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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins): I am announcing today the first competition of a cluster of prisons under the National Offender Management Service (NOMS). This will consist of the three prisons situated on the Isle of Sheppey: HMPs Elmley, Standford Hill and Swaleside. The purpose of the process is to invite bids from all sectors for the management of all three prisons and it will be an opportunity for bidders to demonstrate innovation in developing imaginative approaches to offender management in custody and in the links with interventions in the community.
NOMS will shortly call for expressions of interest and we are confident that this competition will attract high quality bids from a range of existing and potential new providers. We expect to select a preferred supplier by spring 2006.
We are not doing this as a means of reducing costs. We do not expect to run the three prisons for less money as a result of the competition but we do expect increased quality and value for money. Nor is it privatisation through the back door. I have no preconception about the outcome. The winning bid, from whatever sector, will deliver higher quality services and better outcomes in terms of resettlement, with the ultimate aim of reducing re-offending.
Indeed, the roll-out of the two tier work force code of practice, announced last week by the Prime Minister, will produce a level playing field for the contest as all bidders will face the same market conditions and will need to focus on quality rather than cost.
The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn):
On 17 March 2005 the Department for International Development hosted a high level conference on the extractive industries transparency initiative (EITI). The EITI was launched by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in September 2002. It seeks to increase the transparency of payments by oil, gas, and mining companies to governments, as well as the transparency of the revenues received by governments. The aim is to ensure that revenues from the extractive industries fulfil their potential as an important engine for economic growth and social development in developing countries, instead of leading to conflict, corruption, and poverty.
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The conference follows on from an earlier EITI conference held at Lancaster House in June 2003. Since then implementation has begun in nine countriesAzerbaijan, Congo, Ghana, Kyrgyz Republic, Nigeria, Peru, Sao Tome e Principe, Timor Leste and Trinidad and Tobago. There has been considerable progress towards increased transparency across all nine countries, and two Azerbaijan and the Kyrgyz Republic have now published numbers under EITI.
The conference on 17 March provided an opportunity to take stock of progress in implementation so far, agree a set of criteria and guidelines for implementing countries and companies and encourage practical steps to internationalise EITI. The UK launched the EITI Source book as guidance for countries and companies interested in supporting the initiative. The UK also announced the formation of an international advisory group which will agree an approach to the future management of international EITI support, incentives for implementation and a suitable process for validating implementation. A number of countries including Niger, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo and Equatorial Guinea used the conference as an opportunity to announce their plans to implement EITI; and several countries and international organisations including the United Kingdom, France, Norway, the United States of America, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development agreed to increase financial and technical support for EITI.
The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Ms Patricia Hewitt): The EU is currently negotiating Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, which have been the source of some concern for Members of the House. I warmly welcome the recent commitment made by Peter Mandelson, the European Trade Commissioner, to introduce a much stronger development focus into EPAs. I agree with him that these agreements should promote development by combining aid with wider opportunities for all ACP countries to trade, with each other on an integrated regional basis, and with the EU. In this statement, I would like to set out how the UK believes a stronger development focus could be delivered.
EPAs must be designed to deliver long-term development, economic growth and poverty reduction in ACP countries. To do so, we believe that in its work on EPAs with ACP regional groups, the EU should take a non-mercantilist approach and not pursue any offensive interests.
Developing countries can benefit from liberalisation in the long run, provided they have the economic capacity and infrastructure they need to trade competitively. However, without the capacity or the right conditions, trade liberalisation can be harmful.
Each ACP regional group should make its own decisions on the timing, pace, sequencing, and product coverage of market opening in line with individual countries' national development plans and poverty
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reduction strategies. Regional groups should have the flexibility to move towards more open markets along a non-linear path if necessary. We will not force trade liberalisation on developing countries either through trade negotiations or aid conditionally.
EPAs must ensure that ACP regional groups have maximum flexibility over their own market opening. The EU should therefore offer all ACP regional groups a period of 20 years or more for market opening, on an unconditional basis. Each regional group should be offered this full period.
Within EPAs, the EU should make an upfront offer of complete duty and quota-free market access to each ACP regional group, with no strings attached. In addition, the EU should further simplify and liberalise rules of origin under EPAs. There should be an effective safeguard mechanism for ACP countries to use if faced with a surge of subsidised EU imports.
EPAs should be accompanied by additional resources to enable the ACP countries to benefit from trade reforms and build their export competitiveness. The EU, in coordination with international financial institutions and other donors, must provide additional financial assistance to support the ACP countries. This assistance must support them in building the infrastructure and economic capacity they need to benefit from trade with the EU and the rest of the world, and put in place the institutions to help manage change and protect vulnerable people, supporting poorer countries with the cost of transition.
Investment, competition and Government procurement should be removed from the negotiations, unless specifically requested by an ACP regional negotiating group. It is for ACP regional groups to judge the development benefits of any agreements on these issues and the EU should not push for them to be discussed. If included, any negotiations on Government procurement should be limited to transparency.
A review mechanism for EPAswith full ACP regional group ownership and participationshould be introduced to ensure they are delivering the intended developmental benefits. The Commission should be ready to provide an alternative to an EPA at the request of any ACP country. Any alternative offered should provide no worse market access to the EU than is currently enjoyed under Cotonou preferences.
In addition, the EU should propose within the WTO that Article XXIV of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, should be reviewed as suggested by the Commission for Africa, in order to reduce the requirements for reciprocity and increase the focus on development priorities.
The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Ms Patricia Hewitt):
I have tasked the Patent Office with managing and shaping an intellectual property system which encourages innovation and creativity, balances the needs of consumers and users, promotes strong and competitive markets and provides a firm foundation for the knowledge-based economy. During
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the coming year, the Patent Office will develop these new activities and form partnerships through which new services will be delivered.
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