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The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): I am pleased to say that Lord Carlile of Berriew QC has completed the report on the operation of part VII of the Act, which will be laid before the House today.
The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Beverley Hughes): I refer to the statement that I made on 21 October 2003 about the outcome of the pilot testing of language analysis for selected asylum applicants who claimed to be nationals of Afghanistan, Somalia and Sri Lanka. My statement quoted a figure of 21 per cent. for the detection of false Somali nationals and it is necessary to clarify this finding. As the summary of findings of the three-country language analysis pilot which was placed in the Library of the House showed 12 per cent. of those tested who claimed to be from Somalia were found to be false nationals. The figure of 21 per cent. related to the Somali applicants who were tested and were found not to be from the region or tribe they claimed. Overall, 34 per cent. of the claimed Somali applicants who were tested were either not from Somalia or not from the region or tribe that they had claimed. I apologise for any confusion that may have been caused by the presentation of the figures in my earlier statement.
The Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety (Ms Hazel Blears): On 27 February 2003, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced, Official Report, cols. 32WS36WS, the Government's response to the recommendations of the independent review ream, appointed the previous September to take a fundamental look at the operation of the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB). One of their recommendations was that the Capita contract should be renegotiated to align the contract to the changed and evolving circumstances that had occurred since the original contract was signed back in August 2000. Following a thorough and constructive period of negotiation, the Criminal Records Bureau and Capita signed a revised contract on 22 December 2003.
The revised contract is a major step forward for the CRB and represents a substantial improvement over the previous terms. The revised contract now provides for:
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the ability to achieve year-on-year operational cost reductions with further incentives to reduce operational costs over the lifetime of the contact; any such cost savings would be reflected in further price reductions;
pricing levels matched to guaranteed volumes, agreed on a bi-annual basis;
additional contractual performance measures including both qualitative and quantitative standards to enhance further the Disclosure service;
far greater clarity of roles and responsibilities within the partnership;
incentives to allow Capita to further enhance the IT and other technical systems to meet evolving process and output requirements;
the implementation of recommendations made by independent consultants on the IT system;
an improved agreement in respect of financial penalties for failing to meet agreed performance standards which have been revised to meet the evolving circumstances that had occurred since the original contract was signed back in August 2000;
a one off payment to Capita of £3.6 million in final settlement of the earlier agreed contract change which provided for the introduction of the blank application form. The payment covered the additional cost of processing the blank application forms in the period February to September 2003.
The CRB is now on a sound footing and through the revised contract will now have far greater flexibility to improve and develop the Disclosure service over the coming years.
The Minister for Local Government, Regional Governance and Fire (Mr. Nick Raynsford): As the Government reaffirmed in its White Paper Response"The Government's Response to the Electoral Commission's report: The Shape of Elections to ComeA Strategic Evaluation of the 2003 Electoral Pilot Schemes" (CM5975)we are committed to developing multi-channelled, e-enabled elections, culminating in an e-enabled general election sometime after 2006. As a further step to achieving this goal we are today, in partnership with the Department for Constitutional Affairs including the Scotland Office, launching a new project to modernise the electoral registration process in Great Britain and which will lead to the registration infrastructure that can underpin multi-channelled, e-enabled elections.
This projectCORE (Co-ordinated Online Register of Electors)will be in two phases. The first will standardise local electronic electoral registers across the country and make them fully interoperable regardless of the local system in use. The second phase will allow authorised users to access local registration data centrally and will support a multi-channelled, e-enabled general election. The project replaces the earlier proposed LASER project to modernise the registration
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process, which was to have been led by the Improvement and Development Agency. Copies of a project outline, which the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is publishing today is available in the Libraries of both Houses.
Throughout the project we will be working closely with local government, the registration software suppliers, and other key stakeholders. Government are providing £12 million Capital Modernisation Fund resources to meet the costs of the project, and we will shortly be consulting local government and others on the details for taking forward the project, including details of the funding arrangements.
We are committed to making voting more accessible and straightforward for the electorate and to allow people more flexibility in where and when they vote. This project aims to improve the quality of electoral registers and ensure that accurate and timely registration will support the needs of the electorate and authorised users and help facilitate voting in the future. It is an essential element of our electoral modernisation agenda.
The Minister for Local Government, Regional Governance and Fire (Mr. Nick Raynsford): I have today published for consultation a paper discussing the provisions to be made for the Electoral Commission to pay counting officers for the expenses they incur in connection with the regional assembly referendums and the associated local government referendums. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister expects to hold the referendums in autumn.
Copies of the documents are available in the Libraries of the House. They will also be available on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's website:
This consultation, and the two launched on 18th December concerned with the combination of the regional and local referendums and on registration and spending limits respectively, will run until 16th February. We would be very grateful for all comments on these proposals.
The Minister for Housing and Planning (Keith Hill): When the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister introduced new procedures in August 2000 to improve the handling of planning appeals we said that their operation would be monitored and reviewed. The outcome of the most recent review has suggested a need for some changes to be made.
There was concern expressed during the course of the review by a wide range of stakeholders about the perceived inequity for third parties taking part in the appeals process. It was considered anomalous that the rules do not allow third parties to comment on the appeal statements made by the main parties. In order to address this inequity and more fully involve all members of the community in the planning process, we intend to conduct a consultation on proposals to amend the rules for written representations, hearings and inquiries
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procedures. The proposed amendment would allow third parties that have commented at the 6-week stage a further opportunity to comment on main parties' appeal statements at the 9-week stage of an appeal.
We shall also be amending the rules to take account of drafting amendments suggested by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and to correct minor technical anomalies.
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