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The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Jack Straw): Following agreement within Government, this is to inform Members of improvements to the process by which notice is given to the House when Ministers plan to make an oral statement.
Wherever notice has already been given to the House via a written ministerial statement, oral or written questions, or elsewhere on the Floor of the House (that is, in debate or at business questions) that an oral statement will be made on a certain date, then it would be helpful to the House for this to be recorded in the Houses business papers. Accordingly, from today I have asked for a written notice in such cases to be printed in the Future Business section of the Order Paper; and again on the Order of Business on the day of the statement.
The Government would retain the current freedom to make statements without prior notice having been given in this way and, if necessary, not to proceed with a statement of which prior notice had been given.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): I have today laid before both Houses the report by Sir Hayden Phillips entitled Strengthening Democracy: Fair and Sustainable Funding of Political Parties. Copies of the report have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
The report shows very clearly that there is now the basis for a new agreement on the funding and expenditure of political parties. There are a number of detailed questions which need to be taken forward, through a process of further discussion between the political parties. I hope that following these negotiations, consensus can be reached. I have asked Sir Hayden to chair these further discussions. I believe that they should begin soon and conclude before the summer recess, in order to build a platform for legislation in the next parliamentary session.
The time has come for us to find a new settlement on party funding and expenditure. I have asked my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House of Commons to lead these negotiations for the Labour Party. I hope that the leaders of the other main parties will also nominate delegations to join the talks.
When I announced the re-appointment of Robert Wardle as Director of the Serious Fraud Office in January I indicated that we had agreed we would take the opportunity jointly to commission a thorough external review of the SFOs approach to the investigation and prosecution of the cases with which it deals.
I am today announcing the terms of reference of that review which are:
In the light of the Governments overall strategy for tackling fraud, and taking into account the relevant recommendations from the fraud review:
To consider the most effective methods for the SFO to use in investigating and prosecuting the serious and complex cases which fall within its remit, with particular reference to practice in overseas jurisdictions; and any related internal organisational or structural issues;
And to make recommendations.
The review will be led by Jessica de Grazia, a former New York city prosecutor who now resides in the UK, and who has handled many complex cases, both as an investigator and trial advocate.
I have today published the Governments formal response to the consultation on the recommendations of the fraud review. Copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
The Governments response to the fraud review is a key element of our overall strategy for handling fraud, which is estimated to cost the economy £14 billion per annum. Fraud presents a serious threat to the economy, and does real harm to victims and businesses.
The Government are committed to tackling fraud, and together with industry, the public sector and regulators will be taking forward a wide ranging programme to create the building blocks for a truly strategic response to this growing threat.
In doing so, the Government accept the thrust of most of the recommendations of the fraud review. A detailed programme of work is now being established to take this to the next stage.
A priority will be to establish a national fraud strategic authority, which will be the forum for public and private sectors to develop a national strategy for tackling fraud. This will include establishing a mechanism for accurate and regular measurement of the extent of fraud, which is crucial to establishing a long-term solution.
Detailed work will also be taken forward on how best to establish a national fraud reporting centre recommended by the review as a means of taking crime reports from victims and developing intelligence to tackle fraud and organised crime related to fraud. The commissioner of the City of London police will chair a working group to make detailed proposals on the establishment of a national lead force, which will aim to complement existing police force capacity and provide a centre of excellence for complex and serious cases.
The Government will also be taking forward a number of the recommendations made to improve the way the criminal justice system handles fraud-related cases. This will include a study to assess the costs of fraud to the courts and any benefits which can be derived from dealing with more aspects of complex frauds in one jurisdiction.
Finally, the Government will explore the reviews recommendation of encouraging early guilty pleas through a safe legal framework which protects defendants rights but also improves the experience of victims.
The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Alistair Darling): With effect from 1 April 2007, the security activities of the Office for Civil Nuclear Security (OCNS) will be performed by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on behalf of the Health and Safety Commission. The operational nuclear safeguards work of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) will also be carried out by the HSE with effect from the same date. The staff in both areas will transfer to the HSE with their work.
The aim of these arrangements is to consolidate the safety, security and safeguards activities of the Government in a single organisation, consistent with the thrust of the recommendations of the 2005 Hampton Report, so as to enable more effective and better co-ordinated regulation of the industry, and to enable the more effective deployment of resources. DTI will remain responsible for nuclear safety, security and safeguards
policy. The HSE will operate under Memorandums of Understanding agreed with the DTI, one for safeguards and one for security.
Edward Iveagh has been Chairman of Elveden Farms Ltd since 1992 and has transformed the 22,500 acre Suffolk estate into a multi-faceted, diverse and profitable business. He is a non-executive Director of Burhill Estates, a Golfing and Land Management Company that has developed the concept of quality pay-and-play golf courses across England. He is a non-executive Director of Adventure Forest, a high wire forest adventure operator.
He was Deputy Chairman of Iveagh Trustees for 10 years and is now Director of Arundel Iveagh, a London-based Hedge Fund and Wealth Management operation and is a founding partner of Capital 1, an asset finance vehicle.
