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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): The text of a draft Protocol No. 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights broadening, in a general fashion, the field of application of Article 14 (non-discrimination) was transmitted to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe by the Steering Committee for Human Rights following its meeting on 9-10 March 2000. The Committee of Ministers has not yet considered whether to adopt the text and open it for signature.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: We continue to recognise Chechnya as an integral part of the Russian Federation. At the same time, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has long recognised that human rights are a legitimate subject of interest to the international community. There has been international involvement in efforts to resolve the conflict in Chechnya from the outset. At the Istanbul OSCE Summit in November 1999, all OSCE states, including Russia, recognised that the OSCE had a role in assisting with a political settlement. The UK has been active in urging international involvement. Mr Putin has assured the Prime Minister that Russia will permit access to Chechnya by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNCHR) and by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe. The visit by the UNCHR, Mary Robinson, is expected to take place on 1-4 April. Russia has also agreed to the attachment of two Council of Europe officials to the office of the ombudsman for Chechnya. They should take up their positions shortly.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The United Kingdom has deployed 60 police officers to the United Nations International Police in Kosovo. Although the UN requested this be increased to 120, we are in fact increasing the contribution to 150 officers, including 20 specialists to help combat organised crime in Kosovo. In addition, the UK has contributed 40 officers to the OSCE-run school training the future Kosovo police service.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The blockade imposed on Montenegro by Belgrade includes foods and medicines. The UK condemns these destablising tactics on the part of the Milosevic regime and we and our international partners will continue to support the political and economic reforms of President Djukanovic's government.
Baroness Amos: Under a formula agreed in 1992, our contributions to the European Community's external assistance programmes absorb approximately 30 per cent. of the Department for International Development's budget. In December 1998, we published a strategy for improving the effectiveness and efficiency of European Community development programmes in order to increase their impact on our poverty reduction objectives. Since then, and in line with UK aims, the number of Commissioners responsible for external spending has been reduced from five to two. The successor to the Lome Convention has been agreed with a much sharper poverty focus and the Commission has tabled a draft development policy statement. Both the Development Commissioner, Poul Nielson, and the External Relations Commissioner, Chris Patten, have stated their commitment to poverty elimination. They and Vice-President Neil Kinnock are reviewing procedures with a view to thorough reforms. We support and encourage them to carry this through urgently.
The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): The Government will take careful note of the vote by the British Labour Members of the European Parliament referred to by the noble Lord, but the position taken by Labour MEPs does not represent government policy.
The Government support the current provision in the draft Council regulation on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters relating to consumer transactions which was agreed by the Justice and Home Affairs Council of Ministers last May. However, if the terms of this provision are reconsidered by the Commission and other member states in the light of the forthcoming opinion of the European Parliament, the Government will do so as well, taking full accont of the responses to the consultation document on this issue which they intend to publish shortly.
Its Mental Health Sector deals with matters under Part VII of the Mental Health Act 1983. The Sector's Protection Division oversees the activities of private receivers appointed by the Court of Protection to manage financial affairs for mentally incapacitated individuals. Its Receivership Division manages the financial affairs of mentally incapacitated people who have no one else to manage their finances. The sector also deals with matters under the Enduring Powers of Attorney Act 1985.
The Court Funds Office is a banking and investment service for funds deposited in court. These are held under the jurisdiction of the Chief Executive of the Public Trust Office, acting as Accountant General of the Supreme Court.
In November 1999, I published the quinquennial review of the Public Trust Office. I welcomed the review's clear diagnosis of the challenges faced by the Public Trust Office, agreed that radical change was required and undertook to explore the review's recommendations in a programme of change.
The change programme for the Public Trust Office, announced today, will improve services received by clients and, in particular, the vulnerable. The Government's overriding objective will be to ensure that the interests of the Public Trust Office's clients are fully protected. The changes I propose will deliver a step-change in the quality of services. This will be achieved through centralised planning and monitoring, balanced by service delivery through those agencies which are best placed to meet the needs of clients. Where this means estabishing new partnerships with the private and voluntary sectors, we will do this. Throughout the reforms, we will target resources on those clients who are most in need.
I will separate the disparate functions of the existing Public Trust Office, transferring the trust function and the Court Funds Office to the bodies best placed to provide them: the office of the Official Solicitor to the Supreme Court and the Court Service respectively. The office's remaining core functions of oversight of receivers and functions in relation to enduring powers of attorney will be reviewed to provide a cohesive and greatly improved service.
I will want to be satisfied that reform does not entail placing a greater financial burden on some of the poorest and most vulnerable members of society. The new regime will deliver much improved value for money. Services received will be tailored to the individual's requirements; there will be much greater advice and assistance available; and it will genuinely protect the vulnerable. A new clearer and simpler fee system will be introduced and will be backed by the introduction of fee remissions for those who cannot afford to pay for the services they receive.
I envisage that plans for the more significant changes proposed will be taken forward during 2000-01 with the intention that the Public Trust Office would cease to exist as a separate and distinct office from April 2001 onwards.
The change programme reforms to the Public Trust Office will also play an important part in paving the way for the Government. Making Decisions policy proposals to modernise and clarify the law governing decision-making by and on behalf of the mentally incapacitated. The Governmetn are committed to legislating on Making Decisions when parliamentary time allows, and the change programme will provide a firm basis for these reforms.