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Written Statements

Volume 470: debated on Tuesday 15 January 2008

Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 15 January 2008

Children, Schools and Families

School Teachers' Review Body

Part 1 of the 17th report of the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) is being published today, covering a range of matters referred to them in March 2007. I am grateful for the thorough attention the STRB has given to these matters. Copies of the report and of my detailed response to it are available in the Vote Office, the Printed Paper Office, both Libraries of the House and at www.teachernet.gov.uk/pay.

The STRB has made recommendations for values of pay scales, spines and allowances, including leadership group pay covering three years from September 2008 to August 2010. They have recommended a 2.45 per cent. increase from September 2008 and have made recommendations that would give teachers further increases of 2.3 per cent. from September 2009 and 2010.

I very much welcome the framework of predictability that these three-year recommendations will give, which will assist long-term strategic decision-making by local authorities and schools. The multi-year figures and processes proposed by the STRB provide an approach which is in accordance with the Government’s stated policy on public sector pay, which is for awards that are consistent with the achievement of the CPI inflation target of 2 per cent., are affordable, represent value for money for taxpayers and reflect the labour market position of workforces.

As regards schools in England, the 2.1 per cent. minimum funding guarantee which was announced in the school funding settlement on 12 November 2007 is based on a cautious and realistic assessment of the wide range of cost pressures schools will face both from pay and non-pay. I am therefore confident that these figures will be manageable over the next three year period.

I propose therefore to accept the STRB’s recommendation of a 2.45 per cent. award payable from September 2008, and to accept the figures of 2.3 per cent. from September 2009 and September 2010 which they have indicated in their report. Consistent with their report, I propose to set the STRB a remit in the course of 2008 to enable them to ensure that the increases they have proposed for 2009 and 2010 continue to be appropriate in the light of latest recruitment and retention data, and wider economic and labour market conditions. I should however make clear that it is my firm view at this stage that the increases set out in the recommendations in relation to 2009-2011 are the right ones. There would need to be clear evidence of a significant and material change in these factors to justify any change to these figures. The STRB would also need to take into account the fact that schools’ budgets will have been set assuming the current figures.

The STRB’s recommendations also include enhancements to the salaries of some categories of teacher in inner and outer London and that there should be a review over a longer timescale of the current regional pay bands. I also propose to accept these recommendations.

The review body has also made some recommendations on the unqualified teachers’ pay scale. These are detailed and technical matters on which I would like to take the views of consultees before proposing how these matters should be resolved. My detailed response contains further information on both these issues.

Communities and Local Government

Regional Spatial Strategy (West Midlands)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is today publishing the phase 1 revision to the Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS) for the West Midlands. It follows the public examination in January 2007 and the proposed changes published in September.

The majority of the consultation responses were supportive of the proposed changes and the Secretary of State is therefore pleased to confirm them with some minor amendments. The final revision includes:

new policies to define broad areas for regeneration and growth in the Black Country,

a new policy which replaces Dudley with Brierley Hill and Merry Hill as a strategic centre,

a new policy to emphasise the importance of transforming the environment, and

revisions to the transport priorities to reflect the current status of transport proposals in the Black Country.

Baroness Andrews has today written to the WMRA with the final phase 1 revision together with a summary of responses and schedule of changes.

Copies of the relevant documents are available on the internet, in the Libraries of both Houses, and have been provided for all of the Region’s MPs, MEPs and local authorities.

The more extensive phase 2 revision to the West Midlands RSS is also underway. This covers revisions to housing and employment policies and the draft submission from the West Midlands Regional Assembly is currently being consulted on.

Defence

Armed Forces Compensation Scheme

We previously announced on 11 October 2007, [Official Report, column 42WS] the outcome, subject to consultation, of a review of the multiple injury lump sum element of the Armed Forces and Reserve Forces Compensation Scheme. The purpose of the review was to ensure that the scheme’s intent of focusing benefit on the most seriously injured was being delivered. The consultation has now concluded and I am pleased to confirm that the rule will be amended so that, in future, those who qualify for 100 per cent. of the Guaranteed Income Payment (GIP), who are by definition the most seriously injured, will receive 100 per cent. of the sums payable of all injuries sustained in a single incident, up to a maximum of £285,000. Those who do not qualify for 100 per cent. GIP payments, will continue to have the current discounting rule applied to their multiple injuries. This does not affect injuries sustained in separate incidents as these are already paid at the full tariff value of the injury.

The new rule applies to those whose injuries are sustained on or after the legislation comes into force. For those cases whose multiple injuries were sustained between 6 April 2005 (the start of the scheme) and the date the new rule comes into force, and who qualify for 100 per cent. GIP will, exceptionally, have an additional benefit paid to bring them to the same level as those who have the new rule applied.

The AFCS is still relatively new. While a full review of the scheme will be undertaken after five years of operation, we will continue to monitor the scheme in order to identify areas where evidence supports the need for further changes before then. The amendments to the legislation will be laid before Parliament on Wednesday 16 January to put the new rule in place on 8 February. Those service personnel whose claims have already been processed and are entitled to the additional payment will receive their extra money as soon as possible thereafter.

Mild Traumatic Brain Injury

In the light of parliamentary and public interest in traumatic brain injuries (TBI) arising in current conflicts, I am pleased to report the status of work being conducted on this topic by the Defence Medical Services.

TBI are seen in both military and civilian populations, occurring when the skull and brain are exposed to acute changes in velocity such as road traffic accidents and contact sports, as well as exposure to blasts and other concussions to the head. Severe and moderate cases are generally readily identifiable to medical practitioners and will be managed by established clinical and rehabilitation programmes. The Defence Medical Services already routinely screens all personnel with multiple injuries admitted to MOD’s main rehabilitation centre at Headley Court for symptoms and signs of brain injury, and where necessary special investigations are undertaken to identify the nature and degree of any structural damage to the brain.

However, mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI) can be less easy to recognise and diagnose. It may result from relatively minor head injuries, and symptoms can be both wide-ranging and delayed in their onset, as well as being similar to those of other recognised disorders such as post-concussion syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Recognising the need for further research, the MOD’s surgeon general initiated a project in June 2007 to investigate the historical, clinical and laboratory context of MTBI and make recommendations concerning future management, clinical care, education and research. The project team consulted widely with clinical and research experts within the military and civilian sectors both in the UK and overseas, principally the US.

The project noted that civilian evidence suggests 80 per cent. of TBI is mild and 80 per cent of cases will be symptom-free within three months of exposure. The project concluded that there was no evidence to suggest that the operational capability of the UK’s armed forces was being affected by MTBI. The Royal Centre for Defence Medicine (RCDM) has identified 585 cases of casualties with traumatic brain injury (whether mild, moderate or severe) out of some 36,000 total attendances for any medical condition to deployed UK operational emergency departments between early 2003 and November 2007—the majority of which would be for minor ailments with no requirement for admission or, in many cases, further treatment. This represents 1.6 per cent. of all medical presentations during the period, and 0.5 per cent. of the deployed UK military population.

The project has provided a baseline for further work that is already in hand. A four-level protocol is being established by staff at Headley Court for the diagnosis and treatment of MTBI cases. Guidance has been promulgated to all defence general practitioners advising them about MTBI and the treatment options available. Education material has been developed, aimed at all personnel on deployed operations, and an assessment questionnaire is being introduced to help medical staff identify MTBI cases at the time of injury and to enhance surveillance and research.

Research is also continuing into such areas as identification and diagnosis of MTBI cases, and also their prevention. Throughout our research we are in touch with United States developments, and collaborating with its researchers as appropriate.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Avian Influenza (Dorset)

Between 27 December and 4 January three mute swans were found in a swannery and its vicinity near Chesil Beach; preliminary reports suggest that two of the swans were still alive when located but were euthanised due to injuries and poor condition. The third was already dead. Two were found through regular patrols by the swannery’s staff as part of Defra’s routine dead wild bird surveillance programme, and a third was found by a member of the public.

Targeted surveillance for avian influenza in wild birds is in place throughout the UK and focuses on species that are most likely to spread the disease and on high risk areas where there is a greater abundance of poultry and waterfowl. More than 6,000 birds were tested last year alone. The numbers of birds tested is in part dependent on the numbers of birds found dead by regular patrols of certain wetland reserves or reported by the public. There have been over 2,000 patrols undertaken since the start of this migration period in September and October at over 200 sites. The number of dead birds can be lower during a milder year. No cuts have been made to active patrolling or testing and in some areas patrolling has been increased due to national and international avian influenza incidents.

In the case of the swans found in Dorset, there was no immediate cause to suspect disease, and as the cases did not appear unusual given mortality rates among the local swan population, the swannery held the carcasses until Monday 7 January, when they first reported them to Defra. The Meat and Livestock Commission (MLC), which is Defra’s contracted collection agent for the wild bird surveillance programme, then collected the carcasses and delivered them on the same day to the local regional laboratory of the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA), at Starcross in Exeter. There, post mortem examinations and sample collections were carried out prior to courier dispatch of the samples for Avian Influenza testing at the VLA in Weybridge, Surrey, which is the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE) reference laboratory for avian influenza. This was conducted as part of routine surveillance, and the collection, storage and transportation of the samples to the laboratory, and their testing, were entirely consistent with international standards.

On the evening of Wednesday 9 January, preliminary results indicated the presence of H5N1, but not the pathogenicity. The VLA immediately informed Defra which sought expert ornithological advice on the following day about the restrictions that might be needed. At lunchtime on 10 January, following further laboratory tests, the Acting Chief Veterinary Officer was able to confirm that highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza had been found in the three swans.

Wild bird control and monitoring areas were immediately put in place around the swannery. The boundary of the control area has been set to meet EU requirements for a 3 km minimum radius, and encompasses an appropriate area around Chesil Beach and Portland Bill. The boundary of the monitoring area meets the minimum requirement for a 10 km radius and an appropriate area around the wild bird control area. The boundaries were determined following advice from expert ornithologists who took into consideration the location of local bird reserves and the presence of wild bird populations. This advice also gives us some confidence that birds in this area have not moved widely and therefore there is no scientific justification for requiring birds to be housed, or bird gatherings to be banned, in the rest of the country outside the wild bird monitoring area.

Inside these areas, no poultry or other captive bird movements from premises are permitted, all birds must be housed or otherwise isolated from contact with wild birds, no wild birds may be hunted, and all bird gatherings are banned. Biosecurity measures apply on premises where poultry or captive birds are kept. We are currently working with industry to determine the availability of licences for movements from premises and for hunting of wild birds.

Soon after confirmation, Defra, using the poultry register, sent a text message to all those who had registered a mobile phone number with the register. Two messages were sent; one to keepers in the control and monitoring areas, and one to all those in England and Wales. Known keepers registered on Animal Health’s database—excluding those who had already received a message via the poultry register—were also sent a voicemail message.

On 11 January, information packs were posted to all known poultry premises in the control and monitoring areas. These packs have also been distributed by Animal Health vets during surveillance visits in the field.

One member of the public and 11 reserve staff have been assessed for possible risk to their health by the Health Protection Agency (HPA), seven of whom have been given precautionary courses of antiviral drugs because of their close contact with infected or potentially infected birds. None of these people is ill. Vaccination with seasonal human influenza vaccines has also been administered to this group of people. The HPA advise that the risk to the general public is very low.

While surveillance and testing continue, no evidence of disease has been found in domestic poultry or other captive birds. There will be no culling of wild birds because such action might disperse birds further creating a risk of disease spread. While our policy on vaccination is kept under continuous review, experts advise us that it would not assist disease control in this case.

A full epidemiological investigation is under way to determine the source of infection. The strain of the virus identified is very similar to that causing the cases confirmed in the Czech Republic, Romania and Poland mid to late last year. It is less similar to that found in East Anglia in November. We are also carrying out increased surveillance in the area to look for any further carcasses of wild birds for testing, in addition to our routine collection and testing of certain species of dead wild birds in areas of the rest of the country with higher wild bird and poultry density. All premises in the control area with domestic poultry are being visited by Animal Health staff to look for presence of disease. We are making a rapid assessment of the risk to captive birds and poultry in the wider area so that we can consider whether we need to further enhance surveillance of wild and captive birds, and advise local poultry keepers about preventative measures they should take.

Trade in poultry and poultry products to other EU member states from outside the control and monitoring areas can carry on largely unaffected. Exports of poultry and poultry products to non-EU countries are already very limited because, following the H5N1 outbreak in Suffolk in November last year, the UK is currently not officially free from avian influenza according to the OIE—the World Organisation for Animal Health. As these new cases have been found in wild birds our intention to regain our “officially free” status later this year is not affected.

I wish to stress as before that avian influenza is largely a disease of birds. The virus does not easily cross from birds to infect humans; in almost all instances, such transmission requires extremely close contact with infected birds, particularly faeces. The fact that disease has been found in wild birds rather than poultry makes no difference to the human health risk.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all those in Defra, Animal Health, other partners and especially the relevant local authorities for their usual professional and rapid response.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

British Council Operations (Russia)

I made clear in my Written Ministerial Statement on 12 December, and again in oral questions on 8 January, that the Russian Government’s threatened action against the British Council in Russia was illegal, and that the British Council intended to remain open and operational in St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg. The British Council has done so.

