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Written Statements

Volume 684: debated on Tuesday 25 July 2006

Written Statements

Tuesday 25 July 2006

Contracts: Unfair Terms

My honourable friend the Minister of State for Trade, Investment and Foreign Affairs (Ian McCartney) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Law Commission and the Scottish Law Commission published a report on unfair terms in contracts in February 2005 (Law Com No. 292;Scots Law Com No. 199). It sets out detailed recommendations, together with a draft Bill designed to produce a unified regime replacing the Unfair Contracts Terms Act 1977 and the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 for the whole of the UK in a way that is much clearer and easier to follow, and also addresses some gaps in protection that the commissions identified. I am grateful for the Law Commissions’ detailed and comprehensive report and for their extensive consultations on the issues involved, and I appreciate their commitment to this project.

This project was undertaken jointly by the Law Commissions at the request of both the Department of Trade and Industry and the then Lord Chancellor’s Department, now the Department for Constitutional Affairs. The Government have carefully considered the Law Commissions’ report and are content in principle to accept the recommendations for reform. This acceptance is subject to further consideration of the detail of the issues, and to further work to identify potential cost impacts. The proposed legislation will be subject to full public consultation.

Criminal Justice: Northern Ireland

My honourable friend the Minister of State for Northern Ireland (David Hanson) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

The Government have received a report from the Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland, Mr Kit Chivers. The report, The Causeway Project: A Short Inspection, has today beenpublished.

The Government warmly welcome this report and thank the chief inspector and his team for the evident care and reflection which has gone into producing this work. The criminal justice organisations are actively considering the report and have already taken some actions in line with the recommendations.

Copies of the chief inspector’s report have been placed in the Library.

Community-based Restorative Justice

The House will recall that in December 2005 I published for consultation draft guidelines setting out a proposed framework regulating the community-based restorative justice schemes that are currently operating in Northern Ireland.

That period of consultation afforded the opportunity for all interested parties to make their views known to government and generated responses from 56 organisations and individuals across the statutory and voluntary sectors, as well as from members of the public. The consultation revealed general support for restorative justice as a concept but highlighted serious concerns about the way in which some key aspects of schemes might operate. It was clear from the strong criticisms that the draft guidelines did not get it right, and so today I am publishing a robust new protocol to address those concerns.

The Government have always been clear that where community-based restorative justice schemes operate they must be part of the criminal justice system and must not act, or be perceived to act, as an alternative to the existing policing structures. Society would not tolerate officially approved schemes becoming a tool for local paramilitary control and neither will the Government.

The regulation of community-based restorative justice in Northern Ireland was a key recommendation of the Criminal Justice Review, which itself was central to the Good Friday agreement.

I have today published that revised framework, which I have renamed a Protocol for Community-based Restorative Justice Schemes to affirm its status, not simply as guidelines, but as a document which requires full compliance by all participants and which effectively sets a “gold standard” for schemes. I have placed a copy of the protocol in the Library.

The protocol contains a number of important changes which will, I believe, substantively address the four key issues of concern raised by respondents during the consultation. Those concerns centred on: the ability for schemes to use third parties to distance themselves from direct engagement with the police; arrangements for determining the suitability of persons working in schemes; the need for a robust independent complaints mechanism; and the need to set demanding standards for schemes underpinned by an effective inspection regime.

As a consequence of those concerns I have:

removed the provision for schemes to report offences to the Police Service of Northern Ireland through a third party. The protocol now requires that schemes engage, and have a direct relationship, with police on all matters governed by the protocol. The centrality of the police to the way in which schemes operate is non-negotiable;

agreed arrangements for a panel, comprising representatives of relevant statutory bodies, to determine the suitability of individuals to work in posts governed by the protocol. The panel will consider criminal records and other pertinent information provided by statutory agencies, including the police, in determining the suitability of any individual in accordance with published criteria contained in the protocol;

agreed with the Probation Board for Northern Ireland that it will establish an independent complaints mechanism for victims and offenders who may have cause to raise concerns about how a scheme has handled their case; and

ensured that the new protocol sets exacting standards which schemes must meet to achieve accreditation, with continued compliance tested by a rigorous, regular and unannounced inspection regime undertaken by the Criminal Justice Inspectorate, which shall publish their inspection reports.

The protocol would establish the relationship between schemes and the criminal justice system in dealing with low-level criminal offences and offenders and, by definition, governs cases which have both achieved the criminal threshold and been deemed suitable by the Public Prosecution Service for referral for a restorative disposal. While the protocol cannot therefore formally extend to schemes’ other activities, as part of the inspection regime records of non-criminal cases handled by schemes will be examined to help ensure that all cases attaining the criminal threshold have been referred to the police. Schemes which achieve accreditation will, as organisations, have demonstrated the attainment of the high standards required in the protocol, which I expect to see reflected in all aspects of their activities.

