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Written Statements

Volume 474: debated on Wednesday 2 April 2008

Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 2 April 2008

Treasury

United Kingdom Coins

The Royal Mint has today unveiled the definitive reverse designs for new United Kingdom circulating coins from the one pence to the one pound piece. The designs were chosen following a public design competition to which over 4,000 entries were submitted. Coins bearing existing designs will continue to circulate alongside those bearing the new designs. Copies of the new designs have been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.

Children, Schools and Families

Adoptions from Cambodia

I am today announcing the outcome of a review of the suspension of adoptions of Cambodian children by UK residents.

In June 2004, the then Minister of State for Children, Young People and Families, my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge), announced the suspension of adoptions in response to concerns raised and investigated by officials from the DfES (now DCSF) who visited Cambodia, by the British Embassy in Cambodia and, separately, by other stakeholders about the intercountry adoption process in Cambodia.

A review of the suspension was announced last year and was carried out by my Department. The purpose of the review was to update the information on which the suspension was based, to find out what concerns, if any, remain valid and whether there are any other concerns about practices taking place.

The review work assessed the current situation in Cambodia regarding intercountry adoption, including what changes, if any, to practice and legislation have been made in the three years since the temporary suspension was introduced. The review also took account of Cambodia’s accession to the Hague Convention (on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption 1993).

On 12 December, the UK lodged an objection to Cambodia’s accession to the Hague Convention, in accordance with article 44 of the convention. Cambodia’s accession to the convention therefore has no effect as regards relations between the UK and Cambodia.

Evidence from the review demonstrates that: adoption legislation, practice and procedure in Cambodia remain insufficient to ensure the proper protection of children and their families; lifting the suspension at the current time would expose Cambodian children and their families to an increased risk of improper practices that are contrary to the principles of the Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in respect of Intercountry Adoption (the Hague Convention) and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The suspension of adoptions of Cambodian children by UK residents therefore still remains in place. I will of course consider the effect of any changes to adoption legislation and practice in Cambodia in keeping the suspension under review.

I am also announcing today the outline timetable for the implementation of the statutory provisions relating to the restrictions of adoptions from abroad in the Children and Adoption Act 2006. I intend to implement sections 9 and 10 and, in so far as they are not already in force, sections 11 and 12 of the 2006 Act in summer 2008.

Qualifications Regulation

I announced plans last September to set up an independent regulator of qualifications and tests. In December, along with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills I announced, for consultation, more detailed proposals. Subject to legislation, the new Office of the Qualifications and Examinations Regulator (Ofqual) will act as independent guardian of standards across the tests and qualifications system in England. The Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA) will develop curriculum, assessment and qualifications. I wish to update the House on progress with these plans.

As we develop and reform qualifications and tests, it is critically important not only that they are of the highest quality, but also that they are seen so to be. The new arrangements that we are putting in place will help to achieve this, underpinning high quality qualifications and tests with high levels of confidence. In making this change, we are building on the principles that underpinned the establishment of, for example, the Monetary Policy Committee and the Statistics Board, which have improved public trust in the systems they regulate through a combination of independence, clarity of remit and a transparent accountability framework. The joint command paper (Cm 7281) “Confidence in Standards: Regulating and Developing Qualifications and Assessment” published in December sought views on the roles and powers of the independent regulator and of the development agency for curriculum, assessment and qualifications into which QCA will develop. The consultation period closed on 10 March. The proposals were generally well received, and there were lots of valuable and detailed points on which we will need to reflect as we develop our detailed proposals. We will publish a formal response to the consultation paper by mid-June.

In the meantime, we will continue as planned to make those changes we can achieve within the existing legislative framework, so that we can secure benefits from the reforms as soon as possible. As a first step the Office of the Qualifications and Examination Regulator will shortly be established on an interim basis carrying out the QCA’s regulatory functions across this spring and summer test and examination period. While working within current legislation, Ofqual will be operationally independent. These interim arrangements will be an important step towards the new regulatory landscape that we are developing, and in themselves will contribute to confidence in the standards of the tests and qualification system in England.

