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Northern Ireland (Future Garrison Structure)

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence(Mr. Adam Ingram): On 30 January this year, the then Secretary of State for Defence announced to the House that 19 Brigade, currently stationed at Catterick, would be re-roling to a light brigade and relocating to Scotland and Northern Ireland. I announced on 28 March the structured plan for the phased reduction of troops in Northern Ireland to peacetime levels, assuming the continued maintenance of an enabling environment. We have since been considering the future requirement for defence estate and for civilian support staff in Northern Ireland for the new peacetime garrison which will reflect the Government's global defence commitments.

The updated “Security Annex to the Joint Declaration”, published by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on 1 August last year, envisaged a peacetime garrison of no more than 5,000 service personnel in no more than 14 core sites. Now that the composition of the peacetime garrison has been defined, we have concluded that we can meet its needs in the most effective and efficient manner by retaining the following locations once normalisation is complete: Aldergrove, Antrim, Ballykinler, Ballykinler Training Camp, Coleraine (subject to a review of adventurous training provision), Divis Key Point (on Divis Mountain), Duke of Connaught Unit, Holywood, Kinnegar, Lisburn and Magilligan.

We intend to close: Shackleton Barracks, Ballykelly in April 2008 when the current infantry battalion,2nd Battalion, the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment, is scheduled to move; St Lucia Barracks, Omagh by31 July 2007, when the Royal Irish Regiment (Home Service) battalions disband; and St Patrick's Barracks, Ballymena by no later than 31 March 2008, when the last Royal Irish (Home Service) soldiers will have transferred or been discharged. In considering which locations should be retained, I have been concerned to ensure that we fully meet the needs of the future long-term garrison based in Northern Ireland, that we can continue to provide the residual level of support needed by the Police Service of Northern Ireland for as long as it is required and that we structure the garrison as efficiently as possible so as to achieve value for money for the defence budget.

As a result of the security normalisation programme, we have also been considering the future requirement for Ministry of Defence civilian support staff in Northern Ireland as the garrison reduces from some 10,000 service personnel in August 2005 to its planned peacetime level of no more than 5,000. We assess that from a current strength of some 3,400 civilian staff today, there is likely to be a reduction of some 1,500 as all the normalisation changes take effect, but this will be partially offset by the creation of some 340 new civilian posts. We will seek to manage this change as sensitively as possible and in close collaboration with the trade unions, with whom we are starting formal consultation today on our future requirement. We will, of course, seek to avoid the need for compulsory redundancy as far as possible through transfer and voluntary early release or retirement, and through the pre-redundancy measures
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which have been in force since August last year. The Department fully recognises the magnificent support given to the military over the past 37 years by its civilian staff. It is committed to engaging and supporting them at every stage of this period of change and is in correspondence with the trade unions on a possible additional package of support measures tailored to the particular circumstances of this programme.

In addition to the HQ and other units of 19 Light Brigade that we expect to relocate to Northern Ireland in 2007 and 2008, a new and non-deployable regional brigade headquarters will form at Thiepval Barracks, Lisburn. The current HQ 107 Ulster Brigade, basedat Ballymena, will merge on 15 December this year into HQ 39 Infantry Brigade, which will itself be replaced by the new regional brigade headquarters on 1 August 2007.

The security normalisation programme is based on the continuing maintenance of an enabling security environment in Northern Ireland. Service personnel in the new peacetime garrison will be available for worldwide operations, but the armed forces are committed to continue to provide the support that the Police Service of Northern Ireland needs for as long as this remains necessary.


Community Pharmacies

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Andy Burnham): The Health and Social Care Act 2001 introduced powers to enable NHS primary care trusts to assure patient and public safety by requiring primary care health professionals to be included on a list maintained by the primary care trust. These provisions also enable trusts to take appropriate action where necessary to protect the public because of a health professional's poor or inadequate performance.

We have consulted professional and representative bodies on introducing these proposals for individual community pharmacists. Consultation on a draft regulatory impact assessment, available on the Department's website, took place last autumn.

Since then, we launched in March a major consultation on reforming the regulation of the pharmacy profession as a whole and to strengthen the Royal Pharmaceutical Society's role in protecting patients and promoting high standards of clinical practice. This ends on 19 June.

We shall also be considering the future requirements for the adequate regulation of health professionals as a whole and have received Andrew Foster's report on non-medical regulation.

In view of these developments, we have decided to defer the introduction of NHS supplementary list provisions for community pharmacists, pending the outcome of the current consultation and consideration of future requirements for professional regulation as a whole. I will make a further announcement when we have completed this work.

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Patient Pathway

The Minister of State, Department of Health(Andy Burnham): The NHS improvement plan gave a commitment that by December 2008 no one will have to wait longer than 18 weeks from referral to hospital treatment.