Due to the significant nature of the changes, I want to allow for a further period of consultation on the new protocol, which will run in parallel with an equality impact assessment to explore the potential for any of its measures adversely to impact on equality of opportunity for any of the nine categories set out in Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. This will be launched shortly and will involve a 12-week public consultation period.

It has never been a direct corollary that schemes which sign up to the protocol will receive NIO funding. However, I expect that accredited schemes meeting the exacting standards set out in the protocol should be in the best position, where they meet the appropriate grant criteria, to apply for funding from whatever statutory or charitable sources are currently available to them. Conversely, any scheme which does not sign up to them will not receive any funding whatever from government for community-based restorative justice.

I hope that the revised protocol can provide an effective way forward, but I am keen to hear the views of all the stakeholders and interested parties during the consultation period.

Cyprus

The Government have reviewed the application of our arms export licensing policy for Cyprus. We currently assess all export licence applications against the consolidated criteria as well as the policy restriction imposed in 1997 on exports to military forces on the island. We have determined that the consolidated criteria alone will be sufficient in assessing future export licence applications for Cyprus.

We will continue to scrutinise the export of military equipment to Cyprus with the same rigour, applying strict controls on a case-by-case basis with due regard to security on the island and stability in the region, and in accordance with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions. We will no longer have regard to the EU common embargo list in assessing export licence applications to Cyprus.

Entry Clearances: IndependentMonitor’s Report

I have today placed in the Library of the House copies of the annual report by Fiona Lindsley, the independent monitor for entry clearance refusals without the right of appeal.

Decisions taken in the calendar year 2004 were under review. Ms Lindsley’s report raises a number of interesting proposals as to how we may improve our entry clearance operation worldwide and we are committed to doing this.

I wish to express my thanks to Ms Lindsley for her hard work in completing this, her third and final report as independent monitor for entry clearance matters. Ms Lindsley’s contract as independent monitor has now ended and she has been succeeded by Mrs Linda Costelloe Baker whose first report covering decisions made during 2005 will be published later this year.

Homelessness

My right honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Planning has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Today we have published a revised edition of the Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities. The revised code is issued jointly by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and the Secretaries of State for Health and for Education and Skills, and will replace the current guidance (issued in July 2002) with effect from 4 September.

The code provides clear statutory guidance on how local authorities should carry out their homelessness functions and will assist authorities in providing appropriate and effective responses to homelessness and potential homelessness. It also complements other forms of advice, guidance and best practice which have been produced to help local authorities strengthen the services they provide to help people avoid homelessness, wherever possible.

The revised code strengthens the guidance on dealing with vulnerable groups, including people fleeing violence and families with children. It also includes stronger guidance on preventing homelessness, on providing a wide range of housing options, and limiting the use of bed-and-breakfast accommodation.

Copies of the revised Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities are being made available in the Libraries of both Houses. Copies will also be available free of charge from the Department for Communities and Local Government and the guidance can be accessed through the department's website at www.communities.gov.uk/index.asp?id=1501614.

Hong Kong

The latest report on the implementation of the Sino-British joint declaration on Hong Kong was published today. Copies have been placed in the Library of the House. A copy of the report is also available on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website (www.fco.gov.uk). The report covers the period from 1 January to 30 June 2006. It includes a foreword by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary (Mrs Margaret Beckett). I commend the report to the House.

Human Rights Act: Review

I have today placed in the Printed Paper Office, the Vote Office and the Libraries of both Houses copies of the review of the implementation of the Human Rights Act. The review was commissioned by the Prime Minister. It considers the impact of the Human Rights Act on UK law, the impact on policy formulation by Government, the myths and misperceptions that have grown up around the Act and proposals for the way forward.

The Government remain fully committed both to the European Convention on Human Rights and to the way effect is given to it in the UK by the Human Rights Act. As shown in the review, the Human Rights Act has had a significant, but beneficial, effect on the development of policy by central government.

The Government will take forward a number of actions to address areas of concern highlighted by the review. The Government are conducting a thorough review of how police, probation, parole and prison services balance public protection and individual and collective rights and, if necessary, will legislate to ensure that public protection is given priority. Other initiatives include a major push for the provision of better and more consistent guidance and training on human rights within departments; and a proactive, strategic and co-ordinated approach to human rights litigation, so that it has the maximum possible impact on future case law under the Human Rights Act. The Government will also lead a drive to ensure that the public as well as the wider public sector are better informed about the benefits which the Human Rights Act has given everyone in the UK.