In the consultation paper on the reforms we confirmed that we were setting in motion an appointments process for a chair of the regulator. Following a process overseen by the Office for the Commissioner of Public Appointments, I am delighted to tell the House that Kathleen Tattersall OBE has been appointed to be the first chair of the new independent regulator. Kathleen is the chair of the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors (which today receives its Royal Charter). Until 2003 she was director general of the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA), having been chief executive of a succession of awarding bodies over the previous 20 years. She will join the QCA Board and lead Ofqual in its interim form. Subject to legislation, she will become the regulator’s first chair when it is established as an independent statutory body. Kathleen Tattersall and Ofqual’s acting chief executive, Isabel Nisbet, will play critical leadership roles in setting up the new organisation, setting its strategic direction and developing the new regulatory framework which it will operate.

Setting up a new regulator will help ensure that learners of all ages and their teachers feel that their hard work and achievements are properly recognised. We are confident that these reforms to the regulatory landscape will both provide greater transparency in the arrangements for regulating and developing qualifications and tests, and secure the confidence in standards on which they depend.

School Admissions System

I made a statement on 11 March in which I set out concerns about compliance with the school admissions code and admissions legislation, based on an internal review of the published admission arrangements of schools in a sample of three local authorities. I explained that my Department was verifying the findings with the local authorities and schools concerned, and that we would present the detailed information to Parliament once we had given them the opportunity to respond.

I have today passed the results of this exercise onto the schools adjudicator to inform the work he is doing to ensure full compliance with all statutory requirements for admissions in 2009. A copy of my letter and a report including tables summarising the results of this exercise have been placed in the Library of the House.

I have also today published draft amendments to the Education and Skills Bill for consideration at Commons Report. The effect of the amendments will be to require local authorities to report to the schools adjudicator on admission arrangements in their areas; to extend the adjudicator’s powers so that he can act where he considers that any admission arrangements are not compliant with the statutory requirements; and to improve the process of consultation on admission arrangements in order to ensure that parents and communities can contribute to the development of admissions policies for their schools. Copies of the draft amendments have been placed in the Library of the House.

We are publishing today a step-by-step guide to the admissions and appeal processes for parents. A copy has been placed in the Library of the House. The guide contains straightforward advice for parents on all aspects of choosing a school place for their child, and sets out what they can do if they have concerns about the legality of a school’s admission arrangements. A copy of this guide will be made available for every parent applying for a school place in 2009.

My Department will publish further detailed proposals in the early summer to improve the application and allocation process for parents and to further strengthen the admission system so that it works for all children. This will include an improved process for ensuring that parents and communities are consulted on admission arrangements for their schools and improvements to admission forums.

The steps I have taken today will help ensure that every parent has a fair chance of getting their child a place at a school of their choice, and that no parent or child will be disadvantaged by unfair admission arrangements.

School Playing Fields

Before October 1998 there were no checks in the system to prevent the sale of school playing fields. Local authorities could sell school playing fields and use the proceeds for whatever purpose they saw fit.

Since 1998, under section 77 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, all local authorities and maintained schools in England have needed the consent of the Secretary of State before they can dispose of a school playing field or any part of a school playing field.

Published guidance sets out the criteria for giving consent and makes it clear that a disposal will only be allowed if the sports and curriculum needs of schools and their neighbouring schools continue to be met. Community usage of school playing fields is considered in decisions and any sale proceeds must be re-invested in outdoor sports facilities where possible, or, if not, in indoor sport or education facilities.

In addition, since July 2001 all applications to dispose of school playing fields have been scrutinised by an independent School Playing Fields Advisory Panel. The Panel comprises representatives from Fields in Trust (formerly the National Playing Fields Association), the Central Council of Physical Recreation, Learning through Landscapes, the National Association of Head Teachers and the Local Government Association.

The Panel advises the Secretary of State on the extent to which applications meet the published criteria for giving consent. The Panel brings a rigorous independent scrutiny to the assessment process.

In November 2004 the rules governing the sale of school playing fields were tightened so that the sale of a playing field is an absolute last resort with local authorities having to demonstrate that they have exhausted all other sources of funding. Sale proceeds must be used to improve outdoor sports facilities where possible and new sports facilities must be sustainable for at least 10 years.

