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Written Statements

Volume 684: debated on Monday 10 July 2006

Written Statements

Monday 10 July 2006

Crime: Race and Criminal Justice Statistics

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr Gerry Sutcliffe) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Further to the Written Ministerial Statement of my honourable friend the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart), on 30 March 2006 (Official Report, col. 89WS) announcing the publication of the 2005 race and criminal justice statistics, the statistics were temporarily withdrawn from the public domain following the emergence of inaccuracies relating to the racist incidents data. The Home Office has been working closely with the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) to verify the statistics, and checking is now complete. The statistics have been published today with some amendments in relation to the racist incidents and stop-and-search data. We regret any confusion resulting from the need to temporarily withdraw the statistics from the public domain.

The Government are committed to ensuring that our statistics provide an accurate picture of black and minority-ethnic groups' experiences of the criminal justice system and have been working to prevent future problems and improve the consistency and robustness of the data we collect. We will shortly be publishing a major review of the race and criminal justice statistics and our response, which will set out our programme of work to improve the data that we collect on black and minority-ethnic groups' experiences of the criminal justice system.

Disability Equality

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Anne McGuire), has made the following Statement.

In 2005 the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit published its report Improving the life chances of disabled people. One of its key recommendations was that the Government should set up a new mechanism to involve disabled people in the heart of policy-making. In order to explore this recommendation my officials have been working with an advisory group of 13 disabled people to work with my officials to develop recommendations for this body. The advisory group will produce its final report later this year. In the mean time, it has identified that there is a need for a new body to:

work with the Government to help them achieve the aim of equality for disabled people by 2025;

provide advice and information from disabled people based upon the values underpinning the work of the forum and the views and experiences of disabled people;

advise government departments on how they can engage effectively and meaningfully with disabled people;

assist the Government in raising awareness of disabled people and their rights, improving attitudes towards them and challenging negative stereotypes in the media and the wider community;

help ensure that public bodies are meeting their legal duties under the Disability Discrimination Act in relation to the disability equality duty;

advise the Government on the implementationand maintenance of international treaties and conventions within the UK.

After considering the recommendations of the advisory group, I have decided to create an advisory non-departmental public body, to be known as Equality 2025: the United Kingdom Advisory Network on Disability Equality, to fulfil this role. It will not replace existing departmental arrangements for involving disabled people in policy-making, but supplement them.

Equality 2025 will have 20 to 25 members, who will all be disabled people. Members of Equality 2025 will be recruited in accordance with the standards set by the Office for the Commissioner of Public Appointments, and advertisements will appear in both general-interest media and the disability press from later this week.

I expect Equality 2025 to be launched later this year.

Public Expenditure

My right honourable friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr Stephen Timms) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Treasury will publish the 2005-06 public expenditure provisional out-turn White Paper on Thursday 20 July.

The White Paper is an annual report to Parliament on the provisional out-turn for public expenditure. It focuses on spending within departmental expenditure limits (DEL) and annually managed expenditure (AME), including information on individual supply estimates and administration costs limits. The out-turn figures are described as provisional because they may be revised when departments’ final accounts are published.

A copy of the White Paper will be available in the Libraries of the House and will be accessible on the Treasury website.

Regional Development: EU Assisted Areas

My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Industry and the Regions (Margaret Hodge) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today launching a consultation on the draft map of areas in the UK within which it will be possible to pay state aid (economic funding to help to boost competitiveness) during 2007-13. The new map will replace the current one, which expires on 31 December 2006, and will cover the period1 January 2007 to 31 December 2013. The consultation forms stage two of the assisted areas review, and will be open from today until 7 August 2006. It builds on an earlier nine-week consultation launched by my predecessor on 15 February 2006. Copies of the consultation document have been placed in the Library.

Assisted area coverage does not bring with it specific funding. Instead it offers eligibility for certain forms of financial support. It permits the UK to provide large-scale investment to firms in these areas. Under EU guidelines published in December, the UK's overall regional aid population coverage will be 23.9 per cent, down from 30.9 per cent coverage on the current map.

