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Written Statements

Volume 458: debated on Thursday 22 March 2007

Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 22 March 2007

Treasury

Finance Bill

It is expected that the Finance Bill will be published on Thursday 29 March. Explanatory notes on the Bill's clauses will be available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office and in the Libraries of both Houses on that day. Members of the public will be able to obtain copies of the explanatory notes from the Treasury. These will also be available on the Treasury's website at http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk

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Constitutional Affairs

Family Courts

My right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor has made the following written ministerial statement:

“I am pleased to inform the House that I have today laid before Parliament and placed in the Libraries of both Houses the responses to the Government’s “Confidence and Confidentiality: Improving Transparency and Privacy in Family Courts” consultation paper which was published on 11 July 2006. The document is available on the Department’s website at: http://www.dca.gov.uk/consult/confr.htm. We will also be publishing a young people’s guide.

There were 245 formal responses to the consultation, and additional contributions through stakeholder events and discussion forums. The Government were pleased to receive responses from all sides of the debate and were grateful for the respondents’ comments and suggestions. I am particularly grateful for the important contribution that children and young people have made to this consultation.

We have considered what people have said very carefully and will reflect on the responses received before bringing forward our proposals”.

Deputy Prime Minister

Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade

This year is the bicentenary of a remarkable piece of legislation—the 1807 Abolition of the Slave Trade Act. This Act outlawed slave carrying by British ships in the former British Empire.

Although slavery itself was not abolished until 1833, with the Emancipation Act, 1807 marked the beginning of the end for the transatlantic slave trade which had seen more than 12 million men, women and children bought and sold into slavery and over 2 million die.

The anniversary of this Act is a chance to look into the past, to remember a period of dreadful inhumanity and pay tribute to the campaigners who fought this injustice and of those who enforced the new law, including the Royal Navy. But it is also an opportunity to look forward, and to recognise the tremendous contribution of Black African and Caribbean communities not only to the success of this country, but also the vibrancy of our culture and heritage.

It is also an important opportunity to recognise the fact that slavery did not die out with the end of the transatlantic trade. There are an estimated 12.3 million enslaved people in the world today. In the 21st century, slavery persists in the form of human trafficking, bonded labour and the forced recruitment of child soldiers.

The Government want to ensure we gain the best possible legacy from the bicentenary. So as part of our work to commemorate this anniversary and to focus attention on tackling contemporary or legacy issues that arise out of the slave trade I am pleased to announce that the Government are today publishing a commemorative magazine to mark the bicentenary.

This magazine aims to inform members of the public about the slave trade, those who fought for its abolition, the subsequent emancipation process as well as work taking place to tackle discrimination in Britain and forms of slavery still present in the world today. Copies will be distributed to museums, libraries and local community organisations across the country over the next few days. Copies will also be sent to all MPs and Peers.

In the meantime further information about the bicentenary including details of events taking place all around the country to mark the anniversary can be found at www.direct.gov.uk/slavery.

Copies of the magazine will also be placed in the Library for the reference of Members and will be available in the Vote Office.

Education and Skills

“Raising Expectations: Staying in Education and Training Post-16”

I have today laid before the House a Green Paper, “Raising Expectations: Staying in Education and Training Post-16” which sets out the Government’s proposals that young people should continue to participate in some form of education or training until the age of 18.

The Green Paper sets out proposals to raise the aspirations of young people and to galvanise the entire education system to offer them more, so that they are able to stay on and achieve success. The benefits to young people, the economy, and society will be significant. For young people, participating in education and training for longer and achieving more leads to better outcomes—improved job prospects, higher earnings, and better health. Employers know that as the skills of employees improve their workforce becomes more productive.

These proposals have a long history. Both the 1918 and 1944 Education Acts sought to keep young people learning up to 18—though these provisions were never successfully implemented. It has now been 35 years since the last change in the leaving age, 35 years in which the UK has been transformed technologically, economically, and socially. There are many fewer unskilled jobs—a 16-year-old leaving school with no qualifications today is not prepared for the economy and society they are entering. As the Leitch review of skills highlights, the challenges of globalisation mean that British businesses will need ever more skilled employees to remain competitive.

