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The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Neville-Jones): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Crime Prevention (James Brokenshire) has today made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The Government acknowledge the growing concern over how cheaply some alcoholic drinks are being sold, and are concerned about the link between alcohol and crime and disorder-in many cases as a result of pre-loading in preparation for a night out.
As part of our consideration of how to deliver the coalition commitment to deliver a ban on below cost sales, the Home Office and Treasury have carried out respective reviews of alcohol pricing and taxation. These confirmed a consensus that pricing controls can be an effective way of both improving public health and reducing violent crime.
Banning the sale of alcohol below the rate of duty plus VAT is the best starting point for tackling the availability of cheap alcohol and will send a clear signal to retailers and the public that Government take this issue seriously. It will effectively set a minimum level below which alcoholic products cannot be sold and will stop the worst instances of deep discounting which result in alcohol being sold both cheaply and harmfully. Importantly this system will have a limited burden on business and can be delivered at low cost to the taxpayer.
The Driving Standards Agency (DSA) is responsible for setting standards and conducting theory and practical driving tests for motorists in England and Wales. The DSA is a trading fund which is funded by the fees received from customers, which are set at a level to recover its costs. The DSA therefore has a duty to ensure its costs are kept at the minimum possible level in the interests of its customers, while maintaining standards of service. That means being as efficient as possible in every area of work and considering closely any areas of spending which may not be necessary.
The office has 87 staff who provide administrative support for DSA within Wales, the South of England and London areas-mainly in deployment of examiners, customer service and test centre property management and procurement activities.
Possible redeployment options for the staff concerned are being explored. It is intended to retain a small office to support some operational staff in the area. Other responsibilities will be transferred to DSA's headquarters in Nottingham and northern area office in Newcastle.
Council will discuss the outcomes of the European Council, where leaders agreed on a permanent mechanism to be established by euro-area member states to safeguard the financial stability of the euro area as whole. The Government achieved their priorities on the European Stability Mechanism: that it will be for only euro-area member states; replace the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) and the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism (EFSM); and that in the future, Article 122(2) TFEU will not be used for safeguarding the financial stability of the euro area.
The council will discuss the assessment of action taken by Malta in the context of its excessive deficit procedure on the basis of a communication from the Commission. Actions taken by other member states could also be assessed on the basis of the Commission's autumn economic forecast and the fiscal notifications. The Government expect the council to agree that Malta has taken effective action regarding its deficit, in line with council recommendations.
The adoption by the European Commission of the annual growth survey will mark the beginning of the first cycle of the European semester. From now on,
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There will be an exchange of views on member states' draft national reform programmes (NRPs), which set out member states' reform priorities and plans and were submitted to the Commission in November. Full NRPs are due in April. The Government believe that the focus of the NRPs should be on tackling bottlenecks to growth.
There will be an exchange of views on the Single Market Act, which was published on 27 October 2010, and is out for consultation until 28 February 2011. The Government support the single market and believe that future reforms should be strongly focused on measures which encourage growth.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Kenneth Clarke) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
On Friday 7 January 2011 the Ministry of Justice announced the Government's plans to extend the scope of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act and to further increase transparency in public affairs. The Government will bring forward a number of measures to bring those plans into effect:we will introduce a Section 5 order under the Freedom of Information Act in the spring to bring the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Financial Ombudsman Service and the University and Colleges Admissions Service within the Act's scope;we will also consult a range of further bodies with a view to their inclusion in the Act by a further section 5 order later this year. This includes bodies as diverse as examination boards, harbour authorities, the Local Government Association and the NHS Confederation;we will amend Section 6 of the FOI Act in the Freedom Bill to end the anomaly where companies wholly owned by a single public authority are subject to the Act but those wholly owned by more than one public authority are not. We will also introduce measures to enhance the independence of the Information Commissioner's Office in the same Bill;
The measures outlined above will increase transparency. However, we must also ensure that information which it is not in the public interest to release is properly protected, and that we have proper regard to this country's long-standing constitutional conventions. It is for this reason that on 16 January 2011 I made a commencement order to bring into effect changes made in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 to enhance the protection for information relating to communications with the Royal Family and Royal Household. The changes provide an absolute instead of a qualified exemption for information relating to communications with the sovereign, heir to the throne or second in line to the throne or those acting on their behalf. The exemption for other members of the Royal Family and members of the Royal Household remains qualified. The lifespan of the exemption changes from 30 to 20 years or the lifetime of the relevant member of the Royal Family plus five years, whichever is longer.
