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Written Statements

Volume 473: debated on Thursday 13 March 2008

Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 13 March 2008

Children, Schools and Families

Lamb Inquiry

In October 2007 the House of Commons Education and Skills Committee published “Special Educational Needs: Assessment and Funding”. The report identified parental confidence in the special educational needs (SEN) assessment system as a key issue in making provision for children with SEN. We share the Committee’s desire to improve parental confidence and in the children’s plan we set out an ambitions package of measures supported by £18 million of additional investment over 2008-11. This package will improve the skills of the workforce in meeting children’s special educational needs and focus on the outcomes being achieved.

This year we will roll out new, specially developed SEN and disability units for primary undergraduate teacher training courses to be followed by units for secondary and PGCE courses next year. We are developing the skills of the early years and schools work force through the inclusion development programme and promoting specialist training through the work of the three trusts we have supported in communication, autism and dyslexia. In addition we are learning about the progress of children with SEN through the Making Good Progress pilots and will be improving data to support progression.

Building on this, in our response to the Committee’s report (HC 298, published 4 February 2008) we committed to setting up a group of expert advisers, under the chairmanship of Brian Lamb, the chair of the Special Educational Consortium, to advise on the most effective ways of increasing parental confidence in the SEN assessment process. In formulating their advice, we have asked the inquiry to:

consider whether increasing parental confidence could be best achieved by:

making the provision of educational psychology advice “arm’s length” from local authorities;

sharing best practice in developing good relationships between the authority and parents, through effective parent partnership services and other local mechanisms;

effective practice by schools and local authorities in meeting the needs of children at school action plus;

other innovative proposals;

commission and evaluate innovative projects, in the areas identified, that can demonstrate the impact on parental confidence of a particular approach;

draw on the evidence of other work currently commissioned by the Department; and

take into account the evidence of the submissions to the two Select Committee reports, in 2006 and 2007.

To advise him, Brian Lamb has brought together a group of expert advisers who reflect a range of interests and opinions. The group consists of:

Nick Armstrong of Matrix Chambers

Virginia Bovell, parent and Associate Director of TreeHouse

Colin Diamond, Director of Children’s Services for North Somerset

Dr. Fiona Hammans, headteacher of Banbury School, Oxfordshire

Professor Ann Lewis of Birmingham University

Jane McConnell of the Independent Panel for Special Education Advice (IPSEA)

A broader reference group of professionals and parents will also inform the inquiry. This group will bring a wide range of evidence and extensive networks to the process of evidence gathering.

I have asked the inquiry to start its work immediately and have asked for a report in June 2008 on the commissioning of the innovative projects and initial areas of focus for the inquiry. The projects will run for the school year September 2008—July 2009 and an evaluation will run concurrently.

I have asked Brian Lamb and his advisers to report in September 2009. The findings of the inquiry will be available to the Ofsted SEN survey of 2009-10 and will help to inform the development of the next stage of our thinking in this area.

Communities and Local Government

Town and County Planning (General Permitted Development) (Amendment) (England) Order 1995

I have today laid before the House an amendment to the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Amendment) (England) Order 1995 (the GPDO) which will apply from 6 April 2008. The amendment provides permitted development rights for the installation of specified types of microgeneration equipment on or within the curtilage of dwellinghouses. The equipment includes solar photovoltaics (PV), solar thermal, ground and water source heat pumps, biomass heating and combined heat and power systems. Where permitted development rights are granted, no application for planning permission is needed.

The Government consulted in April 2007 on the proposed extension of householder permitted development rights for microgeneration. There were two main policy objectives; first to provide extra freedom for permitted development so long as it had little or no impact beyond the host property. Secondly, the Government wanted to make it easier for householders to combat climate change by producing their own energy from renewable sources.

