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13 Mar 1996 : Column WA65

Written Answers

Wednesday, 13th March 1996.

Married Illegal Entrants: Deportation Policy

Lord Rankeillour asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have issued guidance in respect of the consideration by their officials of cases of persons who are liable to be removed as illegal entrants or deported but who have married a person settled in the United Kingdom.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): New guidance has been issued setting out the factors to be considered in cases involving the removal or deportation of people married to a person settled here. The guidance, a copy of which has been placed in the Library, will take immediate effect.

Local Authority Development Plans

Baroness Perry of Southwark asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have to amend the system of development plans prepared under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Earl Ferrers): The "plan-led system" requires each district planning authority to have an area-wide local plan or unitary development plan. We set a target, which was agreed with local authorities, of getting a substantial majority of those plans prepared, debated and formally adopted by the end of 1996. The results of the most recent monitoring survey show that 62 per cent. of authorities expect to have adopted their plan by the target date. This shortfall is disappointing.

We have been concerned at the length of time which it is taking some authorities to adopt their plan. We consulted earlier about possible changes to speed up this process. The response was lukewarm about radical change, but it supported change which could be achieved within the scope of existing legislation.

Already the Planning Inspectorate have introduced more concise reports on local plan inquiries and a system of service agreements with local authorities on their likely length and cost.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is proposing further changes which can be brought into effect quickly, with the publication of proposals to amend both the Code of Practice on Development Plans and the Development Plan Regulations. Copies have been placed in the Library of the House.

In addition, we are not ruling out further changes, including measures which will require legislation, if these should be desired by the users of the development plan system. My department will shortly be writing to interested organisations about this wider discussion.

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Environment Agency: Advisory Committee Membership Schemes

Baroness Perry of Southwark asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What decision they have made concerning the membership schemes proposed by the Environment Agency for their Regional Environment Protection Advisory Committees.

Earl Ferrers: The consultation period on the membership schemes has now closed. After careful consideration of the responses which were received, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has approved the schemes in the form in which they were submitted by the agency. The agency will now be consulting on nominations for each committee.

National Insurance: Inactive Accounts

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to paragraph 16 of the Fifth Report of the House of Commons Select Committee on Social Security, whether their plans for "removing inactive accounts from the National Insurance database" will safeguard the rights and contribution records of British subjects working abroad, and if so, how.

The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish): The administration of the National Insurance scheme is the responsibility of Mrs. Faith Boardman, the Chief Executive of the Contributions Agency. She will write to the noble Lord.

Letter to Earl Russell from the Chief Executive of the Contributions Agency, Mrs. Faith Boardman, dated 12th March 1996.

As Chief Executive of the Contributions Agency I have responsibility for answering questions about operational matters relating to the Agency and the National Insurance (NI) scheme.

I have been asked to reply to your question about removing inactive NI accounts and the safeguards in place to protect the rights and contribution records of British subjects working abroad.

I should first of all confirm that with regard to the removal of "inactive NI numbers" the agency adheres to strict criteria for declaring any account held on the National Insurance Recording System (NIRS) database redundant.

The initial criteria for declaring an account redundant are:- (i) the contributor should be deceased for a minimum of six years; or (ii) the contributor should be a minimum of 11 years past the minimum age of retirement-- e.g. 71 for a female and 76 for a male.

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In the context of those contributors who may be working abroad there are additional safeguards which inhibit redundancy. Where the basic criterion at

(i) applies but there is an "abroad" notation on any deceased male or female account where the date of death is not known, these accounts are not declared redundant.

Similarly, where the criterion at (ii) above applies but an "abroad" or "migrant worker" notation is held on a male or female account, these accounts are not declared redundant.

I should also point out that an audit trail is maintained to allow for identification of any redundant account and the reason for redundancy. In addition all accounts declared redundant are archived and can be accessed or reconstructed and reinstated on the NIRS database if necessary.

I hope this reply proves helpful. Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.

Armed Forces: Homosexuality Policy

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they accept the image of the United Kingdom Armed Forces abroad, described by the Ministry of Defence report of the Homosexuality Policy Assessment Team (paragraph 45) as "harsher and more aggressive in their attitudes, more concerned with formal discipline, more traditional and less tolerant of individual or minority rights than their foreign counterparts".

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Earl Howe): The British Armed Forces are a wholly professional body, committed to the maintenance of operational effectiveness. In order to achieve this, a high degree of unit--and self-discipline is essential. Unlike many of our NATO allies, who still rely on conscription, they are an all-volunteer force and, as such, freely accept the sacrifices and limitations on personal liberty imposed by military service. We cannot comment on the perceptions held by other countries, whose traditions and operational commitments may differ markedly from those of the United Kingdom. What the Assessment Team's report does make clear is that our Armed Forces have long held a reputation, both in this country and internationally, for high standards, high morale and strong discipline. These standards have withstood the test of time in combat with the successful deployment of British troops on operations every year since 1945; indeed, we currently have more Service personnel deployed overseas than any other European nation.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Ministry of Defence will introduce measures to counter homophobia within the Armed Forces, as described in the report of the Homosexuality Policy Assessment Team; and, if not, why not.

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Earl Howe: We do not believe that the Armed Forces are homophobic, nor is such a view supported by the Homosexuality Policy Assessment Team's report. What the report does show is that Service personnel make a clear differentiation between their personal views on homosexuality, which are often tolerant and sympathetic, and what they perceive as the effect of homosexuality on the operational environment.

Retired Officers and Civil Servants Employed by Foreign Companies

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have been able to discover how many United Kingdom retired services officers and civil servants have gone to work in foreign owned or foreign based companies, and if not why not.

Earl Howe: No. Departments do not keep records of this information.

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have yet been able to discover how many United Kingdom retired service officers and civil servants, who have gone to work in foreign owned or foreign based companies, are still subject to the Official Secrets Acts, and if not why not.

Earl Howe: Retired service officers and civil servants working for foreign owned or based companies are subject to the Official Secrets Acts in the same way as those working for UK companies. Retired officers and civil servants also continue to be subject to a duty of confidentiality to the Crown as their former employer.

Crown Copyright: Quasi-legislative Material

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why the reproduction of quasi-legislative material, such as codes and departmental guidance notes, will remain subject to licence under the Government's intended plans for the future administration of Crown copyright.

Earl Howe: Unlike Acts and statutory instruments, which form distinct series and are readily identifiable, quasi-legislative material is a much broader and more loosely-defined category. It embraces the publications of many departments and agencies which may have views in specific cases on the context of any reproduction. Nevertheless, a simple, standard licence (QLM/2) is already available to cover the value-added reproduction in print form of most quasi-legislative material and consideration is currently being given to how far a similar regime can be extended to electronic publishing.

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