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A key objective from the outset has been the delivery of the Impact Programme and we remain committed to delivering the significant improvements which will meet Recommendations 1 and 4. We have achieved much already, as previously reported, and since the delivery of the first, incremental achievements, the ongoing
practical benefits to the Police Service have become clear to see. Impact Nominal Index (INI) continues to prove itself to be an invaluable tool in the Police's armoury against those who would seek to do harm to the vulnerable, for example, with over 140,000 searches conducted on the system by the end of March and decisions in some 670 child protection cases referred to the police being changed as a result. But there is still some way to go to realise the ultimate goals of the Programme. After a review of options in consultation with the main stakeholders, we have decided not to deploy the CRISP application as an interim solution. Our primary focus and efforts are now delivery of the new Police National Database, which will meet our pledge of a national police intelligence sharing capability. This work is now being led and managed by the Police Service itself, through the new National Policing Improvement Agency with its clear focus on policing needs, and is forming the central strand of its comprehensive and practical strategy for matching information systems and technology to policing priorities. The Agency is also overseeing the ongoing implementation by Police Forces of the statutory Code of Practice on police information management, which came into force in 2005. This, together with the accompanying operational guidance, will ensure improved national standards are properly embedded in day to day policing.
The other major focus of our work has been the implementation of the new Vetting and Barring Scheme, which will cover those seeking to work with children and replace the existing arrangements. Following Royal Assent for the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006, under which the Scheme is established, work has been stepped up to deliver what represents a world-leading and highly innovative system for controlling access to children and vulnerable adults.
Cabinet colleagues at DfES and DH continue to work closely on this important initiative and we look forward to the launch of the Independent Barring Board in 2008, which will work alongside the Criminal Records Bureau and lead the discretionary decision-making process for the more difficult cases.
Elsewhere, progress is being made although in some areas technical issues have meant that timetables have had to be revised. The Home Secretary reported last May that we hoped to have achieved direct updating of Courts' resulting to the Police National Computer by the end of 2008. Whilst my determinationand that of Ministerial colleagues at the Ministry of Justiceto achieve this remains undiminished, it has been necessary to drive forward this complex change in step with the wider IT-enabled reforms to the criminal justice system the Ministry of Justice is delivering and so we plan to achieve delivery of Recommendation 7 by the end of the 2008-09 financial year. In the meantime, Police Forces' performance in updating PNC under the current arrangements remains a broadly sound and improving picture, under the close scrutiny of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary.
We continue to see increasing take-up of the voluntary training for head teachers and school governors, which focuses on the critical importance of being aware of safeguarding issues when recruiting
staff. And we have now developed and rolled out new initiatives to extend the training more widely, in schools and other local authority sectors.
While we continue to make progress in implementing the Recommendations, it is important to note this work is about more than simply delivering new frameworks and arrangements, such as best practice guidance. We are seeking to address cultural or organisational obstacles through IT-enabled business change, such as new information sharing capabilities. We have already achieved real improvements but must be ever vigilant about the risks to the vulnerable members of society.
Furthermore, we must join up systems effectively between the various jurisdictions within the UK and internationally. The difficulties around the notifications of UK citizens convicted in Europe, which came to light earlier this year and which we have been addressing, were a strong reminder that we must be constantly vigilant to ensure systems, both local and national/ international, are all working as they should. Within government and in the key agencies delivering public services, work to safeguard the vulnerable members of the community must be a core priority.
The Bichard work has been the single largest contributor to that cultural change and I am pleased to commend the progress to this House.
The Minister for Security, Counter Terrorism and Police (Mr. Tony McNulty): Further to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary's statement to Parliament on 16 January, I would like to provide an update to the House on the work that has been undertaken to deal with the issue of overseas convictions of UK citizens.
Members will recall that, during a Home Affairs Select Committee meeting on 9 January, it came to light that there was a backlog of files containing information about such convictions.
It was clear that that the existing systems were inadequate and the Home Secretary asked Sir David Normington to initiate an immediate inquiry to find out how the backlog arose and why it was not dealt with sooner. The inquiry was undertaken by Dusty Amroliwala and reported on 2 March. Sir David has acknowledged that there are lessons to be learned from the report in a number of key areas including working practices, risk management and leadership. The Home Office already has a comprehensive programme of reform in place and these lessons are being incorporated in that reform agenda.
In his statement to Parliament on 10 January, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that we hoped to have dealt with the backlog within three months. I am pleased to be able to report that it was fully processed onto the Police National Computer (PNC) before the end of April. Copies of a report on the process and outcome have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses today.
As well as entering the offenders in the backlog onto the PNC, a range of checks and actions has been taken to help ensure the protection of the public. These include checks via the Criminal Records Bureau and with the Prison and Probation Services. This has been a
UK-wide initiative and similar public protection processes have been carried out in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Full details are in the progress report.
We are very grateful to the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Criminal Records Bureau and the other organisations involved for all the support and assistance they have provided in processing the backlog and facilitating the public protection work.