This amendment to the FOI Act is necessary to protect the long-standing conventions surrounding the monarchy and its records, for example the sovereign's right and duty to counsel, encourage and warn her Government, as well as the heir to the throne's right to be instructed in the business of Government in preparation for their future role as monarch. The changes will come into force tomorrow.
Responsibility for all competition and policy issues relating to media, broadcasting, digital and telecoms sectors has been transferred from the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport.
The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills will retain responsibility for postal regulation; sponsorship of telecoms equipment manufacturing and the wider electronics, IT services and software sectors. He will also continue to work with the Cabinet Office as part of the national cyber-security programme.
The Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, formerly a joint Minster, will now report solely to the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport. He will continue to work closely with Ministers in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
I am publishing today a Statement regarding the transfer of the management of the eight royal parks and the Royal Parks Agency (RPA) from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to the Greater London Authority (GLA).
It is not widely known that managing the royal parks in London is the responsibility of a central government department on behalf of the Queen. The team that runs the royal parks and reports to the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport is known as the Royal Parks Agency (TRP). We are proud of the work the agency has done for Londoners and for visitors to London. The royal parks are well known across the world and spending time in the parks is an essential part of a visit to the capital.
This Statement is about how the parks will be made more accountable to the public through the mayor. The Government do not propose any major changes in relation to how the parks should be managed, the standards to which they should be maintained, and what should be on offer in the parks to the public. Prior to transfer this will be summarised in a framework agreement. The royal parks are a cherished part of our national heritage as well as being a priceless resource for Londoners and visitors to London. That is understood by all involved in the proposed transfer of management.
At the moment the main line of accountability through Parliament is through Ministers and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. We intend that in future this accountability should be through London's mayor since all the royal parks are in London. The mayor is a well known figure who is elected every four years and is held accountable by Londoners for what he achieves for London and for visitors to London. Managing the royal parks would also fit well with the mayor's existing responsibility for tourism in London as well as his strategic responsibilities for the environment in London.
As a result, we are proposing that the current Royal Parks Agency team would become part of the Greater London Authority (GLA) and report to the mayor. The GLA would have day to day responsibility for maintaining and managing the royal parks, including fulfilling statutory obligations. The Government will need to legislate when the opportunity arises to give the GLA equivalent management powers to those that the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport currently exercises, and to make other provisions needed to give effect to the policies set out in this Statement.
The Royal Parks Agency currently also manages other land in central London, such as Victoria Tower Gardens, Grosvenor Square Garden, and Brompton Cemetery, which are not part of the royal parks themselves. The Government are developing proposals with the GLA and others who, in place of the Royal Parks Agency, will be best placed to take responsibility for these open spaces and structures and monuments within them in future.
The royal parks are owned by Her Majesty the Queen in right of the Crown. The parks were, in the main, originally royal hunting grounds and pleasure gardens and were subsequently made over for public use. The royal parks are part of the historic Crown lands and were put under the management of the Secretary of State's predecessor in the middle of the 19th century.
The general power of management of the parks currently exercised by the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport derives from the power granted by Section 22 of the Crown Lands Act 1851 (the 1851 Act) to the Commissioners of Works. Day-to-day management is carried out on behalf of the Secretary of State by the Royal Parks Agency, led by its chief executive. We propose that the Royal Parks Agency would no longer be an executive agency of the
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The Government do not propose to divide up the royal parks into separate parks operated by individual London boroughs. The Government's aim is to strike an appropriate balance between decentralising power and maintaining the integrity of this historic estate. Greater accountability for the royal parks will be introduced at the level of London-wide government, where all the competing interests can be best addressed. The mayor is accountable to people who live and work in the immediate vicinity of the parks. He is also accountable to Londoners from other areas who use the parks, and he is responsible for the quality and interest of what London as a whole contributes to the UK and offers tourists and visitors. The mayor has recognised the strong interest of the Royal Household and the London boroughs in the good management of the parks and is considering options for a new governance structure for the parks as a whole which will offer them a stake in a new supervisory board.
