Written Ministerial Statements
Tuesday 1 July 2003
Deputy Prime Minister
Beacon Council Scheme
The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is launching the fifth round of the Beacon Council Scheme on Wednesday 2 July with the publication of the Application Brochure setting out instructions on how to apply, the detailed criteria that will be used to assess applications, and what being a Beacon will mean. Copies of the brochure will be placed in the Library of the House.The Beacon Council Scheme provides a successful, positive way of recognising achievement and spreading best practice. It enables authorities to learn from each other to improve the services they deliver. In the first four rounds of the scheme, 186 Beacon awards have been made in 39 service themes. Nearly all councils in England have attended at least one learning event. Independent research has shown that real improvements are taking place as a result of this learning and that the scheme is really having an effect in raising achievement.The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is inviting all councils and best value authorities that believe they have achieved excellence in one or more of this year's Beacon themes to apply for Beacon status. This round's themes for which we are now inviting applications are:
- Benefits Administration
- Better Local Public Transport
- Crime and Disorder Partnerships
- Early Years + Childcare: the Sure Start Agenda
- Housing Renewal
- Services for Older People
- Supporting People
- Transforming the School Workforce
- Promoting Sustainable Tourism
- Supporting Social Care Workers
Applications are invited by 10 September 2003. Successful applicants will be announced in April 2004 and hold Beacon status until the end of June 2005.
Local Government Information
The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister received eighty written responses to "Access to Information in Local Government. A policy paper on the current and future framework government access to information for Local Authorities in England". As foreshadowed in the paper, we are setting up a review group involving the Local Government Association, the Campaign for Freedom of Information, the Information Commissioner, the Newspaper Society and local authority practitioners to consider these further. The responses, which we are now considering carefully, contain a wide range of helpful comments and suggestions.Our aim, in taking forward this review, is to ensure that the legislative framework governing the public's right of access to information held by local authorities is clear for users and workable in practice for local authorities. We want a system which promotes a culture of openness throughout councils which delivers accountability and transparency in decision making and equally guarantees the protection of information such as personal details where this is necessary.Respondents to the consultation expressed a range of views about how the system is working currently. Some councils judge that he system is working well, although point out that it is too early to draw firm conclusions. Others, outside local authorities, have expressed the view that the existing legislation does not provide sufficient access to information and that councils are not developing a culture of openness.The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister wishes to consider further with the Review Group how to build on the good work which is evident in many authorities and how to address the concerns that have been raised. We believe that implementation of the Freedom of Information Act from January 2005 by councils will help create the culture of openness which some respondents feel is lacking. In addition, we intend specifically to ask the Review Group to consider whether it would be appropriate to achieve greater consistency between the categories of information which authorities can classify as exempt under schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972 with those in the Freedom of Information Act 2000.In the light of responses to consultation and of research, which we are planning to publish shortly, we will provide councils with advice on best openness practice. We will seek the Review Group's views on how this can best be done. The Group will also need to consider the interface with other data and information regimes, including the environmental information regulations and data protection legislation.A list of all the responses is available in the Libraries of the House and full copies of the responses are available from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's library.
Local Government Act 2000
The Government are today publishing a consultation paper and draft Order on the nature of the powers to be conferred on relevant authorities under s.101 of the Local Government Act 2000.There has been uncertainty about the extent of the powers of authorities to indemnify their members and officers out of public funds for any personal liability arising from actions or decisions taken by them in the course of their official duties. The consultation paper and draft Order will pave the way for the clarification of the situation. One important feature of the new Order is that it is intended to facilitate joint working between authorities and partners. It will make clear the ability of members and officers to be covered by an indemnity for work that they do on boards and partnerships, provided certain conditions are met.The proposals and draft Order would permit (but not oblige) authorities to provide indemnities and insurance that would provide "cover" for a member or officer in the following circumstances:
if the member had acted honestly and in good faith when taking the action giving rise to the liability;
if the authority was found to have acted outside its powers, but at the point at which the member or officer acted they honestly and reasonably believed that the action or advice giving rise to the liability was within the powers of the authority.
