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Future Status of the Forensic Science Service (FSS)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Caroline Flint): On 17 July 2003, the then Home Secretary announced that the Government have accepted the recommendation of the independent review of the Forensic Science Service (FSS) that it should be transformed from a trading fund into a Government-owned company (GovCo) prior to development as a Public Private Partnership (PPP).

Since then, officials have worked closely with the FSS, the police, as the organisation's main customers, and treasury officials to ensure that we are clear about how the transformation of the FSS can best be managed.

We now have a clearer and more detailed analysis of the business and its prospects, together with its strengths and weaknesses. This confirms the conclusion of the independent review that the trading fund model would
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not allow the FSS to deliver to its full potential, or indeed to remain at the leading edge of forensic science in the UK and internationally, thus wasting an important asset in our drive to improve detections and reduce the fear of crime.

In particular, the analysis has confirmed that the market for forensic science is changing rapidly in the face of increased competition. The pace of change is accelerating as technology develops and in response to action by police forces and police authorities to achieve strategic market management in line with public procurement best practices.

To ensure that the FSS has the commercial agility and the appropriate governance structure needed to respond to this increasingly dynamic market, the Government have decided to transform the FSS into a wholly owned Government company.

This will be a transitional structure. In the light of FSS performance as a GovCo the Government will consider what next steps are necessary to facilitate the growth of the business, ensure the future of the FSS, maintain its position at the forefront of forensic science, and maximise its contribution to reducing crime and the fear of crime.

The future form and direction of the FSS will stem from a balance between the realisable value to Government, the benefits to the business of private sector participation, changes in the forensic science market and the potential future need to access private capital.

The timing of the next stage will depend upon reaching agreement with key stakeholders that conditions are favourable and the move would be advantageous to the business. We will also use the interim period to fully test the merits of the FSS as a Government owned company in its own right.

We recognise the uncertainty for FSS employees, suppliers and customers that a process of this kind entails. The Home Office and the FSS management are working together to ensure that all staff and stakeholders are kept fully informed of the process.

I am aware that many Members whose constituents work for the FSS have made representations about the transformation, but we must ensure that the FSS is able to respond to the changing face of the market and the demands of its customers, and to seize the opportunities presented by emerging technologies, while retaining its public sector mission.

In following this process through we will continue to keep all stakeholders informed.


Office of Rail Regulation

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr. Tony McNulty): The board of the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) has begun considering the organisational structure of the office when, subject to parliamentary approval of the Railways Bill, ORR becomes both safety and economic regulator for the national rail network and those staff working on rail safety issues at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) transfer to ORR. The board have set out their initial
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thoughts in a letter of 1 December 2004 to the Secretary of State. I have placed a copy of that letter in the House Library and sent copies direct to Members of the Standing Committee A which is considering the Railways Bill.

Fixed Penalties

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Alistair Darling):

1. On 1 September, I published a discussion note inviting comments on a possible structure of graduated fixed penalties for speeding offences, in place of the present flat rate fixed penalty of three penalty points and a £60 fine, regardless of the degree of speeding. This statement reports on the responses which my Department has received.

2. The Road Safety Bill currently before Parliament includes enabling powers under which the Government, following consultation with representative organisations, may introduce graduated fixed penalties through statutory orders, and subject also to affirmative resolution and debate in the House as regards the proposed penalty points.

3. The Bill will thus enable the Government—subject to parliamentary approval for the necessary statutory order—to discharge the commitments we have given, both to create an aggravated offence to deal with excessive speeding, and to provide for graduated penalties to include a lower fixed penalty of two points for lesser breaches of speed limits. And in this way we will help ensure that the punishments for speeding will better reflect the severity of the crime and be seen to do so.

4. There will be no change in the present automatic disqualification for 12 or more points for speeding or other offences, as provided for in Section 35 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 as amended.

5. The 1 September discussion note expressly did not anticipate or prejudge future statutory consultation on proposals. The objective of the invitation to comment was to give me an early and informal indication of public views on how more graduated penalties might be structured.

6. There were 380 responses to the discussion note, as follows:
Motoring organisations10
Road safety organisations13
Safety camera partnerships (comprising local highway authorities, police forces and magistrates courts' committees)25
The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO); individual police forces6
Local authority organisations; individual authorities41
Magistrates courts groups7
Other organisations2

A list of respondees has been placed in the Library of the House.

7. 85 of the individual responses were from people who wrote endorsing the submission made by "Safe Speed", an organisation which campaigns on speed and
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road safety matters. The AA Foundation noted that its submission took account of a sample of 516 of its members.

8. The discussion note invited comment on five questions in particular.

Question 1—Do you support the principle of more graduated penalties?

9. 197 respondents supported the principle of a more graduated structure, including the RAC Foundation and AA Foundation, which supported both higher and lower graduation. The Association of Chief Police Officers, the Association of British Insurers and some road safety organisations, including PACTS (The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety) and RoSPA (The Royal Society for Prevention of Accidents) also supported the principle of graduation, but on the basis that there should be only higher penalties than the present three points.

10. 173 respondents did not support the principle, including "Safe Speed" and the 85 individual respondents who endorsed its response.

Question 2—If you do not agree with a graduated system, do you favour another alternative to the present system ?

11. 218 respondents expressed no view. Some 98 respondents agreed with the present system. The main alternative proposal was that from "Safe Speed" and the individuals who endorsed it—essentially that speed enforcement should be carried out on a case by case basis and not on the basis of a tariff of penalties.

Question 3—Invited views on a possible structure of graduated penalties

12. The discussion note invited comment on this possible structure of penalties:
Lower penalty—2 points and£40 fineStandardpenalty—3 pointsand £60 fineHigher penalty—6 points and£100 fine
Speed (mph)Speed up to and including (mph)Speed (mph)Speed at orabove (mph)
20No lower penaltyfor speeding in20 mph zoneUp to andincluding 31 mph32

13. The key points from responses were that:

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Question 4—Should penalties be higher for repeat offenders?

14. 189 respondents supported higher penalties of repeat offenders, including the road safety groups. 56 were against—including the AA Foundation and the RAC Foundation. Some 103 respondents expressed no view. Some 27 offered a number of suggestions such as increasing fines by £10 for each 1 mph over the speed limit.

Question 5— Should other factors such as location at a school be taken into account in a penalty regime?

15. 206 respondents felt that other factors should be taken into account, though many noted the practical difficulties of building "other factors" into a structure of fixed penalties. Some 68 did not favour allowing for special factors. Some 101 expressed no view.

16. I am grateful for these responses, which I have considered carefully.

17. A majority of responses supported the principle of a more graduated structure of speeding penalties, which the Road Safety Bill will enable.

18. The responses also showed general agreement that the enabling powers should allow for a structure of penalties to include higher fixed penalties for repeat offences, or for offences involving special factors such as those outside a school. The Bill provides that graduated fixed penalties can include provisions on either point.

19. As to the detailed form that a new structure of penalties should take, the responses to the discussion note showed that there is a range of views, with support both for and against a lower as well as a higher penalty.

20. But bearing in mind the role which the House will play in considering and determining future penalties, I believe that the Bill should provide for the possibility of a lower penalty in the appropriate circumstances.

21. If the Bill is passed, the Government will at the earliest opportunity develop and consult with representative organisations on specific proposals for a graduated structure of fixed penalties, which will then be for consideration by the House. In preparing these proposals, I will carefully consider the views which responses to the discussion note have in the meantime provided.

22. And I shall of course consider also all comments that hon. Members may have on graduated fixed speeding penalties, in discussions on the Bill.

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