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Written Statements

Volume 456: debated on Tuesday 6 February 2007

Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 6 February 2007

Communities and Local Government

Council Elections

Our local government White Paper, “Strong and prosperous communities”, proposed that a move to whole council elections should be a matter for local discretion. We have now included provision to give effect to this in the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill, which received its second reading on 22 January. District councils will in future, subject to the Bill receiving Royal Assent, be able to move to whole council elections after passing a resolution to that effect and for that change to take place in the usual year for whole council elections for that type of authority.

In these circumstances, we believe that it is no longer appropriate for the Secretary of State to make orders under section 7 of the Local Government Act 1972 to effect changes to electoral cycles, should she be requested to do so by shire district councils in accordance with the procedures in that section.

Constitutional Affairs

Mental Capacity Act 2005 (Court of Protection)

My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, has made the following written ministerial statement.

“My Department has today published the Government response to the consultation on new rules of court for the new Court of Protection established under the Mental Capacity Act 2005. The consultation ended on 6 October 2006 and 39 responses were received. The consultation response provides a summary of responses and the next steps in light of the consultation. Copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The Mental Capacity Act 2005 establishes a new specialist court, to be known as the Court of Protection, with a new jurisdiction to deal with decision-making for adults who lack capacity. This court will have important structural differences from the current Court of Protection. The new court will be able to make decisions both, as the current court can, about property and affairs (the term used in the Act to describe the financial decision-making jurisdiction) and also about personal welfare matters including health care. The new Court of Protection will begin operating from October 2007.”

Education and Skills

School Teachers' Review Body (Recommendations)

The 16th report of the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) is being published today. It covers a range of matters referred to the STRB in May 2006. Copies are available in the Vote Office, the Printed Paper Office and the Libraries of the House and at http://www.teachernet.gov.uk/pay.

In making its recommendations, the STRB was required to have regard to the matters set out in the remit letter of 17 May 2006. The16th STRB report does not include a pay award as we are currently in the middle of a multi-year award, but it does deal with some very important matters affecting teachers’ pay and conditions, and I am most grateful for the careful and detailed attention the STRB has given to these matters. The STRB recommendations are set out below followed in each case by my response.

I am seeking consultation comments on the report and my response by 5 March 2007.

Mathematics, science and other priority subjects

The STRB has recommended the following:

We recommend that:

the Department undertake a programme of action to secure a significant increase in the use of existing flexibilities in the STPCD to address local teacher shortages in priority subjects;

the Department focus this programme on three areas, namely more effective support for local managers, a sharper framework of accountability, and school budgets;

teachers receive a financial incentive for completion of accredited qualifications in priority subjects designated by the Department or, for teachers in Wales, the Welsh Assembly Government;

the Department and the Welsh Assembly Government consider using the golden hello payment as the mechanism for this purpose;

the effectiveness of this approach be evaluated as part of the pilot for the mathematics, physics and chemistry diplomas.

I note that the STRB considers that existing recruitment and retention incentives are the most flexible tool available for addressing teacher shortages, and that a programme of action is required to secure a significant increase in the use of them. We will need to consider with partners where support for local managers will help them to do this. We will also consider the best way to raise awareness and provide better information to help school management to use the flexibilities as an active management tool.

The STRB also said we should investigate the points about budgets made by consultees and take appropriate action. We shall consider the points raised, but note at the outset that the context of this issue is that schools are free, within the existing statutory framework, to spend their budgets in accordance with their own priorities for school improvement, and that includes the existing recruitment and retention incentives and benefits.

The STRB recommended that teachers receive a financial incentive for completion of accredited courses in priority subjects. We welcome the agreement that incentives should be payable, and will consider the most appropriate mechanism and how to pilot their implementation.

Special educational needs allowances

The STRB has recommended the following:

We recommend that:

the Department provide additional evidence relevant to our remit, focusing in particular on the evidence requirements that we have highlighted in relation to the labour market, teachers and current practice in schools and services.

I welcome the issues which the STRB has identified in relation to special educational needs allowances. I agree that this is a complex and sensitive matter and that it deserves careful review. I therefore propose to accept the recommendation that the Department should gather additional evidence on a range of matters relevant to this, in preparation for further consideration by the STRB.

Having reflected carefully on the STRB’s proposals for further evidence, and taking into account the need for this matter to be considered further by interested parties, I propose to work on the basis that the question of potential review of SEN allowances be included in the 2008 STRB remit.

Excellent teacher scheme (ETS)

The STRB has recommended the following:

We recommend that:

when individual schools and services determine spot salaries for ETS posts within the ETS salary range, they have regard to the nature of the work to be undertaken, the degree of challenge of the role, and any additional criteria they consider appropriate;

once determined, individual spot salaries for ETS posts be reviewed by the school or service:

if there are significant changes in the nature of the work to be undertaken, in the degree of challenge of the role or in relation to any additional factor the school or service considers appropriate;

as part of any wider review of salaries.

