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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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