|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Vera Baird): The Parliamentary Under-Secretary, my right hon. Friend Baroness Ashton of Upholland, has made the following written ministerial statement:
The Government are today publishing a supplementary paper to the consultation paper on the draft Freedom of Information and Data Protection (Appropriate Limit and Fees) Regulations 2007, which would give effect to the changes the Government announced it was minded to make on 16 October 2006.
Following the recent consultation of 14 December 2006 the Government are issuing this supplementary paper to consult on the principle of amending the 2004 regulations, specifically whether the 2004 regulations should be amended to deal with the identified problem of requests which are disproportionately burdensome on public authority resources. Further comments on the draft regulations contained in the consultation paper of 14 December 2006 are also welcome.
The draft regulations would extend the existing provisions by allowing public authorities to:
include reading time, consideration time and consultation time in the calculation of the appropriate limit above which requests could be refused on cost grounds; and
aggregate all requests made by a person (or persons apparently acting in concert or pursuance of a campaign) to each public authority within a period of 60 working days for the purposes of calculating the appropriate limit.
An independent economic review of the operation of the Freedom of Information Act commissioned by my Department and published on 16 October 2006 found that a small percentage of requests and requestors were placing disproportionately large burdens on public authorities in terms of the costs of officials time.
While the Government believe it is entirely right that a reasonable amount of resource is spent dealing with requests for information, it is also necessary to consider, in light of experience, whether the existing provisions need to be amended in order to provide the right balance between access to information for all and the delivery of other public services.
The supplementary paper is published today, with responses being invited by 21 June 2007. The paper will be sent to key stakeholders and all responders to the consultation published on 14 December 2006. Both papers are available on my Departments website at: www.dca.gov.uk and will be available in the Libraries of both Houses.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Derek Twigg): The Service Personnel and Veterans Agency (SPVA) has been formed from a merger between the former Armed Forces Personnel Administration Agency (AFPAA) and the Veterans Agency (VA). The formal launch of the SPVA on 1 April 2007 is marked by the placing in Parliament of the Framework Document 2007.
The Framework Document sets out the roles, responsibilities and required outputs for the agency. Its primary objectives will provide customers with an assurance that SPVA will focus on providing essential services such as pay and pensions to the Armed Forces and Veterans communities, and that SPVA will be committed to provide excellent customer service and increased efficiency.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (David Miliband): In my written parliamentary statement of 20 March, Official Report, Col. 38W, I announced that political agreement had been reached at the European level on a new regulation on voluntary modulation which would open the way to the implementation of the new rural development programmes in the UK for the period 2007-2013. The regulation was adopted formally by the Council on Tuesday 27 March.
Now that this regulation is finalised, I am able to announce that the overall budget for the next Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) 2007-2013 will be £3.9 billion. As was the case during 2000-2006, funding an ambitious programme of this size is only made possible through continued use of voluntary modulation. Shifting funding from farm subsidies to payments for environmental servicesgreen farmingis consistent with the Government's long term vision for the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.
In England, voluntary modulation is essential to enable us to deliver on the commitments we have made to implement effective agri-environment schemes under Axis 2 of the Rural Development Regulation. I attach very high priority to the environmental outcomes we wish to achieve through the Environmental Stewardship Scheme. I am therefore prepared to add a significant amount of national co-financing to voluntary modulation under Axis 2 in order to deliver on these objectives. I shall therefore provide national co-financing for Axis 2which will account for 80 per cent. of the voluntary modulation fundingat a rate of 40 per cent. In other words, for every £60 taken from pillar 1 direct payments and transferred to Axis 2, I
shall add a further £40 from national funding. I do not intend to provide national co-financing for the 20 per cent. of voluntary modulation receipts which will apply to Axes 1 and 3.
The budget for the next Rural Development Programme in England is constructed from an EU European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) allocation of around £750 million, plus co-financing from the Government (including some state aided expenditure) of around £850 million. As set out above, this will be supplemented with approximately £1.5 billion generated through voluntary modulation (under the new and old voluntary modulation mechanisms), which will be co-financed with approximately £800 million of national funds.
Of this nearly £3.3 billion will be used to achieve environmental outcomes under Axis 2. A further £277 million will be applied to axis 1, which will be used to help make agriculture and forestry more competitive and sustainable, and £277 million will be applied to Axis 3, which will be used to enhance opportunity in rural areas.
Some of the additional VM receipts for Axis 1 will be used to fund a specific package of measures designed to assist the livestock industry in tackling some of the particular environmental challenges it faces. I shall make a further announcement as soon as we have worked out the details.
As we have agreement on the overall financing for the new programme for England we can now make quick progress towards finalising all the relevant programme documentation for submission to the Commission for approval. We expect to be able to submit the completed programme by late in the Spring, in preparation for which we shall shortly be consulting further with stakeholders on our plans. Our aim is that this should clear the way for speedy approval of the programme which will enable us to begin the new programme formally in the autumn. Until then, we shall continue to keep the Environmental Stewardship scheme open to new applicants with agreements entered into on a provisional basis.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Margaret Beckett): The House will be aware that in March 2006 my right hon. Friend the then Foreign Secretary agreed to make representations to seek the return from Guantanamo Bay of an Iraqi national formerly resident in the UK, Mr. Bisher Al-Rawi, based on the particular circumstances in his case. Detailed discussions between the UK and US Governments have been continuing since then.
I would like to inform the House that we have now agreed with the US authorities that Mr. Al-Rawi will be returned to the UK shortly, as soon as the practical arrangements have been made. His family and legal representatives have been informed of the decision, as has his familys constituency MP.
