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Written Statements

Wednesday 18 June 2008

Coroners

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My honourable friend, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Bridget Prentice) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Today I am publishing a revised draft version of the charter for the bereaved for comment. The charter describes the services bereaved people can expect to receive from a reformed coroner system, and sets out the rights of redress if services are not delivered. It additionally explains appeal rights against particular decisions taken by coroners in individual cases. The charter makes it clear that the needs of bereaved people will be at the centre of the reformed system.

Public consultation on the charter was previously undertaken in 2006 when it was published alongside the draft Coroners Bill. There were further informal consultations with those who work within the current system, and several voluntary sector groups which interact with it, during 2007. Changes were made as a result and are reflected in this new draft, together with the changes made as a result of consultation on the Bill, which I announced in March. I am publishing the charter now to provide a further opportunity for comments in advance of the planned introduction of a coroners and death certification Bill in the next session of Parliament. As with the draft Bill, it is my intention to publish an updated version when the Bill proper is introduced.

Copies of the draft charter for the bereaved have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.

Crime: Casey Review

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The report of the Casey review, Engaging Communities in Fighting Crime, is published today. Copies will be placed in the Library of the House.

The report acknowledges the vital role the public play in working with neighbourhood police teams and local authorities to help make communities feel safe and secure, help set local policing priorities and build public confidence in crime-fighting agencies. It sets out proposals to put the interests of the public and the law-abiding majority first.

The review was commissioned by the Prime Minister and the report considers five areas; putting victims, witnesses and other law-abiding citizens first; fighting crime and delivering justice for communities; a new approach to crime statistics; the citizen’s role in tackling crime; and freedoms and accountability.

The Casey review report is also available from the Cabinet Office website at: www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/crime.



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EU: Education, Youth and Culture Council

Lord Davies of Oldham: My right honourable friend the Minister for Culture, Creative Industries and Tourism (Margaret Hodge) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

A meeting of the Education, Youth and Culture Council was held on 21 and 22 May. The Welsh Assembly Government Minister for Heritage, Rhodri Glyn Thomas, represented the UK for the cultural and audiovisual agenda items taken on 21 May.

Audiovisual Items

The council adopted the conclusions on media literacy, noting the forthcoming Commission study to develop indicators in this area.

A general approach was reached on the programme protecting children using the internet, a five-year funding programme with a €55 million budget aimed at tackling illegal and harmful internet content.

The council also discussed creative content online in advance of a Commission recommendation of the Parliament and the council in the autumn. A number of member states shared the UK view that new business models should be allowed to develop naturally through the market, and that new EU legislation risked stifling innovation. However, there was broad support for EU action to address piracy and illegal downloads. A number of smaller member states were keen to prevent the loss of cultural diversity which they felt resulted from monopoly distributors. Member states also welcomed the Commission’s new content online platform: a forum for further discussion.

The presidency updated the council on telecoms networks and services. They had produced a compromise proposal but some difficult issues remained, including on spectrum trading.

The Slovenian presidency would present a report in June and then pass to the forthcoming French presidency.

The Commission summarised its communication on video games and pushed member states to implement the voluntary pan European game information (PEGI) system for age rating of video games.

The Belgian delegation raised anti-Semitic broadcasting originating outside the EU and therefore not covered by EU legislation. The Commission encouraged member states to deal with such broadcasts through dialogue with the third countries involved.

Culture Items

Council conclusions on intercultural competences were agreed without discussion.

Council conclusions on the 3rd work plan for culture 2008-10 were also agreed by the council. This followed on from discussion at the November 2007 Culture Council that established the priorities for 2008-10. The presidency reported back on the establishment of an open method of co-ordination for culture and proposed a timetable for future work. This was unanimously agreed: only Cyprus and Greece called for greater emphasis on the return of stolen goods.

Under any other business, Sweden (supported by some other delegations) called for reduced rates of VAT on books to be widened to include audio books.

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The Netherlands went even further and called for digital books to also be included. The UK and Germany were more cautious: the ECOFIN Council is the appropriate forum for such discussions.

Also under any other business, Greece announced the opening of its Parthenon Museum. Ministers would be invited to the inauguration.

EU: Telecoms Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Baroness Vadera): Further to the Written Statement concerning the positions I intended to take at the Telecommunications Council, held on 12 June 2008, I am pleased to be able to report back on the main conclusions and topics of discussion.

The Telecommunications Council took place on the 12 June 2008 under the chair of the Slovenian presidency where I represented the United Kingdom. As expected, the Commission review of the electronic telecommunications framework was the main focus and the discussion was based around three questions, set by the presidency, on next generation networks (NGN), institutional arrangements and spectrum.

After an introduction from Commissioner Reding, there was a full exchange of views on the review with nearly all member states participating. There was a general acceptance on a need to embrace market mechanisms on spectrum, and also that functional separation is a useful remedy of last resort to encourage competition. There were, however, some negative views being expressed about Commission powers and the need for a single European Electronic Communications Market Authority. On next generation networks there was general support for a predictable regulatory framework; that would encourage investments by operators.

I intervened to support the Commissioner's aim of reaching early agreement on the review among member states and with the European Parliament. I noted the importance of NGN, and stressed the importance of competition in ensuring successful introduction. I emphasised that the UK did not support regulatory holidays to promote the introduction of new services, and that there was clear evidence of the success of functional separation in the UK. I supported the Commission having new powers of last resort to veto decisions made by national regulators where these have not followed best practice. On spectrum I said that we do not want enforced harmonisation and that a market-led approach is the best way to ensure both that spectrum is used and also to encourage the development of innovative services.

