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International Development

Latin America (Development)

The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Douglas Alexander): To address better persistent poverty in Latin America, I have decided to increase DFID’s financial support to the region and change the way the support is provided. Financial support provided by DFID will increase by 15 per cent. and will be provided through civil society organisations and international institutions.

Civil society organisations are at the front line of tackling the social exclusion and inequality responsible for persistent poverty in Latin America. Channelling more support through NGOs will help address these important issues.

The World Bank and European Commission will continue to be important regional development agencies, together providing over $4 billion to Latin America. Our finance and influence in the Bank and EC will continue to be central to our support to the region.

DFID’s total funding for Latin America will increase from £84 million in 2007-08 to £97 million in 2010-11. This will include:


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As Nicaragua becomes a middle-income country in 2008, we will maintain our programme at £4 million per year, switching funding for the Government to providing support through other channels, including civil society.

We will maintain our office in Brazil, with a focus on climate change and Brazil’s role in global development. At the same time, we will close our offices in Nicaragua and Bolivia, which will not be needed to deliver our new regional programme.

We will continue to strengthen and monitor the operations of the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank and EC in Latin America through our representatives in Washington and Brussels and staff in the UK.

Justice

Review of Voting Systems

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. Michael Wills): The Government have today laid before Parliament the “Review of Voting Systems: The Experience of New Voting Systems in the United Kingdom since 1997” (Cm 7304).

This report delivers the Labour 2005 manifesto commitment to review the experience of the newly introduced voting systems for the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland and Welsh Assemblies, the European Parliament, and the London Mayor and Assembly, to inform the ongoing debate about the voting system in the House of Commons.

Since 1997 the Government have embarked upon a major programme of constitutional change: devolving power away from Westminster, enshrining fundamental rights in the Human Rights Act, introducing freedom of information and completing the first stages of reform to the House of Lords. New voting systems were introduced when the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly were established in 1998. In addition, a new voting system was introduced for elections to the European Parliament in 1999, and for elections to the Greater London Assembly and the London Mayoralty established that year.

Our constitutional arrangements have never been fixed, nor should they be. A strength of the British constitution is that it evolves to ensure that it continues to meet the needs of our democracy.

To that end the Government established the Jenkins Commission to report on a suitable voting system for the House of Commons. In 1998 Jenkins proposed a completely new voting system for Westminster called
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the “Alternative Vote Plus”. At the time the then Home Secretary, now my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, stated:

—5 November 1998, Official Report, volume 318, column 1038. This view was widely supported across the House of Commons.

The Government therefore decided to review and assess how the new voting systems would perform, and then consider the implications for Westminster.

The new voting systems introduced since 1997 have now been in place for some time and provide experience of up to three elections in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, and two elections for the European Parliament, London Mayor and London Assembly. We therefore have a wealth of practical experience from within the United Kingdom upon which to draw.

This review provides a summary of the experiences of the new voting systems introduced over the past decade and on that basis sets out the advantages and disadvantages associated with each. It uses a range of commonly accepted criteria for assessing the experience of the new voting systems. These include the degree of proportionality under different systems, the impact on voters in terms of the choices available, voter turnout rates, the impact on political campaigning, social representation, Government formation and Administration of elections under different systems.

The experiences of some other countries, including New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland, Germany and the Netherlands, which have similar systems to those introduced within the United Kingdom, is also examined. In addition the review refers to the findings of other studies into voting systems within the United Kingdom.

The review is intended to inform the ongoing debate about the voting system in Westminster but does not make any recommendations.

It remains the Government’s strong view that since the voting system for Westminster Commons elections could fundamentally change the way parliamentary democracy operates, any proposed changes would need to be endorsed by a referendum.

At this point, it would be premature to seek to reform the electoral system for the Commons while the voting system for a reformed and substantially or fully elected House of Lords is still to be determined. Reform of the electoral system for the Lords to a wholly or 80 per cent. elected chamber was supported by the House of Commons free vote in March 2007 and the Government are committed to formulating a comprehensive package of Lords reform, including developing detailed proposals for a wholly or mainly elected second chamber. Good progress is being made on the cross-party talks on Lords reform and the Government intend to publish a White Paper in the first part of 2008 reflecting the outcome of these discussions.

This review will be available on the Ministry of Justice website at: http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications/voting -systems-review.htm and Governance of Britain website at: http://governance.justice.gov.uk for interested parties, as well as through the Stationery Office (TSO).


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Transport

Blue Badge Parking Scheme (Consultation)

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Ms Rosie Winterton): I have today announced the publication of a consultation document looking at a number of ways of making the blue badge scheme more secure and ensure it continues to benefit those who need it. We are consulting on the eligibility criteria for the scheme together with better ways of administering and enforcing the scheme in order to cut down on levels of abuse.

I have also announced today the publication of revised local authority guidance for England and the launch of a new £500,000 Blue Badge Centres of Excellence Fund, to promote best practice and improve consistency on the administration and enforcement of the scheme.

Blue Badge Scheme

The Disabled Person’s Parking Badge Scheme (“The Blue Badge Scheme”) was introduced in 1971 to provide parking close to essential amenities and services for people with severe mobility problems.

The scheme is designed to help severely disabled people to travel independently, as either a driver or a passenger, by allowing them to park close to their destination.

Consultation Document

In May 2007 an independent consultant, Rob Smith, was commissioned to conduct a review of the blue badge scheme.

The final report has been published today and is available on the DfT website at: www.dtf.gov.uk/transportforyou/access/bluebadge and addresses the following issues:

We are now consulting on a number of issues that arose from the report. The Department’s draft response to the review, that is included as part of the consultation document published today, reflects our preliminary thinking and is designed to help us to modernise the scheme within the context of current transport policy; making it more consistently administered, tougher on fraud and
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easier to understand. The Department will be working closely with stakeholders, including disabled groups, throughout the consultation period.

The consultation document includes proposals to:

The consultation also asks if individual local authorities should be given the opportunity to run aspects of the scheme in a way that responds to local circumstances.

The final date for responses to be received by the DfT is 17 April 2008. The full consultation document is available on the DfT website at: www.dft.gov.uk/consultations

The results of the consultation exercise will aid us in the publication of a comprehensive “Blue Badge Reform Strategy” in spring 2008.

Revised local authority guidance and Blue Badge Centres of Excellence Fund

Revised local authority guidance for England has been published today and is intended to improve assessment and enforcement of the scheme, in order to promote fairness and prevent fraud and abuse.

The revised guidance, that is available on the DfT website at: www.dft.gov.uk/transportforyou/access/bluebadge showcases good practice in administering and enforcing the Scheme.

The DfT are now looking to appoint a number of local authorities to act as centres of excellence in relation to the scheme. £500,000 has been made available to fund a small set of English local authorities to improve their services and share their good practice with neighbouring authorities in the 2008-09 financial year.

Copies of the consultation document, and other related documents, have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and are also available on the Department’s website at: www.dft.gov.uk. Further copies of the consultation document can also be obtained from the Vote Office.


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