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The 500 new and innovative Outreach locations, operated in partnership with other local services (such as pubs, village halls, churches and mobile post offices), will mitigate closures, primarily in smaller and more remote communities. Post Office Limited (POL) announced on
9 April that it will extend Outreach trials into urban areas which, if successful, could mean additional Outreach branches over and above the 500 originally planned. Nevertheless, there will need to be up to 2,500 compensated post office closures within the defined access criteria.
POL is responsible for implementing the network change programme at a local level. It is developing a rolling programme of some 50 local consultations on detailed area plans, based on groups of Parliamentary constituencies. The first area plans went out to local consultation on 2 October last year and these plans will continue to be rolled out at regular intervals until August, with the whole programme scheduled to take around 15 months to complete. As you may be aware, the consultation period for Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire finished on 17 March and POL have decided to close the Grimsbury Post Office Branch. Details of the closures and any further reviews will be available on the POL website at: www.postoffice.co.uk/networkchange
POL develops its proposals with the participation of sub-postmasters, local authorities and the consumer watchdog, Postwatch. It takes into account the numeric access criteria set out by Government, as well as local factors affecting ease of access (such as local geography), when drawing up its implementation plans. POL is also required to consider the availability of public transport and alternative access to key post office services, local demographics and the impact on the local economy. Local consultations provide the opportunity to raise any specific concerns over particular proposals.
The Government does not have a role in proposals or decisions for individual post offices. No decisions on individual Post Offices are taken until after local consultations. Those decisions are made by POL in light of the responses to the consultation, while subject to a four-stage appeals process involving Postwatch. After the public consultation process, the review process applies where Postwatch shows that:
POL has not given due consideration to material evidence received during the public consultation in coming to its decision or;
evidence emerges from the consultation that the proposal for the branch does not meet the Government's policy requirements.
The aim of the further review process is for POL and Postwatch to reach an agreed way forward by bilateral review, with 3 stages available at increasing levels of seniority. In November, there was an addition to the review process. For very difficult cases which remain unresolved after stage 3, the Chairman of the Royal Mail Group will review the issues and reach a final decision.
The Petition of the Public and Commercial Services Union and others opposed to the closure of Launceston tax office.,
Declares that HMRC should reconsider its proposals to close its Launceston office which saves the country money by identifying fraud and ironing out errors. Further declares that Civil Service jobs in this location should be retained.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges HM Treasury to ensure that the Launceston tax office remains open.
And the Petitioners remain, etc. [Presented by Dan Rogerson , Official Report, 14 July 2008; Vol. 479, c. 110.] [P000233]
Observations from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Treasury:
The Government notes the petition, and makes the following observations:
The Government notes that HMRC published on 11 June its proposals for restructuring its operations in cluster and individual locations in the South West, which includes Launceston. All representations will be taken into account before final decisions are made later this year on the future of Launceston and the other offices under review. HMRC will continue to maintain a local face to face advice service to customers by retaining Enquiry centre services at or near their current locations.
The Petition of staff and customers of the Revenue and Customs Office in Boston, Lincolnshire,
Declares that they are concerned about cuts to public services, particularly the proposed closure of the HMRC office in Boston.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges HM Treasury to reconsider the decision to close the office in Boston, which provides an excellent service to local people.
And the Petitioners remain, etc. [Presented by Mark Simmonds , Official Report, 16 July 2008; Vol. 479, c. 373.] [P000234]
Observations from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Treasury:
The Government notes the petition, and makes the following observations:
The Government notes that similar representations were made during the consultation exercise that HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) held with staff, unions and key external stakeholders including local authorities, on its initial proposals for restructuring its operations in Cluster 15, which includes Boston and Spalding. All representations were taken into account before final decisions were made on the future of Boston and the other offices under review.
