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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 24 May 2006


Community Budget

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Ed Balls): The statement on the 2006 budget of the European Communities (EC budget), entitled “European Community Finances” (Cm 6770), has today been laid before Parliament. This White Paper is the 26th in the series. As in the past, it covers annual budgetary matters and includes details of recent developments in European Community financial management and in countering fraud against the EC budget. It also describes the EC budget for 2006 as adopted by the European Parliament, and details the United Kingdom's gross and net contributions to the EC budget for calendar years 2000 to 2006 and financial years 2000-01 to 2007-08.


Legal Services (Regulation)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Bridget Prentice): On17 October 2005, I informed this House of the publication of the White Paper “The Future of Legal Services: Putting Consumers First” setting out the Government's proposals for the regulatory reform of legal services in England and Wales. I am pleased today, just seven months later, to be publishing the draft Legal Services Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny, as the first step in delivering on those proposals. Copies of the draft Bill and accompanying regulatory impact assessment will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The draft Bill sets out our detailed plans for the creation of a strong independent oversight regulator the Legal Services Board which will ensure that front line regulators discharge their duties effectively. In addition, legislation will provide the LSB with a wide range of powers including those to authorise and de-authorise front line regulators and to quickly bring unregulated legal services under its remit through secondary legislation to best protect consumers interests. Our proposals also provide for the creation of an independent office for legal complaints, which for the first time will remove the handling of legal complaints from the legal professions. The OLC will help to foster greater consumer confidence and result in quick and fair redress.

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The draft Legal Services Bill also sets out arrangements to facilitate alternative business structures, which would enable different kinds of lawyers, and lawyers and non-lawyers, to work together on an equal footing. These structures will allow legal services to be delivered in new ways, promoting greater competition and innovation and enabling providers to better respond to the demands of consumers. A range of safeguards will be put in place to protect consumers and demand high standards.

In taking forward these proposals the Government have continued to engage with key stakeholders. The consumer advisory panel, comprising representatives of main consumer bodies, has contributed significantly to informing and shaping the proposed reforms. In addition to the consumer panel we have, throughout the process, maintained effective engagement with all stakeholder groups including the legal professions, consumer organisations and the general public.

The draft Legal Services Bill will be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by the Joint Committee that has been constituted for that purpose, which will report by July 2006. This timeframe provides an opportunity for Parliament to take evidence and consider the detail of the proposals and make recommendations through the Joint Committee's final report.

These proposals are complex and important and I believe it is right that Parliament should have the opportunity to scrutinise them in draft form. I look forward to receiving the Joint Committee’s report.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Marine Environment

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): I am pleased to announce the Government's response to the 25th report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution: “Turning the Tide—Addressing the Impact of Fisheries on the Marine Environment”.

The Royal Commission's report, which was presented to Parliament in December 2004, was an important contribution to thinking on how we can better protect the marine environment. The RCEP report made over 70 recommendations covering a wide range of fisheries activity and their impact on the marine environment.

We have for the most part accepted the RCEP's recommendations. The key recommendation in the RCEP report was the need for a new frameworkfor marine management. Our response reflects developments on the Marine Bill, in particular the public consultation launched in March this year. The response also reflects Government's recent decisions on decommissioning, and progress made since publication of “Securing the Benefits”, the Fisheries Departments' response to the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit landmark report, “Net Benefits”.

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Key elements of the response, structured around seven themes, are:

The Government's full response will be published on the DEFRA website shortly.

Copies of the response are being placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Great Britain - China Centre

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Ian McCartney): I am pleased to announce the Government's continued support for the Great Britain-China Centre (GBCC), through a grant-in-aid by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, after a recent review.

The GBCC has been a centre of expertise on China, with a particular focus on human rights, labour reform and improving the rule of law in China, since 1974. It can contribute unique skills and access to fulfilling these important functions. The Centre also provides support for parliamentary and other exchanges with China. The GBCC is a Non-Departmental Public Body (NDPB) sponsored by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office through an annual grant-in-aid of £300,000.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office commissioned a review of the GBCC in mid-2005. The aim of the review was to examine whether the function provided by the GBCC was required, and whether the Centre's existing form as a NDPB was the best option for delivery.

During the consultation period following the review, many hon. Members expressed their views to the Government on the valuable role of the GBCC in promoting sensitive issues such as labour reform and the rule of law in China. It was judged that the arm's-length approach of the GBCC brings value-added benefit that cannot be achieved by Government. In light of these responses and subsequent work bythe GBCC and officials of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to correct the management and control weaknesses identified in the Review, the Government have decided to maintain the GBCC's NDPB status.

The follow-up work to the review has ensured that the GBCC now has stronger financial controls, a better alignment of the Centre's work with Government policy on China and improved management oversight. Ministerial agreement to these new measures brings to an end the process initiated by the review. The GBCC
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now looks forward to further consolidating and expanding its position as a centre of expertise on China, widening its project base and diversifying its funding sources, including from the EU, UN and the private sector.

Throughout this period, we have appreciated the constructive and co-operative approach of all members of the Executive Committee and staff of the GBCC. The Government welcome the conclusion of the review and looks forward to continuing to work in partnership with the GBCC on China.


M6 Toll

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Douglas Alexander): The M6 toll road was privately financed, built, and is now operated by Midland Expressway Ltd (MEL) under a concession agreement signed by the then Secretary of State for Transport in 1992.

Having borne all the financial and development risk associated with the construction of the £900 million M6 toll, Macquarie Infrastructure Group (MIG)—the owners of MEL—are proposing to refinance MEL's debt, recognising the revised risk MEL now bears as operator of the road, which has been open to traffic since December 2003.

I am pleased to record that MIG have agreed to fund £112 million of road improvements in the West Midlands from their total refinancing resources.

This re-investment will fund improvements to the slip road access from the M42 to the southern end of the M6 toll, and will cover the costs of construction, operation and maintenance of a new road from the M54 and Telford to the M6 and the M6 toll.

The need for this link was identified in the west midlands area multi-modal study (WMAMMS), to improve access to and from the M54 corridor and Telford, and the Highways Agency has been undertaking detailed work with a view to developing a scheme for entry to the targeted programme of improvements.

The new road should open to traffic around 2012 (subject to the usual statutory processes), helping to free up current bottlenecks and to improve road travel through the region.


Departmental Report

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): The Wales Office departmental report was published today, Wednesday 24 May 2006.

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