We already recognise this need for improved levels of skills. We are already committed to making sure that 90 per cent. of 17-year-olds participate in education or training by 2015. This is a challenging target that we are confident we will meet, and it will represent a real improvement on the current participation rate in England of 76 per cent. Yet, it will still not be enough to pull us into the top tier internationally. The current UK participation rate places us 20th out of 30 OECD countries. Even an improvement to 90 per cent. would only place us around 10th, and that assuming other countries make no progress. So, we need to move beyond 90 per cent. participation to compete globally, but also for reasons of social justice. If 10 per cent. of young people do not participate then there is a risk that it is those young people with lower aspirations, who perhaps come from families and communities that have themselves had a poor experience of schooling, who miss out as participation increases. Within this group are often the young people who would have most to gain from longer participation and higher attainment. We cannot allow the most disadvantaged to miss out.

To ensure that all young people benefit, “Raising Expectations” sets out a central proposal that we will consult on:

That from 2015, young people should remain in education or training at least until their 18th birthday.

That this education or training could be in a school, college, with a work-based learning provider, or as part of a job.

That it should be full time, or part time if a young person is in full time employment.

To fully realise the benefits, participation must lead to attainment. And to ensure this happens we will need:

Engaging routes for everyone.

The right support to enable every young person to participate, whatever their circumstances.

Engagement from employers to offer high quality work-based training opportunities.

The means of making sure everyone benefits.

The central proposal recognises that different routes will work better for different young people. That is why “Raising Expectations” does not simply propose to raise the school leaving age. Rather, it proposes that young people should be able to choose the route that best suits them: this could be in school, college, or at work, working towards general qualifications, one of the new diplomas, or an apprenticeship. This range of provision and flexibility of approach will be critical to ensure that there is a suitable and attractive route for every young person. It will also mean that young people can choose to work alongside learning if they want to. We are already committed, as part of the programme of reforms detailed in the 2005 “14-19 Education and Skills” White Paper, to expand the curriculum options available to young people, and do not seek to raise the participation age until this is done. This means waiting until 2013, when the national entitlement to diplomas will see all 14 diploma lines available across England, and when the apprenticeship entitlement will be in place, so that every young person who is ready to and who wants to take an apprenticeship will be able to do so. The Green Paper proposes to raise the participation age to 17 from September 2013, and to 18 from September 2015.

“Raising Expectations” sets out the Government’s commitment to ensure that every young person is given the appropriate information, advice, and guidance, and the right financial and other support to ensure that they are able to access the right programme of study to suit their needs and aspirations. It also sets out a number of ways in which the Government will continue to encourage employers to provide valuable training opportunities for young people who want to work as they learn. These include increasing the number of apprenticeships available, utilising Train to Gain brokers to help employers find a training opportunity that meets a business need, and improving the accreditation system so that all employer training that is substantial and good quality is recognised.

“Raising Expectations” is predicated on a solid foundation of good economic sense and strong social justice. It recognises the challenges of implementation, and sets out how we propose to meet these challenges. In doing so, it sets out a clear vision of how all young people can benefit from longer participation and higher attainment, and how society and the economy will benefit in turn.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Sewer Overflows (River Thames)

Since 2000 this Department has been involved in the development of options to improve the water quality of the tidal Thames by addressing the environmental impact of large volumes of sewage overflow discharges. The overflows, which are made up of sewage and run-off rainwater, are an integral part of the sewer network, originally designed by the Victorian engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette, to convey sewage to east London, where it now receives treatment at Beckton and Crossness.

