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The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (and other ministerial colleagues, depending on the distribution body in question) set the financial management framework within which the bodies operate and the broad policy matters they are expected to take into account when reaching their decisions. In addition, the New Opportunities Fund can support only projects which fall within an initiative defined in an order made by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and approved by Parliament. We have no plans to review these arrangements.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has been sent a copy by the noble Lord of a letter addressed to him from Mr. Michael Williams of the South-West Maritime Archaeological Group. Among other issues, this letter commented on the operation of the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973. The noble Lord will be receiving a reply shortly to this correspondence.
It is a criminal offence under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 for any person to engage in certain conduct within a designated area without a licence granted by the relevant Secretary of State. Licences are issued on the advice of the Advisory Committee on Historic Wreck Sites and will stipulate certain conditions to ensure that appropriate archaeological standards are maintained on designated sites. Although responsibility for policing or prosecuting offences under the 1973 Act lies with the relevant police force, my department does provide advice, where necessary, about the provisions of the Act. Steps are being undertaken to ensure that all police forces are aware of their responsibilities under the 1973 Act.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: If the grant had been increased in line with the retail prices index since 1991-92, it would now have been worth £240,593. As part of the Government's Comprehensive Spending Review, my department took a strategic look at what could be done to ensure blind and visually impaired people benefit in a much wider way from public library services than they do at present. By allocating the grant to the Library and Information Commission we aim to create a fresh impetus to the provision of library services to the blind and visually impaired people and to provide the opportunity for local authorities to embed these into the mainstream library service. In reaching our conclusion we were aware that the grant supports only a small element of the spending of over £6 million that the Royal National Institute makes on embossed literature. Part III of the Disability Discrimination Act will require public libraries to make adjustments to practices, policies or procedures that make it impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled people to make use of their services and my department was aware of this as a possible use of the grant.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Initial estimates of the requirement were made by departmental officials. Further work on the detail of requisite funding allocations has been carried out in consultation with the national museums, including the issuing of detailed questionnaires in each case, and the analysis of any VAT implications that may arise.
Baroness Amos: The issue of the relationship between Non-Governmental Organisations and the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO) is being discussed at the next ECHO Humanitarian Aid Committee meeting in Brussels on 26 November, where information on the latest Framework Partnership Contract is to be presented to member state delegations. We will take the opportunity of raising the noble Baroness's point with them.
Baroness Amos: We are not aware of any discrimination by the European Commission against UK non-governmental organisations, but we are concerned at the delays in the Commission for approving contracts with partner organisations. We are supporting work to rationalise the Commission's aid management systems to ensure faster and more flexible procedures, while at the same time maintaining financial propriety. We oppose strongly any attempts to impose national quotas, whether formal or informal.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): The White Paper No More Excuses set out radical proposals for reform of the youth court, to enable those appearing before the youth court for the first time to be referred, by way of sentence, to a youth offender panel. Following the principles of restorative justice, the panel would draw up a contract with the young offender to include reparation to the victim of the offence or to the wider community, and measures to deal with drug or alcohol abuse, poor parenting or other issues relevant to the offending behaviour. The length of the referral would be determined by the court, on the basis of the seriousness of the crime, up to a maximum of 12 months. The Government invited comments on these proposals and received replies from 97 individuals and organisations. The majority of the respondents were in favour of the proposals.
As suggested in the White Paper, it is intended that the new disposal will be automatic for those appearing for the first time and pleading guilty, save for those occasions where either an absolute discharge or a custodial sentence is considered appropriate. In the light of consultation, it is also proposed to make the disposal available, on a discretionary basis, where the defendant pleads guilty to some offences but not guilty to others; and to give the courts discretion to extend referral orders when dealing with other offences committed before or during the referral period. The White Paper suggested that membership of the youth offender panel be drawn from the magistracy and the police. In the light of consultation, it is proposed that panel members be recruited from members of the community with an experience of young people and crime. This would include magistrates and the police, but on a lay basis.
Subject to these and other minor amendments to the original White Paper proposals, legislation making provision for this new disposal will be introduced at the earliest opportunity.
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