Despite the positive progress we have made in this immediate area, we remain concerned about the complexity of the connected issues we face across Government and beyond. This is not helped by the differences in systems, procedures and criteria for recording information about criminality and using it for public protection purposes, both within this country and beyond the UK. The Home Secretary has therefore asked Sir Ian Magee to undertake a review, comprising two distinct parts. The first will focus on scoping the problems, assessing what deficiencies there are and where they lie. The second part will concentrate on conclusions and recommendations for improving the recording and sharing of criminality data, with a firm grounding in what is realistic and achievable.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Hain): I am announcing the membership of the reconstituted Northern Ireland Policing Board to take effect from today. The cross-community Board is one of the great successes flowing from the Belfast Agreement. I would like to pay tribute to all former Board members for the considerable contribution they have made to policing in Northern Ireland and the crucial role they have played in ensuring that the PSNI is effective, efficient and responsive to the needs of the community.
The new membership of the Board is as follows:
The Right Hon. Jeffrey Donaldson MP, MLA,
The Solicitor-General (Mr. Mike O'Brien): My right hon. Friend the Attorney General has made the following written ministerial statement:
Today the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has decided, after applying the evidential and public interest tests set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors, to prosecute Mr Andrey Konstantinovich Lugovoy, a Russian citizen, for the murder of Alexander Valterovich Litvinenko. The CPS decision was reached after they had consulted the Attorney-General, which is the usual practice in serious and complex cases. The CPS have concluded that there is sufficient evidence to prosecute Mr Lugovoy for murder and it is in the public interest to do so.
It is alleged that in London on or about 1 November 2006, Mr Lugovoy poisoned Mr Litvinenko by administering a lethal dose of Polonium 210, a radioactive material. Mr Litvinenko died on 23 November 2006 in a London hospital of an acute radiation injury.
The CPS will now take immediate steps to seek the extradition of Mr Lugovoy from Russia to the United Kingdom so that he can be charged and prosecuted for murder in this country.
The Attorney-General agrees with the CPS decision.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tom Harris): The Department for Transport has today published the East Midlands Regional Planning Assessment for the railway (RPA), the latest in the series of 11 RPAs covering England and Wales.
Copies of the document have been placed in both Libraries of the House and can also be downloaded from the Department's website http://www.dft.gov.uk.
The East Midlands RPA covers the entire East Midlands region including Derby, Leicester and Nottingham Cities, Rutland, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire and Nottinghamshire.
RPAs provide the link between regional spatial planning (including preparation of regional transport strategies) and planning for the railway by both Government and the rail industry, and are designed to inform the development of the Government's strategy for the railway. They look at the challenges and options for development of the railway over the next 20 years, in the wider context of forecast change in population, the economy and travel behaviour.
A RPA does not commit the Government to specific proposals. Instead it sets out the Government' s current thinking on how the railway might best be developed to allow wider planning objectives for a region to be met, and identifies the priorities for further development work.
It is the Government's intention to publish the remaining RPAs covering the Thames Valley, Yorkshire and Humber, and Wales, during this summer.
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Douglas Alexander): I am today publishing a draft Local Transport Bill, for public consultation and parliamentary pre-legislative scrutiny. The draft Bill contains legislative proposals to help tackle congestion and improve public transport. Copies of the draft Bill, a consultation paper and other accompanying documents are available in the Libraries of the House and the Vote Office.
Our transport system plays a crucial role in our economy and society, and, in an increasingly inter-connected world, efficient transport networks are now more important than ever. We also need to ensure we continue to balance the needs of the economy with those of our environment and society. We have made huge progress over the past decade, but we need to ensure that our legislative and institutional frameworks keep pace with the many changes that are going on in the world around us.
The Eddington Transport Study, published in December last year, provided a number of timely recommendations to enhance the delivery of transport in the UK's cities. These recommendations were aimed at better equipping us to address the high potential future cost of congestion and ensure transport can continue to sustain economic growth.
I am committed to ensuring that we are well equipped to meet not only today's transport challenges, but also those of 10 or 20 years' time. The draft Local Transport Bill is a demonstration of that commitment. It is a key part of our strategy to empower local authorities to take appropriate steps to meet local transport needs in the light of local circumstances.
The draft Bill sets out our legislative proposals to:
enable local authorities to improve the quality of local bus services, building on the measures set out last December in Putting Passengers First
reform the arrangements for local transport governance in our major conurbations, to ensure strong local leadership and a coherent approach to transport across individual local authority boundaries and across different transport modes; and
reform the existing legislation relating to local road pricing schemes to ensure that, where local authorities wish to develop local schemes, they have the freedom and flexibility to do so in a way that best meets local needs. It will also help to ensure that any schemes are consistent and interoperable from the road user's perspective.
Consistent with our longer-term strategy on road pricing, the draft Bill would not provide the legal powers that would be needed for a national system of road pricing: we have made clear that decisions on that can be taken only in the light of further practical experience of local schemes. Further, separate, legislation would be needed if in future a decision was taken to move towards a national scheme and there would need to be a full and informed public debate.
Publication of the draft Bill provides an important opportunity to ensure we get our proposals right through public consultation, and for Parliament to scrutinise the legislation in draft. We need to learn from and build on the diversity of experience of transport professionals and transport users across the country, and I encourage all interested parties to participate in the consultation process.
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 on Manchester City Council, South Lakeland District Council and Staffordshire Moorlands District 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.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is considering the reports and may ask the councils for proposals in response to BFI's findings.