It is estimated that annual overflow discharges from the sewers and the sewage treatment works to the tidal Thames and River Lee amount to around 52 million cubic metres. This would be enough to fill the Albert Hall 525 times. Of this 32 million cubic metres is discharged from the sewer network overflows, and 20 million cubic metres from the sewage treatment works (Crossness and Mogden).

These overflows are having an adverse effect on the environmental quality of the Thames. It has been found that the frequent overflows (on average once a week), and the large quantities of untreated discharges are causing:

adverse environmental impacts on fish species;

unacceptable aesthetic issues; and

elevated health risks for recreational users of the Thames.

The Department has already been involved in decisions to significantly increase the secondary treatment capacity at Beckton, Crossness and Mogden sewage treatment works. The expenditure is planned through Thames Water’s existing (2005-10) and assumed (2010-15) investment programme, and the schemes are expected to be completed by March 2012 (Beckton and Mogden), and by March 2014 (Crossness). But this does not address the fundamental problem of discharge overflows into the River Thames and River Lee.

On 27 July 2006 I wrote to Thames Water, the sewerage service provider for London, requesting a detailed assessment of two short-listed options to tackle sewer overflows to the tidal Thames and River Lee.

The two options assessed were: 1) a single tunnel, over 30 km long, to intercept discharges from unsatisfactory overflows along the length of the tidal Thames and to the River Lee; 2) two separate shorter tunnels in West and East London to intercept overflow discharges along those stretches of the river. Both options were to convey the collected sewage for treatment in East London.

I have carefully considered the reports Thames Water submitted to me at the end of 2006, and met with stakeholders, who were involved in this work, to hear their views. A Regulatory Impact Assessment has been completed and is available on the DEFRA website.

Today I am announcing the Government decision for an option 1 type solution. As part of the overall scheme I am asking Thames Water to limit overflow discharges from Abbey Mills Pumping Station in East London first, as it is responsible for around 50 per cent. of the total volume of overflow discharges.

This approach is needed to provide a River Thames fit for London in the 21st century and to meet the statutory requirements of the Urban Waste Water Treatment (England and Wales) Regulations 1994. Construction of such a major infrastructure scheme may well cost at least £2 billion, which will be funded through the bills of Thames Water customers and take until 2019-20 to deliver. Depending on how the planning and funding applications progress, indications are that customers bills for this project will start to increase from 2010. It is estimated by the Water Services Regulation Authority that the peak impact on average customer bills could be £37 in 2017.

Thames Water, the Environment Agency, the Water Services Regulation Authority and others will be taking this forward for planning and funding applications. Government will be closely following this detailed work as it develops.

Home Department

Control Orders

Section 14(1) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 (the 2005 Act) requires me to report to Parliament as soon as reasonably practicable after the end of every relevant three-month period on the exercise of the control order powers during that period.

The level of information provided will always be subject to slight variations based on operational advice and legal requirements.

Control orders continue to be an essential tool to protect the public from terrorism, particularly where it is not possible to prosecute individuals for terrorist-related activity and, in the case of foreign nationals, where they cannot be removed from the UK.

During the period 11 December 2006 to 10 March 2007, four new control orders were made. Three were made with the permission of the court under section 3(l)(a) of the 2005 Act; two were served on British citizens—one on 28 December 2006 and one on 3 January 2007—and one was served on a foreign national on 9 March 2007. A control order was already in force at the beginning of this reporting period in relation to the foreign national; it was revoked and the new order made and served in its place.

The fourth control order was made using the urgency procedures under section 3(l)(b) of the 2005 Act, and was served on 16 February 2007. This replaced a control order on the same individual that was already in force at the beginning of this reporting period. The previous control order was revoked at the same time the new control order was served. The court confirmed the new control order on 21 February 2007. The revocation of the old order and service of the new control order was as a result of the High Court judgment of 16 February in the case of Secretary of State for the Horns Department v E [2007] EWHC 233 (Admin). This was the third control order review hearing under section 3(10) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 but the first hearing with full evidence about the factual issues of a particular case. The court accepted that the Secretary of State had reasonable grounds for suspecting that E was involved in terrorism-related activity. However, the court found that the control order obligations cumulatively amounted to a deprivation of E's liberty under Article 5(1) ECHR and that the Secretary of State's decision to maintain E's control order was flawed because he failed to review the prospects of prosecuting E in the light of certain Belgian judgments after they were received and translated. The control order was quashed on that basis. The full judgment is available via http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/.

