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I am keen to keep honourable Members fully informed on developments in the European Union and their implications for the United Kingdom and our priorities. I would, therefore, like to draw honourable Members' attention to a paper on the priorities of the Danish presidency of the European Union, which has been placed in the Library of the House.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Eric Pickles) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I have today finalised a funding settlement for the Greater London Authority to reflect its new housing and regeneration responsibilities from April 2012. These new responsibilities, as a result of the London reforms in the Localism Act 2011, represent a major decentralisation of power away from Whitehall to London government, enabling the capital to manage their own affairs.
My department will provide £3 billion funding to the Greater London Authority for its new responsibilities over the spending review period up to 2014-15, incorporating relevant funding from other departments. The funding will enable the authority to support the housing programmes it will inherit from the Homes and Communities Agency, the closure of the London Development Agency, and Olympic Park transformation and legacy, as well as its existing functions.
This funding will consist of £390 million resource funding (including funding already determined for 2011-12 through the general grant to the authority)
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The current Olympic land and debt deal, first agreed in March 2010, will also be replaced by new receipt-sharing arrangements for the Olympic Park to reflect the devolution of Olympic legacy to the mayor. These new arrangements will enable:the Greater London Authority to fund any further capital investment in the Park and surrounding area, as well as cover the repayment of the residual debt the authority will inherit from the London Development Agency; andNational Lottery distributors to be reimbursed for their additional £675 million contribution to Olympic public sector funding package.
The Homes and Communities Agency's land and property assets in London (other than Greenwich Peninsula) will be transferred to the Greater London Authority at nil consideration on the basis that this reform is a machinery of government change. Receipts from Greenwich Peninsula will be shared equally between the authority and my department reflecting significant national investment in this major site.
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.
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and I will today lay before Parliament the Government's response to the Family Justice Review. The Family Justice Review offered an extensive set of recommendations on how to reform the family justice system. We offer our gratitude to all of the panel members, and in particular to the chair, David Norgrove, for their dedication, creativity and hard work. The range and boldness of its recommendations offer a significant opportunity to improve the resolution of disputes in the best interests of children and their families.
In the first place, I wish to address the issue of shared parenting. This is a sensitive issue with strong opinions on both sides of the debate. The review rejected any legislative provision in support of shared parenting. Instead, it offered a range of recommendations, focused on education and parenting agreements, to help promote shared parenting-we will be taking these forward.
However, many people continue to have concerns about the proper recognition of the role of both parents by the courts. The Government accept the need to clarify and restore public confidence by a legislative statement emphasising the importance of children having an ongoing relationship with both their parents after family separation, where that is safe, and in the child's best interests. The Government are mindful of the lessons which must be learnt from the Australian experience of legislating in this area, which were highlighted by the review and led them to urge caution. We will therefore consider very carefully how legislation can be framed to avoid the pitfalls of the Australian experience, in particular that a meaningful relationship is not about equal division of time, but the quality of parenting received by the child.
The debate over shared parenting, however, must not be allowed to delay the implementation of the many other changes recommended by the review. As the review made clear, the family justice system is under great strain. It is a system characterised by distrust and delay. We must begin to work immediately on tackling these problems.
In public law, where the state intervenes to take children into care, our overriding priority must be to reduce significantly the unacceptable level of delay that currently exists. The average care case now takes 55 weeks and many take much longer. This delay, in practice, means months of uncertainty for a child, trapped in a difficult situation and with little stability in their life. This cannot continue.
We have already announced our intention to legislate, as soon as parliamentary time allows, for a six-month time limit on care and supervision proceedings. This will send a powerful and unequivocal message that the current level of delay is unacceptable. It will also provide a focal point for the broader changes to the system.
This six month limit will not be achieved without fundamental changes to the way the system works. We will be introducing a number of other changes to create a more efficient and co-ordinated system. These changes include refocusing the courts on the core issues within the local authority care plans, removing duplication between the courts and adoption panels scrutinising cases already before the courts and ensuring that expert reports are only commissioned where they are essential to the case.
In private law, we are determined to provide a procedural framework that will support separating couples to resolve their disputes more reasonably and more quickly, without the need to resort to litigation in court, where it is possible to do so. To do this we will legislate to make attendance at a mediation information and assessment meeting compulsory for a person wishing to make an application to court in certain private law family proceedings unless a limited number of exemptions apply.
