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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 23 November 2005



The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Ivan Lewis): I will chair the Economic and Financial Affairs Budget Council (Budget ECOFIN) on 24 November 2005. The Permanent Representative to the European Union, Sir John Grant, will represent the UK. The meeting will include conciliation with the European Parliament, during which the Council and the European Parliament will aim to agree on expenditure levels. Items on the agenda are as follows:


Legal Profession

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Bridget Prentice): I have today published a report aimed at increasing diversity in the legal profession. This report responds to the advice provided to the Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor by the Legal Services Consultative Panel.
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While the Government recognise that significant improvements have been made in recent years, we consider that more action is necessary to ensure equality of opportunity for those entering or already in the profession.

The Panel made 17 recommendations on how to address the difficulties faced by those entering into, or progressing within, the legal professions. The Government broadly accept these recommendations. The report sets out how we will take this forward.

As a first step, I have written to a number of firms and chambers today asking them to publish the diversity information that they already collect on those working within their organisations. This will ensure openness and transparency. This should in turn lead to greater public confidence in the legal professions as a whole.

Copies of the report have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.


Independent Police Complaints Commission

The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Hazel Blears): I am pleased to announce that the Annual Report of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is being laid before Parliament on 23 November 2005 and published on that day.

This is the first Annual Report from the IPCC. The report deals with the work completed in 2004–05 and, in particular, how the IPCC has engaged with diverse communities and stakeholders and it gives an insight into some of the high profile investigations in which the IPCC has been involved.

The report also looks forward to the extension of the IPCC jurisdiction next year when it will deal with serious complaints against HM Revenue and Customs and complaints and conduct matters involving the new Serious Organised Crime Agency. It intends to meet these and other challenges by increasing its investigative capacity and enhancing its guardianship role.

Council for the Registration of Forensic Practitioners

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Andy Burnham): I have approved a package of financial support for the Council for the Registration of Forensic Practitioners (the Council).

The Home Office recognises the importance of quality in forensic science and has therefore supported the Council since its creation. The Council has now been in operation for five years and it was therefore agreed that a business review should be undertaken. This review, led by the Council supported by KPMG and officials from the Home Office, produced robust business plans for the next five years.

On the basis of those plans proposals were submitted as to the level of financial support required by the Council. I have accepted those proposals and agreed (subject to review and performance) a programme of funding as follows.
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I have placed in the Library a paper which provides more detail about the Council and the funding agreed.


Billy Wright Inquiry

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Hain): The Chairman of the Billy Wright Inquiry, Lord MacLean, wrote to me on 13 July formally to request that I convert the statutory basis of the Billy Wright Inquiry to the Inquiries Act 2005, under section 15 of that Act.

I received representations from a number of parties in relation to Lord MacLean's request. I was not formally obliged by the Inquiries Act to consider these but in this case I felt that it would be right to do so and to give the Inquiry Chairman the chance to consider them, if he wished, before responding to his request. It has taken time for me to do this, which is why I have only recently been able to arrive at a decision in relation to Lord MacLean's request.

I have very carefully considered the representations made by Lord MacLean and by other parties in relation to the request, and have sought to take all the relevant factors into account. My concern throughout has been to ensure that the Billy Wright Inquiry should be able to carry out its work both as fully and as effectively as possible. In light of this, and taking into account both Lord MacLean's case for conversion and the representations which have been made against it, I have decided to grant the request of the Billy Wright Inquiry to be converted to the Inquiries Act 2005.

Through this statement I am formally giving notice under section 15 of the Inquiries Act to Lord MacLean and the panel members that the Billy Wright Inquiry will become an inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005. The date of conversion will be the date of this statement, 23 November 2005, and from this date the Billy Wright Inquiry will be held under the Inquiries Act 2005. Lord MacLean will remain the Chair of this Inquiry and there will be no change to its terms of reference as announced on 16 November 2004.

It remains the strong wish of both the Government and the Billy Wright Inquiry that the full facts in relation to the death of Billy Wright should be established. I would seek to reassure those who made representations in opposition to conversion that I am confident that the utmost will be done to address their concerns and to maintain public confidence in the Inquiry, both by the Inquiry itself and by the British Government. I have personally assured Mr David Wright, Billy Wright's father, that the Government will continue to co-operate fully with the Inquiry.
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EU Competitiveness Council

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Alan Johnson): My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Science and Innovation will Chair the Competitiveness Council for the research items and the Space Council on 28 November. I will be chairing for industry and internal market items on 29 November 2005.

The first item on 28 November will be the seventh Framework Programme for Research and Development. A UK Presidency compromise text has been put to the Council with a view to obtaining agreement from Ministers on a partial general approach. The text covers the whole of the Framework Programme minus the articles relating to the budget, which form part of separate negotiations on Future Financing.

Next, the Council aims to agree Conclusions welcoming the recent Commission Communication "More Research and Innovation—Investing for Growth and Employment. A Common Approach". I do not expect any substantive debate on this item.

The Space Council will be convened in the afternoon. This will be the third meeting of the Space Council—a joint meeting of the Competitiveness Council and the European Space Agency (ESA) Ministerial Council. Lord Sainsbury will jointly chair this meeting with the current Chair of the ESA Ministerial Council (Germany). Following presentations on European Space activities, including national space programmes, from the Commission and the Joint Secretariat, there will be an exchange of views on International Co-operation based on a UK Presidency discussion paper. The Space Council will then seek to agree a set of Orientations on the Commission's recent Communication on GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security).

On 29 November, I will open the Council with a report of the discussion at dinner the previous evening on Industrial Policy (based on a short Presidency paper). This follows publication last month of the Commission's latest Communication on Industrial Policy.

We then hope to agree Council Conclusions on Better Regulation. These will welcome recent Commission initiatives on simplification of existing legislation, the withdrawal of pending proposals, and impact assessment, highlight better regulation activities in Council formations and consider next steps.

The proposed Chemicals Regulation REACH is the next item on the agenda. The UK Presidency's revised compromise text will provide the basis for a substantive debate. While we are still hopeful of political agreement during the UK Presidency, any actual vote will be delayed until a subsequent Council in response to a German request for more time to consider the proposal, given the delay in forming the new German Government.

I will present a Presidency progress report on the Competitiveness and Innovation Programme (CIP). This includes a set of principles to underpin next year's
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negotiations on management structure and evaluation, which Ministers will be asked to endorse. There is unlikely to be a lengthy discussion.

At lunch, Ministers will discuss a Presidency progress report on the Services Directive. This will cover the three main political issues: scope; the interaction between the proposal and worker protection rules; and the balance between promoting free movement of services and safeguarding Member States' public policy objectives. After lunch, in the main Council meeting, we will have a further exchange of views to draw some conclusions on the way forward.
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Next, we hope to agree Council conclusions on EU Contract and Consumer Law noting progress on work in these areas. I will then present a progress report on Council considerations to date on the Commission's proposal for a Health and Consumer Protection Strategy.

Finally, two items will be presented under Any Other Business. I do not expect any debate on these items: