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Written Statements

Volume 465: debated on Thursday 25 October 2007

Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 25 October 2007

Children, Schools and Families

Children Act (Section 58 Review)

Today I am publishing the results of the review of section 58 of the Children Act 2004. Section 58 removed the availability of the defence of reasonable punishment from parents and those acting in loco parentis who are charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm, wounding or grievous bodily harm, or cruelty to a child.

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, my right hon. Friend, the Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge) said during the passage of the Children Act 2004,

“I can give a clear commitment that two years after clause 56 comes into effect we will review the practical consequences of those changes to the law, and will also seek parents’ views about smacking. We will lay a copy of the results before Parliament”.

The Government have carried out a public consultation, survey of parental opinion, survey of children and young people, and sought additional evidence, in order to meet the commitments of the review. The review found that smacking is becoming a less commonly used form of discipline as more parents recognise that there are more effective and acceptable methods of disciplining children. While many parents say they will not smack, a majority of parents say that smacking should not be banned outright. Many organisations however support legislation to ban smacking. The police have discretion to deal with cases as they consider appropriate, taking into account factors including the evidence available, the public interest and the best interests of the child. The law is clear and section 58 has improved protection for children, but there appears to be a lack of awareness across different audiences about the scope and application of the law.

In response, the Government will retain the law in its current form, in the absence of evidence it is not working satisfactorily. We will also do more to help with positive parenting. We also welcome the bulletin issued by the Crown Prosecution Service to all their staff reminding them of section 58 and where appropriate reminding them to bring it to the attention of courts, juries, and defence lawyers, and recommend that the police take similar action and remind staff of section 58, particularly staff in Child Abuse Investigation Units.

Today I have placed copies of the review report and the supporting evidence in the House Library and online at: www.dcsf.gov.uk/publications/section58review. They are also available to Members from the Vote Office.

Communities and Local Government

Housing and Planning Delivery Grant

I am today launching a consultation seeking views on the mechanism for allocating the Housing and Planning Delivery Grant (HPDG).

This grant will provide more support for communities and local councils who are doing their bit to promote more housing and will help local authorities to respond to the local housing needs of their community. The grant totals £510 million over the three years, 2008-09 to 2010-11.

The proposed grant will offer extra funding for councils that identify at least five years worth of good sites ready for housing and a further 10 years worth for future development. All local planning authorities will be eligible for the planning element of the grant.

It will also provide extra help for those communities and councils that are doing most to support more homes. In areas where the number of homes is growing by more than 0.75 per cent. a year, councils will be able to get extra funding per home from the Housing and Planning Delivery Grant in addition to infrastructure funding and developer contributions. However in order to be eligible for funding councils will need to be able to demonstrate they are taking action to bring empty homes back into use as well as supporting more new homes. We are also proposing that qualification for the grant should depend on a local planning authority having an effective empty homes strategy in place.

This money is about extra support for those councils who are already doing their bit, ensuring that more housing is delivered to meet the needs of this and future generations. The first payments will be made next year.

Today's announcement marks further delivery against the measures set out in our Housing Green Paper, “Homes for the future: more affordable, more sustainable”. It also delivers against Recommendation 18 of Kate Barker's “Review of Housing Supply”, which called for a housing growth incentive for local authorities.

The detailed proposals are contained in a consultation paper will be published later today on the website of the Department for Communities and Local Government www.communities.gov.uk/publications/housing/deliverygrantallocation. Copies of the consultation will be available in the Libraries of both Houses.

Defence

Defence Training

This statement updates the House on the Defence Training Rationalisation Programme following the announcement made on 17 January 2007, Official Report, column 787-89.

We continue to make progress on package 1, which aims to deliver training for Engineering and Communications and Information Systems. We have now let a risk reduction contract with Metrix which seeks to increase confidence in our ability to amend training courses quickly and efficiently over the life of the main contract in response to changes in training needs. It is anticipated that we will be in a position to commit to the final developmental phase of the project in the spring of next year with a view to signing the main contract within a further year. Construction at the St. Athan site would then start in 2009, with the aim of completing the final phase by 2013.

The work to explore possible synergies and economies of scale across the programme as a whole has concluded that there are insufficient efficiencies to move forward on this basis. We therefore continue to consider a range of options for package 2, which aims to provide training for Logistics and Personnel Administration, Police and Guarding, Security, Languages, Intelligence and Photography. These options vary from adaptations to Metrix’ original PFI proposals through to a full conventional procurement. The work to develop an affordable project will continue to focus on how best to improve our accommodation and training facilities, and meet our commitments following the review by Nicholas Blake QC to improve the support, welfare and wellbeing of our trainees.

We continue to manage the implications for our people sensitively and in full consultation with trades unions and staff. For package 1, our civilian staff in scope will continue to be required to transfer to the new partner, although no moves will take place before 2011. For package 2, training will continue to be delivered at the package 2 sites under current arrangements for at least the foreseeable future. We now plan to take forward more detailed negotiations with the Metrix consortium to press ahead with package 1. The work on package 2 will be conducted in parallel and a further update on both packages will be provided next year.

Health

NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency

The “NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency’s Annual Business Plan” has been published today.

The business plan sets out the key tasks and targets for the coming year and sets out how the agency will monitor and measures its successes in:

delivering greater value in NHS expenditure;

developing best practice for procurement and commercial management across the NHS; and

ensuring procurement can be used as a lever to deliver better patient

care and sustainability.

The business plan been placed in the Library.

Home Department

Charging for Immigration and Nationality Services

The Chief Executive of the Border and Immigration Agency has published proposals for charging to support the new Points-based System and Biometric ID cards. Copies of this consultation letter have been placed in the House Library and are available in the Vote Office.

International Development

Africa (Plan)

I have placed in the Libraries of both Houses copies of the December 2006—July 2007 update of the “G8 Gleneagles Implementation Plan for Africa”. This plan is updated by the Department for International Development (DFID) on behalf of all Departments.

In December 2006 the Government set out 10 objectives that we hoped would be achieved between then and July 2007. I am pleased to report that the majority of these have been met, although a strategic Headquarters Planning Element (PLANELM) for the Africa Standby Force (ASF) within the AU is yet to be fully established according to the criteria laid down in the 2005 ASF Roadmap. This has been due to the need to respond to other urgent demands in the region including the diversion of HQ personnel to planning for the AU mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and the continuing demands of AMIS (Darfur).

On Education 25 African countries now are involved in refining or developing 10-year education plans for reaching the Education and Gender MDGs. The 2 May 2007 High-level Education conference in Brussels agreed on the need for more, better and faster support for education and to identify ways to ensure long-term predictability in planning and financing. At the Heiligendamm summit, the G8 reaffirmed its commitment to “Education for All” and that countries will not be thwarted in their achievement of this goal by lack of resources, and that the G8 will continue to work with partners and other donors to meet this years Fast Track Initiatives (FTI) financing gap of $500 million. There was consensus on the need to work together with other donors and recipient Governments towards helping to fund long-term education sector plans.

In the health sector, in February 2007, donors announced US $1.5 billion funding for the pilot Advance Market Commitment (AMC) for pneumococcal vaccines.

The UK contribution is US $485 million. The establishment of the AMC is to be completed by the end of 2007. The International Finance Facility for Immunisation (IFFIm) held its inaugural bond launch in November 2006 and raised US $1 billion for disbursement by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) Alliance on health and immunisation activities.

In November 2006, the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and malaria (GFATM) approved a sixth round of grants benefiting 62 countries and totalling $846 million (nearly half of this funding has been allocated for GFATM programmes in Africa). Roughly, half of which is being used to tackle AIDS, and a quarter of the money is going to each of TB and malaria. Contributions from constituencies including the private sector enabled the GFATM to fund all proposals that were recommended for funding. By March 2007, 92 countries had set outcomes targets for universal access, while 36 countries had incorporated these targets into their national strategic plan and costed it accordingly.

Between December 2006 and July 2007 progress has been made on the removal of health user fees in Africa including in Mozambique and in Kenya. The Kenya Ministry of Health abolished fees for maternity services in July.

In the area of Peace and Security endorsement of completed work on Africa Standby Force (ASF) doctrine, the concept of operations and the Phase II Roadmap should be achieved later in 2007 at a meeting of African Chiefs of Defence Staff as well as UK facilitated concepts on Rapid Deployment and Logistics. Commitments made at Heiligendamm summit will also provide a boost to development and implementation of police and civilian elements of the ASF. Regional Headquarters Planning Elements and Brigade HQs have been established across four of the five ASF regions. None are yet fully operational, but those in Western, Eastern and Southern Africa now have an initial planning capability and have received sufficient troop pledges for their brigade structures. The UK continues to play a lead role in donor co-ordination in capitals and Addis Ababa, including on future financing for AU capacity building and operations.

The UN General Assembly Resolution agreed (in autumn 2006) to start a process leading to talks on an international Arms Trade Treaty that is legally binding, covers all conventional weapons and the world’s major arms exporters and includes enforcement and monitoring arrangements. A record number of countries (over 90) submitted their views on a treaty to the UN Secretary-General, in advance of the establishment of a Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) next year. The GGE will report its findings to the UN General Assembly in 2008.

Five G8 countries have ratified the UN Convention Against Corruption: Canada, France, Russia, the USA and the UK. Seven (Cameroon, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Mauritania, Nigeria, and Azerbaijan) of the 24 EITI countries have produced audited reports. Sixteen of the 24 countries engaged in EITI are African countries. So far none of the emerging market countries have committed to support EITI though dialogue is on-going; two companies, Petrobras from Bazil and Pemex from Mexico, are actively supporting implementation and are a EITI Board member and alternate member respectively,

Ghana, Rwanda and Kenya have completed their peer reviews under the Africa Peer Review Mechanism and are implementing the plans of action arising from the recommendations made in the reviews. All three countries have produced annual monitoring reports. The target of four more countries completing reviews was not met, with only two (Algeria and South Africa) completing the process. However, there are positive signs that the APRM is now gaining momentum. The UK has provided support to the APRM Trust Fund, the Strategic Partners and to country self-assessment reviews.

There has been good progress towards meeting the Aid for Trade (AFT) commitment. The UK has played a pivotal role in developing and attracting support for the Aid for Trade concept, in the context of WTO negotiations as well as in the international donor community. The EU will adopt a new AFT strategy in the autumn. The UK has also increased its support significantly. We will provide $750 million per year by 2010 (up 50 per cent. since 2005) and we are making good progress towards this target. A Global Aid for Trade Review will be held at the WTO in November, which will look at developing country needs and whether all donors are meeting their commitments. The UK has called on traditional and new donors to support the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) for Aid for Trade for Least Developed Countries (LDC) and we have committed up to 20 per cent. or £38 million to this. A recent pledging conference in Sweden was a success. Well over $100 million has been pledged for the first two years of this five year programme.

Two countries (Sierra Leone and Soa Tome and Principe) have completed the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPIC) Initiative since December 2006. In doing so they have received 100 per cent. irrevocable debt cancellation from the World Bank (IDA), IMF and African Development Fund under the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative and also had most of their bilateral debts cancelled. The UK provides 100 per cent. irrevocable debt cancellation. Progress of others through the HIPC Initiative has been slower than expected as countries work to meet the required standards. The World Bank and IMF now predict that two countries (The Gambia and Burundi) should complete the HIPC Initiative at the end of 2007/early 2008, and two others (Democratic Republic of Congo and Guinea) during 2008.

On climate change the World Bank Clean Energy Investment Framework has now been approved and is being implemented and linked to the frameworks being developed by the Regional Development Banks. The African Development Bank’s Clean Energy for Development Investment Framework planned for approval by its Executive Board in November this year. Together these Investment Frameworks are beginning to deliver additional public and private investment in alternative sources of energy and energy efficiency towards targets of several billion dollars per year.

New commitments to the Infrastructure Project Preparation Facility from three new donors, including DFID, are currently being processed. When confirmed the Facility will be capitalised to around $27 million. The project preparation pipeline has been expanded to 15 projects with an estimated investment value of around $3.6 billion (to be confirmed at financial closure).

The projections by the OECD Development Assistance Committee of the impact of the Gleneagles commitments on aid financing showed that ODA would rise in 2005, mainly due to debt relief for Nigeria and Iraq, fall slightly in 2006 and 2007 as the debt relief peak passed, and then rise from 2008. The 2007 Monterrey survey by the European Commission showed that the EU has exceeded its ODA commitments for 2006 (ODA/GNI was 0.41 per cent. against a commitment to 0.39 per cent.). The DAC reports show that global ODA flows have increased by 31 per cent. since 2004, and total aid to Africa rose in 2006, but the DAC 2007 report states that total ODA fell between 2005 and 2006 by 5 per cent. A further fall in 2007 is likely. Rapid increases in non-debt ODA will be needed to meet the commitments for 2010 and beyond made at Gleneagles and the Barcelona EU summit.

The Africa Progress Panel was launched in Berlin on 24 April 2007 in the run up to the German G8 Heiligendamm summit. The panel’s first communiqué was also issued at that time. The communiqué set out the panels’ views on progress against the MDGs, G8 and other commitments. The Panel Chair Kofi Annan and its members have subsequently presented their communiqué widely and engaged with key decision makers in the AU, UN and, EU to push Africa’s development forward.

