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NORTHERN IRELAND

Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. John Spellar): Last year the Government announced a review of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (Disapplication of Part IV for Northern Ireland Parties, etc) Order 2001.

The Order, made under section 70 of the Act, exempts the Northern Ireland political parties from the requirement to comply with Part IV of the Act for four years. Part IV regulates donations to parties so that foreign and anonymous donations are prohibited.

After consulting the Northern Ireland political parties, political parties in Ireland, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee and the Electoral Commission, and taking into consideration the changed political landscape since the Order was first made, the Government are now minded to let the current Order expire in February 2005.

The Government recognise that the current funding arrangements lack transparency and that they are open to abuse. Moreover, the current regime creates clear differences between political parties in Northern Ireland, on the one hand, and those in the rest of the United Kingdom and in Ireland in terms of their access to funds.

However, the Government are fully aware of the special circumstances that exist in Northern Ireland both as regards the continuing fear of intimidation of donors and Ireland's special role in Northern Ireland's political life, as set out in the Belfast agreement. Any new arrangements, therefore, will have to take these important issues into account.

Equally, however, there is a reasonable demand in many quarters for greater transparency and accountability. The Government are, therefore, inviting views on what new arrangements might be made within those objectives, and will aim to announce its decisions by the end of the year. Parties or individuals willing to comment should, therefore, do so by 30 June 2004.

I will, of course, report back to the House in due course.

CULTURE, MEDIA AND SPORT

Lottery Young People's Fund

The Minister for the Arts (Estelle Morris): I am pleased to inform the House that on 5 May I formally issued the New Opportunities Fund (NOF) with policy directions in connection with the new lottery young people's fund. We announced our intention to establish such a fund, initially funded with £200 million from NOF's balances, in the national lottery funding decision document published last July. It was specified as a new NOF initiative in the New Opportunities Fund (Specification of Initiative) Order 2004, which came into force on 23 January 2004, following a resolution of each House of Parliament.

The policy directions I have issued to NOF will allow it to take forward development of the fund, within a framework that supports key priorities for the Government and the devolved administrations. The
 
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focus of the young people's fund will be on projects promoting youth inclusion, specifically by providing facilities and activities, both after school and in holiday periods. In England, the development of the fund will be closely aligned with the aims and principles of the Green Paper "Every Child Matters", published last September.

The fund will address the particular problems faced by young people at risk of social exclusion and provide a welcome new focus for lottery funding for this age group. Plans for the fund will be developed in consultation with representative groups of young people. Young people will also be involved in the design and development of project proposals, decisions on which projects are supported, and the implementation, management and evaluation of projects.

I have placed a copy of the policy directions in the Libraries of both Houses.

DEFENCE

Queen Victoria School

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ivor Caplin): The Chief Executive of the Queen Victoria School has been set the following key targets for 2004–05:

Pupil Population

Educational

Financial

Analytical Services Agency

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): Key targets have been set for the Chief Executive of the Defence Analytical Services Agency (DASA) for financial year 2004–05, and are as follows:

Delivering Services to Meet Customer Needs


 
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Investing in Quality

Developing People

Efficiency

Anti-Structures Munition (ASM)

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): The Ministry of Defence has selected two systems offered by Dynamit Nobel and Saab Bofors Dynamics to proceed into a competitive assessment phase for the anti-structures munition programme. This follows a successful and comprehensive evaluation as part of the concept phase. The cost of the assessment phase is likely to be approximately £7 million.

The ASM programme is intended to produce a man portable, shoulder launched, precision weapon for use against fixed structures and other emplacements at a range of around 200m, utilising enhanced blast warhead technology. A decision on whether to commit to demonstration and manufacture of the system will occur at Main Gate.

The strategic defence review new chapter placed increased emphasis on the need for precision in the face of force and ASM has the potential to provide the armed forces with a significant advancement in capability in this area, particularly for expeditionary operations in urban and mountainous terrain. It is designed to minimise casualties and will be fully in accordance with our obligations under international humanitarian law.


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