The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (John Healey): HM Treasury and HM Revenue and Customs are today publishing the following reports: Davidson Review, Implementation of EU legislation; Implementing Hampton: from enforcement to compliance; Delivering a new relationship with business: HMRC's plans to deliver a better service for business by 2010-11.
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (John Healey): The Treasury has completed its annual indexation of the average cost of answering oral and written parliamentary questions to reflect changes in civil service earnings and retail prices. The revised average costs, which will apply from 15 November 2006, are:
oral questions - £385
written questions - £140
The disproportionate cost threshold (DCT) relating to written parliamentary questions was set at £600 in 2002. The DCT will be increased to £700, also with effect from the 15 November 2006, and will apply across Government.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Vera Baird): My right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor has made the following written ministerial statement.
I am publishing Legal Aid Reform: the Way Ahead (cm 6993). This sets out how we will reform the procurement of legal aid services, moving towards a market-based system. It takes account of the responses we received to the consultation paper Legal Aid: a sustainable future (CP 13/06) which was published simultaneously on 13 July 2006 with Lord Carter of Coles' independent report
Legal Aid - A market-based approach to reform. The paper has been laid before both Houses of Parliament. Copies are available in the Printed Paper Office and the Vote Office.
Our reforms to legal aid procurement fit squarely within the Government's wider programme of reform across the justice system. We are promoting simple, speedy, summary justice in the criminal courts, and modernising the legal sector through the introduction of the Legal Services Bill last Thursday. The proposed changes to legal aid procurement represent another important part of this programme and it will bring benefits for clients, taxpayers, the legal profession and the wider justice system. The reforms will make sure we have modern a modern legal aid system and have a legal profession that is customer-focused and in which the public has confidence.
The consultation period closed on 12 October. We received 2,372 replies to the consultation paper. Over the summer months, the Legal Aid Minister, Vera Baird QC MP toured the country to meet practitioners to hear their views on the proposals. This involved some 25 meetings in 11 different cities, attended by around 1,000 practitioners. The Legal Services Commission also met practitioners to explain the proposals and answer questions. Over 1,700 legal aid professionals attended 14 of these events in the early autumn.
The Way Ahead paper sets out how the Department for Constitutional Affairs and the Legal Services Commission will deliver a new system of legal aid procurement. The reforms will set legal aid on a sustainable footing for the future, and will ensure that the most vulnerable people in our society receive the help they need. The reforms will ensure a future in which the legal advice provided is of the highest quality and practitioners are able to make a decent financial return, and a future which ensures that access to justice remains at the heart of our society.
We are fully committed to the market-based approach set out by Lord Carter. We will move to fixed and graduated fees as a transitional step to best-value competition. However, we have listened carefully to the concerns expressed by legal aid practitioners. We have therefore made significant adjustments to the timing and sequencing of some of the proposed schemes, as well as to the detail of some original proposals, where we believe they will bring improvements.
In summary, we are proceeding with Lord Carter's proposals. And we are delivering on our commitment to rebalance the funding between civil and criminal legal aid.
The approach set out in the Way Ahead paper offers the best guarantee of an affordable, good quality legal aid system that will protect the vulnerable, is fair to taxpayers, fair to defendants, and fair for practitioners.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Derek Twigg): On 10 October 2006, the Secretary of State for Defence announced that a new, tax-free bonus payment would be introduced for service personnel. The bonus will be called the operational allowance and the regulations, including eligibility criteria, have now been finalised. I am now placing a copy of the regulations in the Library of the House.
The Minister for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): I represented the United Kingdom at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting in Brussels on 20 and 21 November 2006. Ross Finnie, the Scottish Environment and Rural Affairs Minister, also attended.
The Council reached political agreement on fixing fishing opportunities for certain deep-sea fish stocks for 2007 and 2008. Cuts in catch levels were approved, reflecting the generally poor state of the species concerned and fishing for some species will be phased out altogether over four years. The UK led the way in ensuring due regard was given to the scientific advice. In addition, political agreement was also reached on a new regime of management measures for the sustainable exploitation of fishery resources in the Mediterranean sea. This places these waters on an equivalent footing with other EU fisheries and allows a concerted approach to management of fish stocks throughout the Community.
The Council held an exchange of views on the Commission communication implementing sustainability in EU fisheries through maximum sustainable yield, where member states re-emphasised their commitment to managing for the longer-term.
The Council also reached unanimous political agreement on the use of electronic logbooks for recording and reporting of fishing activities and the use of remote sensing to monitor illegal fishing activity.
The Council held a discussion on the Commission's proposal to reform the current system of aid for banana production within the EU. The proposal abolishes the existing aid scheme to banana producers and replaces it with an increased budget allocation for the POSEI scheme for supporting agriculture production in the outermost regions and a new decoupled aid under the single payment scheme for the very limited continental production in Greece and Cyprus.