The new regional aid guidelines were published by the European Commission last December. These guidelines define the parameters for assisted areas for 2007-13. They require less and better targeted state aid, in line with conclusions of successive European Councils and agreed by all member states. The UK's coverage is reduced partly because of our strong economic performance over the last period and partly because the enlarged European Union means a redistribution of aid to the newer and poorer EU member states. All other western member states will also see their coverage fall, many of them more sharply than in the UK. For example, coverage in France is being reduced from 36.7 per cent to 18.4 per cent, in Spain from 79.2 per cent to 59.6 per cent, and in Ireland from 100 per cent to 50 per cent.

There are other limitations imposed by the regional aid guidelines, notably a filter. The Commission has identified a series of prosperous and low-unemployment areas, which it prescribes as ineligible for coverage except through very restrictive provisions. In general the UK has supported this approach, as it is consistent with the objective of better targeting our reduced coverage. In March, following stakeholder requests during stage one of the assisted areas review, my department made available on its website the list of those places which fall outside the EU filter.

Working within these limitations, the new map represents a thorough, evidence-based approach to allocating the UK's scarce population coverage on the basis of both need and opportunity. Coverage has been allocated using employment, inactivity and skills indicators and as such it reflects the direction of the Government's agreed regional policy.

The map reflects not only areas of need but also areas of opportunity. A strong principle underpinning both the current and the proposed map is that it is essential to use our coverage to focus on areas that are able to use the flexibility provided. Many deprived parts of the UK do not have the scale of industrial sites necessary to fully exploit assisted area status. This approach received clear support in the public consultation. As a result, we have also used an indicator of opportunity—manufacturing share of employment—to help identify eligibility for assisted area status.

The regional aid guidelines specify that coverage must consist of zones with a minimum population of 100,000. To make full use of our limited coverage we have formed such zones by combining wards into larger units. By doing so, we have maximized the effectiveness of our coverage. This approach is consistent with the views of many consultation respondents.

The reduction in UK coverage makes it even more important that the scarce allocation is given to those areas where it can make the most difference. That means that the Government have decided not to cover the whole of Merseyside and South Yorkshire automatically, but to focus on those parts of the region that would most benefit from coverage. As a result, some parts of Merseyside and South Yorkshire will lose their coverage. However, overall Merseyside and South Yorkshire retain 81 per cent and 76 per cent of their coverage respectively.

It is important to stress that those areas which lose assisted area status will not be losing funding, but only access to some forms of financial support. Many other EU “horizontal aid” instruments are available in all areas, regardless of assisted area status. These can be used, for example, to facilitate competitiveness through research and development spending, to improve access to venture capital for small and medium enterprises (SMEs), to support environmental projects, to help provide access to training, and to encourage cultural development. Regional investment in SMEs is also available. Additionally, all areas of the UK will be eligible to apply for structural funds, through the European Regional Development Fund or the European Social Fund. There are also domestic regeneration and investment programmes that support industrial growth and jobs.

Sentencing: Craig Sweeney

Craig Sweeney committed terrible crimes against a young child, for which he was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of six years, less time served on remand. It is my responsibility as Attorney-General to consider whether to refer this sentence to the Court of Appeal as being unduly lenient.

My power to refer sentences to the Court of Appeal is one I exercise in my public interest capacity. Before I decide whether or not to refer a case, I give very careful consideration to the facts and surrounding circumstances of it, and receive advice from independent, specialist lawyers on the sentence imposed. I have approached this case in this way, and am satisfied that as the law stands and on current sentencing guidelines, the Court of Appeal would not interfere with this sentence. Accordingly, I cannot refer his case to the Court of Appeal.

The judge did what he could to protect the public from this dangerous man by passing a life sentence on him. This means he will not be released unless and until the Parole Board is satisfied that it would be safe to do so. It will now be its responsibility to make that judgment. The judge was, however, also required to set a “minimum term”, that is to say a term before the Parole Board could even consider that question. In setting that term, he acted within existing sentencing guidance and law. Given his history, Sweeney may never be released.

Like the case of Webster and French, this case raises a number of more general issues about the current sentencing framework, both the statutory requirements and the guidelines issued by the SGC.

I have already made clear my views that judges should have more discretion over the discount they give for an early guilty plea, and that the way discounts apply when a case is referred to the Court of Appeal needs to be re-examined. It is also plain that there is a need to re-examine the automatic 50 per cent reduction in fixing the minimum term.

The Home Secretary, the Lord Chancellor and I are in complete agreement that we need a criminal justice system which protects the public, particularly vulnerable children, and in which the public has confidence. We will be making a further announcement on sentencing issues before the Summer Recess.