18 Feb 2008 : Column 1WS

Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 18 February 2008


NATO Defence Ministers

The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): I attended an informal meeting of NATO Defence Ministers in Vilnius, Lithuania, on 7 and 8 February. It provided an important opportunity for discussions on operations and on the transformation of NATO capabilities in the run-up to the summit meeting to be held in Bucharest in April.

The main focus was on current operations. Ministers underlined the importance of the NATO operation in Afghanistan and agreed the need to work for a better co-ordinated and comprehensive effort by the international community. Ministers were also keen to ensure that NATO’s KFOR mission was prepared to continue to provide a safe and secure environment in any eventuality in Kosovo. NATO Ministers were joined by their counterparts from non-NATO nations making valuable contributions both to KFOR and the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan and by the Afghan Defence Minister as well as by representatives from the UN, the EU and the World Bank.

At the meeting, Ministers reaffirmed the high value they placed on the NATO response force and approved its transition to a graduated force structure.

In addition, there were meetings of the NATO-Ukraine Commission, where Minister Yekhanurov set out the new Ukrainian Government’s priorities in security and defence policy, and the NATO-Russia Council which agreed a joint programme of work for 2008.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Freedom of Information Act (John Williams' Document)

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): In accordance with the Information Tribunal’s decision of 22 January 2008, I have today released what has been described as John Williams’ draft of the September 2002 Iraq weapons of mass destruction dossier.

The document produced by John Williams, then head of the FCO’s press office, was not commissioned as part of the formal drafting process and was not used as the basis for the dossier the Government subsequently published, which was produced by the Joint Intelligence Committee.

18 Feb 2008 : Column 2WS

The document was originally withheld under section 36 of the Freedom of Information Act on the important point of principle that for the effective conduct of public affairs the space which Ministers and officials have to consider and discuss ideas should be protected. Officials and others who draft policy documents should not feel constrained in presenting free and frank advice through fear that their ideas will be made public. This must continue to be an important principle for the effective conduct of government.

I have placed a copy of the document in the Library of the House. Copies are also available on the FCO website: www.fco.gov.uk

Home Department

Tackling Violence

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): Today I am publishing “Saving Lives, Reducing Harm, Protecting the Public”, which sets out what we as a Government, together with the police and our other delivery partners, will be doing over the next three years, both to reduce the incidence of serious violence, and to reduce the harm to victims when tragedies do occur. We will be taking this forward within the framework of the Government’s new public service agreements, which prioritise serious violence for the first time, recognising that this is core business for the police and local partners.

We have achieved a great deal over the past 10 years. The British crime survey shows that violent crime overall has fallen by 31 per cent. since 1997. Domestic violence has halved over the past decade. The number of deaths initially recorded by the police as homicides last year was the lowest for eight years. Offences resulting in serious wounding fell by 9 per cent. between 2005-06 and 2006-07. Recorded gun crime fell by 13 per cent. in the same period. We know a lot about what works. The challenge is to ensure that the good practice we have developed is applied in all communities, to the benefit of everyone.

The actions in this plan will reduce serious violence, including gun and gang-related crime, knife crime, and sexual and domestic violence, and will improve the criminal justice response to these offences.

We will continue to prevent and detect illegal firearms entering the UK, and introduce new controls to remove deactivated firearms from our streets. We will work with the police to develop new technology to improve intelligence on firearms used in crime and we will ensure that, particularly in relation to gang violence, witnesses receive the best possible protection from the earliest stages of the criminal justice process. We will be educating 1.1 million children over five years on the dangers of carrying weapons. We will give the police and others 100 search arches and 400 search wands this year to increase detection of knife crime, and will roll out more over the next three years. We will increase the presumption to prosecute those caught in possession of a knife. And we will ensure that young people convicted of knife crime receive focused interventions to change their behaviour and prevent reoffending.

18 Feb 2008 : Column 3WS

We will double the number of specialist domestic violence courts by 2011, to ensure that sensitive domestic violence cases can be heard in a safe and protected court environment; and we will roll out multi-agency risk assessment conferences nationally, to ensure that local agencies work positively and proactively together to reduce repeat victimisation among domestic violence victims.

On sexual offences, a particular focus will be on improving the criminal justice response. The current conviction rate for rape cases is unacceptably low, and I am determined to see a step change in this area. We will therefore be driving forward work to improve the investigation and prosecution of rape, including engaging with areas where performance is particularly poor, and we will be more than doubling the number of joint police-NHS sexual assault referral centres, so that victims of serious sexual offences across the country can benefit from the excellent services they provide.

We will work with the internet industry to ensure that the online protection of children from sex offenders is as robust as possible, and we will continue to implement the recommendations of the 2007 review of the protection of children from sex offenders, including allowing for the disclosure of child sex offenders’ convictions to certain members of the public where this is necessary for child protection.

We will also be taking forward action on two key cross-cutting themes. First, the plan includes a number of actions to get local agencies working better together.
18 Feb 2008 : Column 4WS
It is important for them to share information about the relatively small number of people in their communities at risk of involvement in serious violence, either as victims or offenders, so that early interventions can be made to prevent serious violence from occurring in the first place, or from escalating where it has already started. We will be investing over £20 million over the next three years to support this.

Secondly, there are actions to improve the care we provide all victims of serious violence, both to reduce harm and to help secure more convictions and thereby reduce reoffending.

Our vision is to save lives, reduce harm and protect the public. The police and other delivery partners have been closely involved in the development of this plan, and we are committed to working with them all, and local communities, to implement it. We are confident that, by delivering the actions in this plan over the next three years and beyond, this vision will become reality.

Prevention of Terrorism Act

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): In accordance with section 14(3), 14(4) and 14(5) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, Lord Carlile of Berriew QC has completed the report on the operation of the Act in 2007, which will be laid before the House today.

    Index Home Page