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15 Mar 2011 : Column WS7



15 Mar 2011 : Column WS7

Written Statements

Tuesday 15 March 2011

Correction to Lords Oral Answer

Statement

Baroness Warsi: I regret to inform the House that there was an inaccuracy in an answer I gave to Baroness Barker in the course of the debate which followed Baroness Gould's question of 8 March 2011 (Official Report, col. 1512-13).

The response indicated that a consultation had been published on 7 March 2011 and that this looked at, among other things, equality impact assessments of funding decisions.

I can confirm that the consultation Strengthening Women's Voices in Government published on 7 March 2011 will look at the best ways to ensure all women, including those at the grass roots and at the community level, have an opportunity to be involved and have their voices heard by Government. The consultation does not include any discussion of equality impact assessments of funding decisions.

Defamation Bill [HL]

Statement

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Kenneth Clarke QC) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Government have today laid before Parliament a draft Bill on defamation for public consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny. This reflects the coalition commitment to review the law of libel to protect free speech.

There are real concerns that the threat of libel proceedings is being used to frustrate robust scientific and academic debate, and to impede responsible investigative journalism and the valuable work undertaken by non-governmental organisations. These concerns relate not only to cases which actually come before the courts, but also in relation to the chilling effect on freedom of expression that is created more widely by the threat of costly and protracted legal proceedings against defendants who may often have limited resources.

The proposals in the draft Bill and consultation paper aim to ensure that the right balance in the law is achieved, so that people who have been defamed are able to take action to protect their reputation where appropriate, but so that free speech is not unjustifiably impeded. We also want to look at ways of speeding court cases up, so as to cut the costs involved in defamation proceedings.

The draft Bill contains provisions on the following issues:

a new requirement that a statement must have caused or be likely to cause substantial harm in order for it to be defamatory;

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a new statutory defence of responsible publication on matters of public interest;a statutory defence of truth (replacing the current common law defence of justification);a statutory defence of honest opinion (replacing the current common law defence of fair/honest comment);provisions updating and extending the circumstances in which the defences of absolute and qualified privilege are available;introduction of a single publication rule to prevent an action being brought in relation to publication of the same material by the same publisher after a one year limitation period has passed;action to address libel tourism by ensuring a court will not accept jurisdiction unless satisfied that England and Wales is clearly the most appropriate place to bring an action against someone who is not domiciled in the UK or an EU member state; andremoval of the presumption in favour of jury trial, so that the judge would have a discretion to order jury trial where it is in the interests of justice.

Issues which have not been included in the draft Bill at this stage, but on which the consultation paper seeks views are:

responsibility for publication on the internet. The paper seeks views on whether the law should be changed to give greater protection to secondary publishers such as internet service providers, discussion forums and (in an offline context) booksellers, or alternatively how the existing law should be updated and clarified;a new court procedure to resolve key preliminary issues at as early a stage as possible, so that the length and cost of defamation proceedings can be substantially reduced; whether the summary disposal procedure should be retained, and if so whether improvements can usefully be made to it;whether the power of the court under the summary procedure to order publication of a summary of its judgment should be made more widely available in defamation proceedings; whether further action is needed beyond the proposals in the draft Bill and the introduction of a new court procedure to address issues relating to an inequality of arms in defamation proceedings, including whether any specific restrictions should be placed on the ability of corporations to bring a defamation action; andwhether the current provisions in case law restricting the ability of public authorities and bodies exercising public functions to bring defamation actions should be placed in statute and whether these restrictions should be extended to other bodies exercising public functions.

We believe that publication of a draft Bill for full public consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny will help us to achieve fully considered legislative proposals which focus on core issues of concern where legislation can make a real difference. After the consultation process is completed, we intend to introduce substantive legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows.



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Diplomatic Service Appeals Board

Statement

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alistair Burt) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Following the proposal by the Public Bodies Review on 14 October to abolish the Civil Service Appeals Board (CSAB), the Secretary of State has taken the decision to close the Diplomatic Service Appeals Board (DSAB). Like the CSAB, the DSAB was a non-departmental public body. It heard appeals from dismissed members of the Diplomatic Service, mirroring the main role of the CSAB which considered appeals from dismissed members of the Home Civil Service. The internal appeals mechanisms for staff members dismissed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will remain in place. They may also make a claim of unfair dismissal to an employment tribunal.

The Permanent Under-Secretary of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has written to the current DSAB members thanking them for the contribution they have made to the board.

Public Sector: Hutton Review

Statement

The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer (George Osborne) has today made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Will Hutton has today published the final report of his review of fair pay in the public sector.

In May the Government asked Will Hutton to make recommendations to the Chancellor and the Prime Minister by March 2011 on promoting pay fairness in the public sector by tackling disparities between the lowest and highest paid in public sector organisations.

The Government welcome this report and are grateful for the work of Will Hutton and the staff of the review. The Government are committed to striking a balance between value for money for taxpayers and fair pay for public sector workers. We will give careful consideration to the recommendations and respond in detail in due course.

The report is available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office and it has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.

The report is also available on the review's website at http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/indreview_willhutton_ fairpay.htm.



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Taxation

Statement

The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): My honourable friend the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (David Gauke) has today made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

As set out in Improving Tax Policy Making: The New Approach published on 9 December 2010, the Government have adopted a new process for undertaking impact assessment of tax and national insurance contributions (NICs) policy changes. This new tailored tax impact assessment process will be used throughout the development of tax and NICs policy and will be summarised in tax information and impact notes. These notes set out what the policy change is, why the Government are proposing the change and a summary of the impacts of the change. As explained below, they will be produced for all substantive changes in tax and NICs policy by primary and secondary legislation.

This new approach will consider a wider range of impacts and cover a broader range of policy changes than the existing impact assessment regime for tax. The Government are committed to consulting on tax policy changes and will use consultation and stakeholder engagement to inform and test their understanding of the impacts of a proposed change in policy.

From Budget 2011 onwards, the Government will publish a tax information and impact note for tax policy changes at the point at which the policy design is final or near final. This could be alongside the Budget, publication of draft legislation or final legislation, as appropriate. These notes will provide a clear statement of the policy objective, impact on the Exchequer, the economy, individuals, businesses and civil society organisations, as well as any equality and other specific impact.

Tax information and impact notes will be available on the websites of HM Treasury and HM Revenue and Customs, and will be provided to Parliament through the normal publication channels.

There will be a number of exceptions where a tax information and impact note will not usually be published alongside a routine legislative change that gives effect to previously announced policy, for example:

routine changes to rates, thresholds and allowances to a predetermined formula such as indexation; appointed day orders; secondary legislation enacting double taxation treaties; and secondary legislation not laid before Parliament.
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