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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 23 January 2006



The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gordon Brown): Items on the agenda are as follows:

Presidency Work Programme—The Austrian Presidency will give a presentation on its major priorities for the next six months;

Stability and Growth Pact—ECOFIN will adopt Council Opinions on the Stability and Programme of Finland and the Convergence Programmes of Denmark, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia; and a Council Decision under Article 104(6) and Recommendation under Article 104(7) of the EC Treaty with regard to the UK;

Preparation of the European Council—Council will discuss the forthcoming Commission Annual Progress Report in the run up to the Spring European Council. Council will also adopt conclusions on the Economic Policy Committee Report regarding the quality of EU public finances;

Taxation: VAT Reduced rates—ECOFIN will seek political agreement on the VAT Reduced Rates dossier;

Energy Issues—ECOFIN will discuss energy issues following on from its December meeting.

Identity Fraud

The Paymaster General (Dawn Primarolo): The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), and I are today meeting the banking industry to discuss the application of the Government's identity fraud strategy.

The Home Office is today making a statement about the national strategy for tackling ID fraud. Within this strategy, the Treasury and the FSA are working with the financial services industry to ensure it has in place the most effective systems to fight financial crime. New industry guidance to be published shortly will strengthen the system of ID checks while reducing the inconvenience for the consumer.

HMRC will carry out an assessment of the typical profile of frauds committed against it, to assist the banks in identifying suspect payments and accounts, enabling them to make timely suspicious activity reports to the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS). HMRC will contact any firms that have been party to these frauds.

The Chancellor and the Home Secretary recently asked Sir Stephen Lander, chair-designate of the forthcoming new Serious Organised Crime Agency
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(SOCA), to undertake a review of the suspicious activity reporting regime. Sir Stephen is to report by the end of March 2006.


Constitutional Reform Act

The Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Ms Harriet Harman): My noble Friend the Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor has made the following written ministerial statement.

"The Government announced plans for significant constitutional reform on 12 June 2003, designed to enhance the independence of the judiciary and to ensure clarity in the relationship between the Executive and the judiciary. I plan shortly to introduce the required statutory instruments to bring into force those parts of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 that will deliver the central aspects of those reforms. As of 3 April 2006, I intend to bring the new Judicial Appointments Commission into being and commence those aspects of the Act that give statutory effect to the provisions of the concordat I agreed with the Lord Chief Justice.

Roles of the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice

As of 3 April, the Lord Chancellor's role as a judge will cease. The Lord Chief Justice will hold the additional title of President of the Courts of England and Wales and be legally recognised as the head of the judiciary in England and Wales. As set out in the Concordat, the role of the Lord Chief Justice will be significantly reformed and strengthened. To support the Lord Chief Justice, the Judicial Office for England and Wales has been established and the new head of that office has recently been appointed and taken up post.

"In addition, to give effect to the new arrangements for the handling of judicial disciplinary matters, a new office for judicial complaints will be established. The arrangements relating to judicial complaints and discipline will be published shortly".

Judicial Independence and Rule of Law

As of 3 April, for the first time there will be a guarantee of continued judicial independence enshrined in statute, underpinned by particular duties binding on the Lord Chancellor and Ministers of the Crown to uphold judicial independence. The Act also formally recognises the constitutional principle of the rule of law and the Lord Chancellor's role in relation to that principle.

Judicial Appointments Commission

As of 3 April 2006, the Judicial Appointments Commission will be formally launched. The appointment of Baroness Prashar as the inaugural Chair of the new Commission was announced on 6 October 2005. The Queen has given effect to the following appointments:

Judicial members

Lord Justice Sir Robin Ernest Auld

Lady Justice Heather Hallett DBE

Her Honour Judge Frances Margaret Kirkham

District Judge Charles William Frank Newman
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Tribunal member

His Honour Judge David Stephen Pearl

Lay Justice Member

Lorna May Boreland-Kelly DBE JP

Professional Members

Mr Jonathan Philip Chadwick Sumption QBE QC

Mr Edward Nally

Lay Members

Professor Hazel Gillian Genn CBE

Sir Geoffrey David Inkin QBE

Mr Francis John Plowden

Ms Harriet Greville Spicer

Ms Sara Catherine Nathan

The appointment of the final judicial member will be announced shortly.

The Judicial Appointments Commission will have responsibility for making selections for the appointment of all judicial office-holders (as provided for in schedule 14 to the Constitutional Reform Act 2005). Baroness Prashar, the Lord Chief Justice and I have considered the arrangements necessary to ensure that the Commission can make the decisive and confident start that we are all agreed is essential. Details of these agreed arrangements have been published today on my Department's website at: http://www.dca.gov.uk/pubs/statements/st060123.htm. They will ensure that the transitional period is as short as possible, while bringing about a smooth and effective handover of business to the new Commission."


TV Licence

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): The television licence fee settlement announced by the Government in February 2000 provides for changes in the licence fee of RPI plus 1.5 per cent. for each year from 2000–01 to 2006–07. This settlement is designed to enable the BBC to provide a strong and distinctive schedule of high quality programmes and remain at the forefront of broadcasting technology. The settlement includes a requirement for the corporation to raise over £1 billion through efficiency savings and increased income over the period.

Application of the RPI figure of 2.7 per cent. for the year to September 2005, plus 1.5 per cent., to the current un-rounded licence fees produces new rounded totals of £131.50 for a colour licence and £44.00 for a black and white licence. The necessary regulations to bring these fees into force will be laid before the House in due course. The changes will come into effect from the 1 April this year.


Fire Prevention Grants

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Jim Fitzpatrick): I have today announced £11.4 million grant funding for fire
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and rescue authorities in England over the period April 2006 to March 2008 to support fire prevention work, including community fire safety, arson reduction and work with children and young people. This single grant to all fire and rescue authorities will replace the grants paid to some authorities under the Community Fire Safety Innovation Fund and the Arson Control Forum Implementation Fund in 2003–06, and provide revenue funding to complement the capital grants paid to all fire and rescue authorities under the Home Fire Risk Check Initiative in 2004–08.

Our substantial investment will support fire and rescue authorities, in partnership with others, to make continuing reductions in accidental fire deaths in the home and deliberate fires and to reduce inequality in the impact of fire by reaching the deprived households and communities most at risk. The additional funding will also assist the Government's wider neighbourhood renewal plans and complements our antisocial behaviour action plan launched recently. Copies of a table summarising the successful bids are available in the Library of the House.

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