In November 2007 the Government issued their response to the consultation. The Government announced that they intended to provide permitted development for the following types of microgeneration: solar panels, wind turbines, heat pumps, biomass and combined heat and power, subject to specific limits and conditions that would ensure that any adverse impact on others was not significant. The response said that standards would need to be set on noise and vibration for wind turbines and air source heat pumps to ensure that neighbours were not disturbed by the development. For that reason, permitted development rights for wind turbines and air source heat pumps would be implemented as soon as these standards and safeguards had been drawn up and put in place. These would be dealt with principally through further work being led by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform working with key stakeholders, including industry, to develop a certification scheme for microgeneration that covers both standards for products and their installation.

The amendment to the GPDO allows for the installation of solar PV or solar thermal equipment on the wall or roof of a dwellinghouse or a building within its curtilage so long as the equipment does not protrude more than 200 millimetres. Stand alone solar PV or solar thermal will be permitted if its height does not exceed four metres above ground level and it is more than five metres from the boundary. There are restrictions that apply to solar in conservation areas, in world heritage sites and to listed buildings.

Good progress has been made on the associated test standards that will apply to wind turbines and air source heat pumps, as part of the Microgeneration Certification Scheme. The scheme and standards have been developed in consultation with stakeholders and industry. In due course, the GPDO will incorporate standards to ensure that habitable rooms of any neighbouring residential property are not exposed to an outside noise level exceeding 45 decibels. The noise limit will apply to free-standing wind turbines and those mounted on detached dwellings. Similar provisions will apply to air source heat pumps. The decibel level will be reviewed after two years in the light of conditions prevailing at the time.

The Microgeneration Certification Scheme has been notified to the European Commission and cleared. However, reference within the GPDO has to be notified to the Commission under the EC Technical Standards Directive 98/34/EC as a new regulation. This process is likely to be concluded within a few months. The Government will amend the GPDO to grant permitted development rights for wind turbines and air source heat pumps that comply with the certification scheme and standards upon satisfactory completion of this legal process. This amendment will apply to free standing wind turbines, those mounted on detached dwellings, and to air source heat pumps. These rights will not extend to wind turbines on attached dwellings such as semi-detached and terraced houses until further work has been carried out by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and industry on potential nuisance to neighbours from structure-borne noise and vibration.

I wish to make it clear to the House that it is only the need to provide a satisfactory standard that addresses noise and vibration issues, which then has to go through the legal process mentioned above that prevents the inclusion of wind turbines and air source heat pumps in the Statutory Instrument laid before Parliament today.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Environment Council

I represented the UK at the Environment Council in Brussels on 3 March 2008.

At this Council, member states set out their positions on the 2020 climate and energy package. The UK intervened to welcome the ambition of the proposals in meeting the EU’s targets for a 30 per cent. reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as part of an international climate agreement, or a unilateral 20 per cent. reduction. The UK highlighted the need for aggregate member state whole economy figures to be presented as a clear signal to those international negotiations of the effort required by each member state. The EU should continue to play a leading role in combating climate change.

The UK signalled that we will do our fair share of the emission reductions under the greenhouse gas effort sharing proposal, but these targets should be met cost-effectively. The UK also welcomed the Commission’s proposal for the level of a central EU ETS cap with a clear downwards emissions reduction trajectory and the Commission’s proposals on carbon capture and storage (CCS), including the demonstration projects. The UK did however state our opposition to hypothecation of auctioning revenues and the reallocation of auctioning rights. Finally, the UK and many others emphasised the importance of coherent sustainability criteria for biofuels. Member states also set out their positions on the Commission’s proposal for a regulation to reduce CO2 emissions from new cars. The UK welcomed the proposal, called for the addition of challenging long-term targets and stressed the need for provisions to protect independent niche and small-volume manufacturers.

