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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My right honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Maria Eagle, has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
On 6 December 2007, my right honourable friend the Minister of State, David Hanson, published a Command Paperthe Governments response to the report by Baroness Corston of a Review of Women with Particular Vulnerabilities in the Criminal Justice System (Cm 7261).
The paper detailed how the Government planned to respond to the 43 recommendations made by my right honourable and noble friend Baroness Corston in her report. I am today updating Parliament and publishing a report on progress made over the past six months in taking forward the Governments response, detailing the Governments continued commitment to bring about real improvements for women offenders in both custody and the community. I have placed copies of the progress report in the Libraries of both Houses. Copies are also available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office. Copies are also available on the internet at www.justice.gov.uk/news/announcement 240608b.htm.
Since being appointed as the Ministerial Champion for Women and Criminal Justice matters, I am pleased to report the significant actions which we have been able to deliver against the commitments made in the Governments response:in respect of the recommendation that the number of strip searches in women's prisons be reduced, it has been usual practice for women prisoners to be strip searched on leaving and entering prison. This can be intimidating and distressing, particularly for women who have experienced domestic violence or sexual abuse. Pilots are now running in five women's prisons testing a new kind of search which does not require the removal of underwear unless there is intelligence or suspicion at any stage that an item is concealed in the underwear. The pilots are going well and the impact of the new model womens full search is now being evaluated. The early results are encouraging and I am confident that new arrangements will shortly be in place in all womens prisons;the Ministry of Justice will issue guidance to probation areas on making greater use of capacity in the current female approved premises. Areas will be encouraged to consider placing more women in them, who may not necessarily present a high risk of harm to others, but who could benefit from the supervised, structured environment and the support that an approved premises can provide. I expect this guidance will be issued in July 2008;
Another key commitment is to improve health and social care services for women in contact with the criminal justice system. Health-related commissioning guidance specifically focused on services for women and their families will be developed by December 2008. The Government will also have reviewed and set out recommendations for improvements in the healthcare provided to women in police custody, in court cells and during transportation to prison.
I would like to thank my ministerial colleagues and officials in their departments who have contributed to the progress made and I look forward to continuing working with them, and our non-government stakeholders, in taking forward these commitments further. As the Ministerial Champion for Women and Criminal Justice matters, I will continue to make sure that everything possible is done to ensure that we have a system that is properly responsive to the needs and characteristics of women.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My honourable friend the Minister of State (Michael Wills) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The right to vote is the basis of our political system. Strengthening our democracy requires the removal of barriers to the exercise of that right. So the system for
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In The Governance of Britain Green Paper, the Government set out a programme of work to reinvigorate our democracy and give citizens the means to participate in decision-making at every level. As part of this programme, the Government committed to consult on moving elections to the weekend as a means of making voting more accessible, and so potentially raising levels of turnout.
To meet that commitment, I am today publishing a consultation paper, Election Day (Cm 7334). The paper invites views on the merits of moving the voting day for Parliamentary and European Parliamentary elections, and local elections in England and Wales, from the traditional Thursday to the weekend; and on the best way to do this. The paper sets out a range of issues that need to be taken into account, including practical considerations and the potential cost of holding elections at the weekend, and invites views and evidence. It makes clear that, in the event that elections were moved to the weekend, this would need to be implemented in a way which did not interfere with religious observance.
This consultation paper marks the start of a process of engagement on election day. The Government are committed to exploring new forms of engagement to encourage greater public involvement in policy-making. The Government believe that the question of when elections should be held is an issue that would benefit from this new approach. So the consultation exercise I am launching today will be followed by a citizens' summit at which a cross-section of the public will be invited to consider the barriers to voting and the options available to improve participation levels.
A citizens' summit involves bringing together a broad sample of the public to deliberate and discuss issues of national policy. The Government believe that such techniques can improve the national policy-making process by introducing opportunities for a deliberative dialogue between Government and the public and encouraging people to debate policy options between themselves, to ask questions and to make informed recommendations to their representatives in Government and Parliament. Participants at this summit will be asked to deliberate on the issues, including those raised in the consultation and to make a recommendation on whether elections should be held at the weekend. The Government will respond to the consultation exercise after the summit with their view about the intended way forward.
I also intend that the summit should discuss more widely the factors that motivate people to exercise their right to vote. The sense of a civic duty to vote has eroded over the past 50 years. It is vital for the health of our democracy that we better understand the reasons for this, and what we can do to reverse the trend of falling turnout.