Council conclusions on the digital dividend were adopted with very little discussion. These conclusions were endorsed by Commissioner Reding who believes that there is a win-win situation for both broadcasters and for new players providing innovative products.

Over lunch, I and other Ministers in attendance discussed the proposed European Electronic Communications Market Authority. The majority supported either an enhanced European regulators'

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group (ERG) as an advisory body or nothing at all. I supported the enhanced ERG provided it was an independent advisory body as part of the revised legal framework with a scope limited to giving economic market advice to the Commission. The consensus was for a simple body that would be accountable to stakeholders. It would not be involved with information security or spectrum matters, but rather concentrate on advising on matters of economic regulation.

The council conclusions on i2010 were adopted with very little discussion. Commissioner Reding spoke of the need to raise the targets for broadband deployment across member states and to utilise public/private partnerships to this aim.

The general approach for a proposal for extending the mandate of ENISA was introduced and the importance of this was stressed. The Commission is supportive of a three-year extension, and this was approved with very little discussion.

The Commission provided information on its communication regarding advancing the internet action plan for the deployment of internet protocol version 6. It was claimed that the existing pool of internet addresses would run out in three years unless this upgrade took place. Member states, stakeholders and content providers were called upon to act. There is a target for 25 per cent of users to be IPv6 by 2010.

Portugal produced a paper on broadband indicators stating the importance of mobile technologies when compiling statistics for broadband availability. Commissioner Reding was supportive, and said that her proposals took this into account.

The presidency gave an update on the procedure for the selection of mobile satellite services (MSS) operators. Some states are unhappy with the proposed procedure as it could result in 50 per cent of the EU not being provided with coverage. The proposed MSS decision will, however, be agreed at a council in the next few weeks.

The final item was a request by the Netherlands for SMS roaming prices to be reduced at the earliest opportunity. There was no substantive discussion on this item.

Freedom of Information Act 2000

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My right honourable friend, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Today I have deposited copies of The Freedom of Information Act 2000Third Annual Report on the operation of the Freedom of Information Act in Central Government-2007 in the Libraries of both Houses. Copies are also available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office and are available on the internet at: www.justice.gov.uk/publications/freedomof informationquarterly.htm.

This is the third annual report analysing the performance of central government in the third full year of freedom of information.



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House of Lords: Accommodation

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): The House Committee agreed at its meeting yesterday to the use of 14 Tothill Street as decant accommodation for staff in 2 Millbank while the refurbishment of the Millbank Island site takes place. Design work on the fit-out of 14 Tothill Street will now proceed to ensure the accommodation is ready for occupation in September 2009.

Legal Aid Reform

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): On 18 June, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and the Legal Services Commission (LSC) published a consultation document containing proposals for changes to the family graduated fees scheme (FGFS), which governs payments to barristers for family legal aid work. This is a full consultation which will run for 12 weeks, until 10 September 2008.

Currently, there is a significant difference between the rates for advocacy paid to solicitors and those paid to barristers under the FGFS. The Government seek to ensure value for money in the legal services they purchase by moving to a system where the same fee is paid for the same service to the client, regardless of the type of advocate who delivers it. To that end, the LSC had planned to introduce a single harmonised family advocacy scheme for solicitors and barristers in April 2008. However, the implementation of the new scheme has been deferred until April 2010, as a condition of the agreement between the MoJ, the LSC and the Law Society, following judgment on the unified contract dispute. The LSC will instead be conducting a consultation from September 2008 on proposals for family advocacy payments to both solicitors and barristers from April 2010. These proposals are likely to suggest the restructuring or removal of the FGFS, and removal of some or all of the differentials in payments between solicitors and barristers conducting family advocacy.

In the interim, the proposals set out in today’s consultation paper will pave the way for the April 2010 changes by narrowing the gap between payments to barristers and solicitors. The Government consider that if reductions are in fact made to the family graduated fees scheme following this consultation, barristers will still continue to be remunerated fairly.

Legal aid operates within a fixed budget and the department is obliged to take action to remain within that budget. Expenditure on legal aid barrister family

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advocacy has risen from £74 million to nearly £100 million in the past five years and currently payments to family barristers form more than 10 per cent of the overall civil legal aid budget. The consultation proposals set out different options for reducing FGFS expenditure in order to live within budget, while ensuring the provision of services by sufficient numbers of competent advocates. Controlling family advocacy costs is essential so that services to people needing help with civil and family problems are not threatened.

The Government value the input of practitioners and interested parties on the ongoing reform of civil and family legal aid. We encourage all those with an interest to contribute fully to the current consultation. The consultation document Reforming the Legal Aid Family Barrister Fee Scheme is available on the MoJ website at: www.justice.gov.uk/publications/cp1208.htm and copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.

Legal Services Board

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Bridget Prentice) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Legal Services Act 2007 establishes a new regime for handling complaints about the provision of legal services with the creation of the Legal Services Board (LSB) and the Office for Legal Complaints (OLC). The LSB will be an overarching regulator and the OLC will deal with all complaints about regulated legal service providers.

The OLC will be a new organisation that is completely independent of the legal profession. Therefore, once the OLC becomes fully operational, the professional bodies’ own arrangements for handling complaints will cease and the government bodies with oversight of these—the Office of the Legal Services Ombudsman (OLSO) and the Office of the Legal Services Complaints Commissioner (OLSCC)—will no longer be required.

Based on current planning assumptions, the LSB will become fully operational in early 2010 and the OLC will become fully operational in late 2010. Therefore, in line with the current timetable the OLSCC will close in March 2010 and the OLSO will close no earlier than December 2010.

Both offices have provided a very valuable service to consumers and I am sure they will continue to do so until the new arrangements become operational.


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