He is Chair of the Brecks Tourism Partnership and has been involved in a broad range of charitable initiatives including Chair of Chadacre Agricultural Trust, Patron of The West Suffolk MacMillan Cancer Appeal and Trustee and Chairman of the investment committee of East Anglian Air Ambulance.
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Douglas Alexander): Throughout 2006 the Department for Transport undertook a number of trials at stations on Londons surface and underground rail networks to study the effectiveness of both existing and new security-related technologies.
These trials were part of a broad package of work being carried out by both the Department and other stakeholders to improve our understanding of operational environments and identify potential
practical and pragmatic solutions for improving the protection of the public at our rail stations.
The first trial of passenger screening technology took place at Paddington station in January 2006 and was followed by further trials at Canary Wharf and Greenford London Underground stations. Trials also took place in August to test the practicalities of deploying portable vehicle access control barriers at major entry points at Waterloo and Victoria stations. All the data and feedback gathered during these trials are now being analysed to inform future judgments.
The next element of work is to conduct a short study of airflow patterns and an assessment of the performance of air monitoring machines within the London Underground environment. This is to increase our knowledge of how potentially toxic substances could be dispersed in such an environment.
The purpose of the study is to gather data within a genuine rail environment. It is not a reaction to any threat increase or a measure to enhance security at this or any other station. All the data and feedback gained will merely help to inform future decisions.
Following consultation with London Underground, St. Johns Wood station has been chosen as an appropriate location for the research, with studies commencing in March. Two dates, Sunday March 25 and Sunday April 1, have been identified for the airflow studies. The station will remain open as normal and train services at the station will not be affected. Passengers will not be required to take part and there are no associated health and safety risks.
As is routine in airflow studies, small amounts of sulphur hexafluoride will be used to help monitor the movement of air within the station during operational hours. Sulphur hexafluoride is a non-toxic, odourless gas typically used in tennis balls and for monitoring ventilation systems in buildings.
The UKs surface railway system is a network made up of 2,500 stations and 11,000 miles of track that carries 1 billion passengers a year. London Underground itself has 255 stations, 253 miles of track and carries 976 million passengers every year. The British public understand that providing a closed security system on the rail network is unworkable and that no single security measure is either foolproof or capable of mitigating every threat.
However it is important that we continue to study the operational environment of our networks and both existing and emerging technologies to see whether procedures can be improved. In doing so, we aim to cut down the risks as much as possible whilst still allowing people to go about their day-to-day business.
The Commission will report on the current difficulties on the PPP concession contract negotiations for the Galileo satellite navigation programme and their impact on the overall development of the programme. There
has been no recent progress on the negotiations because of internal problems amongst the partners in the consortium. Ministers will discuss the issue and aim to form an opinion on how preparations should proceed for a decision to be taken at the June Council. We remain concerned about the lack of clear and transparent governance in the management of the development programme and will continue to examine the emerging deal very carefully for its justification in terms of value for money, affordability, and risk to the public sector.
The Council will be asked to adopt a mandate authorising the Commission to open negotiations with non-EU countries on their participation in the Galileo Supervisory Authority as Associated Members. The UK is content for the Council to do so.
The Presidency will report on the contribution of the transport sector to the Lisbon Strategy for economic development, with particular emphasis on the interplay of policy on economic growth and climate protection. An exchange of views is envisaged on the Council Conclusions of 19 February on this topic. Ministers will be asked to indicate how the energy efficiency of transport may be improved and what measures might be taken to deal with emissions in rail and maritime transport. This will enable me to reaffirm to the Council the Government's commitment to environmental aims in transport policy.
Linked to this debate on the Lisbon Strategy will be a discussion during lunch of the inclusion of aviation in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. We welcome and support the Commission's legislative proposal and will respond in broad terms to two questions posed by the presidency which cover the application of the emissions cap to aviation and how to deal with third-country airlines.
The Commission will present to the Council the outcome of the latest rounds of negotiations on a proposed EU-US aviation agreement. The Council will be asked to agree on whether the Community should sign the draft agreement.
Following negotiations with Russia on an agreement to end charges for Siberian overflights for EU airlines, the Council will be asked to adopt a Decision on the signature and provisional application of the agreement. The UK strongly welcomes this agreement and will support the draft Decision.
AOB items include Commission presentations on extension of the major trans-European transport axes to neighbouring countries and on the implementation of the SESAR programme for the modernisation of the European air traffic management system.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mrs. Anne McGuire): On 3 May 2006 in a written ministerial statement, I announced details of a strategic review of the independent living funds which concluded in January 2007.
I welcome the thorough review of the independent living funds that has been conducted by Melanie
Henwood and Bob Hudson. Their report comes at an important point in the evolution of social care and it is critical that the funds customers do not lose the valuable support that the funds currently provide.
I recognise the ground-breaking role which the ILFs have played in developing a model of cash for care over the past 19 years and how important their services are to the disabled people who use the funds to enable them to live independently.
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