Ministers adopted Council conclusions as input to the spring European Council on 13 to 14 March. The conclusions form the basis of EU leaders’ response to legislative proposals to achieve Europe’s climate and energy objectives for 2020. It also covers issues including halting biodiversity loss, environmental technologies, sustainable consumption and production, and better regulation. The Council also adopted Council conclusions establishing the EU priorities and negotiating position ahead of the fourth COP serving as the meeting of the parties to the Cartagena protocol on biosafety and the ninth conference of parties to the convention of biological diversity both to be held in May 2008 in Bonn, Germany.

Under “Any Other Business”, the presidency provided information on emissions from heavy duty vehicles (Euro VI). At the request of delegations, additional AOB items include noise from military aircraft, shipping emissions (on which the UK intervened), management of GMOs and Ukraine’s final decision regarding the Danube-Black sea deep navigational canal.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

FCO Scholarships and Fellowships

In parallel with the work on the new Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) strategic framework, that I announced to the House on 23 January, I should like to inform the House of our plans for the future of scholarships and fellowships funding.

We have found a transformed situation in higher education, and an FCO scholarship programme that has not always been well aligned to foreign policy goals. So we propose a smaller, better organised programme, focused on the leaders of tomorrow, from a wide range of backgrounds. The savings we make from this reform will support new priority programmes, principally on climate change.

Twelve years ago 30,000 post-graduate students came to the UK from outside the EU. Since then that number has gone up by 160 per cent. British universities actively market themselves, and many offer their own scholarships. So we need to focus on the value-added from the FCO’s scholarship schemes. This value-added is the creation of relationships between the United Kingdom and the international leaders of the future.

We currently support three scholarship schemes (Chevening, Marshall and Commonwealth) in addition to our Chevening fellowship programme. Our scholarship schemes bring young post-graduates to the UK, normally for master degree courses. Our fellowship scheme brings mid-career professionals for 12-week custom designed specialist courses.

As we reviewed our schemes we found a number of weaknesses. The purpose of the scholarship schemes has not always been clear. We have not always sought out students we thought could become international leaders. We have pursued high numbers of scholars, which has sometimes reduced focus on quality. We have not consistently done enough to build the personal relationships with the scholars that we need to get the most out of the schemes, including during selection, which we have sometimes left to others, during their time in the UK and after they have finished their studies. We have not always worked closely enough with our partner Government Departments with an international focus or with British business to ensure the scholarship schemes work for them. And the Chevening scholarship brand has been stronger in some countries than in others.

The schemes have had real strengths. But we need to refocus them to ensure that these strengths are consistent. We will maintain a global scheme, but we will focus scholarships particularly on those countries such as China and India which are going to be most important to our foreign policy success over coming years. We will select more carefully to ensure our scholars really are potential future leaders, with our heads of mission having personal responsibility for ensuring their posts are getting this right. We will work to ensure we are drawing from the widest possible pool of potential scholars.

We will maintain a much closer relationship with those scholars who do come, making sure that right from the start of the selection process we begin to build links with them, increasing our contact with them while they are here, and staying in closer touch with them after they leave, including through the introduction of a new web-based alumni networking system.

We want to increase the engagement British business and Government Departments with an international focus have with the scholars, and we are starting a consultation process to ensure this happens. We will work in the future through two scholarship schemes only, the Marshall scheme in the USA and the Chevening scheme in the rest of the world, and will develop the strength of these brands. This means an end to the FCO contribution to the Commonwealth scholarship and fellowship plan. We will maintain the highly successful Chevening fellowship scheme at its current level.

These changes will free up some £10 million a year for new activity on our new policy goals. The majority of this will be spent on programmes to support the development and implementation of a low-carbon, high-growth economy, in particular:

with other UK Government Departments, developing sound scientific and economic evidence in key countries which demonstrates the benefits of taking strong, early action on climate change;

mobilising support for such action through engagement with key decision-makers, including political, business and civil society leaders in key countries such as the US, China and India; and

with other UK Government Departments, developing and helping to implement regulation in key countries which facilitates investments in low carbon technologies and energy efficiency.

Under the new strategic framework we are also increasing our resources for staff working on these issues in London and overseas.