The Council also held a policy debate on a proposal to extend the existing energy crop support to new member states; to prolong the new member states simplified version of the single payment scheme (SAPS) until after 2008; and to make some technical corrections to the single payment legislation.
The Council held an exchange of views on a Commission communication Halting the loss of biodiversity by 2010 - and beyond. The Communication identifies four key policy areas for actionbiodiversity in the EU, the EU and global biodiversity, biodiversity and climate change, and the knowledge base, and translates these into specific targets and actions in the action plan included in the communication. The communication garnered widespread support from member states for the protection of biodiversity and the proposed actions in the agriculture and fisheries sectors.
Over lunch, the Fisheries Commissioner gave a progress report on the draft action plan for simplifying and improving the common fisheries policy. I
underlined the importance of this initiative and of the Commission making more substantive progress in the future.
The Fisheries Commissioner updated the Council on the EU/Norway fisheries negotiations for arrangements to apply in 2007.
The Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner gave a presentation on the Commission's report on the implementation of EU legislation regulating genetically modified food and feed. He also provided an update to Council on the developments on Avian Influenza H5N1, and drew Council's attention to the Commission's decision to put forward a proposal to ban the trade of cat and dog fur and products containing such fur.
Poland drew attention to the ban imposed by Russia on the imports of meat and plant products from Poland and called on member states to express solidarity.
Germany and a number of other member states asked for the re-authorisation process of pesticide ingredients to be streamlined and reviewed.
The Agriculture Commissioner gave a progress report on uptake in year one of the restructuring scheme for the sugar industry, agreed as part of the 2005 reform package.
France, supported by Belgium, asked the Commission to consider aid for farmers affected by recent outbreaks of bluetongue.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (David Miliband): DEFRA's Director General for Sustainable Farming and Food represented the United Kingdom at the EU Agriculture Informal Council in Oulu, Finland. Member states debated how the European model of agriculture might be adapted in the light of increasing international competition in agricultural trade and other global pressures, the likely end of export subsidy, the greater emphasis on rural development and environmental protection, challenges and opportunities such as climate change and energy crops, and the review of the EU budget in 2008-09.
The Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel set out her long-term thinking on common agriculture policy (CAP) reform as part of the discussion. She intended to use a series of CAP healthchecks, scheduled for 2007 to 2009 to simplify legislation and review the single payment scheme, the system of cross-compliance and certain CAP regimes such as dairy. She said that the CAP must remain a common policy, but that it must be modernised and the budget reduced after 2013.
There were widespread views amongst member states. All supported the need for greater simplification of the CAP, some said that the European model of agriculture was still relevant, while others felt it must continue to change. One or two said the CAP was now fit for purpose and that the health check and budget review should do very little to change things while the majority acknowledged that there would be further change and expressed a range of views on how that should proceed to ensure that farmers were competitive.
The UK said that the European Model of Agriculture must adapt in order to reflect changing values and circumstances and remain relevant and useful for farmers and society. In line with the Government's vision for the CAP, published in December 2005, we listed our goals for the forthcoming CAP and EU budget reviews: that direct payments and market support measures were damaging and needed to be phased out, with the remaining CAP focusing on public benefits such as rural development. We called for decisions on future policy to be taken soon, so that farming could prepare for the changes ahead.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Margaret Beckett): Following my written ministerial statement of 12 July 2006, Official Report, column 70WS, about the change of policy on disclosure of information relating to serious offences allegedly committed by persons entitled to diplomatic immunity, I have today placed in the Libraries of both Houses a list of foreign missions whose diplomats allegedly committed serious offences and the type of offence in 2005.
From a community of around 23,000 in the United Kingdom entitled to immunity, 17 serious offences, allegedly committed by such persons, were drawn to the attention of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 2005. Serious offences are defined in accordance with the 1985 White Paper on Diplomatic Immunities and Privilegesthat is as offences that would in certain circumstances, carry a penalty of 12 months or more imprisonment.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Margaret Beckett): There were 5,216 outstanding parking and other minor traffic violation fines incurred by diplomatic missions and international organisations in the United Kingdom recorded during the year 1 January 2005 to 31 December 2005. These totalled £485,250. In June this year the Foreign and Commonwealth Office wrote to all diplomatic missions and international organisations concerned giving them the opportunity to either pay their outstanding fines or appeal against them if they considered that the fines had been issued incorrectly. As a result payments totalling £11,545 were received, leaving a total of 4,732 (£444,070) unpaid fines for 2005. The table below details those diplomatic missions and international organisations that have outstanding fines totalling £,1000 or more.
|Diplomatic Mission/International Organisation||No of finesOutstanding||Amount in £|
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