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Written Statements

Volume 400: debated on Wednesday 26 February 2003

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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 26 February 2003

Deputy Prime Minister

Tourism

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister
(Mr. Tony McNulty)

Following the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's review of Planning Policy Guidance note 21 on tourism, I am announcing today the publication of a consultation paper. This seeks views on a proposal to replace PPG21 with good practice guidance on planning for tourism. Copies of the consultation paper have been placed in the Libraries of the House.

Local Government Association

Today we published a protocol agreeing with the Local Government Association (LGA) a clear approach for engagement and intervention where council performance is unacceptable.The approach set out in the protocol provides for the Government and LGA to discuss policy for the use of intervention powers, including how best to facilitate a role for the LGA in supporting local authorities.It has been broadened in scope to encompass Government engagement with poorly performing local authorities on a voluntary basis. The protocol derives from a Framework for Partnership signed under the central local partnership in November 1997.The protocol sets out the general principles that will underpin the engagement of central government with individual local authorities whose performance, including their capacity to improve, is categorised under the system of comprehensive performance assessment as poor or weak with little or no prospect for improvement.It also applies to other circumstances where the Government take the view that an authority's performance in a particular service area is sufficiently poor to justify Government engagement or intervention.protocol also sets out general principles for the orderly resumption of service by local authorities following intervention.

Transport And Social Exclusion

The Minister for Social Exclusion and Deputy Minister for Women
(Mrs. Barbara Roche)

The Social Exclusion Unit has today published Making the Connections, its final report on Transport and Social Exclusion. Copies have been placed in the Library.

This report sets out a new strategy to help people on low incomes get to work and key services like jobs, schools and hospitals. The report includes a package of measures across government to improve transport links and to support people on low incomes and in deprived areas in reaching the services we all need.

The cornerstone of the report is a new commitment to accessibility planning, in which local transport authorities will lead a process of auditing and action to ensure accessibility—meaning that people can get where they need to go.

The report builds on existing Government initiatives to help improve accessibility, like the £123 million funding of the Rural and Urban Bus Challenges. It includes action right across central and local Government, for example:

Better travel information in Jobcentre Plus offices to help broaden horizons for those seeking work
£l4 million to help fund new transport to college
Transport to healthcare organised around the needs of the patient and supported by better information on travel options
Better joint working between local authorities and Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships to reduce crime and fear of crime around public transport
Revised planning guidance so new services are easier to reach

To help tackle higher rates of pedestrian deaths in deprived areas—a further issue highlighted in the report—Transport Ministers announced last November that £17 million of Government investment will go to the most deprived local authorities to help bring those rates down.

Northern Ireland

Political Parties, Elections And Referendums Act (Northern Ireland)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
(Mr. Desmond Browne)

During the making of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (Disapplication of Part IV for Northern Ireland Parties, etc) Order 2001 in February 2001, the Government gave an undertaking that they would review the need for the Order after two years. This stage has now been reached and I am therefore requesting views from interested parties as to whether the Order is still applicable to the funding of political parties in Northern Ireland. I shall be writing to the Northern Ireland political parties, the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee and the Electoral Commission.The Order, made under section 70 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA), exempted the Northern Ireland political parties from the requirement to comply with part IV of the Act for four years. Part IV is intended to impose restrictions on the source of donations so as to prohibit foreign and anonymous donations to political parties.The provisions of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act are based on the recommendations contained in the fifth report on Standards in Public Life, chaired by Lord Neill and published in 1998. The Neill Committee concluded that it would be unsafe to disclose the names of those who made donations to the Northern Ireland parties as this may result in their intimidation. It was also recommended that it would not be right to ban contributions from Ireland given its special role in Northern Ireland's political life, as set out in the Belfast Agreement.The Government accepted the Neill Committee recommendations including those in respect of Northern Ireland. However, the consequence of this was that donations from countries other than Ireland could not be prohibited as there would be no way to prevent donations from other countries being routed through Ireland. It therefore became apparent that a ban on foreign funding could not be policed in Northern Ireland.Once the review is concluded, I will, of course, report back to the House.

