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Children Act Report 2003

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Lord Filkin): My right honourable friend the Minister for Children (Margaret Hodge) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I have today placed copies of the Children Act Report for 2003 in the Libraries of both Houses. This statutory requirement, as part of the Children Act 1989 (s83(6)), is met each year by drawing together information relating to research, statistics and inspection findings, which are consolidated to create a report.

Parliamentary Questions and the Freedom of Information Act

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): The following Statement was made today by my honourable friend Mr Christopher Leslie.

Access rights to information held by public authorities under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 come into force on 1 January 2005. The following guidance sets out procedures for dealing with complaints about the handling of requests for information. The guidance makes it clear that there should be no inconsistencies between the provision of information in answer to Parliamentary Questions and information given to citizens under the Freedom of Information Act.
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Where a Member is dissatisfied with the Answer to a Parliamentary Question, there are well established parliamentary routes that Members may follow, such as tabling further Questions; raising the issues on the Adjournment; or a complaint to the Public Administration Committee, which may seek to follow up the issue with Ministers. Alternatively, Members may write to the appropriate Minister expressing their concern and setting out the information that they are seeking. Such correspondence shall be treated by departments as a new request for information requiring a full internal review and fresh decision. The request will attract all the provisions and appeal mechanisms afforded by the Freedom of Information Act, including if necessary, an appeal to the Information Commissioner.

Any investigation by the Information Commissioner will therefore be related to the correspondence to the Minister and not extend to the Answer to the Parliamentary Question or to any other parliamentary proceedings, which are protected by parliamentary privilege. In addition, the Cabinet Office plans to issue revised guidance to officials on drafting Answers to Parliamentary Questions taking account of the Freedom of Information Act.

General Commissioners: Amalgamation of Divisions

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: On 17 December 2004, I made an order under Section 2(6) of the Taxes Management Act 1970 amalgamating a number of divisions in Middlesex, East Sussex, Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire with effect from 1 January 2005, as follows: Harrow, Uxbridge and Wembley Divisions are merged into North-West London Division; Lewes and Eastern Divisions are merged into East Sussex Division; Hertford and Stevenage, and Hitchin Divisions are merged into Hertford, Stevenage and Hitchin Division; North Witchford and Wisbech Divisions are merged into Wisbech Division; and Spalding and Stamford Divisions are merged into Spalding and Stamford Division.

All the amalgamations were made at the request of the General Commissioners in all the divisions, with the aim of improving the organisational efficiency of the divisions concerned. I have placed a copy of the order amalgamating the divisions in the Libraries of both Houses.

National Physical Laboratory

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Patricia Hewitt) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
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In 1998, the DTI entered into a PFI arrangement with the contractor, Laser (Teddington II) Limited (Laser), to build and subsequently maintain new science facilities at the National Physical Laboratory at Teddington.

During construction of the facilities, Laser encountered a number of technical difficulties that significantly delayed completion and increased costs to a level that threatened the project's viability. In July this year, Laser approached the department with a proposal that an agreed termination of the PFI project represented the best available option for resolving those difficulties.

DTI has now agreed with Laser and their lenders to the termination of the PFI project on the following basis. The department has made a termination payment of £75 million, based on the principles of the termination provisions of the project agreement. That means that full ownership of and responsibility for the new facilities, which have an insurance value of £120 million, have been transferred back to DTI.

Following the termination payment, net liabilities of £73 million on DTI's balance sheet will be extinguished, and the department will make significant cash savings from fees that would otherwise have been made in payment for the new facilities between now and 2023. This is an example of how the risk transfer principles of PFI arrangements can operate, with appropriate risks being ultimately transferred to the private sector to the benefit of the taxpayer.

DTI intends, wherever possible, to put to competitive tender the construction work needed to complete the facilities. DTI has also exercised its right to step into, in place of Laser, the support services management agreement made between Laser and Serco Limited for the provision by Serco of support services at the site, thereby ensuring uninterrupted provision of those services.

The DTI is confident that the arrangements will enable the outstanding work on the new facilities to be completed so that NPL can continue to deliver world-class science and vital support for innovation, consistent with value for money for the taxpayer.

Parliamentary Security Co-ordinator

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): The Speaker of the House of Commons and I have appointed Mr Peter Mason as the Parliamentary Security Co-ordinator. As set out in the Second Report of the House Committee (Paper 196, Session 2003–04), the Security Co-ordinator will be expected, among other responsibilities, to oversee the project of implementing new security measures arising from the Joint Review, to improve co-ordination of security matters between the two Houses and advise on issues which need to be dealt with across the Estate as a whole, and to provide a focus for liaison with the Metropolitan Police and Security Service. The Security Co-ordinator will work with Black Rod and the Serjeant at Arms, who will continue to hold executive responsibility to ensure the security of their
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respective Houses. Mr Mason will be on secondment from the Security Service, and his appointment is for a period of two years from January.

Northern Ireland: Baton Rounds

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Defence (Mr Adam Ingram) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On 23 October 2002, I placed in the Library of the House details of the guidelines on the rules of engagement for the use of plastic baton rounds in Northern Ireland by the Armed Forces. We did this as an exceptional measure aimed at building confidence in Northern Ireland following a request from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.

The guidelines were updated in the light of a recommendation made by the Independent Assessor of Military Complaints Procedures and placed in the Library of the House on 15 May 2003.

The guidance has been further updated to take account of lessons learned from training and operations and as part of our commitment to review baton round guidance in consultation with the
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Association of Chief Police Officers. A copy has been placed in the Library of the House.

Porton Down: The death of Ronald Maddison

Lord Bach: My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Ivor Caplin) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I wrote yesterday to the solicitors acting for the Maddison family apologising for the fact that Ministry of Supply employees at the Chemical Defence Experimental Establishment at Porton Down Wiltshire proceeded with a test involving Ronald George Maddison on 6 May 1953, which led to his death. This was undertaken notwithstanding the fact that an identical test on 4 May 1953 resulted in an adverse blood test result in one serviceman.

The Ministry of Defence has not received a formal claim for compensation from the next of kin of Mr Maddison. However, any claim for compensation from his family would be considered favourably on the basis of the negligence referred to above.

The Ministry of Defence intends to challenge, by way of Judicial Review, the inquest verdict of unlawful killing.

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