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Finance Bill

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My right honourable friend the Paymaster General (Dawn Primarolo) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

It is expected that the Finance Bill will be published on Friday 7 April. Explanatory Notes on the Bill's clauses will be available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office and in the Libraries of both Houses on that day. Members of the public will be able to obtain copies of the Explanatory Notes from the Treasury. These will also be available on the Treasury's website at www.hm-treasury.gov.uk.

Forensic Science Service

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Andy Burnham) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

During the debate on the Forensic Science Service Trading Fund (Revocation) Order 2005, which took place on Wednesday 14 December, I undertook to
 
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clarify the criteria we intend to apply when considering whether the Forensic Science Service (FSS) should continue as a 100 per cent government-owned company (GovCo), or whether there would be advantages in changing the status of the organisation to a public/private partnership (PPP).

The context of this Statement is the policy decision following the McFarland review (2003) to promote greater competition in the forensic science market and to convert the FSS into a fully commercial business, allowing it to compete effectively in an increasingly dynamic forensic science market. The McFarland review originally recommended that the FSS become a GovCo for an interim period (12 to 18 months) before a change of status to PPP. While accepting that a move to a more commercial status was the right approach for the FSS, I, and my predecessor in this post, the Member for Don Valley, have been clear that there is no inevitability about a move to a PPP. It remains the Government's position that FSS Ltd must be allowed to establish its viability as a GovCo. We shall only agree to a further change of status to a PPP if there are convincing reasons to do so.

The decision as to whether to change status is complicated by the fact that the Home Office is responsible for how forensics benefit the UK criminal justice system overall and is also owner of the leading provider of UK forensic science services. There are, thus, a wide range of sometimes conflicting criteria, which need to be considered and balanced. Moreover, not all criteria will be able to be judged clearly at any one time. Any decision, therefore, needs to be taken in the round. In general, there are four sets of criteria: the needs of the UK criminal justice system; the state of the UK forensic science services market; the needs of the FSS; and the requirements of Home Office as shareholder.

The needs of the UK Criminal Justice System

This is the most important set of criteria. Any proposed change in status for the FSS needs to demonstrate that it would deliver clear benefits to the UK criminal justice system. While there are many factors which could be taken into account, the Home Office believes that (i) quality and reliability, (ii) service levels (for example, in satisfying customer turnaround time requirements), (iii) value-for-money, and (iv) level of innovation, are the key criteria.

The Home Office will consult the principal UK criminal justice system forensic science service stakeholders (principally, the Police and the Crown Prosecution Service) to seek their views as to whether a change of status would be beneficial to the overall UK criminal justice system.

The state of the UK forensic science services marketplace

In keeping with the recommendations of McFarland, the Home Office will need to be assured that a fully competitive marketplace is likely to develop, whatever the merits of GovCo and PPP status in other regards. This assessment will need to take
 
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account both of the demonstrated state of the marketplace at that time and the likely future development.

The key criteria to be assessed are: (i) evidence of real competitive behaviour in the UK forensic science services marketplace (for example, price movements for forensic services; movement of market share on competitive tenders; new entrants to the marketplace); (ii) a level playing field for all forensic science service suppliers; (iii) development of appropriate procurement practices within the Police Authorities (for example, contractualisation); and (iv) a regulatory framework which is clear and fit-for-purpose.

The needs of the Forensic Science Service

The FSS has many exciting plans for enhancing its services to its UK criminal justice system and other customers. These include continuing research to develop the next generation of forensic techniques, upgrading its accommodation to modem, state-of-the-art facilities, being more flexible in its delivery of services to customers, and broadening the base of its science-related businesses. Delivery of this vision will require substantial investment, both in physical and human capital, development of new and existing capabilities and exercising strong implementation skills.

In coming to a decision on status change, the Home Office will consult the FSS board as to the respective merits of GovCo and a PPP status in implementing the company's strategy and agreed business plan. Key criteria in this regard are: (i) access to finance; (ii) access to capability; and (iii) freedoms required to implement the agreed business plan.

The needs of Home Office as shareholder

As a government-owned business, the FSS has to compete with other calls on public funds and consequently the Home Office's investment in it needs to demonstrate an appropriate risk/return profile.

In coming to a decision on the relative merits of GovCo versus PPP, the Home Office will need to consider: (i) assessment of the financial value of the FSS; (ii) the financial risks to Home Office associated with ownership of the FSS; and (iii) the Home Office's funding priorities.

Summary

As outlined above, no decision as been made as to whether the FSS should remain a GovCo or change status to a PPP. The Home Office's principal requirement in coming to a decision is whether a change of status represents the best long-term outcome for the UK criminal justice system forensic science marketplace and its stakeholders, bearing in mind the needs of the FSS and the Home Office's requirements as a shareholder.

In the debate, I set out my intention not to make a firm decision until summer 2007, with the proviso that, if the FSS board, or the Home Office exercising its shareholder responsibilities, outlined a pressing need for an earlier decision, I reserved the ability to consider this request and share it with Parliament.
 
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Government IT Systems

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Following the publication in November 2005 of Transformational Government—enabled by technology (Cm6683) I can notify the House that an implementation plan for that strategy has been published today.

"Transformational Government" set out a vision for 21st century government, enabled by technology. The implementation plan sets out how the centre of government and public service delivery organisations acting collectively can create a whole greater than the sum of parts. The plan tackles obstacles to success, focuses on the customer, joins up work across government, tackles duplication and empowers the technology workforce. It is part of a long-term programme of change as set out in the transformational government strategy, also referred to in the Budget.

Copies are available in the Libraries and on the Chief Information Officers Council website at www.cio.gov.uk.

House of Lords: Lord Chancellor's Accommodation

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): The Administration and Works Committee has agreed that once the Lord Chancellor ceases to be Speaker of the House he should leave most of his current accommodation. The committee has further agreed that the accommodation should be kept for the use of the House as a whole. Accordingly, the committee has decided that the accommodation should be used as follows:

Principal Floor

The large room currently occupied by the Permanent Secretary of the Department for Constitutional Affairs (the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery) will become the Lord Speaker's office.

The two small adjacent rooms will provide office space for staff supporting the Lord Speaker.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton will remain in his current room for as long as he remains Lord Chancellor.

The Waiting Room, Facilities Room and Kitchen will be for the use of the Lord Speaker and, for the time being, the Lord Chancellor.

The large room on the corner, currently occupied by the Lord Chancellor's staff, will become a Writing Room with refreshment facilities. This will enable the present Writing Room on the Committee Corridor to be converted into a much needed additional Committee Room this summer. The new Writing Room will be easily accessible as it is on the Principal Floor. Once Lord Falconer of Thoroton ceases to be Lord Chancellor, his office will become the Writing Room and the corner room will be used to provide a meeting room and refreshment facilities for Members.
 
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Principal Mezzanine Floor

While he remains Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer of Thoroton will retain the three rooms occupied by the Purse Bearer and Train Bearer on the Mezzanine Floor for any of his staff who are required to be in the Palace to support him in his ministerial capacity, including for the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery.

The Mail Room will provide additional office accommodation for the Library.

First Floor (the Lord Chancellor's Flat)

A study will be undertaken to consider the various options for the use of these rooms.

The committee has agreed that some of the rooms will be available for official entertainment. Party groupings, the Cross-Benchers and individual Members will be able to bid for the use of these rooms for official parliamentary or charitable events. The Lord Speaker will control the diary for these rooms and will have priority in their use in order to entertain on behalf of the House.

Second Floor

The Crown Office will remain in its present location.


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