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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 11 November 2010


Double Taxation Convention (South Africa)

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke): A protocol to the double taxation convention with South Africa was signed on 8 November 2010. After signature, the text of the protocol was deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and made available on HM Revenue and Customs' website. The text of the protocol will be scheduled to a draft Order in Council and laid before the House of Commons in due course.

Communities and Local Government

Decent Homes Funding

The Minister for Housing and Local Government (Grant Shapps): Since coming to office the Government have made clear that our most urgent priority is to tackle the UK's record deficit in order to restore confidence in our economy and support the recovery. Throughout the spending review the Government have been guided by a commitment to fairness, protecting the most vulnerable people in our society and as far as possible protecting front-line services. In DCLG, that commitment includes continuing to fund the decent homes programme.

The spending review announced that the Government will invest over £2 billion of capital funding to help towards completing the decent homes programme. Of this, funding of £1.595 billion is available over the next four years to help make local authority social homes decent (with an additional £0.510 billion being provided for "gap" funding existing stock transfers). We will be working with the Homes and Communities Agency to ensure that decent homes funding is allocated where it is needed and in order to support the self-financing settlement.

The coalition Government wish to be fair in their approach to all, so we will not be as rigid about local structures as the last Government. This funding will help ensure that all councils can deliver a sustainable 30-year business plan under self-financing. It would therefore not be appropriate to restrict access to funding on the basis of current organisational structure or performance. We will therefore open the process of allocation of funding for the period 2011-15 to all local authorities who have a significant backlog of decent homes work. This Government consider that the two-star rating is not in itself a guarantee of ability to run a capital programme, or of good value for money; there will, therefore, be no requirement for a two-star housing inspection standard to be achieved to access funding. This is also unfair to tenants who have little control over the star rating of their landlord, but are currently made to suffer a potentially un-decent home as a result. In future it will be up to councils whether they want
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these inspections to go ahead reflecting the Government's commitment to reduce regulatory burdens on local authorities.

Today, we are jointly publishing with the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) our proposals for managing the allocation process in a consultation document and welcome the views of local authorities, arm's length management organisations and other interested parties on how we propose to gather information and make fair funding decisions. A copy has been placed in the Library of the House.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 (Ratification of Treaties)

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): The Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 Commencement Order No.3 was made today 11 November, 2010. This brings into force part 2 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 (CRaG Act) which deals with the ratification of treaties. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has overall responsibility for the conclusion of treaties, and leads on policy in this respect. Part 2 of the CRaG Act is the new basis for treaty scrutiny by Parliament, and replaces the former constitutional practice dating from 1924, known as "The Ponsonby Rule", with statutory provisions.

The effects of part 2 of the Act may be summarised as follows:

Section 20 provides that a treaty that is subject to ratification or its equivalent, is to be published and laid before Parliament for a period of 21 sitting days, during which both Houses have the opportunity to resolve that the treaty should not be ratified. If the 21 sitting days expire with no such resolution being passed by either House, the Government can proceed to ratify the treaty. It also defines the legal effect of a negative vote by either House.

Section 21 provides a mechanism for Parliament to request extensions to the 21 sitting day period, in blocks of up to 21 sitting days, at the discretion of the relevant Minister.

Section 22 provides an "alternative procedure" in exceptional cases where a Minister is of the opinion that it should be ratified without following the procedures in section 20.

Section 23 makes provision for classes of treaties that are to be dealt with differently because they are scrutinised by other means, notably-(i) under the European Parliamentary Elections Act 2002 or the European Union (Amendment) Act 2008, (ii) agreements and arrangements relating to taxation, or (iii) because scrutiny of them is not for the UK Parliament that is, treaties concluded by overseas territories, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man as authorised by HMG.

Section 24requires that treaties laid before Parliament under section 20 shall be accompanied by an explanatory memorandum explaining the provisions of the treaty, the reasons for HMG seeking ratification of the treaty, and other relevant information.

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Section 25 defines "treaty" and "ratification" for the purposes of the Act.

The Act changes the Ponsonby rule in several respects:

Part 2 gives legal effect to a vote against ratification in the Commons or Lords. It prevents the Government from moving immediately to ratify a treaty if either House votes against ratification.

