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31 Jul 1998 : Column WA253

Written Answers

Friday, 31st July 1998.

Europol Convention

Lord Strabolgi asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What measures are being put in place to ensure that the United Kingdom complies with the provisions in the Europol Convention related to breaches of discretion or confidentiality following entry into force on 1 October 1998.[HL3251]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): Article 32(4) of the Europol Convention requires that, prior to the entry into force of the Convention, each member state shall introduce the provisions required under national law to proceed against breaches of discretion or confidentiality. To this end, we are certifying the Europol Convention as an agreement to which an international organisation is a party, under section 12(2)(b) of the Official Secrets Act 1989. This will have the effect of ensuring that members and employees of Europol will be treated as "government contactors" for the purposes of the Official Secrets Act, and will ensure that the United Kingdom will comply fully with the relevant provisions in the Convention.

Probation Service

Lord Hacking asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they will publish their proposals on the future of the Probation Services and for improving their joint effectiveness with the Prison Service[HL3252]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: We will be publishing a consultation document shortly entitled Joining Forces to Protect the Public, which seeks views on my right honourable friend the Home Secretary's plans for reforming the organisational structure of the probation services, and for improving its systems of accountability and its joint effectiveness with the Prison Service. Copies will then be placed in the Library.

The proposals are the product of the emerging findings of the Prisons-Probation Review which was announced on 16 July last year in another place, (Official Report, col. 172) and which formed part of the Comprehensive Spending Review. Among other things, the document sets out our proposals for creating a modern unified national Probation Service as a Next Steps Agency forming part of the Home Office, directly accountable to the Home Secretary through a Chief Executive. The proposals form one part of our wide-ranging programme to modernise and improve the performance of the criminal justice system in England and Wales. The consultation exercise will continue until 27 November, and we will announce final decisions before the end of the year.

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To assist the consultation process we will also make available the report of the review of options which has informed our proposals.

Corruption and Misuse of Public Office

Lord Hacking asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have to reform and consolidate the law of corruption and what progress has been made on the recommendations by the Committee on Standards in Public Life to (i) clarify the law of corruption in relation to Members of Parliament and (ii) the introduction of a new statutory offence of misuse of public office.[HL3253]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: As a Government, we are committed to ensuring high standards in both public and private life. On 9 June last year, we published a consultation document on the reform of the corruption statutes entitled The Prevention of Corruption: Consolidation and Amendment of the Prevention of Corruption Acts 1889-1916: A Government Statement, a copy of which is in the Library. This had been preceded in December 1996 by the publication of the Home Office discussion document Clarification of the Law Relating to the Bribery of Members of Parliament, an issue on which the Committee on Standards in Public Life had earlier reported. In November last, the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege emerged on its current inquiry into parliamentary privilege, including the law of corruption as it relates to Members of Parliament; and in March the Law Commission for England and Wales helpfully published its proposals in its report No. 248: Legislating the Criminal Code: Corruption. We are also committed to supporting and giving effect to international efforts through the European Union, the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to deal with international aspects of corruption including implementing the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. These domestic and international initiatives taken together provide us with a sound basis on which to review and modernise the law of corruption.

Although we are still awaiting the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege, we have set up two inter-departmental groups to examine (i) the Law Commission's Report on Corruption and (ii) the possibility of a new statutory offence of misuse of public office. It is clear from the many representations received that there is much to support the Law Commission's recommendations for the common law of bribery and the present statutory offences of corruption to be restated in a modern statute, with a clear definition of what is meant by acting in a corrupt manner. At this stage, we also accept, in principle, the Law Commission's proposal that there should be a single offence of corruption to cover both public and private sectors. This reflects the reality that some functions which would, in the past, have been carried out by the public sector are now carried out by public/private partnerships or in the private sector. It also reflects the importance of ensuring equally high standards

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of probity in all aspects of life, whether in the public or the private sector. The inter-departmental working group on corruption expects to complete its work by the end of the year. When it has done so we propose to publish a paper setting out the Government's detailed proposals for the consolidation and amendment of the law on corruption. When available, we will also take into account the views of the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege.

The level of response to the consultation paper about a possible new offence of misuse of public office and the quality of replies demonstrates the importance of, and interest in, public probity. The Committee on Standards in Public Life in its third report recommended that all holders of public office should be covered equally by a statutory offence of misuse of public office, which enables action to be taken against them in the event of misconduct which is serious, but does not entail bribery and corruption. This is a complex area. The inter-departmental working group set up to consider the recommendation by the Committee on Standards in Public Life in this area, with the assistance of the Criminal Law Commissioner as recommended by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, is looking carefully at the inter-relationship between any new offence, existing offences, civil remedies and disciplinary codes. It is also taking into account proposals being developed by my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minster and Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions on the establishment of a new Standards Board for local government and the creation of a new code of conduct for local councillors. As with corruption, this inter-departmental working group also expects to complete its work by the end of the year.

School Inspections and Road Safety

Viscount Simon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether OFSTED reports take into account the efforts of schools to promote road safety and to educate children in the attitudes to vehicular use that they will need to adopt in order to become safe drivers; and[HL3082]

    Whether OFSTED reports take into account the efforts of schools to seek the implementation of safer routes to schools and to provide appropriate fixtures, such as lockers and cycle parking facilities, to make it practical for pupils to cycle to school; and[HL3083]

    Whether OFSTED reports take into account traffic conditions in the vicinity of schools at their starting and finishing times.[HL3084]

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): The content of school inspection reports is prescribed in OFSTED's Framework for Inspection, which is a matter for Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools in England. I have asked the Chief Inspector, Chris Woodhead, to write to the noble Lord and to place a copy of his letter in the Library.

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Kensington Gardens: Visitor Numbers

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the maximum increase in visitors to Kensington Gardens that is compatible with the first four principles listed in the questionnaire of 7 July on the possible Memorial Garden to the late Diana, Princess of Wales, commissioned by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.[HL2823]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: There has already been a significant increase in visitors. One of the objectives of the Memorial Committee's proposals is to provide an opportunity to disperse those visitors in ways which respect the environment. An environmental impact assessment is being commissioned and this will examine a range of visitor numbers.

Somerset House: Removal of Inland Revenue Personnel

Lord Marlesford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When the agreement made between the then Deputy Prime Minister and the then Chancellor of the Exchequer for the removal from Somerset House of all Inland Revenue personnel will be implemented; and what is the total number of such personnel currently working in that building.[HL3049]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The Inland Revenue currently occupy parts of Somerset House under the terms of a 25 year lease with Somerset House Limited, signed on 25 November 1997. Some 610 Inland Revenue staff work in the building.

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