Transport

Thames Safety (Marchioness Sinking)

On 20 August 1989 the passenger vessel Marchioness and the dredger Bowbelle collided on the Thames. The Marchioness sank and 51 people tragically lost their lives.Ten years later the Deputy Prime Minister announced a wide ranging public inquiry into the current safety regime on the River Thames and the circumstances surrounding the sinking of the Marchioness. The public inquiry also considered whether there should be a formal investigation into the tragedy.Following all the inquiries Lord Justice Clarke has made a total of 74 recommendations on Thames safety. Since November 2001 I have kept both Houses informed on progress on these through two reports placed in the Libraries at six monthly intervals.I have placed a third update in the Libraries today. Much progress has, and continues to be made and this will therefore be the final report of its kind.Since the inquiry:

manning and training on passenger ships has been reviewed and guidance prepared on safety training for crew and support staff on passenger vessels;
the Safety Management Code for domestic passenger ships has been introduced, and we believe this is supporting a more focussed safety culture in the industry;
the London Coastguard now co-ordinates all Search and Rescue activities on the tidal River Thames, and the five RNLI lifeboats installed in January 2002 have proved their value by attending 679 incidents in their first 12 months;
MCA continues to work with other Member States to ensure that the introduction of European standards for passenger ships on inland waterways does not compromise passenger safety in the UK;
a Formal Safety Assessment, carried out since the introduction of many recommendations from the Thames Safety Inquiry and Marchioness Formal Investigation has shown that the overall level of safety on the River Thames falls within acceptable limits, judged against HSE criteria. Work is continuing to identify areas where additional
safety measures could bring the most significant safety benefits. This work will be completed by the end of this year.
recommendations in respect of alcohol are being implemented through the Railways and Transport Safety Bill which is currently before the House.

We believe that the safety measures put in place immediately after the Marchioness disaster and again more recently following the Thames safety inquiry and Marchioness formal investigation, substantially reduce the risk of a further tragedy and would significantly improve the response to such an incident. However, we continue to look for ways to improve safety on all passenger ships through education, proportionate regulation and enforcement.

Education And Skills

School Buildings

The quality of school buildings is central to the quality of pupils' education. High—quality buildings are an essential support for our educational vision of ambitious expectations, specialism and excellence, local collaboration, community involvement and high-quality teaching and learning. We are today publishing a consultative document, "Building Schools for the Future", to take forward a radical approach to improving the stock of school buildings. This document, which is being sent to all schools and other relevant bodies, shows how we aim to reform the way we allocate capital funding, design schools and procure school buildings. Our aim is to transform the conditions in which our secondary school children are educated, and to continue improving the quality of primary schools.Over the last six years, schools and local education authorities have used increasing capital investment to tackle the backlog of repairs caused by decades of under-funding. Capital investment in this period has risen from less than £700 million to £3 billion. This money has been spread relatively evenly across schools and local education authorities. This has been right when most schools and all local education authorities had urgent repair needs, and they have done well in tackling the backlog. But understandably, investment until now has focused on repairs and maintenance, not on achieving systematic structural change. We believe that the most urgent of the backlog will soon have been addressed.The increase in schools capital investment to over £5 billion in 2005–06, announced by the Chancellor last July, gives us the opportunity for a new approach which will aim to support a step change in standards. We can continue existing, successful capital programmes, such as those already available to all schools and local education authorities. But we can do more.The Government commit themselves, in "Building schools for the future", to a programme of rebuilding and renewal to ensure that secondary education in every part of England has facilities of 21st-Century standard. The aim of this programme will be to deliver this goal successfully for every secondary school within 10 to 15 years from 2005–06, subject to future public spending decisions. We will also aim to provide substantial investment in primary school buildings.The programme will be driven by standards—focused plans generated locally—by partnerships of local education authorities, schools, governors and the wider community. Proposals will be prioritised on the basis of agreed criteria, which could include educational standards, deprivation, condition of buildings, and readiness to deliver step change in provision.We need to support local endeavour in the delivery of our aims. Therefore, we are planning a range of exemplar designs for primary and secondary schools as a basis for local decisions about renewal plans. We will consult widely to ensure that the interests of all stakeholders are addressed. We also want to reform the procurement process, to address capacity pressures at all levels and to bring innovation and efficiency into the construction of school buildings. We are working on the creation of a new national procurement body for this purpose. A balance of conventional and PFI funding will be used, where each is most appropriate.

We believe this educational vision and new approach to capital investment will benefit all. We aim to have school buildings that:

drive reform of the secondary system and improvements in educational standards;
support teachers' teaching and pupils' learning;
are used by the community;
are well—designed, built on time and at a reasonable cost to the taxpayer, and properly maintained over their lives.

Copies of the launch document will be placed in the Library.

Health

Food Standards Agency

The Food Standards Agency's annual report and accounts 2001–02 was laid before Parliament today.Copies have been placed in the Library.