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British Council Trustees: Annual Report and Accounts 2003–04

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Copies of the British Council Trustees' annual report and accounts for the financial year ended 31 March 2004 have been placed in the Library of the House. During the period the Council received £165.5 million grant in aid from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Pre-trial Cross-examination: Visual Recordings

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): The Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 (the 1999 Act) contained, among other provisions, eight special measures for vulnerable or intimidated witnesses. They are essentially different ways of giving evidence in criminal trials which were designed either to improve the quality of evidence given by witnesses through reducing their levels of stress or to make it possible for witnesses who find difficulty in giving their evidence to have access to justice.

This Government have already implemented, or are piloting, seven of the eight measures. The eighth measure—visually recorded pre-trial cross-examination—was always going to be the most complicated of the measures to implement. It was also always likely to be applied to the smallest number of cases.

A number of stakeholders have expressed their concerns to us about the detail of its implementation. We therefore commissioned Professor Diane Birch, a leading academic in the field, to review and provide advice on the workability of visually recorded pre-trial cross-examination. A copy of Professor Birch's report has been laid in the Library today.

The report concludes that one of the two main reasons for undertaking visually recorded pre-trial cross-examination—that of capturing all the witness's evidence early in the pre-trial process—is no longer valid. That is because of new rules on disclosure which effectively mean that by the time both counsel are in a position to undertake visually recorded pre-trial cross-examination, they will be ready to go ahead with the trial itself.

The second reason—keeping the witness out of court altogether—is still valid. However the report concludes that rather than introduce the cumbersome mechanism of visually recorded pre-trial cross-examination many months after having visually recorded evidence in chief, it would be far more sensible to return to the original recommendation in the report of the advisory group on video evidence (1989) chaired by his Honour Judge Thomas Pigot QC. This was that the child should appear at an informal hearing, at which both the child's evidence in chief (supplemented, where there was one, by an earlier video recorded interview) and the cross-examination would be recorded on video for subsequent transmission to the court.
 
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The report recommends that Section 28 of the 1999 Act, which provides for visually recorded pre-trial cross-examination, should be revisited. It recommends also that the operation of Section 21 of the same Act should be reviewed. Section 21 provides that under-17 year-olds who are witnesses in cases of sex or violence are given no choice in having certain special measures—such as visually recorded evidence in chief or live TV links—applied to them, whether they wish for them or not. So a 16½ year-old who has witnessed any sort of violent crime, even where he was not himself involved, would be forced to give evidence in this way.

The Government are disappointed not to be implementing one of the eight special measures for vulnerable or intimidated witnesses which we provided for in good faith five years ago. But we believe it is better to take the advice of one of the leading experts in the field and many senior practitioners, and revisit this complex issue. Our aim is to achieve genuine improvements to the way in which vulnerable and intimidated witnesses give their evidence, and this will not be achieved by ploughing on doggedly with implementation of provisions which informed advice suggests will not be practicable or yield the benefits originally envisaged.

We have therefore decided that in the autumn we shall embark upon a wider review of how child evidence is taken and presented in the criminal courts, particularly in cases involving sex or violence, with the aim of delivering the greater flexibility recommended in Professor Birch's report. This will assist in our aim of enabling measures to be more tailored to the individual witness's needs.

We are also ensuring that everything which can be done to improve the experience of those witnesses who might have benefited from the implementation of Section 28 is being done. The No Witness No Justice project will ensure that children's needs are assessed and met, so that, for example, pre-trial court visits are arranged; access to a range of emotional support and guidance through appropriate groups is offered; where possible home visits take place; and parents are provided with a single point of contact to access information and advice throughout the case. We will continue to improve court buildings so that encounters between the defendant and the child witness are minimised, for example though providing more TV live links. We will also continue to work with the judiciary and the Bar to ensure that children's needs and wishes are recognised by the courts.

Charity Commission: Departmental Report 2004

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I am today announcing that the Charity Commission will be publishing its departmental report for 2004 on 23 July. Copies of that report will be available in the Library.
 
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Planning Policy Statements

The Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Lord Rooker): My right honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Planning has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister expects to publish in August new planning policy statements on both sustainable development in rural areas and renewable energy in England. These will be the first in a new series of planning policy statements that are being introduced as part of the Government's programme of reform to the planning system. The new planning policy statement 7 (PPS7) will replace existing planning policy guidance note 7 (PPG7), The Countryside—Environmental Quality and Economic and Social Development, published in February 1997. The new planning policy statement 22 (PPS22) will replace existing planning policy guidance note 22 (PPG22): Renewable Energy, published in February 1993.

A draft of PPS7 was issued for public consultation in September 2003. The key policy aims of PPS7 are to plan for and facilitate good quality, sustainable development to support thriving rural communities and businesses, while protecting the beauty and character of the countryside.

A draft of PPS22 was issued for consultation in November 2003. The final document will be an important step towards facilitating the delivery of more renewable energy developments and thereby meeting this Government's commitments in respect of global warming and climate change.

Local planning authorities will need to have regard to the policies in PPS7 and PPS22 in preparing their local development documents, as should regional planning bodies in the preparation of regional spatial strategies. The policies may also be material to decisions on individual planning applications.

Copies of both PPS7 and PPS22 will be made available in the Libraries of the House following publication. They will also be made available on the website of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Copies of the responses to the consultation exercises will be made available for inspection through the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's library and lists of those responses will also be placed in the Libraries of the House.

Lord Rooker: My right honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Planning has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister intends to publish in August planning policy statements detailing the process by which Parts 1 and 2 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 are to be implemented. Planning policy statement 11 (PPS 11) sets out the implementation process of Part 1—Regional Functions—and replaces planning policy guidance 11—Regional Planning—published in October 2000. Planning policy statement 12 (PPS 12) sets out the implementation process of Part 2, Local Development, and replaces planning policy guidance 12, Development Plans, published in December 1999. These planning policy
 
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statements are integral to the Government's programme of reforming the planning system.

A draft of PPS 11 was issued for public consultation in October 2003. PPS 11 provides government guidance on the new arrangements for regional planning. The new procedural arrangements will better deliver policy at the regional level by giving more weight to what is currently regional planning guidance by replacing it with a statutory regional spatial strategy (RSS). The new local development documents will have to be in general conformity with this RSS, and the RSS will be made part of the development plan.

A draft of PPS 12 was issued for public consultation in October 2003. PPS 12 provides government guidance on the new arrangements for the preparation of local development documents, which will comprise the local development framework. The local development framework is largely a portfolio of local development documents which collectively deliver the spatial planning strategy for the local planning authority's area. Local development frameworks are intended to streamline the local planning process and promote a proactive and positive approach to managing development.

Copies of both PPS 11 and PPS 12 will be made available in the Libraries of the House following publication. They will also be made available on the website of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Copies of the responses to the consultation exercises will be made available for inspection through the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's library and lists of those responses will also be placed in the Libraries of the House.


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