This decision follows extensive discussions to address the security implications of Mr. Al Rawis return. The UK will continue to take the necessary measures to maintain national and international security.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): I am pleased to announce that The Queen has approved the re-appointment of Mr Richard Thomas as the Information Commissioner, from 29 November this year until his 60th birthday on 18 June 2009.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): I am today announcing Machinery of Government changes to the Home Office and the Department for Constitutional Affairs. These changes build on the Security Crime and Justice strand of the Governments policy review, which sets the broad direction for the Governments policy response to security, public protection and the criminal justice system issues over the next decade.
The Home Secretary will be developing our capabilities to tackle the threat posed by terrorism. The security and counter-terrorism changes will have immediate effect. Alongside this, a new Ministry of Justice will be established, with the National Offender Management Service and lead responsibility for criminal law and sentencing policy being transferred from the Home Office to the Department for Constitutional Affairs, to create the new Ministry of Justice. This change will take effect from 9 May.
All those working in the field of counter-terrorism, particularly the police, security and intelligence agencies, have worked unstintingly to protect the country from the threat that we face. Our counter-terrorism capabilities are among the best in the world. However, the continuing and growing threat from terrorism means that the Government must develop and improve its counter-terrorism and security capabilities, and its governance.
I am therefore strengthening the role of the Home Secretary and the capabilities of his Department in facing the terrorist threat. While critical areas of the counter-terrorism strategy are overseen by other Secretaries of State, notably the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the Home Secretary has the lead responsibility for the strategy in relation to security threats in the UK, including their overseas dimension.
A new Ministerial Committee on Security and Terrorism will be established, subsuming the current Defence and Overseas Policy (International Terrorism) Committee and the counter-radicalisation aspects of the Domestic Affairs Committees work. The Prime Minister will chair the Committee, with the Home Secretary normally acting as deputy chair, although other Ministers such as the Foreign Secretary, and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, will deputise as appropriate. It will be supported by a sub-committee focusing on counter-radicalisation, which will be chaired by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. The Committee will meet regularly, and will be supported by a more frequent meeting focusing on the threat to the UK, which will be chaired by the Home Secretary.
In order to support the Home Secretary in his new role, an Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism will be established in the Home Office. This will report to the Home Secretary. The Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism will take on overall responsibility for the CONTEST strategy, reporting through the new Ministerial Committee. The Government will also establish a research, information and communications unit in support of the struggle for ideas and values. This will be based in the Home Office, reporting to the Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary and Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
The changes set out here are aimed at producing a step change in our approach to managing the terrorist threat to the UK and winning the battle for hearts and minds. These changes do not alter the responsibilities of the Foreign or Defence Secretaries, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, or other ministers, or the strategic and operational reporting lines of any of our security and intelligence agencies. The Cabinet Office will retain its role supporting the Prime Minister on national security and counter-terrorism.
A new Ministry of Justice will be established. The National Offender Management Service, including the Prison and Probation Services, will move from the Home Office to the Department for Constitutional Affairs on 9 May, to form the new Ministry. The Home Office will retain its other existing responsibilities, including for policing, antisocial behaviour, drugs, overall crime reduction, immigration, asylum and identity, in addition to its responsibilities for security and counter-terrorism.
The Ministry of Justice will be responsible for policy on the overall criminal, civil, family and administrative justice system, including sentencing policy, as well as the courts, tribunals, legal aid and constitutional reform. It will help to bring together management of the criminal justice system, meaning that once a suspect has been charged their journey through the courts, and if necessary prison and probation, can be managed seamlessly.
The Ministry of Justice will take the leading role in delivering a fairer, more effective, speedy and efficient justice system, and also in reducing re-offending. In doing so it will, with the Home Office and the Attorney-Generals Office, respect the vital roles and independence of the judiciary and the prosecuting authorities.
Public protection and crime reduction will continue to be the core focus of Government policy. The Government have made clear that prison will continue to be necessary to protect the public from the most serious offenders, although some non-dangerous offenders do not need to be in custody because their offending can better be addressed through non-custodial means. The Government have announced plans to build a further 8,000 prison places by 2012, having already increased capacity by 19,700 since 1997.
Criminal law and sentencing policy will move to the new Ministry of Justice. In order to maintain the Governments clear focus on public protection, the Home Secretary will continue to have a core role in decision making in this area, reflecting his responsibilities for crime reduction. The Secretary of State for Justice will work with the Home Secretary, the Attorney-General and other ministers to ensure flexible and effective responses to different types of crime, from anti-social behaviour to serious and organised criminality, including through the expansion of summary powers. Government policy in this area will, in future, be decided by a new Cabinet Committee on Crime and the Criminal Justice System, chaired by the Prime Minister.
Responsibility for the Crown Prosecution Service and the other prosecuting authorities will remain with the Attorney-General, who has a statutory duty to superintend them. The prosecuting authorities are an integral part of the criminal justice system and the Ministry of Justice will continue to work with the Attorney Generals Office to deliver a world-class criminal justice system.
The existing trilateral arrangements have been a success in delivering improvements to the criminal justice system, and will continue under the new structure. To facilitate this, there will continue to be a shared National Criminal Justice Board and an Office for Criminal Justice Reform, based in the Ministry of Justice, which will work trilaterally between the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General's Office.
The relationship between the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice remains vital, and strong working level agreements will be put in place, for example between the National Offender Management Service, the Police, and the Immigration and Nationality Department.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|