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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 5 July 2005


HM Revenue and Customs (Enforcement Activity)

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (John Healey): In light of the judgments by Mr. Justice Crane in the case of Operation Venison on 24 June and by the Court of Appeal in the cases of Operation Hellvellyn and others on 4 July, I am announcing today that HMRC has agreed with the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) that they will oversee an investigation into the criticism in Mr. Justice Crane's judgment of actions of individual officers in Operation Venison.

I can also announce that HM inspectorate of constabulary (HMIC) will begin in September a full programme of inspection to examine informant handling, controlled deliveries and disclosure, including the issues raised in the judgments of Operation Venison and Operation Hellvellyn and others.

At the same time, the director of the independent Revenue and Customs Prosecutions Office (RCPO) is examining whether or not other cases may be affected by the court judgments.

The Government take the criticisms of HMRC and HMRC officers contained in the Venison and Hellvelyn judgments very seriously. We are committed to ensuring that the issues raised in such cases are fully investigated.

For this reason, and to ensure that HMRC systems and practice match the best standards of law enforcement elsewhere, I can confirm that since I informed the House on 29 September 2004 of our intention to establish independent scrutiny arrangements for HMRC following the report of Mr. Justice Butterfield, the Government have legislated to:

The IPCC-led investigation and the HMIC inspection that I am announcing today are the first use of this comprehensive independent scrutiny framework.

These newly legislated arrangements with the IPCC, HMIC and RCPO mean HMRC is now served by a fully independent prosecutions office and is being made subject to the same standards of independent scrutiny, inspection and complaints investigation as are already established for the police.
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This framework for external scrutiny goes further than Mr. Justice Butterfield's recommendations, so that HMRC and ministers are empowered to ensure the independent, timely and expert investigation of problems arising in serious criminal cases. Where appropriate in such cases, we will make use of these arrangements in the future.

The Economy

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (John Healey): The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in the Budget that, owing to the sustained volatility in the oil market, the annual inflation only increase in main fuel duties would be deferred until 1 September.

Following sustained pressure from G8 Finance Ministers, OPEC have committed to increasing quotas by up to 1 million barrels a day by September.

But in the short-term uncertainty, and the risk of price volatility, remains high, with oil trading last week at above $59 per barrel.

The Government will not go ahead with the planned inflation increase on 1 September—including for rebated oils, biofuels and road fuel gases—and will review the position again at the time of the pre-Budget report.


Legal Aid

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Bridget Prentice): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor has made the following statement in the other place today:

"I have today published a paper outlining Government proposals to reform the provision of legal aid in England and Wales.

Legal aid is one of the cornerstones of a fair and decent society. It provides the means to guarantee that all citizens can enforce their rights and are held accountable for fulfilling their responsibilities; it ensures that people accused of a crime get a proper defence; and safeguards vulnerable and disadvantaged people so they are not denied access to justice because of their inability to pay for it.

The paper "A Fairer Deal For Legal Aid", analyses the development of legal aid services, including the substantial increase in spending on legal aid in criminal cases at the expense of civil law cases. The paper sets out the Government's vision for legal aid, based on a system that:

The Government will take steps to address the disproportionate amount of money spent on defending high-cost criminal cases and redistribute funding so that
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all criminal cases are dealt with swiftly and fairly and ensure greater flexibility to provide more civil help and advice to those who need it. This will include:

Copies of the paper have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. It is also available on the Department for Constitutional Affairs' website www.dca.gov.uk."


Falcon Secure Trunk Communication System

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): Today I am pleased to announce that BAE Systems Insyte has been selected as the preferred bidder for the FALCON Secure Trunk Communication System (increment A). The Ministry of Defence will now enter detailed negotiations with BAE Systems Insyte to determine the basis for the main investment decision at which point cost and formal in-service date will be set.

FALCON is one of the key equipment capabilities at the heart of our drive to develop network enabled capability and will provide advanced communication capabilities suitable for our armed forces in the 21st century.

Work on FALCON will also underpin British industry's position at the forefront of communications technology worldwide.


Council of Europe's Charter for Regional or Minority Languages

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Douglas Alexander): I have today arranged for copies of the second report on the implementation of the Council of Europe's charter for regional or minority languages to be placed in the Library of the House.

The report details the measures taken by the Government and the devolved Administrations to fulfil the UK's obligations under the charter for Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, Irish, Scots, Ulster Scots, Cornish and Manx Gaelic.

The report is also available on the website of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office at www.fco.gov.uk/otherdocuments
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Independent Mental Capacity Advocate Service

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Ms Rosie Winterton): I am announcing today the publication of the consultation on the "Independent Mental Capacity Advocate service".

During the passage of the Mental Capacity Bill Ministers committed to consulting with interested stakeholders on the operation and details of the Independent Mental Capacity Advocate (IMCA) service. This new service was introduced in the Mental Capacity Act 2005 to support and represent the most vulnerable people who lack capacity in serious decisions about medical treatment and accommodation.

The consultation document "Consultation on the Independent Mental Capacity Advocate service", covers operational and implementation details, the role and functions of the IMCA, definitions of serious medical treatment and options on whether to extend the service to other groups and situations. The consultation will inform implementation on the Mental Capacity Act 2005 planned for April 2007.

The consultation will run until 30 September 2005 and applies to England only. Copies of the consultation paper and the accessible version have been placed in the Library and are also available from the Department's website at: www.dh.gov.uk.

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