting data on 20mph zones and will circulate to all Local Authorities in due course.

Traffic Noise (M3)

The Petition of the residents of Basing and others,

Declares that traffic on M3 has increased dramatically between junctions 5 and 7 over the past 10 years; that this has led to significant increases in noise levels for many local residents, excessive peak time motorway tail backs and consequently unacceptable levels of rat running in our villages and suburban areas.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to implement their plan to install noise reducing road surfaces on all 6 lanes of the motorway and to put in place improvements to junction 6 to ease traffic flow at peak times.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mrs. Maria Miller, Official Report, 22 July 2008; Vol. 479, c. 758 .] [P000257]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Transport, received 9 September 2008:

Roads are resurfaced primarily to address maintenance need, not to reduce noise levels, although noise reduction is an additional benefit of maintenance work. The carriageway between junctions 6 and 7 is in serviceable condition and is not programmed for resurfacing in the near future. Approximately 15% of the carriageway of the M3 between junctions 5 and 6 has already been resurfaced with quieter surfacing. The plan, which is subject to the availability of funds in 2009/10, includes for at least a further 10% between junctions 5 and 6 to be resurfaced with quieter surfacing by April 2010.

The Highways Agency is working closely with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) on the production of noise maps and action plans in line with the Environmental Noise (England) Regulations 2006. The maps for England’s roads were published on 16 May 2008 and the Agency is currently working with DEFRA and local authorities to develop a traffic noise action plan. Using these plans, the Agency will review the priorities and measures to provide noise mitigation solutions within the funds available.

Despite the traffic signals at junction 6 being managed to maximise traffic flows there can be tailbacks on the off slips of the M3 at Junction 6 during the morning peak period. A scheme is currently being developed to address the hazard of queuing on the main carriageway which will involve the off-slips at junction 6 being extended through the use of the hard shoulder. There is also a study programmed for 2009/10 to model the wider road network around junction 6 to assess the impact of the Growth Point status of Basingstoke to identify further options for improvement.

Work and Pensions

Post Office Closures (Cheshire)

The Petition of Mrs Shelagh Beswick, Manager, Wincham Post Office, Mr Alastair Carmichael, Sub Post Master, Barnton Post Office, and others of like disposition,

Declares that they and others care deeply about their local Post Office, where they wish to be able to continue to use their Post Office Card Account, as they are unable to easily visit the bank in their nearest town.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to ensure that POCA2 remains a Post Office product.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr. George Osborne, Official Report, 17 July 2008; Vol. 479, c. 15P .] [P000248]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, received 6 August 2008:

The current Post Office card account contract ends in March 2010, as always planned, and the Government has decided that there will be a new service after 2010. We received clear legal advice that we were required to tender competitively for this product, in order to ensure that best value for money for the taxpayer is achieved.

That process is now well under way and an announcement on the successful bidder will be made in accordance with appropriate procurement rules once a decision has been reached.

The successor to the Post Office card account will be accessible at personal teller outlets throughout the UK, with widespread coverage to ensure that it will be available in rural areas as well as urban communities.

The Government still believes that being paid into a bank or building society account is the best option for the vast majority of our customers, and around three in four of our customers are paid this way. It gives them more choice about where and when they get their money, enables them to make savings on some bills by paying by direct debit and get interest on balances on their accounts.

However, the Government remains committed to allowing people to access their pension and benefit in cash at the post office if they choose to do so, and there are around 25 accounts which make that possible thereby generating income for Post Office Ltd and sub-postmasters.

Post Offices play an important social and economic role in the communities they serve and we are determined to maintain a national Post Office network allowing people to have reasonable access across the whole country. This is why we invested £2 billion between 1999 and 2006 to support the network and are providing a further £1.7 billion up to 2011 to maintain a national network and put it on a stable footing. Funding includes a continued annual subsidy of up to £150 million until at least 2011 with an expectation of a continued need for subsidy beyond this.