On 17 July HMRC published the decision to withdraw from Chantry House, Boston as part of the Department's need to address new and challenging customer demands by restructuring its business and estate in the most effective and efficient way possible. HMRC will continue to maintain a local face to face advice service to customers from Chantry House, Boston or from an alternative location nearby.
The Petition of the OGorman Family,
Declares that a case in the Family Court has highlighted an injustice in the current system. The three children of Philip O'Gorman have been put up for adoption because it is alleged one of them missed some days in school,
some medical appointments were missed, they were seen to be dirty and unkempt and that they would not co-operate with social services. The family contest the allegations, and believe that neither of these allegations is sufficient to warrant children being forcibly adopted into another family. The petitioners further believe that these actions were driven by a desire to increase the numbers of children adopted rather than to protect the children concerned. The petitioners believe that the response of the authorities was totally disproportionate in this case.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the government to legislate to prevent courts from accepting these arguments as sufficient cause to forcibly remove children from their birth families and ensure that parents are facilitated to contest the allegations made by the authorities
And the Petitioners remain, etc. [Presented by John Hemming , Official Report,19 May 2008; Vol. 476, c. 132.] [P000196]
Observations from the Secretary of State for Children, Young People and Families :
It is not appropriate for the Government to comment on the details of an individual case which is a matter for the courts.
The Government recognises that the decision to remove a child from its family is never an easy one. Putting children through a court process should only ever be the last resort, and local authorities have a duty to support children in their families where that is possible.
Where there are concerns that a child is being harmed it is right that social workers are able to intervene to protect the child. It is a matter for the courts to decide on the evidence in each individual case whether the threshold of significant harm set out in the Children Act 1989 has been crossed and whether a child needs to be removed in order to protect them from further harm.
It is also right that parents are able to give their side of the story. Whenever a local authority brings a case to court, the parents have the right to a publicly funded legal aid lawyer to provide them with advice and represent them in court.
The extensive checks and balances in the care and adoption systems (that is, the independent judiciary, publicly funded solicitors for all parties and CAFCASS childrens guardians/reporting officers) combine to ensure that care and adoption orders are only made after proper scrutiny of local authorities work and proposals.
Where a child is brought into care through the courts, local authorities must continue to work to reintegrate that child into their family with support to help make that work. The majority of looked after children are ultimately reunited with their families.
Sadly, sometimes this is not possible, and local authorities must work out a plan to ensure the child has a permanent and caring placement that meets the childs assessed needs. Adoptive placements are one of the many options available.
There are currently no national targets relating to numbers of adoptions.
The Petition of those concerned about whaling,
Declares that the situation for whales is bleak. More than 30,000 whales have been killed for commercial purposes since the International Whaling Commission (IWC) moratorium on commercial whaling came into effect in 1986, in blatant disregard of global conservation efforts. In the next 12 months Japan and Norway intend to kill around 2,000 whales, including endangered species such as fin whales.
Japan claims that the whaling it conducts is for scientific research. However, Japans scientific research is simply a means to carry on commercial whaling despite the moratorium. Whaling is also extremely cruel. There is simply no way to kill a whale humanely at sea.
Japan has also been continuing its attempts to recruit more developing countries to the IWC in order to regain a simple majority at this year's IWC meeting in June and promote commercial whaling. If Japan were to succeed, it would be a disaster for whales. Many whale species have still not recovered from the intensive commercial whaling of the past and face many other threats such as climate change, ship strikes and pollution. It is therefore extremely important that the current pro-conservation majority at the IWC is both maintained and strengthened.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to demand that the Japanese Government end its cruel and unnecessary "scientific" whaling programmes; to continue and enhance his efforts, at the highest ministerial and diplomatic levels to recruit more pro-conservation countries to the IWC and to persuade those countries which currently vote with Japan to vote instead for whale conservation; and to work with other anti-whaling countries to turn the IWC into a body exclusively focused on protecting and conserving whales for future generations.