The consultation process on Election Day is an opportunity for a wide debate about how the democratic process can be shaped to the needs and preferences of
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Alongside this, the Government have put in place a range of measures to combat attempts to defraud the registration and postal vote processes, including in the Electoral Administration Act 2006. Electoral registration officers have powers to compare registration data with records held by local authorities. Voters now have to supply date of birth and signature, which can be cross-checked when they apply for a postal ballot, and we have given administrators more time to carry out checks.
There is no evidence that overall levels of fraud are increasing. But the Government take the integrity of the electoral process seriously: any fraud is unacceptable, and we are examining how, consistent with the need to ensure that citizens can access their right to vote, the security of both the registration system and the postal vote process could be strengthened. In that context, we plan to consult on issues relating to the security of the ballot. Any change would have to take account of the need to ensure that we do not act to exclude citizens from the democratic process, and of the significant resource commitment that would be required to deliver reform.
The Government are committed to change to the electoral system in a balanced way so that participation increases, and the security and accuracy of the ballot are protected. I hope that all those with an interest in the health of our democratic process will consider and respond to the proposals that I am launching for consultation today.
The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): A Register of Interests of Members Research Assistants and Secretaries will be published on 25 June 2008, as recommended by the Committee for Privileges and agreed by the House on 26 July 2007 (HL Paper 140, Session 2006-07). The register will be published electronically and will be accessible via the parliamentary website at: www.parliament.uk. The register will be updated regularly.
The appointments follow an open process based on merit. The terms of appointment of the eight outgoing commissioners, Anne O'Reilly (deputy chief commissioner), Annie Campbell, Brian Carlin, Eileen
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The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland is a key institution of the Belfast agreement and plays a vital role in protecting and promoting equality for all members of our diverse society in Northern Ireland. I am grateful for the commitment and expertise that the departing commissioners have brought to the commission.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Lord Adonis): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Children, Young People and Families (Jim Knight) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
In December, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills and I published a consultation document, Confidence in Standards: Regulating and developing qualifications and assessment (Cm 7281). We detailed plans for the creation of a new independent regulator of qualifications and tests for Englandthe Office of the Qualifications and Examinations Regulator (Ofqual), and the evolution of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) into a development agency for curriculum, assessment and qualifications.
The consultation finished in March, and in a Statement to the House on 2 April I confirmed that the proposals had been generally well received and that we were therefore proceeding with these reforms, including bringing forward new legislation. We also confirmed that Ofqual was about to be set up in an interim form, using the QCAs current regulatory powers. Ofqual was duly launched in its interim form on 8 April.
We have today published a further progress report, including a summary of the responses to the consultationConfidence in Standards: regulating and developing qualifications and assessmentnext steps and confirmation of how in the light of comments we have decided to proceed. I have placed a copy in the House Library.
Ofqual will be a credible and clearly independent guardian of standards across the assessment and qualifications system, securing confidence in that system. Subject to legislation, it will become a regulator with even stronger powers to safeguard standards. The QCA, in its new form as the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA), will be able to focus on advising Ministers on the curriculum and on developing and delivering qualifications and assessments. These reforms have been widely welcomed, including in the responses to the consultation. They
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My honourable friend the Minister for Local Government (John Healey) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I have today published a consultation paper, and draft regulatory impact assessment, to seek views on the use of the contractors method of valuation in non-domestic rating valuations in England for the 2010 revaluation.
Rateable values are assessed independently by the Valuation Office Agency and are generally based on annual rental values. Most are assessed having regard to actual rents but such evidence is not always available. In about 11 per cent of cases, rateable value is based on capital values (found from the cost of construction and land values) which is then decapitalised to give an annual value representing the rateable value. This is called the contractors method of valuation. The decapitalisation rate used in the valuation is prescribed by the Government.
Copies of the document have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and can be accessed via the Department for Communities and Local Government website at: www.communities.gov.uk/publications/local government/decapitalisationrate.
In seeking to ensure that the events that led to the spoiling of a significant number of ballot papers in the election to the Scottish Parliament in 2007 do not happen again, my overriding priority has been to put the interests of the voter first.
On 23 October last year, Ron Gould reported on his review of the 2007 Scottish elections. I said to Parliament then that the Gould report was a valuable contribution to the analysis of what went wrong last May, and I gave a commitment to provide a full response to the report once I had heard the views of a
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