The remit to the STRB invited it to make recommendations on what framework may be appropriate to enable relevant bodies to set a spot salary for excellent teachers, within the ranges recommended in its 15th Report; and whether, and on what basis, the spot salary may be reviewed. I am grateful to the STRB for its advice.

The excellent teacher scheme is a distinctive and attractive career option for experienced teachers who are excellent classroom practitioners. To help schools make sound decisions about the appropriate spot rate on the range for excellent teachers, the STRB has suggested that the pay document should set broad, high-level criteria with local flexibility. The STRB has agreed with the two factors proposed by the Rewards and Incentives Group in its evidence—the nature of the work to be undertaken and the degree of challenge of the role—and has added that schools should be able to set any additional criteria they consider appropriate.

I am concerned that allowing schools to determine additional local criteria, as the STRB suggests, might be too open-ended for schools to manage and there is a risk that factors unrelated to the excellent teacher role could be added. I also think that allowing schools to set additional local criteria could undermine the sense of a national benchmark for the scheme. The concept of a spot salary i.e. a salary with no progression is new to the teaching profession and it is paramount that schools have a clear basis for reaching fair and consistent decisions on the salary levels they set. Before I decide whether or not to accept the ‘additional criteria’ I would like to invite views on whether such a framework would be workable and, if so, what help schools might need to enable them to make these decisions.

The STRB has proposed that the basis for review of an excellent teacher’s salary should be if there are significant changes in the nature of the work, the degree of challenge of the role and any additional factor the school considers appropriate. ETS salaries could also be looked at as part of any wider review of salaries. I accept this recommendation in principle, but I want to make clear my view that the review should only be in relation to changes in the criteria established at the outset (including whatever might specifically be set under the additional criteria category) or a wider review of salaries.

Part-time teachers

The STRB has recommended the following:

We recommend that:

develop provisions for the STPCD to stipulate how pro-rata salaries for part-time teachers should be calculated and working time specified;

give particular attention to the basis for (a) remunerating part-time teachers for additional working time; and (b) calculating pro-rata salaries and remuneration for additional working time for part-time teachers on the Fast Track scheme, in AST posts and in leadership group posts;

ensure that provisions for the STPCD are fully compliant with employment law;

provisions resulting from this work be introduced to the STPCD as soon as practicable.

I warmly welcome the STRB’s recommendations with regard to pay for part-time teachers as they will ensure that pay for these teachers will be calculated equitably and transparently. I am therefore happy to accept their recommendations and we will work with partners to develop the provisions that they have identified, with the intention being to incorporate these into the STPCD from September 2008. We recognise that in doing so we will be increasing cost pressures on some schools, which we will need to take into account in the context of the full range of school funding issues for 2008 and beyond, and which will be one of the considerations for the STRB in their next report.

Teachers’ performance and pay progression

The STRB has recommended the following:

We recommend that:

all progression on incremental pay scales follow a performance management review and determination by the local employer that the individual teacher’s performance has satisfied an explicit performance-related criterion for pay progression in the STPCD;

consequential amendments to the STPCD be made, including to make explicit the criterion of satisfactory performance for pay progression on the main pay scale and the pay scale for unqualified teachers, and to remove provisions concerning how teachers’ performance should be managed;

as recommended in our 15th Report, the Department require schools and services to include details in their pay policy about how performance is assessed for pay purposes.

I am grateful to the STRB for their careful consideration of this complex matter and I warmly welcome the Review Body’s reaffirmation of the principle that there should be a formal link between performance management reviews and pay progression. I am also grateful for its advice on how this might be reflected in amendments to the STPCD.

I will want to give careful consideration to the specific nature of these amendments to ensure that any changes to the STPCD are consistent with the requirements of the School Teacher Performance Management (England) Regulations (2006) and the School Teacher Appraisal (Wales) Regulations 2002 and enable a proper statutory correlation between the performance management and pay processes which aids clarity, reduces duplication and improves practice on the ground. I accept that the STPCD should be amended to clarify that teachers on the main pay scale and unqualified teachers should complete performance management reviews. I am not proposing any change in the current pay progression arrangements.

On the final point that the Department require schools and services to include details in their pay policy about how performance management is assessed for pay purposes as indicated in my previous response to the STRB’s 15th Report, I am not minded to accept this. The content of schools’ and services’ pay policies should be for them to determine taking into account relevant statutory requirements.

Approaches to pay in England and Wales

The STRB has not made a recommendation, but said the following:

“We have concluded that at present, the existing national framework of pay and conditions with local discretion provides sufficient flexibility to accommodate differences that have arisen to date between England and Wales and that the Department should keep this matter under review, in consultation with the Welsh Assembly Government”.

I am grateful to the STRB for its consideration of this issue and am content to accept that the existing framework should continue to apply without the need for modification to reflect England and Wales issues. I will certainly want to keep this under review and would expect the Review Body in carrying out future remits, as well as partners and other consultees, to draw to the attention of my Department and/or the Welsh Assembly Government, as appropriate, any significant developments that might call into question these arrangements.

