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The Secretary of State for the Home Department (John Reid): The Government are today publishing the report of the inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Zahid Mubarek at Feltham Young Offender Institution which was announced by my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), on 29 April 2004. I wish to express my gratitude to the hon. Mr. Justice Keith, his advisers, and the inquiry team for their comprehensive examination of the important issues which arise in this case.
Zahid Mubarek was killed, completely without provocation, on 21 March 2000 by his cell-mate, Robert Stewart, who was a known racist. The then Director General of the Prison Service wrote immediately to Mr. Mubareks family to acknowledge that the service had not protected him as it should have done and to offer an unreserved apology. I would like to take this opportunity to offer my own sympathies to the family, for whom this will have been a particularly traumatic time.
There have since then been a number of inquiries into the circumstances surrounding this appalling case from which the Prison Service has already learned much. The inquiry by Mr. Justice Keith is however the most thorough examination which has been carried out and adds much to our knowledge of the background to this murder.
I welcome the reports recognition that much progress has been made by the Prison Service in the last six years to address the problems which may have contributed to Zahid Mubareks murder. In particular I am pleased to note that the report finds that the allegations that prison officers maliciously placed ethnic minority prisoners in cells with known racists are not substantiated.
I have placed on the Home Offices website a preliminary response to all 88 recommendations. It shows that the Government are already able to agree, at least in principle, to 50 of these. The responses to those which relate to prison practice cover only directly managed establishments at this stage. The rest will be considered both urgently and carefully, and I will make a full response to each of the recommendations within two months.
Sir Peter's independent report highlights the need for significant improvements in the security, reliability and value for money of the current arrangements for Royal Family and Ministerial air travel. In particular, Sir Peter has concluded that:
Despite the dedication and commitment of RAF personnel, 32 (The Royal) Squadron is unable to meet the level of demand for VIP travel placed upon it by the Royal Family and Ministers. The range and capacity of the Squadron's aircraft are also insufficient to fully meet the requirement for VIP air travel. This is no criticism of the RAF, the primary role of 32 (The Royal) Squadron is operational and the new arrangements recommended by Sir Peter will enable them to focus entirely on defence needs.
The overall availability of 32 (The Royal) Squadron in recent years has been in the order of 60-70 per cent. and, owing to technical problems or operational priorities, around 10 per cent. of VIP bookings have been either declined or subsequently cancelled.
The resulting need to charter an aircraft, sometimes at short notice, has failed to deliver value for money and the charter market has not always been able to provide a suitable aircraft with appropriate livery. For instance, the Prime Minister recently arrived at an EU Council meeting onboard an aircraft with Austrian livery. There have also been instances where aircraft have been used which have been unable to reach a destination without an unplanned refuelling stop or where the age of the aircraft has contributed to a mechanical failure, as was the case when the Prime Minister's return flight from South Africa earlier this year aboard a 1970 DCS was dramatically aborted on take-off due to an engine problem.
The regular and growing use of chartered fixed wing aircraft has introduced undesirable security risks to members of the Royal Family and Government Ministers.
Sir Peter has recommended that the Government establish a new air service based on two dedicated, second hand, fixed-wing aircraft. He has made a compelling case for change and the Government accept his report in full.
With the agreement of the Palace, the Department for Transport will now be taking the project forward. This will lead to competitive proposals being sought from industry in the months ahead. It is anticipated that one of the aircraft included in the improved service will be a second hand airliner with the capacity to seat up to 70 passengers and the other a small second hand aircraft with the capacity to seat up to 15 passengers. Both aircraft will contain basic, fit-for-purpose interiors to allow the Royal Family and Government to undertake work while en-route and will contain secure communications, which will address the concerns raised in the Intelligence and Security Committee's 2002-03 Annual Report which commented that expenditure in this area is justified.
It is anticipated that the new service will commence between the end of 2007 and early 2008. The new arrangements will result in 32 (The Royal) Squadron aircraft no longer being used for routine non-defence related flights. The squadron will, however, continue to be used to transport VIPs into operational theatres where necessary and for the routine travel of senior defence personnel, including MOD Ministers.