The 18 week pathway is one of the most important reforms in the history of the NHS. It will significantly improve the patient experience, with most patients being treated even more quickly than 18 weeks. For the first time, the way we measure waiting times for all patients is changing and the entire patient journey will be measured. This will include waiting times for diagnostic tests and out-patient appointments beyond the first consultation, which are currently not measured. The 18 week pathway will therefore more accurately reflect the patient experience.

A listening exercise on the proposed principles and definitions that will underpin the 18 week pathway commitment was held last autumn. We received over 180 responses from the NHS and other interested organisations. I am grateful to all who have responded during this exercise.

Analysis of the responses has helped form the basis of the principles and definitions. These principles will help ensure that the 18 week pathway commitment is fair, achievable and affordable.

Today, we announce publication of “Tackling Hospital Waiting: The 18 Week Patient Pathway. An implementation framework”, setting out plans for achieving the 18 week pathway and including the principles and definitions.

The implementation framework explains the nature of the 18 week pathway challenge, sets out a high-level implementation plan and timetable to achieve it, clarifying the contributions of all those involved.

We are committed to delivering a maximum 18 week pathway which will transform the NHS, putting it at the forefront of international best practice.

Copies have been placed in the Library.

Home Department

Justice and Home Affairs Council

The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Tony McNulty): The Justice and Home Affairs Council was held on 27-28 April 2006 in Luxembourg.

Unfortunately my right hon. Friend, the Home Secretary was unable to attend. In his absence, my noble and learned friend, the Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, and my noble Friend Baroness Ashton attended the meeting. I thought it would be useful if I were to outline what was discussed and decided at the Council meeting and the next steps in light of this.

The Council decided to increase Schengen visa fees from 2007, to meet the projected costs of issuing more secure, biometric visas in the future. Although the UK has not participated in this Schengen measure, the
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Government actively support co-operation at EU level to enhance the security and integrity of visas and travel documents.

Commissioner Frattini gave the Council a brief update on the approach to be taken in a forthcoming Commission communication concerning the development of common visa application centres. The concept is being explored with a view to developing, in the future, shared visa application facilities for member states in third countries, including the collection of biometric information. The communication should be formally presented to the June JHA Council.

The presidency's efforts to move the SIS II—the second generation Schengen information system— legal instruments dossier forward were welcomed by all member states. The three outstanding issues to be resolved were biometrics; harmonisation of the conditions for entering alerts; and the data protection oversight arrangements. The UK was largely supportive of the presidency's ambitions but needed to consider the proposed arrangements further at national level. Other member states were in a similar position so a new text of the document will be circulated and this work will be taken forward by the working group.

The proposal for a Council decision on the improvement of police co-operation, especially at the internal borders, was discussed. It became apparent that the decision as it currently stands was unlikely to reach agreement as there were too many outstanding issues to be resolved. However, no member state wanted to suspend negotiations entirely. The Austrian presidency will now discuss with the Finnish presidency how to proceed with and revise the text.

The presidency updated the Council on the progress of discussions to date on the data protection framework decision. The three key issues so far related to: transmission of information to third countries; whether both police and judicial co-operation should be included in the scope of the instrument; and whether the instrument should be confined to cross-border transmission of information and further processing of that data, or whether it should also encompass data gathered and used in a purely domestic context. These would be discussed further at working group level and the presidency hoped to bring the key remaining political questions to the June JHA Council.

In the main Council format, there were presentations and discussions on the issue of human trafficking. The need for member states to share more information with Europol was highlighted. There was also a presentation on the implementation of the EU external relations strategy. The presidency informed the Council it would bring forward an action-orientated paper on Afghan drugs to the June Council. It also outlined the plan for the security conference which was held in Vienna on 4-5 May. The Commission also reported on the progress of the Hampton Court conference and the December Council. With a stronger emphasis on engaging with Africa and the Mediterranean region, positive results had been achieved. However, it was concluded that the Commission and member states need to do more to tackle the problems of illegal immigration.

The Commission stated that there was already a high level of consensus in the Council on the countries to be included in the list of safe countries for the purposes of
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the asylum procedures directive. An agreement for the procedure for adding and removing third countries was also needed. The Commission urged member states to press ahead with its implementation.

Peter Sutherland, the United Nations Secretary-General's special representative, made a presentation to the Council on the UN high-level dialogue on “International Migration and Development”. The UN will publish a paper in June setting out the proposals to take this debate forward in New York in September. He stressed the need for the EU to play an active role and take the initiative in this area.

Political agreement was reached on the articles of the draft regulation on the law applicable to non-contractual obligations (“Rome II”). The presidency tabled a final compromise package which was agreed by qualified majority. The UK along with other member states raised a number of outstanding concerns, including on limitation of the scope of the instrument; simplification of the special rule on product liability; and the operation of the general rule in article 3 in relation to stock exchange transactions. On the latter, the UK expressed concerns, but there was no support from any other member state. After in-depth discussion the compromise was agreed.