Home Department

Control Order Powers (December 2007 - March 2008)

Section 14(1) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 (“the 2005 Act”) requires the Home Secretary 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.

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

As stated in previous quarterly statements on control orders, control order obligations are tailored to the individual concerned and are based on the terrorism-related risk that individual poses. Each control order is kept under regular review to ensure that obligations remain necessary and proportionate. The Home Office continues to hold control order review groups (CORGs) every quarter, with representation from law enforcement and intelligence agencies, to keep the obligations in every control order under regular and formal review and to facilitate a review of appropriate exit strategies. During this reporting period, three CORGs were held in relation to the orders currently in force. In addition, further meetings were held on an ad hoc basis as specific issues arose.

During the period from 11 December 2007 to 10 March 2008, two non-derogating control orders were made. One of these was quashed following a review hearing. Three control orders were renewed in accordance with section 2(6) of the 2005 Act. One was subsequently revoked after the subject received a prison sentence for criminal offences unrelated to his control order. Three control orders against individuals who had absconded have expired.

In total, 11 control orders are currently in force, four of which are in respect of British citizens. Three of the individuals live in the Metropolitan police service area; the rest live within other police force areas. All of these control orders are non-derogating.

During this reporting period, 35 modifications of control order obligations were made. 12 requests to modify a control order obligation were refused. A right of appeal exists in sections 10(1) and 10(3) of the 2005 Act against decisions by the Secretary of State to modify an obligation imposed by a non-derogating control order, without consent, and to refuse a request by a controlled person to modify any such obligation. Three such appeals have been lodged in this reporting period. Two modification appeals have been heard and judgment has been given in one of these cases (the judge did not find it necessary to give an explicit ruling on the other appeal). A further modification appeal lodged in the previous reporting period was part heard during this reporting period. Section 10(1) of the 2005 Act also contains a provision to appeal against the renewal of a non-derogating control order. One appeal has been lodged against the renewal of an order in this reporting period and one such appeal has been heard with judgment reserved.

During this reporting period, six judgments relating to control orders were handed down by the High Court and one was handed down by the Court of Appeal. Two of these related to the case of Secretary of State for the Home Department v. Cerie Bullivant, which was heard during this reporting period. The first set out the approach that the court would take to Article 6 in the case. The second judgment related to the substantive review of Cerie Bullivant’s first and second control orders. The second control order was quashed on the basis that at the time of the review hearing grounds for reasonable suspicion of Cerie Bullivant’s involvement in terrorism-related activity did not exist. No final judgment was necessary on the first order as it had already expired prior to the hearing.

In the case of Secretary of State for the Home Department v. AE a judgment was handed down which found that, at that stage in the proceedings, Article 6 had been complied with. In the case of the Secretary of State for the Home Department v. AN, the High Court held that the Secretary of State would have to disclose further material to AN or withdraw reliance upon it in order to ensure that the hearing would be compatible with Article 6. In the case of Secretary of State for the Home Department v. AF the High Court ruled that without further disclosure to AF Article 6 has not been complied with, unless AF could have no conceivable answer to the case against him even if further disclosure was made.

The Court of Appeal handed down a judgment in the case of Secretary of State for the Home Department v. AF on procedural matters and a High Court judgment was handed down in the case of Secretary of State for the Home Department v. AM in closed only.

One substantive control order review was completed in the High Court having previously been adjourned—judgment is awaited in this case. Two substantive reviews were adjourned part heard and another was adjourned.

An individual was found not guilty on a number of charges of breaching control order obligations on 13 December 2007 by a jury at the Old Bailey.

A further individual has been charged for a number of breaches relating to his control order. He is currently on remand in prison.

Innovation, Universities and Skills

“Innovation Nation” White Paper and “The Race to the Top”

Today I am publishing two documents: “Innovation Nation”, a White Paper on Science and Innovation, and one on implementing “‘The Race to the Top’: Lord Sainsbury’s review of Government’s Science and Innovation Policies”. Copies will be made available in the Vote office and Printed Paper office.