Justice

Access to Information

Today I have deposited copies of “Draft Freedom of Information and Data Protection (Appropriate Limit and Fees) Regulations 2007: Response to Consultation” in the Libraries of both Houses. Copies are also available in the Vote Office and Printed Paper Office. I have also laid before Parliament the “Government response to the Constitutional Affairs Select Committee Report on Freedom of Information; Government's proposals for reform” (Cm 7187).

These documents set out the Government's response to the consultation on the draft FOI fees regulations and to the Constitutional Affairs Select Committee Report. They also set out the Government's decision on next steps regarding the fees regulations. We have decided to make no changes to the existing fees regulations. We will deliver a package of positive administrative measures to make better use of the existing provisions to improve the way the Freedom of Information Act works.

The Government are commissioning a review of the “30-year rule”—the date by which public records must be transferred to The National Archives by Government Departments—and the date at which records become “historical”. Changes to these would require amendments to the Public Records Act and the Freedom of Information Act, and, taken together, could have the effect of increasing access to Government records. The review will consider the means by which such changes could be delivered and will include recommendations on an appropriate reduction period.

The Government are also publishing today a formal consultation on extending the application of the Freedom of Information Act, by means of an Order under Section 5 of the Act, to a range of organisations that perform public functions. The consultation will run for three months and copies of the consultation paper are being deposited in the Libraries of both Houses. Copies are also available in the Vote Office and Printed Paper Office.

In addition to this, the Government are today announcing their intention to conduct a review of the way we share and protect personal information in the public and private sector. The review and any recommendations will be produced by Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner and Dr. Mark Walport, Director of Wellcome Trust, and published in the first half of 2008.

Coroners Courts (Reporting Restrictions)

The Government published a draft Coroners Bill in June 2006 in which it proposed to give coroners discretion to impose on the media anonymous reporting in some inquest cases. Since the Bill was published, this strand of policy has been subject to extensive consultation with all those with an interest. Those consulted include the voluntary sector, bereaved families and media organisations, as well as coroners and others who work within the service. As a result of the consultation, the Government have reconsidered the policy and decided to remove this clause from the Bill, and retain the current rules about the reporting of inquests. The Bill will be brought before Parliament as soon as time allows.

Transport

Active Traffic Management

Since September 2006, the Highways Agency has been trialling active traffic management (ATM) techniques on the M42 in the West Midlands, which have proved successful in reducing congestion and improving journey time reliability. Therefore, we are today announcing the extension of the scheme to improve the M6 round Birmingham and the M6 Toll, at a cost of £150 million, scheduled for completion by summer 2011.

I have also commissioned a study into the feasibility, benefits and costs of extending advanced signalling and traffic management systems, including hard shoulder running, more widely across the motorway network. The study will report to me in Spring 2008.

I am placing the M42 trial report and the terms of reference of the feasibility study in the Library of the House.

Work and Pensions

Cold Weather Payments

I am pleased to announce that, following advice from the Meteorological Office, the annual review of the Cold Weather Payments scheme has now been completed. Amending regulations were laid on 11 October and will come into force on 1 November, in time for the beginning of the winter period.

A number of postcode to weather station linkages have been revised following a review by the Meteorological Office of the linkages for all weather stations and their recommendation of changes where there will be significantly improved representation. Two of the weather stations used in the scheme last winter, Boltshope Park and Capel Curig, have been or are about to be closed and two others, Weybourne and St. Mawgan will no longer be primary weather stations for the scheme. Six new weather stations have been introduced at Norwich Airport, Redesdale, Filton, Trawsgoed, Shap and Charterhall to provide data for the scheme. Five new postcodes, introduced as a result of Royal Mail Postcode changes, and one business postcode which includes a residential address have been included in the scheme and 39 postcode to weather station linkages have been changed on the advice of the Meteorological Office following representations made by hon. Members.

Copies of the revised postcode to weather station linkages have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. I have also written to each of the hon. Members who have made representations since last winter.

Cold Weather Payments are separate from, and in addition to, Winter Fuel Payments which are paid to eligible people from age 60.

Pensions (Transfer Values)

In the consultation on the calculation of pensions transfer values, a number of respondents asked for more time to get ready before the new regulations take effect. The Government have considered the arguments carefully and have decided to delay bringing the new regulations into force until 1 October 2008.

The existing arrangements for the calculation of pensions transfer values will therefore remain in force until that time.