Questions for Written Answer

My right honourable friend the Leader of the House of Commons announced to the other place on Thursday, 20 July that MPs will be entitled to table a limited number of Questions for Written Answer in September.

It is proposed to offer a similar opportunity, on an experimental basis, to Members of this House.

An additional reprint of the House of Lords Notices and Orders of the Day will be prepared on Monday, 4 September and published on Tuesday,5 September. This reprint will include up to six Questions for Written Answer (QWAs) for each Member. Any QWA submitted to the Table Office or the Lords Duty Clerk between the rising of the House for the Recess, and 5pm on Monday, 4 September will be included in this reprint.

The Questions will be due for answer by Monday, 18 September. Answers will be sent direct to the Member in the usual way, and printed in the first Hansard when the House returns in October.

As usual, there will also be a reprint of the Notices and Orders of the Day in the week preceding the House’s return. This year, the reprint will be prepared on Monday, 2 October, and published on Tuesday,3 October. Up to six further QWAs may be tabled in this reprint, so that in total Members will be entitled to table up to 12 QWAs in the coming Summer Recess.

After the Recess, the Procedure Committee will be invited to review the experiment in the light of experience.

I am grateful to the staff of the House for responding to this proposal quickly and constructively.

The Leader of the House of Commons has also indicated that Written Statements may be submitted on a limited number of days in September. These will be printed in Commons Hansard, made available in the Library of this House and will be repeated in the first Lords Hansard after the House returns on9 October.

Research: Large Facilities Council

The Government announced on 22 March 2006 a consultation on a proposal to create a large facilities council. The consultation was announced in the document Science and Innovation Investment Framework 2004-2014: Next Steps, and the Government asked for responses on two principal questions as follows:

The Government would welcome views on whether all large facilities operations should be integrated under a new large facilities council, or whether there is a case for some facilities to remain under the management of other research councils.

Furthermore, in the event of a merger, should the grant-giving functions of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) be moved to the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)?

Following this consultation, which closed on16 June, the Government have decided to create a new large facilities council by merging the current responsibilities of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC), and the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils (CCLRC). PPARC’s grant-giving functions will not be transferred to the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). Responsibility for nuclear physics will be transferred from EPSRC to the new council. The Government aim to set up the new council so that it can take on its new functions by 1 April 2007.

Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill

I am pleased to announce today publication of the draft Tribunals, Courtsand Enforcement Bill. Copies of the draft Bill, Explanatory Notes and accompanying regulatory impact assessments are being placed in the Libraries of both Houses and on the DCA’s website.

The main effects of the Bill are to:

create a new, simplified, statutory framework for tribunals to provide coherence and enable future reform;

unify the tribunals judiciary under a senior president;

amend the existing threshold criteria for eligibility for appointment to judicial office in order to enable a wider range of applicants to apply;

unify the law relating to enforcement by seizure and sale of goods, including power of entry to premises;

allow creditors with claims in the civil courts to be able to enforce their judgments more effectively; and

introduce a package of measures to help those who are willing and able to pay off their debts over time, and a new personal insolvency procedure for those who have fallen into debt but have no foreseeable way out of it.

The Government intend to introduce the Bill as soon as parliamentary time allows.

Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive

My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Energy (Malcolm Wicks) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I have today published a consultation document on the Government’s proposals to implement the waste electrical and electronic equipment directive (the WEEE directive).

The Government are firmly committed to sustainable development and recognise that effective implementation of the WEEE directive has a key role to play in achieving this goal. Electrical and electronic equipment is the fastest growing category of waste across the European Union, with an estimated 17 to 20 kilogrammes per person produced every year. The UK alone generated around 1 million tonnes of WEEE last year. By ensuring that WEEE is treated, recycled and disposed of to high environmental standards as required by the directive, we protect the environment and human health from the risk of hazardous contamination.

The proposals published today follow on from the implementation review announced last December, and have been developed through extensive consultation with companies and other interested parties who will be directly affected by the new regulations. They represent a balance of controls needed to identify and discourage free-riders and give companies the freedom to find the most cost effective routes to meet their obligations.

The intention is that, subject to the outcome of public consultation, the directive should be transposed into UK law early in 2007, leading to full implementation on 1 July 2007.

The consultation document will be placed on the DTI website so that it is available to the wider public. The consultation period will run for 12 weeks, with a closing date for comments of 17 October 2006. Copies of the consultation document have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.