The Secretary of State is appealing this judgment. Before making the new order against E, the Crown Prosecution Service reviewed the Belgian judgments referred to above as well as other recent material. The position remains that there is currently insufficient admissible evidence available to the police that could realistically be used for the purpose of prosecuting him for an offence relating to terrorism. However, the position will be kept under review.

Two other control order review hearings have taken place pursuant to section 3(10) of the 2005 Act. We await the outcome of both.

Two control orders on British citizens were renewed in accordance with Section 2(4)(b) of the 2005 Act, and served on 22 February 2007.

No control orders have expired since the last report.

In total, therefore, there are 18 control orders currently in force, nine of which are in respect of British citizens. Eight of the individuals live in the Metropolitan police area; the rest fall within other police force areas.

During the period, one modification of control order obligations was made, three modification requests remain outstanding, and 10 requests to modify a control order obligation were refused. A right of appeal exists in section 10(3) of the 2005 Act against a decision by the Secretary of State not to modify an obligation contained in a control order. This has not yet been exercised in respect of these refusals. An appeal has been made in respect of a modification made during the previous quarter. In addition, an appeal has been considered as part of one of the control order review hearings; in the other control order review hearing that took place during the period, there was no formal appeal against modifications refused, but the issues raised by the refusals were considered by the court.

Control order obligations are tailored to the individual concerned, and are based on the risk that individual poses. Each control order is kept under review to ensure their continuance and obligations remain necessary and proportionate. Specifically, as Lord Carlile recommended in his February 2006 report on the operation of the control order system, the Home Office has established a review group, with representation from law enforcement and intelligence agencies, to keep the obligations in every control order under regular (quarterly), formal and audited review.

Breaches of control orders could arise from any obligation, and could include arriving home after commencement of a curfew period or breaking geographical boundary restrictions on movement. As reported in the additional statement of 16 January 2007, an individual charged with breach of control order obligations during the period covered by the 11 December 2006 quarterly report was convicted in January of failure to comply with daily reporting requirements and failure to notify the Home Office of a change of residence. He was sentenced to five months' imprisonment. This is the first conviction for an offence under the 2005 Act. Also as reported on 16 January, another individual has been charged with failure to comply with control order obligations and is currently on remand in prison. The charges relate to failure to comply with curfew requirements and failure to comply with restrictions on communications. The individual mentioned in the 11 December report as having been charged with failure to comply with a daily reporting requirement but not failure to notify the Home Office of a change of residence has, since 16 January, been charged with additional offences of failure to comply with a daily reporting requirement, and with failure to notify the Home Office of a change of residence.

As Parliament will be aware, two of the 18 individuals currently subject to a control order absconded while subject to a control order (one in September 2006 and one in January 2007). Details in relation to the January abscond were given in the statement of 16 January. Another individual absconded in August 2006, after a control order was made (i.e. signed) against that individual, but before the order had been served. This order is therefore not in operation. I have been informed that the individual who absconded in August 2006 is currently believed to be abroad; the High Court has been notified of this. The individual in question has been excluded from the UK.

On 29 January, the Appeal Committee of the House of Lords confirmed that the House of Lords will hear two appeals against judgments handed down by the Court of Appeal on 1 August 2006 in respect of control orders. The Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the Secretary of State in one case (Secretary of State for the Home Department v MB [2006] EWCA Civ 1140, an appeal in relation to Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights—right to a fair trial) and against the Secretary of State in the other case (Secretary of State for the Home Department v JL, KK, GG, HH, NN and LL [2006] EWCA Civ 1141, an appeal in relation to Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights—right to liberty).

