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The order, made under Section 70 of the Act, exempts the Northern Ireland political parties from the requirement to comply with Part IV of the Act for four years. Part IV regulates donations to parties so that foreign and anonymous donations are prohibited.
After consulting with the Northern Ireland political parties, political parties in Ireland, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee and the Electoral Commission, and taking into consideration the changed political landscape since the order was first made, the Government are now minded to let the current order expire in February 2005.
The Government recognise that the current funding arrangements lack transparency and that they are open to abuse. Moreover, the current regime creates clear differences between political parties in Northern Ireland, on the one hand, and those in the rest of the United Kingdom and in Ireland in terms of their access to funds.
However, the Government are fully aware of the special circumstances which exist in Northern Ireland both as regards the continuing fear of intimidation of donors and given Ireland's special role in Northern Ireland's political life, as set out in the Belfast agreement. Any new arrangements, therefore, will have to take these important issues into account.
Equally, however, there is a reasonable demand in many quarters for greater transparency and accountability. The Government are, therefore, inviting views on what new arrangements might be made within those objectives, and will aim to announce their decisions by the end of the year. Parties or individuals willing to comment should, therefore, do so by 30 June 2004.
Debt repayments totalling £9.45 million owed by the Government of Jamaica on past loans from the UK have been cancelled by the Department for International Development (DfID). This sum comprises the following:
The Commonwealth Debt Initiative, launched in October 1997 by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, aims to provide additional relief in respect of government-to-government loans to low and middle-income countries in the Commonwealth which are committed to achieving the millennium development goals, promote transparent and accountable government, and pursue economic policies that encourage sustainable development.
Approval of debt relief for Jamaica follows a detailed assessment by the Governments of Jamaica and the UK against these criteria. The assessment considered the effects of Jamaica's high level of debt and its impact on pro-poor expenditure, and the high levels of crime and violence. It also considered the steps taken by the Government of Jamaica to modernise the public sector, which is central to economic recovery and growth, to develop a comprehensive strategy to reduce crime and violence and promote security, and to develop a medium-term socioeconomic policy framework, which will provide a coherent framework for policy decisions which promote growth, security and the reduction of poverty.
The Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): I have today, with the agreement of the Public Administration Select Committee, published a consultation paper which sets out the Government's response to the Issues and Questions paper published by the Public Administration Select Committee on 20 February 2004 as part of its inquiry into Government by Inquiry.
The Government believe that there is a strong case for considering what steps could be taken to improve the arrangements for inquiries called by Ministers, to ensure that the benefits of their recommendations can be obtained more quickly, and economically. On 25 May I will be providing oral evidence to the committee. As well as consideration by the committee, the Government feel that matters discussed in the memorandum merit wider comment.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): Her Majesty's Government remain committed to the OSCE arms embargo against both Azerbaijan and Armenia, which we interpret as covering all goods and technology controlled under entries in Part III of Schedule 1 to the Export of Goods (Control) Order 1994 (commonly known as the military list).
The decision was made in accordance with our practice occasionally to make an exemption to our interpretation of the embargo by approving exports of non-lethal military goods to humanitarian, media or peacekeeping organisations where it is clear that the embargo was not intended to prevent those exports and there is a strong humanitarian case for them.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has today published the Security Commission's report on the implications for security of the activities of the Mirror reporter, Ryan Parry, at Buckingham Palace. He announced, in another place on 19 November 2003 that he expected the review to cover all aspects of the process of checking those who form part of the Royal Household. He also said that one of the strengths of our democracy is that such breaches are open to scrutiny, that we can learn quickly from them, and nothing is swept under the carpet.
The recommendations are clear and pragmatic and include the creation of a post of Director of Security for the Royal Households, the development of a wide range of checks that can be carried out on employees of the Royal Households and the creation of an annual plan to be agreed and implemented by the Households, together with the police and the Home Office.
We are happy to note the progress that has already been made in the intervening period to improve security within the Royal Households and we look forward to the implementation of the report's recommendations. The appointment this week by Buckingham Palace of a Director of Security is particularly welcome, as this new post will oversee the security vetting process across the Royal Households reporting to the Queen's Private Secretary.
It is clearly welcome to note the commission's finding that the existing framework for dealing with the security of the Royal Family is considered sound and provides an appropriate strategic structure for the oversight of security vetting and related work. Responsibility for delivery will accordingly continue to be shared: policy and funding responsibility to rest with the Home Secretary; operational responsibility to lie with the police; and the Royal Households having overall responsibility for personnel security and for procedures within royal residences. The commission recommended a tightening of the arrangements for day-to-day delivery of these procedures within the Royal Household through the creation of the Director of Security post, a new annual security plan and a regular process of review. Overall responsibility, as the House would expect, will continue to rest with the Home Secretary with the constituent parts of the system being responsible for delivery in their areas.
The commission also met the authorities of the Palace of Westminster, in order to discover whether similar issues might arise in relation to Parliament. On reflection, the commission felt that the differences require a separate review, but none the less made a number of suggestions. The report will therefore be copied to those undertaking the existing security review of the Palace of Westminster announced by the Leader of the House of Commons last month. None the less, the commission endorsed recent changes to security at the Palace of Westminster, including the decision of the House of Commons Commission to construct a security screen around the public gallery on the recommendation of the Director General of the Security Service.
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