This Government have not committed itself to end the sale of surplus school playing fields in any circumstances. What we did commit to end was the previous position of putting local authorities in a position where they had to sell those fields simply to pay for essential repairs. Our record levels of capital investment in schools - from under £700 million in 1996-97 to over £8 billion by 2011 - have also helped bring that situation to an end. 1,100 completely newly rebuilt schools have already been built - with brand new sports facilities and outdoor play areas. Another 2,450 schools have made massive improvements to sports provision, with newly built sports halls, all- weather pitches, gyms, playgrounds or changing rooms.

This Government legislated to ensure that school playing fields are sold only where they are genuinely surplus to local needs, including those of neighbouring schools. This Government have ensured that the proceeds of sales are invested mainly in providing new sports facilities, including new grassed pitches, all-weather pitches and sports halls. Where no sports improvements are needed the money from sales must be used to improve educational facilities.

The attached table shows details of the 19 applications which were approved on this basis in 2007.

Approved Applications to Sell an Area of Land Capable of Being Used as a Small Sports Pitch of 2,000m2 in 2007

School

Local Authority

Approved

Details

Beanfield Community College

Northamptonshire

17 May

Closed school—proceeds used to improve sports at other schools.

All–weather hockey and tennis pitch.

Floodlit, all-weather, multi-use games court.

Four-court sports hall.

Blackdale Middle School

Norfolk

2 November

Closed school—proceeds used to improve outdoor sports at four other schools.

Two multi-use games courts.

One new grass pitch.

One new playing field.

One tennis court.

New outdoor cricket facilities.

Cliftonville Middle School

Northamptonshire

8 May

Closed school—proceeds used to improve sports at eight other local schools.

New all-weather, multi-use games courts.

New grass pitches.

Upgrade gymnasium facilities.

Deedmore School

Coventry

20 April

Closed school—proceeds spent on new school.

New hydrotherapy pool.

New outdoor classrooms.

New sensory garden.

New all-weather pitch.

Eastwood Comprehensive

Nottinghamshire

24 May

Sale of part of playing field at closed lower site—proceeds used to improve sports provision on upper site and other local schools.

Improved outdoor facilities and indoor sports facilities at upper school site.

New sports pitch.

Green Lanes Primary

Solihull

12 March

Closed school—proceeds spent on sports at other schools.

Grading and levelling of grass pitches.

Improved grassed pitch.

New hard play area.

New sports hall.

Harefield Primary

Southampton

13 December

Surplus playing field sold to fund sports hall.

New sports hall.

New hard games court.

Hayesfield School and Technology College

Bath and NE Somerset

12 March

Off-site playing field sold to fund new on-site sports provision.

New sports Hall.

New dance Studio.

New all-weather pitch.

New running track.

New netball and tennis court.

Highbury Primary

Wiltshire

16 May

New build—surplus playing fields sold to fund new sports facilities.

New hard play area.

New games court.

New sports hall.

Leigh C of E Primary

Wiltshire

5 April

Closed school—proceeds used to improve sports at other schools.

New hard play area.

New sports hall.

Meadway School

Reading

4 April

Closed school—proceeds used for sports facilities at new SEN school.

New grass pitch.

New game court.

New outdoor play space.

New sports hall.

Therapy and hydrotherapy pool.

Pembroke Primary School

Wiltshire

8 May

First school site sold—proceeds used to fund sports facilities at new primary schools.

New external play area.

Improved sports hall.

New reception play ground.

Refurbished playground.

New netball court.

New sports hall.

Portland School

Nottinghamshire

8 January

Surplus playing field sold to fund new on-site sports facilities.

New all-weather pitch.

New multi-use games court.

Improved running track.

New sports hall.

Improved grassed pitches.

Senacre Technology College

Kent

4 September

Closed school—proceeds used to fund sports facilities at two new academies.

New multi-use games court.

Improved grassed sports pitch.

Two new gymnasiums.

Sir Bernard Lovell

South Gloucestershire

30 January

Sale of part of detached playing field to fund new on-site sports facilities.

Two improved grass pitches.

Two floodlit, all-weather, multi-use games courts. Two six-court sports halls.

St. Michaels C of E Controlled School

Wiltshire

8 May

Closed school—proceeds used to fund sports and education at other schools.

New hard games court.

New soft games area.

Two classroom extensions.