The proposals would also allow indemnities to be provided in certain cases to cover the costs incurred by a councillor in relation to defending proceedings under the Code of Conduct. These cases are ones in which the member is finally either found not to have breached the Code or is found to have breached it but in a case in which the matters complained of, or circumstances, did not warrant any sanction.
Copies of all the consultation material have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
I have today placed in the Library of the House a copy of a report on the effectiveness of the regime for reporting suspicions of money laundering—Suspicious Activity Reports. A copy has also been placed on the Home Office website.The Home Office commissioned the review, which was carried out by KPMG and funded from recovered criminal assets, because we recognised that the current system needs to work better in the fight against money laundering and the tracking of criminals' assets.The report concludes that the present reporting system does lead to criminals being caught but makes a number of recommendations to make it much more effective. The Government welcome the broad thrust of the report. We are determined to ensure that all elements of our asset recovery strategy, of which the money laundering reporting system is one, are working effectively. As a first step we are taking forward the report's principal recommendation and setting up a high level task force, chaired by a senior Home Office official and comprising senior representatives of the private sector and law enforcement, to oversee the changes which are necessary. We will be working with the key stakeholders to ensure that the reporting system delivers maximum intelligence and benefit to law enforcement agencies in the fight against crime and that it operates as efficiently as possible.
Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs
With the support of Her Majesty's Government, the General Affairs and External Relations Council of 18 February agreed both Common Position 2003/115/ CFSP and Council Regulation 313/2003. The Common Position extends EU sanctions against Zimbabwe for twelve months; clarifies the grounds for an exemption to the travel ban; and changes the procedures for granting an exemption.
With the support of Her Majesty's Government, the United Nations Security Council on 6 May 2003 unanimously adopted United Nations Security Council resolution 1478(2003). The resolution rolled over the measures that had been in place against Liberia (a travel ban against senior government officials and members of their immediate families, a diamond embargo and an arms embargo). The travel ban was also extended to members of Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD). In addition, timber sanctions were imposed against all round logs and timber products originating in Liberia. Sanctions against timber do not come into place until 7 July 2003.
Nato Parliamentary Assembly
The Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale has replaced the late Lord Gladwin of Clee CBE as a member of the United Kingdom delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.
Strategic Export Controls
The 2002 Annual Report on Strategic Export Controls will be published at 14.30 today as a Command Paper, and copies will be placed in the Library of the House. The Report includes information on licensing decisions made during 2002 as well as describing UK policy and international developments in export control regimes.Since 1997 the Government have taken great strides to make our defence exports licensing system one of the most rigorous and open in the world and this annual report, the sixth of its kind, is a symbol of our commitment to transparency and accountability. The report will be available on the FCO website and also published through The Stationery Office.
Trade And Industry
Landward Licensing Round
In the 11th Landward Licensing Round, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will offer eight Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences (PEDLs) to seven companies, as set out below:
|Licence Number||Companies||Location (by county)|
|PEDL 125||Northern Petroleum (GB) Limited; Magellan Petroleum (NT) Pty Limited||Hampshire|
Location (by county)
|PEDL 126||Northern Petroleum (GB) Limited; Magellan Petroleum (NT) Pty Limited||Hampshire and West Sussex|
|PEDL 127||Roc Oil (UK) Limited||Norfolk|
|PEDL 128||Egdon Resources (UK) Limited||Lincolnshire|
|PEDL 129||Midmar Energy Onshore Limited||West Sussex|
|PEDL 130||Stag Energy Limited||Nottinghamshire|
|PEDL 131||Alkane energy UK Limited||Nottinghamshire|
|PEDL 132||Stag Energy Limited; Alkane Energy UK Limited||Nottinghamshire|
Where more than one company appears, then first-named will be the operator.
Each licence carries a work programme whose drilling component is a single-well 'Drill or Drop' commitment. Must also include seismic acquisition elements.