We will also work to make specialist parenting programmes available to separating parents earlier, rather than waiting until they come to court. At the same time, we have begun to work across government to create online support which can provide the range of information that separating couples need and will consider how parenting agreements could be used to
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The review was also clear of the need to create a more coherent system, characterised by trust and co-ordination between the different courts and agencies involved. As the first step towards this, we will create a Family Justice Board to provide greater leadership and co-ordination across delivery agencies nationally and locally and prepare the system for the changes to come.
This Family Justice Board will bring together key departments, delivery bodies, local authority representatives and the judiciary into a single forum to oversee the delivery of family justice. Its priority will be on driving improvements in the system's performance, with a focus on greater cross-agency coherence, tackling variations in local performance and making progress against the six-month time-limit for care cases. Additionally, the board will be tasked with driving the cultural change which is essential to transforming the family justice system. This will include better quality and more integrated training and increased information sharing across agencies. We will also bring court social work closer to other courts services by transferring CAFCASS to the Ministry of Justice.
Taken together, these steps represent a significant agenda for change. We are convinced that through this agenda we can transform the family justice system, improving the lives of thousands of children and families.
The document is also available online at: http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications/corporate-reports/moj/2012/family-justice-review-response.htm.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Baroness Wilcox): My honourable friend the Minister for Employment Relations, Consumers and Postal Affairs (Norman Lamb) has today made the following Statement.
I am pleased to announce that I have published the final evidence that the Government have provided to the Low Pay Commission on the national minimum wage. This report updates the evidence that the Government provided in September 2011.
The report reflects the latest information on earnings and economic forecasts, as well as recent announcements on workplace pension reforms, young people and the participation strategy, and the employment law review.
A copy of the final evidence will be placed in the Libraries of the House and will be available from the BIS website at www.bis.gov.uk.
I know that the House will want to join me in paying tribute to the Queen today and thanking Her Majesty for 60 years of dedicated service and inspirational leadership to all the countries of the United Kingdom, the Realms, Overseas Territories and the Commonwealth.
We expect this to be a year full of celebrations and reflections on the Queen's remarkable achievements. During the Diamond Jubilee weekend in June we will enjoy a river pageant on the Thames, featuring a new specially designed Royal barge and a flotilla of 1,000 other vessels. There will be a Big Jubilee Lunch up and down the country, a concert at Buckingham Palace and a chain of 2012 beacons will be lit throughout the Commonwealth. We will also see the more traditional ceremonial events, including a national service of thanksgiving at St Paul's Cathedral, a carriage procession, and an appearance on the balcony at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday 5 June.
In addition, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, supported by other members of the Royal Family, will undertake a series of regional visits and engagements throughout the United Kingdom. Members of the Royal Family will also travel overseas representing the Queen in visiting every realm as well as a number of Commonwealth countries, Crown Dependencies and British Overseas Territories.
The Government and devolved Administrations are working closely with the Royal Household to ensure it has the best possible support in this important year and that we play our part in the celebrations.
We have, in partnership with the devolved Administrations, commissioned the Diamond Jubilee medal. It is being manufactured by the Worcestershire
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At the end of this month, we will be launching a new Diamond Jubilee category for the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary in Jubilee year, and we will also be announcing the winners of the two civic honours competitions in March.
At the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth last October, I was delighted to welcome the establishment of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust under the chairmanship of Sir John Major. Today, Sir John has officially launched the trust. He has also announced that the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Mr Kamalesh Sharma, will be one of its trustees.
I am pleased to confirm that the British Government will make a significant contribution to the trust of up to £50 million. This will help the trust undertake activities to transform the lives of the Commonwealth's poorest citizens, and we hope it will attract other contributions from other governments and members of the public across the Commonwealth. The arrangements for the UK Government's support, which will be made through the UK's Department for International Development from its official development assistance budget, will be finalised soon.
The Government will also be providing operational support to the key events over the Diamond Jubilee weekend, including policing, crowd control, and transport management, as well as support for the ceremonial events.
Further details of these events and other plans for the Diamond Jubilee are available online at www.direct. gov.uk/diamondjubilee, as well as from the official Diamond Jubilee website, www.thediamondjubilee.org, which launches today.
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