St. Thomas of Canterbury Catholic Primary

Surrey

17 May

Sale of part of detached playing field to fund on-site sports facilities.

New all-weather games court.

Improved grassed pitches.

Refurbishment of two sports halls.

Tyning Hengrove Junior School

Bristol

8 May

Closed school—proceeds used to fund sports at other schools.

Purchase new school playing fields.

All-weather, multi-use games court.

New sports hall.

Warblington School

Hampshire

20 November

Sale of surplus playing field to fund new sports facilities.

Floodlit, all-weather, multi-use games court. Refurbished school tennis court.

New sports hall.

Communities and Local Government

Local Government

On 4 February 2008, Official Report, column 47WS, I laid before Parliament a written ministerial statement about payments under the Local Authority Business Growth Incentives scheme (LABGI) in the light of legal challenge. I am now in a position to announce the methodology the Government intend to use, to make additional payments to local authorities for years 1 and 2 of the scheme and to make payments for year 3 of the three-year scheme.

For years 1 and 2, the Government propose to make additional payments to eligible local authorities using all Valuation Office Agency change codes which record an increase in rateable value and which were not previously used in LABGI calculations. This will ensure that all codes that could contain elements of business growth are taken into account. As a result, we propose that additional payments totalling approximately £50.9 million should be made to authorities (approximately £13.5 million for year 1 and £37.3 million for year 2).

For year 3, the Government intend to replicate the revised methodology for years 1 and 2 of the scheme in year 3. As I indicated in my statement of 4 February, it is necessary at this stage to retain a portion of the year 3 funding as a contingency and I intend to retain £100 million.

A further announcement about the distribution of the remaining funding will be made in due course. This funding will be allocated to local authorities in full, in line with the policy purposes for which LABGI was designed. The exact methodology will be confirmed once any uncertainty associated with legal challenges has been resolved.

The Government, therefore, are able to allocate around £246 million to authorities at this stage for year 3 of the scheme. As in previous years, it will be necessary to apply a scaling factor to the calculated allocations in year 3 to ensure that the funding distributed does not exceed the amount available. Each authority’s allocation will be scaled back to 28 per cent.

Further details of the methodology used for calculating the latest payments for all three years of the scheme can be found in a technical note which is being published today on the Communities and Local Government website at: http://www.local.communities.gov.uk/finance/labgi/technote0708.pdf

Details of the proposed funding for each qualifying authority under the Government’s proposals can be found at: http://www.local.communities.gov.uk/finance/labgi/draftdtmn0708v2.pdf

Copies of these documents are available in the Libraries of both Houses.

Authorities will now have until 16 May 2008 to raise any queries or issues about the methodology. I intend to confirm and make payments to authorities as soon as possible after this period.

Culture, Media and Sport

Draft Heritage Protection Bill

I am today laying the draft Heritage Protection Bill and explanatory notes for pre-legislative scrutiny. Copies of the related Impact Assessment are available in the Vote and Printed Paper Offices.

This is a draft Bill for England and Wales, which sets out the legislative framework for a unified and simpler heritage protection system that will be more open, accountable and transparent. The new system will provide more opportunities for public involvement and community engagement in understanding, preserving and managing our heritage. As the Impact Assessment makes clear, the main benefits of the reforms introduced by the Heritage Protection Bill are not best expressed in terms of the financial balance sheet, but are better understood in terms of public value and sustainability. The reforms set out in this Bill will enable us to preserve the historic environment and manage its transition to the future, in the light of both present values and in the interest of future generations.

The draft Bill is based on the proposals set out in the White Paper, “Heritage Protection for the 21st Century” (March 2007), which itself was based on three key principles: the need to develop a unified approach to the historic environment; maximising opportunities for inclusion and involvement; and supporting sustainable communities by putting the historic environment at the heart of an effective planning system.

The draft Heritage Protection Bill contains provisions for a single system for national designation (“registration”) of terrestrial heritage assets to replace the listing of buildings, scheduling of monuments and registering of parks, gardens, battlefields and, in Wales, historic landscapes. In England, we will be transferring responsibility for national designation of all these assets to English Heritage; in Wales that responsibility will remain with the Welsh Ministers. There will be new Heritage Registers, one each for England and Wales, containing details of all nationally designated heritage assets, as well as world heritage sites in England and Wales. There will also be formal appeals or review mechanisms for registration decisions, and provisional registration to give “interim protection” to historic assets while they are being considered for registration, as well as wider formal consultation on applications to register.