Sir Peter has advised that the new arrangements will deliver a safe, reliable and secure air travel service to the Royal Family and Government and good value for money to the taxpayer. The new arrangements will not increase the planned levels of public expenditure as the estimated additional annual cost of £2.7 million will be met from a £1.5 million contribution from the Ministry of Defence, recognising 32 (The Royal) Squadron's greater future deployability, and the remaining £1.2 million will be absorbed by those using the new service.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): I am grateful to the Intelligence and Security Committee for its valuable work and its latest annual report. Following consultation with the Committee over matters that could not be published without prejudicing the discharge of the function and operation of the intelligence and security agencies, I have laid the report before the House today. Copies will also be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
I have decided that it would be more appropriate for MISC 13 to be called the Ministerial Committee on Animal Rights Extremism, and not, as listed previously, the Ministerial Committee on Animal Rights Activists. This is to reflect more closely the Committees terms of reference.
The Minister for Energy (Malcolm Wicks): A consultation document and Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) on changes needed to secondary legislation to implement provisions of Council Regulation (EC) No. 1236/2005(1 )concerning trade in goods which could be used for capital punishment, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment was published on 2 November 2005 and the consultation period ended on 31 January 2006. The EC Regulation 1236/2005 (the Regulation) enters into force on 30 July 2006. The adoption of the Regulation represents a positive step forward for Europe and demonstrates the commitment of all EU Member States to introduce controls on the trade in this category of goods, following the lead set by the UK in 1997.
The Regulation prohibits the import, export and transhipment of specified goods to non-EU states, and the provision of technical assistance. The export (etc) of other specified goods will be controlled by means of the export licensing system operated by DTI.
My Department has given careful consideration to the comments made in response to the public consultation. A summary of the issues raised and the Government's response has been deposited in the House of Commons
Library and is also available on the DTI website at http://www.dti.gov.uk/europeandtrade/strategic-export-control/index .html.
The Regulation is directly applicable in the UK. However some changes to UK law are required to ensure a good fit between the Regulation and the existing legal framework and to provide for licensing, penalties and enforcement. The changes are described in more detail in the note I have deposited in the House. An amending Order under the Export Control Act 2002 will be laid before Parliament, to come into force on 30 July 2006 at the same time as the Regulation.
The controls introduced by the Regulation largely mirror those already in place in UK legislation. Where there is any difference, the Government have aimed when implementing the Regulation to maintain the current level of controls where it is possible to do so consistent with Community law. We have also extended UK trade controls (on trafficking and brokering) to all the goods now controlled by the Regulation including ones not previously controlled in the UK. The Regulation will introduce controls for the first time on some items such as gallows and thumbscrews. Where possible, controls on intra-EC transfers will be maintained.
Concerning changes to the scope of goods controlled by the Regulation, the Government will work with EU partners on possible future amendments regarding matters not covered by the Regulation. The consultation was concerned with implementation of the Regulation as adopted in Brussels rather than with a review of controls in this area per se. The Government have already said that they intend in 2007 to carry out a wider review of the export controls introduced in 2004 and will in that context welcome views on the scope of controls on equipment used for torture or internal repression. That consultation can consider whether and how to control effectively other items which are difficult to define with precision in legislation.
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Douglas Alexander): Sir Rod Eddington is currently conducting a transport study looking at the long-term impact of transport decisions on the UK's productivity, stability and growth, within the context of government's commitment to sustainable development.
Sir Rod recently updated the Chancellor and me on progress with his study. This work is a major undertaking, and Sir Rod advised that he would like to undertake further work on some substantive matters before submitting his advice. He is therefore working to finalise his advice for publication around the time of the 2006 pre-Budget report.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. James Plaskitt):
On behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the BFI inspection reports on the
following councils were published today: East Lothian Council, Ellesmere Port and Neston Borough Council, and Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council. Copies have been placed in the Library.
The BFI reports detail a range of strengths and weaknesses in the housing benefit services provided by
councils and make recommendations to improve the security and efficiency of benefit delivery.