If the Government nevertheless wish to proceed to ratification, the Minister must lay a statement giving reasons why. If the Commons voted against, a further 21 sitting day period must expire before ratification can take place. If the Commons vote against ratification during this subsequent 21 sitting days, the Government are prevented from ratifying the treaty. However, a statement can be laid more than once and therefore this process can continue. If the Lords vote against ratification, but the Commons do not, then a ministerial statement must be laid before Parliament explaining why the treaty should nevertheless be ratified.

The definition of "sitting days" is limited to days on which both Houses sit.

Part 2 also provides that the Minister can extend the sitting period by 21 sitting days or less (and votes against ratification will continue to have legal effect in this period).

Part 2 also requires the Minister, if the "alternative procedure" in clause 23 is being used in exceptional circumstances, to lay a statement giving reasons.">http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm101213/corrtext/101213c0001.htm#column_3MC">[Official Report, 13 December 2010, Vol. 520, c. 3MC.]

Guidance on the ratification of treaties and part 2 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 is published by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on its website (www.fco.gov.uk/treaty).

Advisory Group on Human Rights

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): In my statement on 15 September 2010, Official Report, columns 45-46WS following my speech on "Britain's Values in a Networked World", I announced that I would convene an Advisory Group on Human Rights to ensure that I have the best possible information about human rights challenges and benefit from outside advice on the conduct of our policy. I would now like to provide the House with further details.

Members of the group will be:

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These are eminent individuals with a broad range of human rights and humanitarian experience. They are drawn from NGOs, the legal and academic communities and international bodies.

I will chair the group. I intend to hold two meetings a year. Ministers and officials will also chair additional meetings on specific issues agreed by the group. The first meeting will take place on 2 December 2010.

The members of the group will not be paid. FCO officials will provide the secretariat for the group from within existing resources.

As I made clear in my statement of 15 September, human rights are essential to and indivisible from the UK's foreign policy priorities. This Government intend to improve and strengthen our work to promote human rights internationally.

Iraq: Export Licence System

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alistair Burt): The arms embargo in Iraq continues under United Nations Security Council resolution 1546 with exemptions for supplies of arms and related matériel required by the Government of Iraq (GoI) or the multinational force (MNF) to serve the purposes of the resolution.

Following a thorough review of its procedures for processing export licence applications to Iraq, Her Majesty's Government will consider as exempt from the embargo exports to the GoI, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq, diplomatic missions in Iraq, the US forces in Iraq, the NATO training mission in Iraq, the UK naval training mission training the Iraqi Navy and entities contracted or subcontracted to the GoI, US or UK forces or NATO. Export licence applications to these end users will not therefore require the approval of the GoI prior to approval of the application but may require extra information to be provided by the entity seeking the export licence. For exports serving the purposes of UNSCR 1546 to entities other than these, the exporter is required to provide a supporting document from the GoI to demonstrate that the proposed export is required and thus exempt from the embargo. All export licence applications for Iraq as elsewhere will be assessed on a case-by-case basis against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria and will not issue a licence where to do so would be inconsistent with the criteria.


Prisons and Probation Ombudsman for England and Wales

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Kenneth Clarke): Stephen Shaw CBE stood down as prisons and probation ombudsman earlier this year to take up appointment as chief executive of the health professions adjudicator. Stephen was appointed as ombudsman in 1999.

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The Ministry of Justice will shortly be advertising the vacancy and seeking applicants for the office of prisons and probation ombudsman. Although the post is not within the remit of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, the appointment will be made using a process which takes account of the commissioner's code of practice as best practice. I will inform the House once I have selected my preferred candidate for the office.

Northern Ireland

Patrick Finucane

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr Owen Paterson): The House will be aware that one of my predecessors as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy), announced in the House on 23 September 2004 that he would take steps to establish a public inquiry into the death of Patrick Finucane in 1989. To date no such inquiry has been established.

I believe it is right that I should determine the way forward in this case and that consequently I should set out a clear decision-making process both to the House and to the Finucane family. I met the family on 8 November
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to listen to their views and I have written to them formally inviting their representations as to whether it is in the public interest that I should establish a public inquiry into the death of Patrick Finucane. I will consider those representations carefully and in detail, along with any other relevant representations that I receive over the next two months, before deciding this question.

In addition to considering representations on the case, I shall also need to take into account a broad range of other factors in determining what the public interest requires. The other factors that I will consider when deciding the public interest will include:

It is my intention to consider the public interest carefully and in detail at the end of the two-month period for representations and then to take a decision after such consideration as to whether or not to hold a public inquiry into the death of Patrick Finucane.

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