Alongside this unification of designation, we will be unifying and streamlining the associated consent processes, with the introduction of a new Heritage Asset Consent to replace Listed Building Consent and Scheduled Monument Consent, and the merger of Conservation Area Consent with planning permission. In England, the new Heritage Asset Consent will be administered by local planning authorities, allowing the management of the historic environment to take place at local level; in Wales, the draft Bill will provide flexibility to allow central decision making where appropriate, recognising the different levels of capacity in Wales.

We recognise the need for effective conservation and management of the historic environment at local level to be knowledge-based, and for the records of our historic environment to be available to as many people as possible. This Bill will secure the basis for informed stewardship of the historic environment, within and beyond the planning system, by placing local authorities under a new statutory duty to maintain or have access to an Historic Environment Record (HER). HERs are a comprehensive resource on the local historic environment, containing information on archaeological sites and finds, historic buildings and historic landscapes, complementing and enriching our existing collections of museum, archives and libraries.

In keeping with this drive towards greater accessibility, the new Heritage Registers will also be available online and new records will be simpler, clearer and more detailed.

The draft Bill will also introduce a new statutory framework for voluntary management agreements between the owners of heritage sites and structures and local or other authorities. These agreements will free owners from the need for repetitive consent applications for similar works, reducing the bureaucratic and administrative burdens for owners and local authorities alike, and providing greater certainty on the long-term management of the site.

Striking the balance between flexibility and the need to ensure protection alongside conservation and management characterises our proposals to reform the marine heritage protection system in England and Wales. We have broadened the range of marine historic assets that can be protected, ensuring that there is greater consistency—where appropriate—with the terrestrial system, and brought greater flexibility to the licensing system. As we have done for terrestrial designations, we have also built a formal consultation process into the registration of marine heritage sites and ensured protection for those assets formally being considered for designation.

These reforms will give us a heritage protection system that is open, flexible and accountable. Our heritage is an important source of national and community identity; people recognise its value and work hard, voluntarily and professionally, to ensure its conservation and pass it on. We are increasingly recognising the value of the historic environment in contributing to the Government’s wider agenda in terms of place-making and promoting economic prosperity through regeneration and sustainable use of existing resources. The proposals in the draft Heritage Protection Bill will enable us and future generations to benefit from a thriving, well-managed, sustainable and widely-enjoyed historic environment.

The draft Bill we are publishing today follows long and extensive consultation. We are publishing in draft to generate and benefit from the widest possible debate. If there are proposals for further changes, we will consider them carefully in the light of all the views expressed.

Defence

Reservists (Balkans)

A new call-out order has been made under section 56 of the Reserve Forces Act 1996 so that reservists may continue to be called-out into permanent service to support military operations in the Balkans. The order takes effect from 2 April 2008.

Over the next 12-month period we expect to have some 20 reservists in theatre at any one time filling a variety of different posts, including staff officers, specialists and members of the training teams.

Innovation, Universities and Skills

Artist's Resale Right

I am today placing in the Libraries of both Houses copies of a study by the Intellectual Property Institute (IPI) into the effect on the UK art market of the introduction of the artist’s resale right (ARR).

The Directive 2001/84/EC on the resale right for the benefit of the author of an original work of art was adopted in 2001. This required a new right, “artist’s resale right” (often referred to by its French name droit de suite) to be introduced into the United Kingdom by 1 January 2006.

Due to concerns over the potential impact that the introduction of ARR might have on the UK art market, the UK Government successfully secured a number of concessions within the directive to lessen its impact. These were:

A cap of €12,500 royalty on any one sale.

A commitment from the EC that they would make it a priority to negotiate internationally to make the relevant article of the Berne Convention mandatory so that the right would be introduced in the USA and Switzerland (on which little has yet been done nor it seems is likely to be done).

A derogation to 2010, extendable upon request to 2012, allowing the UK to delay applying the right to works by deceased artists.

The implementing regulations were brought into force in the UK on 14 February 2006. ARR entitles artists and, for 70 years after death, their successors in title, to a percentage of the sale price whenever original works of art are re-sold in transactions involving art market professionals.

