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National Curriculum: Outdoor Activities

The Earl of Mar and Kellie asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): The review of the National Curriculum for the year 2000 is looking at all areas of the school curriculum. This includes outdoor and adventurous activities, which is one of six areas of activity in the National Curriculum for Physical Education. We will be consulting widely on draft proposals for a revised National Curriculum during the summer, before final decisions are taken.

Individual Learning Accounts

Baroness Blatch asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Blackstone: During 1998-99, we supported 15 individual learning account development projects led by Training and Enterprise Councils/Chambers of Commerce, Training and

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Enterprise. Individual learning accounts will become more widely available during 1999-2000. This will be a year of further development work, and will help inform the development of the national framework of accounts which we expect to put in place during the year 2000.

Freedom of Information

Lord Haskel asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have to encourage greater openness in the public sector to prepare for legislation on freedom of information.

Lord Hoyle: The Government's programme of constitutional reform seeks to involve people more closely in the decisions which affect their lives. Freedom of information is a fundamental part of that process and should significantly transform the relationship between citizens and the state.

The Government hope to publish a draft bill on freedom of information in May. We will allow for a period of public consultation, as well as appropriate pre-legislative scrutiny by the Public Administration Committee of the House of Commons.

Legislation while necessary is, in itself, not sufficient. There is a substantial programme of work needed to create a culture of openness in all public services and

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lay the foundations for the implementation of a future Freedom of Information Act.

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has, therefore, established the Advisory Group on Openness in the Public Sector to advise him on the steps needed to be taken ahead of legislation. The group, which has already had an informal meeting to discuss its programme of work, is being chaired by Lord Williams and the membership is drawn from a variety of backgrounds. Some bring a specialist knowledge of an area of public service to the group's work, while others have a particular interest in freedom of information. Details of the membership of the group are being placed in the library.

The group's terms of reference are:

    "To advise the Home Secretary on proposals for promoting cultural change in the public sector to foster a culture of greater openness.

    To assist in the development of training and education programme for public servants to promote cultural change and facilitate the introduction of Freedom of Information.

    To undertake other tasks related to the implementation of Freedom of Information as directed by the Home Secretary".

Copies of papers considered by the group and the minutes of its meetings will be available through the Home Department's website on the Internet. We expect the group to submit a report to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary before the end of the year, making recommendations on how he might facilitate an increase in openness in the public sector as a whole.

In the meantime, the Government are taking action now to extend openness and accountability. On 10 February, Her Majesty in Council approved an Order extending the jurisdiction of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration to an additional 111 executive non-departmental public bodies and 47 advisory non-departmental public bodies, with effect from 15 March. By bringing these bodies within the Ombudsman's jurisdiction, this order has the effect of bringing them within scope of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information.

The Code of Practice commits public bodies to:

    give facts and analysis with major policy decisions;

    open up internal guidelines about dealing with the public; and

    give reasons with administrative decisions; and provide information about their service to the public (their costs, targets and performance and information about complaints and redress).

The code also sets out how public bodies should respond to specific requests for information from members of the public. The approach to the release of information is based on the assumption that information should be released except where disclosure would not be in the public interest. In the period before a Freedom of Information Act comes into force, the Government are committed to using the flexibility and discretion available under the code to release as much information as possible.

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Advisory Group on Openness in the Public Sector [Please note that the Home Secretary may appoint further members in due course]


    Lord Williams of Mostyn

    Minister of State

    Home Office


    Mr. Andrew Adonis

    Policy Unit

    10 Downing Street

    Mr. Jonathan Baume

    General Secretary

    First Division Association

    Ms Rowena Collins-Rice

    Legal Adviser's Branch

    Home Office

    Ms Elizabeth France

    Data Protection Registrar

    Ms Aviva Gershuny-Roth

    Former Head of Corporate Communications

    The Energy Group plc

    Mrs. Christine Gifford

    Former Member of the Metropolitan Police Civil Staff

    Professor Robert Hazell

    The Constitution Unit

    School of Public Policy, University College London

    Mr. Lee Hughes

    Head, Freedom of Information Unit

    Home Office

    Dr. Dilys Jones

    Clinical Strategy Director

    High Security Psychiatric Services Commissioning Board, NHS Executive

    Ms Catherine Lee

    Constitution Secretariat

    Cabinet Office

    Dr. Andrew McDonald

    Head of Records Management

    Public Record Office

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    Mr. John Mills

    Chief Executive

    Cornwall County Council

    Ms Carolyn Sinclair

    Director, Constitutional and Community Policy Directorate, Home Office

Santah Rasaiah (The Newspaper Society) and Maurice Frankel (Campaign for FOI) will attend meetings as observers pending publication of the draft FOI Bill.


    Ms Vivienne Edwards

    Policy Manger, Freedom of Information Unit, Home Office

    Telephone: 0171 273 3253


    Mr. Cliff Johnrose

    Freedom of Information Unit, Home Office

    Telephone: 0171 273 3602

Schengen Agreement

Baroness David asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have to sign up to elements of the Schengen Agreement at the forthcoming Justice and Home Affairs Councils; which elements are concerned and what representations they have received on this matter.

Lord Hoyle: My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has made the following statement to the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council in Brussels.

Other member states will be interested to know of the intentions of the United Kingdom about our participation in Justice and Home Affairs matters after the entry into force of the Treaty of Amsterdam, in accordance with Article 4 of the Protocol integrating the Schengen acquis into the framework of the European Union and by the Protocol on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland.

The United Kingdom is committed to active and effective co-operation in the JHA field. We demonstrated that during our Presidency last year. Our citizens have a common interest in ensuring that effective action is taken to combat international organised crime; we shall continue to play a full role in such European Union level co-operation. We have been playing an active part in preparation for the incorporation of Schengen and for the establishment of the new Free Movement Chapter under Amsterdam. We are also keen to assist in the development of a useful agenda for the special European Council in Tampere later this year.

We have been giving serious thought to the areas of the Schengen acquis and the measures to be adopted

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under Title IV in which we would wish to participate once Amsterdam comes into force. The different effects of our various Protocols influences our approach in this respect.

Our starting point is the Protocol on frontier controls, to which all member states agreed at Amsterdam. The United Kingdom Government will maintain its former controls, in line with that political agreement.

Subject to the Amsterdam Protocol, the United Kingdom wishes to approach participation in Schengen and the Free Movement Chapter positively. Indeed we are keen to engage in co-operation in all areas of present and future JHA co-operation which do not conflict with our frontiers control.

We are therefore ready to participate in law enforcement and criminal judicial co-operation derived from the Schengen provisions, including the Schengen Information System. We have been in the forefront of European Union co-ordination in the fight against crime and drugs and we shall maintain that position. We are also interested in developing co-operation with European Union partners on asylum--an European Union-wide phenomonen--and in the civil judicial co-operation measures of the Free Movement Chapter.

Our intention to maintain our frontier controls has implications for our participation in the direct operation of external frontier controls. For similar reasons, enhanced visa co-operation raises difficulty for us. But, within this constraint, we shall seek discussions with European Union colleagues to maximise the scope for mutual operational co-operation in combating illegal immigration, without prejudice to the maintenance of our national immigration controls. We shall also look to participation in immigration policy where it does not conflict with our frontiers-based system of control.

We realise that much detailed discussion with our European Union partners will be necessary in order to pave the way for co-operation in these areas. We shall shortly put forward a formal request for participation.

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