I regret to inform the House that, on 14 January, the Russian authorities informed the British Ambassador in Moscow that Russia intends to take a series of administrative measures against the British Council. These include tax measures against the British Council in St. Petersburg and visa restrictions against British Council staff in St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg. Russia has further stated that it may take further action against the British Council in Moscow, including visa restrictions against UK diplomatic staff. Such threats can only make matters worse. It is not in the interests of either the UK or Russia for flourishing cultural, educational and scientific links to be held hostage to unrelated issues in this way.

As the Government have repeatedly made clear to the Russian authorities, the British Council’s activities in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and across Russia are fully compliant both with Russian and international law, under the Vienna conventions. Its presence and activities are also specifically sanctioned by a 1994 UK-Russia Agreement on Co-operation in Education, Science and Culture, signed by Russia.

The Government will consider these latest actions by Russia carefully and will continue to engage with our international partners on them. We will respond to the Russian Government shortly.

I will continue to keep the House informed of developments.

Justice

Appointment to the Youth Justice Board

I am today announcing with my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, the appointment of Frances Done CBE as Chair of the Youth Justice Board. The appointment will be for three years from 1 February 2008 to 1 February 2011.

The Youth Justice Board for England and Wales is an executive non-departmental public body established under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 to monitor the operation and performance of the youth justice system and to identify and disseminate good practice to prevent offending by children and young people. The board is also responsible for commissioning services for young people under 18 who are sentenced and remanded to secure facilities.

Transport

Transport Innovation Fund Pump-Priming and Development Funding

In July 2005 in a written statement to the House, local authorities were invited to bid for £18 million of “pump-priming” development funding to bring forward packages of schemes that combined better local public transport with hard demand management measures, such as road pricing. In November 2005 and May 2006 my predecessors announced that we were awarding pump-priming for the Transport Innovation Fund (TIF) to ten areas.

In December 2007 we invited local authorities developing TIF proposals to bid for a small amount of remaining funding available in the current financial year. This funding was targeted at those areas that have formally submitted proposals and are providing further information to support the assessment by the DfT and in parallel are developing elements of the proposal while waiting for a programme entry decision, or those that have submitted an outline proposal for a TIF package for which there is a political commitment to working up and submitting a business case during 2008-09.

I am today announcing funding for three areas. We are making up to £1 million available to Cambridgeshire, up to £1.5 million to Greater Manchester, and up to £675,000 to the West of England Partnership (covering Bristol City council, Bath and North East Somerset council, North Somerset council and South Gloucestershire councils).

This award means that these areas can continue to take forward proposals for improved public transport including local road pricing schemes.

I should be clear that receipt of this pump-priming funding is no guarantee that an authority will be successful in bidding for the main Transport Innovation Fund. We are, however, committed to working closely with the successful authorities to deliver the work programmes set out in their pump-priming bids and to support future decisions on the main Transport Innovation Fund.

We will also work with other local authorities developing proposals for improved local transport and demand management and this decision does not affect their ability to bid for substantive TIF funding in the future.

Manchester and Stansted Airport

I am today publishing my decisions on whether Manchester and Stansted airports should remain designated for the purposes of price control under Section 40 of the Airports Act 1986. My decisions follow advice from the independent aviation regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), on these airports and two public consultations. My Department’s analysis has also been peer reviewed by Professor Martin Cave, Director of the Centre for Management Under Regulation, at Warwick Business School, whose comments I am publishing alongside my decisions. My predecessor previously consulted on and announced new criteria for deciding whether an airport should be designated or not.

At Manchester, having carefully considered the responses from the consultation, I have concluded that Manchester airport does not have, and is not likely to acquire substantial market power. Therefore I intend to de-designate Manchester airport, and will introduce the necessary legislative changes.

At Stansted, the decision is more finely balanced. After careful consideration, I have concluded that Stansted meets all of the criteria for designation, and should continue to be designated.

The airports in the south-east are now operating at almost full capacity. This is bad for passengers in terms of delays, congestion, lack of choice, and it is also damaging to the UK’s productivity and growth. This is why we support a second runway at Stansted and are consulting on adding capacity at Heathrow, whilst satisfying strict local environmental conditions on noise and air quality. I am therefore asking the CAA to continue to protect passengers by setting price caps at Stansted until new capacity is delivered, or until further evidence emerges from the ongoing Competition Commission review.

In making my decision on Stansted, I am aware of the comments made by a number of the respondents on the costs of the current approach to price controls at Stansted. The structure of price controls is a matter for the regulator, but my decision is not intended to constrain the CAA from adopting other approaches which meet their statutory duties while avoiding some of the costs of the current system that respondents have identified.

I have today published on my Department’s website, decision letters setting out in full the rationale for my decisions, and Professor Cave’s peer review comments. Copies of these documents have been placed in the Libraries of the House.