The devolution of management responsibility for the royal parks to the GLA will also mean that there will be greater scrutiny of the management of royal parks on a regular basis. The London Assembly will be able to hold the actions of the mayor to account and will have the power to summon officials and seek information.
It is recognised that the royal parks are national assets and there may be occasions when it is still necessary for the Government to be able to ensure that national interests are safeguarded. The Secretary of State will have reserve powers to intervene if it appears that the national interest might be compromised. For example it will be essential to ensure that the current use of the parks and their roads for national ceremonial occasions should continue in a manner which befits their status. Such events must always be given priority over local matters or other events. This is one example of where the Secretary of State will be able to ensure, through a power of intervention, that the royal parks continue to be managed in the national interest and will be able to ensure that future management is not inconsistent with, or undermines, the significance or status of the royal parks.
Currently, under the Parks Regulations (Amendment) Act 1926, the Secretary of State makes regulations that he considers necessary for securing the proper management of the parks. The principal regulations are the Royal Parks and Other Open Spaces Regulations 1997, and these cover matters such as the hours of opening of a park or of particular parts of it, carrying on any trade or business in the park, the conduct of persons using the park as regards, for example, littering, climbing trees, lighting fires, damaging property and keeping control of animals. These regulations are subject to the approval of Parliament. If any person fails to comply with, or acts in contravention of, any regulations, he is guilty of an offence against the Parks Regulation Act 1872 and is liable on summary conviction to a penalty. The regulations are enforced by the Metropolitan
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Section 62 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act provides that regulations may also be made by the Secretary of State for imposing and recovering charges for leaving vehicles, or vehicles of any class, in the park. These regulations are subject to the approval of Parliament. We intend to create an equivalent bye-law making power for the GLA. Instead of an approval by Parliament it would be subject to confirmation by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.
By transferring responsibility to the GLA, reporting to London's mayor, we intend to ensure clear democratic accountability to Londoners on the management and operation of these historic parks and open spaces. Through the mayor, there would be a visible public champion for the royal parks. Better accountability is likely to lead to management which is more responsive to the needs and expectations of park users and local people.
We intend the GLA to have the opportunity to include the future management of the parks in the broader plans which the mayor develops for London. There will be close links to London-wide policy on a range of issues which affect the parks including planning, transport, environment, tourism and sport. The mayor will be well placed to seek out opportunities for private sector support for the parks. The mayor recognises that for successful transfer of management of the royal parks there is a need to ensure:the national importance of the royal parks continues to be recognised;the identity and character of the royal parks, which underpins their importance to local residents and visitors, is not adversely affected;the high quality of the royal parks and their unique identity is maintained and enhanced where possible;the wide range of interests within, and uses of, the royal parks continue to be recognised and valued;the management of the eight royal parks is retained by a single administration; andlocal representation is adequately accounted for.
In my Statement to the House on marine aids to navigation of 26 July 2010 (Official Report, col. WS 134-35), I said that the Government believe a solution needs to be found as soon as possible to the imbalance of funding for marine aids to navigation in the Republic of Ireland. I am pleased to inform the House that the Irish Transport Minister and I have now reached an understanding on the reform of the funding of the Commissioners of Irish Lights.
The Commissioners of Irish Lights is the general lighthouse authority which has provided marine aids to navigation for the benefit of mariners visiting and passing the shores of the whole island of Ireland for hundreds of years. The organisation has come to symbolise the close friendship and shared history of our nations.
For many years, the funding of the Commissioners of Irish Lights work has been a joint undertaking, its costs being met primarily from light dues income from commercial shipping raised in both our jurisdictions and paid into the General Lighthouse Fund.
This funding mechanism has been the subject of debate for a number of years and there have been calls to facilitate a more equitable arrangement, whereby the costs of the work of the Commissioners in the Republic of Ireland is funded solely from sources of income there.
The Irish Transport Minister and I have reached an understanding that we will aim to see the Commissioners of Irish Lights self-financing by 2015-16. This understanding will facilitate the long-term sustainable funding of the Commissioners of Irish Lights and ensure the continued co-operation of the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland in the provision of marine aids to navigation.
The text of the protocol has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and made available on HM Revenue and Customs' website. The text will be scheduled to a draft Order in Council and laid before the House of Commons in due course.
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