The presidency provided an update to the Council of other community draft instruments containing provisions related to judicial co-operation in civil matters, in particular the draft “Directive on Services”, the draft “Consumer Credit Directive” and the Green Paper on “Damages Actions for Breach of the EC Antitrust Rules”. As was agreed at the January JHA informal, the presidency would provide regular updates in this area.

The Office of Publications made a presentation to the Council on N-Lex, a new electronic database containing the national legislation of member states, and Eur-Lex, the database that gives access to EU legal instruments. N-Lex was formally declared open.

The Council discussed two of the issues discussed on the Framework Decision for the European evidence warrant. The UK maintained its position that if there were to be definitions of those offences to which the principle of some dual criminality would not apply, then they should be included in a non-binding Council statement, following the model of the European arrest warrant. The Commission outlined the case for applying the EEW to requests for retained telecommunications data. Most member states, however, thought it would be more appropriate to leave this until the second part of this initiative decision due in 2007. The presidency has referred both matters back to expert level, where other outstanding issues remain under discussion. This framework decision is likely to be on the June JHA Council agenda.

A general approach was reached on the framework decision on the fight against organised crime, subject to parliamentary scrutiny reserves, including a UK parliamentary scrutiny reserve. National Parliaments will therefore still have the opportunity to complete their scrutiny processes, although in this case the Government take the view that this measure, as now drafted, meets the concerns expressed by the UK parliamentary Scrutiny Committees. In particular, as stated in the most recent letters from the former Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins), the current draft of the
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framework decision, includes language to allow member states to comply with the requirements to criminalise by way of their national laws of conspiracy.

The presidency noted that an ad hoc group had been created to explore alternative approaches to the proposed framework decision on procedural rights. There was a general acknowledgement that all options should be investigated including the option of a non-binding political resolution and a package of practical measures to improve co-operation in the areas proposed to be covered by the framework decision. The UK stressed the need for a broad approach, not merely focusing on a framework decision.

The Council debated the issue of whether the transfer of prisoners should be subject to a dual criminality requirement and agreed that a solution might be found using a presidency compromise proposal which would require the abolition of dual criminality for listed offences, but would provide an opt-out for those who wished to maintain dual criminality. This was supported by the UK. It was acknowledged by all that the key to solution would be the scope of the proposed opt-out. The working group will continue work on that basis.

The Council reached a general approach on the substance of the EU agreement with Norway and Iceland on surrender procedures. The text for this measure has not as yet been deposited for scrutiny by this House because it is a classified document. Work will now focus on the accompanying annexe which will be the form used to request surrender/extradition. The UK is satisfied with this and intends to operate a system as close to the european arrest warrant as possible.

Anthony Rice

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (John Reid): I should like to make a statement about the management of dangerous offenders in the light of the murder of Naomi Bryant by Anthony Rice, a prisoner serving a discretionary life sentence who was on life licence at the time he committed the murder. I have today placed in the Library of the House a copy of a report produced by Her Majesty’s chief inspector of probation of the circumstances surrounding this case and, in particular, of the management of Rice throughout his previous sentence.

I would first offer my heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Naomi Bryant. I deeply regret that she should have been murdered in these circumstances. While nothing can compensate for her loss, we have a duty to ensure that lessons are learned and that the chances of another family having to suffer such loss again are as low as we can make them.

I am grateful to the chief inspector of probation for his report, which is a thorough and serious piece of work which merits careful consideration. It makes a number of criticisms about failures in the criminal justice system at various stages in the management of Anthony Rice. While individual members of staff did their best to discharge the very onerous responsibilities involved in managing dangerous offenders, there was, he finds, a series of errors and misjudgments that contributed to a case that was not managed to the standard the public have a right to expect. The chief
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inspector concludes that “on balance Anthony Rice should not have been released on life licence in the first place, and once he had been released he could and should have been better managed”.

The chief inspector makes four principal findings and accompanies each with a key recommendation. These are supported by further practice recommendations. Given that he finds shortcomings at various stages of the management of Rice, the chief inspector makes a final recommendation that “there should be a major appraisal of current policy and practice for releasing prisoners from indeterminate sentences”.

I take this report extremely seriously. The Government's first duty is to protect the citizens of this country, and I am determined that we should make our systems and procedures as effective and efficient as possible in order to do this. My right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Charles Clarke) announced to the House on 20 April a series of measures the Government would be taking in response to the report by the chief inspector of probation on the Monckton case. That work will be broadened out to include the recommendations in this report.

I can assure the House that I will move quickly to improve our processes and systems, including through legislation if necessary. We will consider the chief inspector's report extremely carefully and expeditiously. We need to move fast but, equally, these are weighty recommendations and we need to give them full consideration. I do not therefore propose to announce new measures today. I shall, however, return to this House as soon as I am able to do so.

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