The White Paper sets out what Government will do to ensure innovation can flourish across every area of our economy—in business, the third sector, and in the public sector.

We want to make Britain the best country in the world in which to run an innovative business or public service. We can do this by investing in people and knowledge, unlocking talent at all levels, by investing in research and in the exploitation of knowledge and by using regulation, public procurement and public services to shape the market for innovative solutions.

This White Paper marks a step change in the way we describe, understand and develop the Government’s role in creating the best conditions for innovation. We need to ensure that Britain contributes to the innovative solutions that will be needed if we are to tackle the big challenges of the 21st century, like global warming and sustainable development, and that British business and the British people benefit from the new opportunities and prosperity they create.

In our response to “‘The Race to the Top’: Lord Sainsbury’s review of Government’s Science and Innovation Policies”, which was published in October 2007, we outline the Government’s progress in implementing the recommendations set out in Lord Sainsbury’s review.

The Government have made good progress at implementing the recommendations. All recommendations have either been implemented or are in the process of implementation.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank David Sainsbury for his work on the review, which has been a catalyst for our further work on science and innovation.

Justice

Drug Testing in Prisons (Buprenorphine)

The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) takes the misuse of drugs in prisons very seriously. Since 1996-97, the overall random MDT positive rate has decreased from 24.4 per cent. to 8.8 per cent. in 2006-07. This represents a decrease of 64 per cent. for that period. Ministers are now urgently considering what further measures we need to take over controlling the supply of drugs into prisons. NOMS has been proactive in monitoring changing patterns of misuse and in ensuring that the best available supply reduction measures are in place. By this statement I am announcing that mandatory drug testing (MDT) for buprenorphine will be introduced in all prisons from 1 April.

Buprenorphine (Subutex) is being prescribed increasingly in the community in the treatment of opioid dependence and is gaining equal clinical status to methadone in some areas. This has been accompanied by increased illegal use. Buprenorphine testing has been in place since 1999, restricted to those prisons with an identified problem. Growing operational concern at the potential for wider buprenorphine misuse in prisons led NOMS to commission a survey in 2007 to assess the scale of the problem. The results show that misuse of this drug has grown to be a significant problem and that its use is now more widespread geographically.

Buprenorphine misuse presents a new challenge for prisons. In response, testing will now be introduced in all prisons to act as a deterrent. Prisoners will also be warned of the dangers involved in misusing this drug and reminded of the drug treatment options available in prisons.

The increased misuse of buprenorphine does not detract from the considerable achievement of prisons over the last 10 years in reducing the supply of drugs.

The introduction of buprenorphine testing in all prisons will however, inevitably lead to an increase in reported levels of drug misuse. Key performance targets have already been set for 2008-09, but these do not take into account the impact of buprenorphine. Therefore, this year two sets of performance data will be recorded: the headline measure excluding buprenorphine, and a separate measure including buprenorphine. This will demonstrate clearly the impact of buprenorphine testing and enable the comparison of prison performance to continue on a consistent basis. New targets that take into account buprenorphine misuse will then be set for 2009-10, although we may continue to run two data sets in parallel to provide longer-term comparisons of trends.

Copies of the report “A Survey of Buprenorphine Misuse in Prisons: July 2007” have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office. Copies are also available on the internet at http://www.justice.gov.uk/news/newsrelease130308a.htm

Transport

Local Bus Service Support

I am today publishing a consultation document on proposals to reform local bus subsidies. The proposals particularly focus on changes to my Department’s bus service operators grant to link it more effectively with our objectives on the environment, accessibility and congestion. They involve changes to help tackle the contribution of buses to climate change and to encourage technological modernisation, such as smartcard infrastructure and use of GPS data, which will help deliver better services for passengers.

Copies of the document and associated impact assessment are being placed in the Library of the House.