And the Petitioners remain, etc. [Presented by Mr. David Anderson , Official Report, 24 June 2008; Vol. 478, c.261.][P000219]
Observations from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs :
Thank you for your Petition on the subject of Whaling, 24 June 2008. I have been asked to reply as policy on whaling is Defra's responsibility.
The UK Government has consistently voiced its opposition to Japanese scientific whaling, and has made repeated representations to the Japanese Government regarding their whaling operations under the JARPA II Whaling programme.
In December 2007 the UK called on Japan to cease all its lethal scientific research on whales, and assure the immediate return of the vessels which are implementing JARPA II. The following month, Jonathan Shaw, as the minister responsible for whaling, met Japanese embassy officials to express the UKs outrage over Japans whaling activities. The UK Government will continue to make our opposition to whaling known to Japan at every appropriate opportunity and argue that they are undermining the credibility of the IWC as an effective organisation for the conservation of whale stocks world-wide.
The UK has also led an effort with other countries who share our view, to recruit more countries to the IWC through our publication Protecting WhalesA Global Responsibility (endorsed by Gordon Brown and Sir David Attenborough). This has been sent to over 60 countries urging nations to protect whales worldwide. In addition, in the build up to this years IWC meeting, the Secretary of State for Environment and the Foreign Secretary wrote to a dozen EU and Accession States encouraging them to join in the protection of the species. This approach has again brought success, with Romania joining the IWC and other EU member states pledging to join in the near future.
The UK continued to uphold its strong opposition to whaling at the IWCs annual meeting in Santiago in June 2008, urging the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to safeguard the future of all whales and dolphins.
Speaking at the event, the Environment Minister Lord Rooker also spoke out about the current cruelty of whaling operations and called for Japan to reconsider the methods it uses. On commercial and scientific whaling Lord Rooker said: The UK will continue its vociferous opposition to this unnecessary, inhumane operation, and urge countries that continue to kill whales to reconsider their position.
The Petition of Patricia Anne Davies,
Declares that the Christian Churches in the United Kingdom show enmity to those who have cause to complain against its Ministers; asserts that the Methodist Church would not hear her complaint of mental abuse by a Methodist Minister; that upon appealing to the Minister herself for reconciliation, she was threatened by the Minister with legal action if she did not drop the matter, and that her subsequent complaint was ignored and that it was only after much correspondence and time that she was eventually heard through the churches quasi-judicial system.
The Petitioner further declares that the hearing refused to show the complainant evidence put forward by another Minister from her own church denomination (The URC) even though she was entitled to see it and in doing this breached Methodist Church rules, but that the Methodist church, to this very day, refuses to enforce those rules.
Further declares that she has twice called upon written submissions through the rules of the Data Protection Act but has never received a response to her request for personal data; has made two complaints about the church to the Information Commissioners office and they have advised the church of their breaches of the Act, but that the church still refuses to disclose the required documents.
Further declares that she has evidence to support her claim that the churches hold secret files and that they refuse to disclose these under the Data Protection Act.
Further declares that the law has proved ineffective and an inappropriate tool for resolving this case, and that the law is daunting and expensive and therefore out of reach of most normal people.
Further declares that abuse of any nature is damaging and abusing a mentally ill depression patient is dangerous and can push a sufferer to suicide; this being borne out by the suicide figures showing that seventeen people die of suicide caused by depression every day.
The Petitioner therefore requests that the House of Commons urges the Government to make time for a debate in the House on the subject and further gives consideration to the establishment of an independent body to hear complaints against the churches.
And the Petitioner remains, etc. [Official Report, 23 April 2008; Vol. 474, c. 21P.] [P000177]
Observations from the Secretary of State for Justice:
The Ministry of Justice notes the issues raised in the petition.
The Methodist Church is a private body it does not receive state funding and is entitled to live by its own rules so long as it does not break the general law.
The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) is independent of the Government, and neither Ministers nor officials may intervene or comment on decisions reached by the Commissioner.
Therefore these are not matters on which the Government can comment.
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