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Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): Thirteen foreign nationals have so far been detained using powers in Part IV of the Anti-terrorism Crime and Security (ATCS) Act 2001. Eight were detained in December 2001, one in February 2002, two in April 2002, one in October 2002 and a further one on Saturday 23 November.

Of the total detained, two have voluntarily left the United Kingdom. The other 11 remain in detention.

The persons detained have been detained under a primarily immigration power. They are not being held pending criminal charges.

All of those detained have had access to legal advice throughout the detention period. There is no limit to the number of legal visits the detainees may receive.

My decisions to detain these individuals were made on the basis of detailed and compelling evidence. That evidence will be examined by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission when the individuals' appeals are heard, as provided for under the ATCS Act. The Commission is equivalent to the High Court. It has the power to overturn my decisions.

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Where terrorism is concerned our paramount responsibility is to ensure public safety and national security. So long as the public emergency subsists, where a person is suspected of terrorism but cannot currently be removed and for whom a criminal prosecution is not an option, we believe that it is necessary and proportionate to provide for extended detention, pending removal.


Ballistic Missiles

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State For Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mike O'Brien): The United Kingdom subscribed to the International Code of Conduct (ICOC) against Ballistic Missiles at its launch in The Hague on 25 November. I represented HMG at the launch.

The ICOC is a politically binding agreement designed to tackle the proliferation of ballistic missiles capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction. It does so by promoting transparency and confidence building among States. It consists of principles, commitments and confidence-building measures. It will establish international norms for the first time in the area of ballistic missiles. The Code will complement the existing range of international instruments against WMD.

The non-proliferation commitments in the Code include a commitment not to contribute to, support or assist any ballistic missile programme in countries which might be developing or acquiring weapons of mass destruction in contravention of international obligations. Also to exercise vigilance in assistance to Space Launch Vehicle programmes, given that these can be used to conceal ballistic missile programmes. The Code also calls for maximum possible restraint in the development, testing and deployment of ballistic missiles capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction.

The confidence-building and transparency measures are designed to promote confidence through information sharing, in the form of both pre-launch notifications and annual declarations about ballistic missile and space launch programmes. The aim is to boost confidence for instance that space launch vehicle programmes are not being used as cover for ballistic missile programmes.

The Code represents a significant step forward for the international community in the area of arms control—in this case the control of one of the delivery systems of choice for weapons of mass destruction. The UK has played a leading role in the development of the ICOC since its inception. We are calling on all States to subscribe to the Code.


Customs and Excise

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. John Healey): As the Minister responsible for HM Customs and Excise, I can confirm that in the light of the

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circumstances that yesterday led to the prosecution offering no further evidence in a series of linked prosecutions relating to London City Bond which were being heard at Liverpool Crown Court, the Attorney-General (as Minister responsible for Customs and Excise prosecutions) and I will be asking a High Court judge to consider:

The full terms of reference for the review are attached and a copy of the statement made by prosecuting counsel in court will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Review of current practices and procedures relating to disclosure, associated investigation techniques and case management in hm customs and excise's criminal cases

Terms of Reference

Scope of the review

The review:

The Review will report to the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, as the Minister responsible for HM Customs and Excise and to the Attorney-General.

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The Review will have unrestricted access to HM Customs and Excise staff, papers and facilities. It is being asked to report not later than June 2003. A summary of the Report and its recommendations will be laid before Parliament.


Local Government

The Minister for Local Government and the Regions (Mr. Nick Raynsford ): I am announcing today a significant devolution of power to local government. This includes the steps that the Government intend to take to follow up the results of the Comprehensive Performance Assessments (CPA) of county and unitary authorities which the Audit Commission is due to publish in December. This will mark a significant milestone in completing the proposals in the Local Government White Paper, XStrong Local Leadership—Quality Public Services". I have placed copies of our proposals in the House Libraries.

Our aim is progressive improvement in authorities' performance as measured by the CPA. Our package means that there will be greater freedom for local councils to allow them to meet the needs of their communities, support where it is needed and effective action to tackle failure. The nature of the action will vary between the different CPA categories.

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Overall there will be greater devolution of power to local government from central Government control. It means greater freedom for councillors and those on the front line to take decisions locally to shape and improve services and respond to local needs.

All councils will have greater control over how they spend their money with a reduction in the level of ring-fencing in Government revenue grants and an increase in the funding for capital going through the single capital pot. We will also reduce current requirements to produce separate plans by over 75 per cent.

For the best councils there will be a set of more radical changes. These will include even greater flexibility to decide how to spend money received from central government (other than money which has to be passed to schools); no requirement to produce plans for central government; and a three-year holiday from most inspection activity.

The announcement also sets out further details about how we shall work with local government on a package of support for councils, with central Government matching pound for pound the additional funding agreed with the LGA for capacity building.

For the weakest authorities we are confirming the principles for tackling poor performance on which we consulted earlier in the year. The Government will engage directly with all such authorities from an early stage.