Sections 1 to 9 of the 2005 Act are subject to annual renewal by Parliament. The draft renewal Order for those sections of the Act was debated and approved by the House of Commons on 22 February and the House of Lords on 5 March. The Secretary of State subsequently signed the renewal Order, so sections 1 to 9 of the Act now continue in force until the end of 10 March 2008.

Transport

Crossrail

The House will recall the extensive discussion in the Crossrail Instruction debate on 31 October about a station at Woolwich, adding £186 million to the cost of the scheme. This could simply not be afforded given the scale of the overall funding challenge. I said then, however, that I was willing to give Cross London Rail Links Ltd—the Crossrail Company—the time needed to explore with others, including the London Borough of Greenwich, whether there was a way of significantly reducing that cost.

I am pleased today to inform the House of important developments that point a way forward.

The key to this has been Greenwich Council's recent proposal for a major revision to its spatial plan, to allow a significantly higher density of development at Woolwich. This, in turn, has prompted Berkeley Homes to offer a means of enabling a station to be built at Woolwich but, crucially, without adding to the current cost of Crossrail.

In light of this, agreement has been reached in principle with Berkeley Homes under which they will build the basic box structure of a station at Woolwich and then construct their own development overhead. This will all be done at their own risk, using their own money, to the specification laid down by CLRL, with a payment back to Berkeley Homes of the saving CLRL will make through avoiding other works at Woolwich, when it constructs the line there.

In due course, Berkeley Homes would then arrange for the completion of the station box to full operational status. Both they and Greenwich Council recognise that the completion of the station would be conditional on receiving sufficient funding contributions from those developers and businesses that stand to benefit from a Crossrail station at Woolwich. The contributions would be in addition to any London-wide Crossrail funding arrangements that may be agreed and no additional public sector debt capacity would be made available. Fit-out of the station could take place only once sufficient private sector contributions had been received.

More work needs to be done to flesh out this deal but the House can now have sufficient confidence that Berkeley and Greenwich Council have the commitment and the right incentives to do that. This is a very significant change from the position last October as there is now a clear way forward that can deliver a station at Woolwich without adding to the costs of Crossrail already identified.

On this basis I am now able to bring forward an amendment to the Bill to provide powers for the station. In due course, the House will be invited to agree a further instruction to the Committee in respect of Woolwich.

Wales

National Assembly for Wales (Standing Orders)

I am delighted to inform the House that I have today in my capacity as Secretary of State for Wales undertaken my formal responsibility under the Government of Wales Act 2006 to make the new Standing Orders of the National Assembly for Wales. This gives full effect to the proposals unanimously agreed by the Assembly on 7 February.

The Government of Wales Act 2006 are the most important step forward for devolution since the establishment of the National Assembly for Wales in 1999. The Act puts Wales on a new constitutional footing and represents a landmark step in the growing strength, stature and self-confidence of the Assembly.

By granting enhanced legislative powers for Wales, it will enable the Assembly to deliver tailor-made policies for the people of Wales. And by putting the possibility of primary powers on the statute book for the first time ever, subject to the approval of the people of Wales in a referendum, it will settle the constitutional status of the Assembly for a generation.

Since 17 May 2006 the Standing Orders Committee of the Assembly has been working to put in place a set of procedures that will enable the Assembly to take full advantage of the tremendous opportunities that the new powers in the Government of Wales Act provide. Unlike the Assembly’s Standing Orders under the 1998 Act, these new procedures were developed in Wales, for Wales, by the elected representatives of the people of Wales.

I congratulate the work done by all sides of the Assembly to establish the new procedures under which the Assembly will operate from May. It will be for the members of the new National Assembly to make these Standing Orders work and to deliver a brighter future for the people of Wales.

Copies of the Standing Orders have been placed in the Library and the Vote Office. They are also available on the Wales Office website at: www.walesoffice.gov.uk.