The purpose of the study, commissioned by the UK Intellectual Property Office, was to provide:

An assessment of the impact on the UK art market of the introduction of artist’s resale right (ARR).

An assessment of the costs, both to business and collecting societies of administering the right.

An assessment of the benefit to artists in the introduction of the right.

The Government are considering this evidence to develop our understanding of the impact of ARR on UK creativity and the UK art market.

International Development

Palestinian Authority

We are gravely concerned about the situation in Gaza. The closure of Gaza’s crossings is contributing to the collapse of the economy. There are shortages of essential humanitarian supplies such as medicines, foodstuffs and hearing aids. Restrictions on supplies of fuel and electricity have led to widespread power cuts and water shortages. While we fully understand Israel’s security concerns, we do not support the decision to close Gaza crossings. The Foreign Secretary and I have called on Israel to open them, and to lift all restrictions immediately on humanitarian supplies and electricity. While resolving the humanitarian situation is in the hands of the parties concerned, we are doing what we can to help alleviate the situation.

In order to address the humanitarian situation, to support the Palestinian economy and to meet the urgent funding needs of the Palestinian Authority, we intend to provide an additional £30 million in support to the Palestinians in 2007-08, taking our total contribution to £63.6 million for this financial year. This is part of the pledge of up to £243 million over three years, linked to political progress, which I announced at the Paris donor conference last December. The UK is leading the international community in following through on its Paris pledges promptly, providing funding when it is most needed before other pledges come through.

This new funding will strengthen the Palestinian Authority’s ability to take forward reform at a critical time. It will help pay teachers, doctors and engineers, keep basic services running and meet the budget shortfall facing the government of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. It will directly benefit Gazans, as well as Palestinians living in the West Bank.

All funding will be delivered through reputable international institutions and safeguards will be put in place to ensure it is properly used. Our support for the Palestinian Authority will be routed through the World Bank and the EC’s new aid fund known as “PEGASE”.

DFID’s support for Gazans includes our agreement to provide £100 million over five years to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). UNRWA provides healthcare, housing, education and food to Palestinian refugees across the Middle East. Seventy per cent. of people in Gaza are refugees who will benefit directly from this assistance.

I also announced to the House on 12 March that we will provide £2 million to the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) as a further response to the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Justice

Tribunals Service (Key Performance Indicators 2008-2009)

The following list of key performance indicators have been set for the Tribunals Service for 2008-2009.

1. 75 per cent. of tribunal applications will be dealt with within each individual tribunal’s target time.

2. 72 per cent. of Tribunals Service customers are satisfied with the service they receive.

3. To reduce annually the operating costs of the Tribunals Service in real terms. The Tribunals Service is committed to achieving efficiency savings of £9 million in 2008-2009.

Copies of the Tribunals Service Business Plan for 2008-2009 have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

*More information on these and other supporting targets are published in the Tribunals Service Business Plan.

Legal Aid Reform

My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, has made the following written ministerial statement.

“The Legal Services Commission (LSC), the Ministry of Justice and the Law Society of England and Wales today reached agreement on the best way forward for legal aid providers following the Court of Appeal judgment on the Unified Contract (29 November 2007).

The agreement was achieved through a series of constructive discussions between the three organisations. The agreement is designed to provide a significant period of certainty and stability for civil legal aid providers to enable them to adapt to the changes to the legal aid system that have already been introduced, and to consider and plan for the future. The agreement also addresses a number of specific issues that the Law Society has identified to the LSC and Ministry as being of concern to civil legal aid providers and, where these issues require further consideration, sets up joint mechanisms to address these collaboratively.

The main points of agreement are:

in order to provide a period of certainty and stability for civil legal aid providers it is agreed not to terminate the existing civil Unified Contract until it expires in 2010, subject to the conditions set out in the agreement;

my Department and the LSC agree not to introduce any other changes to civil, family and asylum contracts for solicitors and Not-for-Profit providers before April 2010, other than those set out in the agreement;

the Law Society agrees not to pursue its current legal challenge to the new civil fee schemes introduced in 2007 and early this year, and not to support any further such challenges;

to assist providers in planning for the future, my Department and the LSC agree to publish details and a timetable of the future programme of civil legal aid reforms;

that all three organisations have a strong commitment to work together in the future to develop the reforms and to seek to resolve any disputes in this way rather than through litigation;

there will be a few targeted increases in some of the fees in the civil fee schemes already introduced; and

further practical issues, including arrangements for dealing with payments on account and claims on cases over six years old are set out in the agreement.