Teachers’ professional responsibilities

The STRB has recommended the following:

We recommend that:

the Department, in consultation with interested parties, prepare new statements of teachers’ professional roles and responsibilities which are:

focused on high standards and pupil outcomes;

clear and accessible;

credible and relevant to teachers;

concise, enabling and flexible;

in a dedicated section of the STPCD, separate from other conditions of employment; and

distinct from, but complementary to, GTC publications and professional standards;

new statements be prepared after the review of the leadership group has been completed, and take account of developments in relation to TLR payments, SEN allowances and the ETS and AST schemes.

The STRB has provided a helpful set of criteria for the preparation of new statements of teachers’ professional roles and responsibilities. I am grateful to the STRB for the work that it did in preparation for this report to survey consultees’ views on the need for and place of duties in teachers’ statutory conditions framework. That process generated a broad consensus that they were needed, but that the time had come to consider changes. I agree with that analysis and am happy to accept the recommendation made by the Review Body that we should develop new statements along the lines they suggest and I look forward to developing these statements with partners.

The STRB is absolutely right to flag the need for statements of teachers’ roles and responsibilities to be coherent with the other elements of the statutory pay and conditions framework and, importantly, with any changes arising from the current deliberations on the leadership group. It would be wrong for statements of roles and responsibilities to be finalised in advance of decisions on any relevant changes that may emerge in relation to the leadership group or indeed to fail to take account of the other developments mentioned in the recommendation. However it does seem to me that we should be looking to take forward these developments in parallel, so that the impact of each area on the other can be considered.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture and Fisheries Council

I represented the United Kingdom at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels on 29 January 2007.

The Agriculture Commissioner presented proposals to reform the fruit and vegetable sector which she said would help it to meet the challenges it faces from third country competition and pressure from the retail sector. The proposals focused on increasing the competitiveness of the sector, risk management measures and simplifying legislation. The Council held its first exchange of views on the proposal and I intervened in support of aligning this regime with the 2003 CAP reform model, but expressed concern that the proposed risk and crisis management measures should not distort the market. I also underlined the need for budget discipline.

The Commissioner also presented two proposals on the common organisation of the market in cereals: the first on the abolition of maize intervention and the second to deliver extra short-term cash to compensate for high interest charges. Only the first proposal was discussed. The Commission held that intervention abolition was the only way to rectify the current unsustainability of the maize market, although reservations were expressed by some member states. I welcomed the proposal, and its intent to tackle current market imbalances.

The Council held a public debate on a proposal to ban trade in cat and dog fur and products based on a Presidency questionnaire. The United Kingdom supports this proposal, although did not intervene.

The topic for the lunchtime discussion was changed from the Presidency's work programme to consider possible solutions to the European Parliament's decision to place a reserve on 20 per cent. of the EU Rural Development budget.

The Agriculture Commissioner updated the Council on the state of play of the WTO negotiations following the world economic forum in Davos last week. She said that WTO members had agreed the resumption of DDA—Doha development agenda—negotiations following movement from the United States on domestic support. She stressed that the EU offer from last October still stands. Some member states expressed concern at the readiness of key WTO members to show flexibility in response to that shown by the EU. I intervened to underline the UK's support for the Commission's negotiating tactics.

A number of issues, as follows, were raised under any other business: none of which required any intervention by the United Kingdom.

The Council took note, without discussion, of a written update provided by the Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner on the latest developments with regard to a case of Avian Influenza H5N1 in Hungary.

The Commissioner updated Council on developments in the negotiations between the EU and the Russian Federation on veterinary agreements.

Austria, supported by 10 other member states, including the United Kingdom, drew attention to the impact on agriculture of the Commission's proposed strategy on soil protection and called for further subsidiarity. The Council will discuss this issue at its next session in March.

Cyprus drew attention to the serious consequences of drought for the agricultural sector in the Mediterranean and called on Council and the Commission to find ways of supporting affected farmers and supplementing their income.

The Czech Republic drew attention to the forest damage caused by the recent wind storm.

Denmark, supported by eight other member states, expressed difficulties faced in implementing the cross compliance system and the need for clearer definitions of standards and legislation related to cross compliance.

Latvia, supported by six other member states, asked for the possibility of implementing the new, simplified, detailed rules for the Energy Crop Scheme in the new member states from 2007, rather than 2008 as proposed by the Commission.

Latvia, supported by five other member states, expressed concerns about new Commission guidelines on complementary national direct payments, which they fear will affect the overall financial envelope for, and scope of, payments which apply in the new member states.

France, Austria and Denmark called for Council to discuss the measures required to redress a persistent imbalance in the EU sugar market. The Commissioner announced that because of poor uptake of the buy- out scheme, a temporary quota suspension of at least 12 per cent. or 2 million tonnes would be needed this year.

Belgium, supported by four other member states, sought clarification from the Commission on a technical point of detail regarding state-aid top-ups to rural development payments.

Home Department

Security Industry Authority (Annual Report 2005-06)

I am pleased to announce that the annual report 2005-2006 and accounts of the Security Industry Authority (SIA) will be laid before Parliament and published today.

Copies of the report will be available in the House Library.