The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): The Forestry Commission manages over 250,000 hectares of land in England and provides a unique national asset delivering many benefits. These include protecting and enhancing the natural environment, providing economic opportunities and helping to improve the quality of peoples lives. Since 1997 the Forestry Commission has been able to buy and sell land in order to increase the public benefits on the public forest estate.
Last year we published our strategy for Englands trees, woods and forests and the time is right to consider how the public forest estate might respond to the strategy. I have therefore asked the Forestry Commission to carry out a study of the future long-term sustainable role of the public forest estate in England and to make recommendations.
To consider the future long-term sustainable role for the public forest estate making recommendations about any necessary changes to improve its ability to deliver relevant priorities in the strategy for Englands trees woods and forests and contribute to other Government objectives.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): Each day police officers put themselves in danger to protect the public, so I am committed to providing the police with the tools they tell me they need to fight crime and keep the public and themselves safe. I am also proud that we have one of the few police services around the world that do not regularly carry firearms and I want to keep it that way.
Therefore I am today giving my agreement to allow chief officers of all forces in England and Wales, from 1 December 2008, to extend Taser use to specially trained units in accordance with Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) policy and guidance. The guidance sets out that Taser can only be used where officers would be facing violence or threats of violence of such severity that they would need to use force to protect the public, themselves and/or the subject(s).
I am also making funding available to forces to support the purchase of up to 10,000 Tasers. This will allow chief officers to take a decision on Taser deployment according to operational need, without being encumbered by financial restrictions.
Tasers are making a real difference on our streets, not only keeping the public safe but also protecting our police officers. Taser has been available to all authorised firearms officers since September 2004 as a less lethal alternative for use in situations where a firearms authority has been granted in accordance with criteria laid down in the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) Manual of Guidance on Police Use of Firearms.
Since 20 July 2007 authorised firearms officers in England and Wales have also been able to use Taser in a wider set of circumstances. These officers are now able to deploy Taser in operations or incidents where the use of firearms is not authorised, but where they are facing violence or threats of violence of such severity that they would need to use force to protect the public, themselves or the subject.
In July 2007 I also gave my approval for a 12-month trial of the deployment of Taser by specially trained units, who are not firearms officers, in circumstances where officers were facing violence or threats of violence of such severity that they would need to use force to protect the public, themselves or the subject. The trial commenced on 1 September 2007 in 10 forces: Avon and Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, Gwent, Lincolnshire, Merseyside, Metropolitan Police Service, Northamptonshire, Northumbria, North Wales and West Yorkshire.
Independent medical advice was sought from the Defence Scientific Advisory Council (DSAC) Sub-Committee on the Medical Implications of Less Lethal Weapons (DOMILL) on the use of Taser in these extended circumstances. DOMILL has now provided a fifth statement on the medical implications of the use of Taser.
Having considered the latest DOMILL statement and reports on the trial from ACPO and the Home Office Scientific Development Branch which provide final figures on Taser use in the trial, I have given my agreement for further roll-out.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. Michael Wills): I am today publishing the Governments response to the Data Sharing Review and the response to the Ministry of Justices consultation on the Information Commissioners inspection powers and funding under the Data Protection Act 1998.
The protection of personal data will always be a high priority and we know that good regulation is essential to support a robust data protection framework. We believe that, although the current regulatory framework does not require sweeping changes, more can, and must be done to ensure that the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) has the powers and resources necessary to carry out its duties under the Data Protection Act. The tools available to the ICO must be flexible enough to meet a range of circumstances and encourage good practice, allowing it to take firm and assertive action when necessary.
The use of information underpins Governments ability to deliver benefits for the citizen through targeted and improved public services, opportunities for the most disadvantaged, protection from crime and terrorism and economic well-being. However we can only do this successfully when we are able to increase public confidence in the sharing and handling of personal data by both the public and private sectors. The proposals as outlined in the two documents being published today will contribute toward that process.
develop the ICOs inspection powers in respect of public authorities so as to enable the ICO to inspect without necessarily requiring prior consent;
allow the ICO to impose a deadline and location for the provision of information necessary to assess compliance;
allow the ICO to require any person on the premises, where a warrant is being executed, to provide any information required to determine whether the data controller has complied with, or is complying with, the data protection principles;
mandate the ICO to publish guidance on when organisations should notify the ICO of breaches of the data protection principles; and
alter the ICO funding structure from a flat rate notification fee to a tiered-fee structure based on size of organisation, providing additional funds for the ICO in a more equitable funding structure.
place a statutory duty on the ICO to publish a data sharing code of practice in order to provide practical guidance on how to share personal data in accordance with the requirements of the Data Protection Act and to promote good practice in the sharing of personal data; and
confer a power upon the Secretary of State to permit or require the sharing of personal information between particular specified persons, where a robust case for doing so exists.
To further strengthen the powers available to the ICO, we are working on bringing fully into force section 55A of the Data Protection Act, introduced in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 but not yet commenced. This will allow the ICO to impose monetary penalties on data controllers in the case of serious contraventions of the Data Protection Act.
The additional powers for the ICO will ensure the regulatory framework is robust, proportionate and encourage good practice. These measures will increase public confidence in the handling and sharing of data by the public and private sectors.
Copies of both the Governments response to the Data Sharing Review and the response to the Ministry of Justices consultation on the Information Commissioners inspection powers and funding under the Data Protection Act 1998 will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses. Copies will also be available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Jonathan Shaw): Equality 2025: the United Kingdom Advisory Network on Disability Equality was established in December 2006, from a recommendation in the Prime Ministers strategy unit report Improving the life chances of disabled people which suggested that the Government should set up a new mechanism to involve disabled people in the heart of policy-making. It is working with Government to help it achieve the aim of equality for disabled people by 2025.
Equality 2025 was set up with no formal chair, as the group was keen to offer this opportunity to all members on rotation. However, in December 2007 members agreed they would like a formal chair. An acting chair has been in place since then, while the recruitment exercise has taken place.
The recruitment exercise was carried out in accordance with the standards set by the Office for the Commissioner of Public Appointments. The quality of applicants for the post was exceptionally high. I am pleased to announce that the successful candidate and new chair of Equality 2025 from 1 December 2008 is Rowen Jade.
Rowen Jade has been a member of Equality 2025 since it was established, and has been acting chair since December 2007. I am confident she will lead the group forward during an interesting and challenging time.