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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 20 January 2005


Learning and Skills Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Ivan Lewis): I would inform the House that the Learning and Skills Council for England has today published its annual report and accounts for the period to 31 March 2004.

Copies have been placed in both Libraries of the House.


Mechanically Propelled Vehicles (Rights of Way)

The Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality (Alun Michael): The consultation paper, "Use of Mechanically Propelled Vehicles on Rights of Way" generated an enormous level of interest, reflected in over 14,000 formal responses, letter and e-mails. I am pleased to announce that I am today publishing the response to the consultation, "The Government's Framework for Action".

The responses to the consultation paper reflected a very wide range of interest. There was a clear division between those who were in favour of motorised vehicles on public rights of way and those who considered that motorised vehicles should be excluded from using the rights of way network. Responses opposed to any change were matched by a similar volume of responses calling for more extreme measures to control vehicular use than had been suggested. On the other hand research findings seem to indicate that there is a real problem in some locations but not a widespread problem. Our approach is to respond to both the responses and the research with proposals that are both proportionate and well targeted.

The response provides a consolidated statement of the Government's policy on the use of mechanically propelled vehicles on public rights of way. It incorporates our consideration of the analysis of responses to the consultation paper on proposed amendments to legislation when roads used as public paths are reclassified as restricted byways and the findings of the DEFRA research project on motor vehicles on byways open to all traffic. The full text of the DEFRA research report is also being published today.

Many of the respondees supported the need for better coordination and enforcement of vehicular offences on rights of way, especially concerning illegal use of footpaths, bridleways and restricted byways. They also recognised that the necessary powers are already
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available and the main obstacle is a lack of coordination between local authorities and the police to enforce these powers. With this in mind I intend to issue guidance for local authorities and the police on how best to deal with illegal vehicular use. I will also be issuing shortly a revision to the publication, "Making the Best of Byways" which deals with the management of vehicles on rights of way.

I am convinced that there is a need to promote legislation to change the basis on which public rights of way for use by mechanically propelled vehicles can be claimed. Mechanically propelled vehicles should continue to have a place in using and enjoying the rights of way network, but the ability to extend the network for motorised use purely on the basis of historic use by horse-drawn vehicles should be curtailed. This coupled with a wide range of management and enforcement measures will provide a sound, sustainable basis for providing for motor vehicles in the countryside.

Copies of the Government response and DEFRA research report have been deposited in the House Library.


National Offender Management Service (Drug Strategy)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins): I am today announcing the launch of the national offender management service (NOMS) drug strategy.

In line with the Government's national drug strategy 2002, NOMS has developed a comprehensive strategy for the management and treatment of problematic drug users throughout the correctional services. The strategy is based on extensive consultation with key stakeholders and has been informed by evidence-based research. This strategy complements the alcohol strategy for prisoners that was launched in December 2004.

The NOMS drug strategy draws together existing and planned drug interventions and the wider support available for drug misusers both in custody and in the community. The strategy will help create an individual focus to interventions, lower the level of harm that misusers cause themselves and others, and reduce the supply and demand of illicit drugs in prisons.

The strategy, which fits squarely with the work already under-way with the Government's drug interventions programme, will help support the Home Office target of reducing reoffending by reinforcing the end-to-end case management processes that are being adopted throughout NOMS.

It is essential that effective drug treatment—as envisaged under this strategy— continues to form part of the overall offender management process. Benefiting from NOMS's enhanced offender management arrangements, the strategy will see improvements in the continuity of care, with a focus on an individual's handover at critical transition points in the criminal justice system—including when released on licence and upon completion of sentence. This in turn will support effective resettlement and reintegration into society.
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There are an estimated 250,000–280,000 problematic drug users in the UK. At any one time around a third—80,000—are serving custodial or community sentences. This underlines the pivotal role that NOMS has to play in the delivery of drug treatment.

A copy of the strategy is available in the House Library.


The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart): Baroness Jill Pitkeathley has been appointed by the Home Secretary as chair of the independent advisory board for Futurebuilders, a non- departmental public body (NDPB), that will advise Ministers on the continuing objectives, priorities and governance; and on the implementation and effectiveness of the Futurebuilders investment fund.

The appointment was made on 22 December 2004 and will run until April 2007 in the first instance.

Baroness Pitkeathley is currently the chair of the Children and Families Court Advisory and Support service (CAFCASS). She has previously served as chair of two other NDPBs, the New Opportunities Fund (NOF) and the General Social Care Council (GSCC).

Terrorism Act 2000

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Clarke): 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.


Justice Oversight Commissioner

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Paul Murphy): The Government have received and welcomed the third report from the justice oversight commissioner, the right hon. Lord Clyde, on the progress achieved in implementing the recommendations of the Review of the Criminal Justice System in Northern Ireland. Consistent with his terms of reference, the report was submitted to the Attorney-General, Baroness Ashton, Minister for the Northern Ireland court service, and me in December.

Lord Clyde concludes that the position overall is one of solid progress continuing to be made over the whole range of the work. While some few areas of delay have been identified, as more and more of the particular elements of the whole package of reforms begin to fall into place, the picture of the new system of criminal justice is beginning to
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emerge and the overall progress towards that end remains commendable. The Government warmly endorses these conclusions.

Copies of the commissioner's report have been placed in the Library.

Electoral Law (Northern Ireland) Act 1962 (Amendment) Order

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. John Spellar): I am announcing that today an Order in Council has been laid to move the date of local elections in Northern Ireland on a permanent basis from the third Wednesday in May to the first Thursday in May. If this measure is accepted by Parliament and the Privy Council it will mean that the Northern Ireland local elections due on Wednesday 18 May 2005 will now take place on Thursday 5 May.

This measure brings local election dates in Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK.

The Government discussed this step in advance with both the Chief Electoral Officer of Northern Ireland and the Electoral Commission.


Takeover Bids

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Ms Patricia Hewitt): A consultative document seeking views on the Government's proposals for implementing the "EU Directive on Takeover Bids" has been published today. Copies are available in the Library and on the DTI website at:

www.dti.gov.uk/cld/current.htm. The deadline for comments is 15 April.

The consultative document reflects the Government's view that our existing system of takeover regulation overseen by the takeover panel has many strengths and enjoys the confidence of business. In order to minimise disruption to the current regime, the Government have therefore concluded that the panel should retain responsibility for takeover regulation and that a central objective in implementing the directive should be to build on the strengths of the existing system.

In order to comply with the requirements of the directive this will require the panel being given powers to make statutory rules while retaining scope to determine its own constitutional and operational framework. The consultative document explains the issues to which this gives rise and how the Government propose to deal with them.

Primary legislation making the necessary provisions to implement the directive on this basis will be introduced when parliamentary time allows.