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National DNA Database

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Andy Burnham): On transition of the Forensic Science Service (FSS) from Trading Fund status to GovCo the Government will retain control of the National DNA Database (NDNAD). It is recognised to be a world leading crime intelligence database, and a key national criminal justice asset.

The standard setting and oversight of the National DNA Database, ensuring quality and integrity of the service, will be carried out by a dedicated unit initially in the Home Office, overseen by a tripartite board composed of the Home Office, ACPO and APA. We propose to increase Human Genetics Commission representation at board meetings from one to two to strengthen lay representation. Following initial consultation regarding established bio-medical ethics committees, it has been determined that a new and dedicated ethics group is required to provide independent oversight of Board decision-making. Plans for the creation of this group are being developed with Department of Health support. These transitional arrangements have been developed to improve the strength and transparency of NDNAD oversight.

The operational delivery of database services—the loading of DNA profiles and the reporting of subsequent matches—will continue to be provided under contract by the FSS initially to ensure continuity of service to the police. The separation of operational service delivery from the governance and standard setting will enable value for money to be maximised, while the control of oversight within the public sector will be retained. Wider consultation will take place about the most effective long-term oversight of the National DNA Database and other national forensic databases, which should enhance public confidence in the safeguards and ethical controls which are being developed.


Community-based Restorative Justice

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. David Hanson): The Government have today published for consultation draft guidelines setting out how community-based restorative justice schemes should work with the police and other statutory criminal justice agencies in dealing with low-level crime. The guidelines establish a framework for implementing recommendation 168 of the Review of the Criminal
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Justice System in Northern Ireland, which recommended that community-based restorative justice schemes could, subject to specific safeguards, have a role to play in this area. The safeguards include upholding the human rights of all participants; receiving referrals from the criminal justice system; being open to inspection by the independent Criminal Justice Inspectorate; and adhering to high standards.

The draft guidelines make clear that it is for the Police Service of Northern Ireland to investigate crime and for the Public Prosecution Service to decide how offences should be dealt with. Community-based restorative justice schemes must have an acceptable and appropriate relationship with the criminal justice system including the police, as envisaged in the Review.

I have placed a copy of the document in the Library of the House. It has been circulated to the main political parties, the Policing Board and other key stakeholders as part of a wider consultation process. Views on any aspect of the draft guidelines will be welcome, and some specific questions are posed covering human rights, the referral process, suitability of staff, complaints, and equality.

The Government will decide on the way forward after the consultation concludes on 24 February 2006 and we have had the opportunity to consider all the comments and views received.


Competitiveness Council and Space Council

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Alan Johnson): I chaired my second Competitiveness Council of the UK's presidency in Brussels on 28–29 November 2005. My noble Friend, the Minister for Science and Innovation chaired the Council for the research items. He also chaired, with German State Secretary Mr. G-W Adamowitsch representing the European Space Agency (ESA) Council, the third meeting of the Space Council on 28 November 2005. The only interventions by the UK national seat were during the Space Council.

Monday 28 November 2005—Competitiveness Council (Research items)

The Council approved, by a large majority including the UK, a partial general approach on the 7th Framework Programmes (FP7) for research and technological development, based on a presidency compromise text. The Council debate focused on supporting the participation of small and medium sized enterprises in
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research projects and the implementation arrangements of the future European Research Council. This partial general approach will provide a good basis for adopting a Common Position once agreement has been reached on the financial perspectives.

The Council adopted conclusions on the recent Commission Communication "More research and innovation—investing for growth and employment". There was no substantive debate on this item.

Monday 28 November 2005—Space Council 1

The Council adopted orientations on the Commission Communication on global monitoring for environment and security (GMES). It noted that the objective of GMES is to provide, on a sustained basis, reliable and timely information related to environmental and security issues in support of public policy makers' needs. My hon. Friend, the Minister for Competitiveness who sat in the UK national seat, intervened briefly to stress that it was important to utilise the existing capabilities of GMES alongside developing new ones. The Council also held an exchange of views on international collaboration based on a discussion paper tabled jointly by the EU and ESA presidencies. The debate focused on: the need to develop an overall cooperation strategy; EU/ES A roles and responsibilities; and the financial principles that should apply in funding. The UK intervened briefly to support the development of a collaborative approach but noted that this should pay due consideration to Community competence. Vice-President Verheugen (Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry) and ESA Director-General Dordain provided an oral report to the Council on the progress of European space policy.

Tuesday 29 November 2005—Competitiveness Council (Industry/Internal Market items)

I provided a Presidency summing-up of an exchange of views on EU industry policy and the recent Commission Communication "Implementing the Community Lisbon Programme: a policy framework to strengthen EU manufacturing—towards a more integrated approach for industrial policy" that was held over dinner on 28 November 2005. Ministers supported the Commission's approach to industrial policy—at both a sectoral and horizontal level, welcoming, in particular, the new High Level Group on Energy, Environment and Competitiveness. It was agreed that policies should focus on embracing and facilitating structural change.

The Council adopted conclusions on better regulation and recognised progress made at EU and Member State level. In particular, the conclusions welcomed recent Commission initiatives on simplification of existing legislation, screening of pending legislative proposals, impact assessment, and consultation.

The Council held a policy debate on the draft regulation for the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals (REACH) and instructed the Permanent Representatives Committee to examine the remaining outstanding issues, principally authorisation and scope, with a view to achieving political agreement at the next session of the Competitiveness Council on 13 December 2005.

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The Council took note of a presidency progress report on a draft decision establishing a competitiveness and innovation programme (CIP) for 2007–13 and endorsed the approach to the horizontal issues that it sets out. The Council instructed the Permanent Representatives Committee to use the report as a basis for future discussions following agreement on the financial perspectives.

Based on a presidency progress report I chaired an exchange of views over lunch and in the Council on a draft directive on services in the internal market. The questions of scope, worker protection and free movement of services were discussed in order to provide political guidance for future discussions once the European Parliament has given its opinion.

The Council adopted conclusions on European Contract Law and the Review of the Consumer Acquis. There was no debate.

The Council took note of a presidency progress report on a proposal for establishing a programme of Community action in the field of health and consumer protection for 2007–13. The Council decided to return to this issue at a future session, as the programme is dependent on the outcome of the financial perspective negotiations and discussions in the European Parliament.

There were two "any other business" items taken at the Council, on which there was no debate. Vice-President Verheugen (Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry) provided information on the progress of the re-launched Lisbon Strategy related to the National Reform Programmes. Lithuania provided information about a conference they are organising in Vilnius on 1–2 March 2006 on the development of tourism in Europe after enlargement.

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