A copy of a joint statement agreed by all three parties has been made available in the Libraries of both Houses. Further details of the agreement will be available shortly on the website of the Legal Services Commission at www.legalservices.gov.uk.

The legal aid reform programme will continue. The Government remains fully committed to its objectives of improving client access to quality services and providing value for money for the taxpayer.”

Probation

On Wednesday, 9 April, I will publish a consultation document about the introduction of a Best Value system into probation. The consultation period will run until 2 July 2008.

During the passage of the Offender Management Bill last year, the Government signalled a move away from a target-based regime in which probation areas had to outsource a proportion of their work to a model based on the principles of best value. In discussion with interested parties, we have drawn up a proposed model for how Best Value would work and we are now consulting publicly on this.

The proposed Best Value model would apply to all services funded by probation boards and trusts. It would enable boards and trusts to demonstrate, in a transparent way, the value for money of their services, and to drive improvements in the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of their service delivery. Best Value reviews would be based around five areas—consult, compare, challenge, collaborate and, where appropriate, compete. The reviews may result in the competition of services, but only if they have shown that that would be the most efficient and effective delivery option; the Best Value process is neutral as to the final result. By delivering efficiency savings, Best Value will provide value for money to the taxpayer and, by improving the effectiveness of service delivery to offenders, it will contribute towards our aim of reducing reoffending.

Copies of the consultation document will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses. Copies will also be available in the Vote Office and Printed Paper Office and on the internet at: www.justice.gov.uk/publications/consultations.htm

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

Today I am delighted to announce that the appointment of Anne Owers CBE as HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales has been extended until 31 March 2010.

Ms Owers’ expertise and knowledge will continue to play a key role in enabling the prisons inspectorate to deliver a credible and effective inspection programme for prisons and immigration removal centres.

Transport

Transport Innovation Fund

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 measures that combined better local public transport with hard demand management measures, such as road pricing. We also announced that we were prepared to ensure that up to £200 million a year would be available from the Transport Innovation Fund to support such packages.

So far 10 areas have benefited from this pump-priming funding, enabling them to analyse their current and emerging congestion issues and consider how demand management could form part of the solution. In March 2008, we announced that we were extending the commitment to make available up to £200 million a year up to 2018-19, in line with our long term funding profile for transport, and inviting authorities to bid for further pump-priming development funding for 2008 and 2009.

I am today announcing the first successful area to benefit from this additional funding. We are making up to £500,000 available to the West of England Partnership (covering Bristol City council, Bath and North East Somerset Council, North Somerset Council and South Gloucestershire Council) to take forward the development of their proposals for improved public transport and demand management.

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.

Local authorities have until 30 May to submit bids for this additional pump-priming and I shall announce further successful authorities after that date. 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.

Highways Agency (Roadside Facilities)

I have today published a new policy for roadside facilities on England’s strategic road network, “Policy on service areas and other roadside facilities on motorways and all-purpose trunk roads in England.”

The policy has been developed in the light of responses to a recent public consultation and is aimed at improving service to road users. The policy covers issues including:

the location of motorway service areas (MSAs)—determining the need for such sites and the spacing interval between them;

facilities at MSAs—the type of facilities, how they are signed and their standards;

service areas on trunk roads;

lorry parking and;

the provision and use of lay-bys.

Copies of the policy and impact assessment have been placed in the Libraries of the House.

Bulk Mail Handling

On 17 December, the Secretary of State for Transport announced to Parliament a number of immediate measures to improve the security of personal data handled by the Department for Transport and its Agencies. This included the precautionary requirement that any bulk transfer of personal data not by electronic transmission should take place through point-to-point transfer by a secure courier.

We have kept all security arrangements under active review, and continue to improve them as needed. We have also kept closely in touch with our customers, and with the Cabinet Secretary's ongoing review of data handling in Government.

In the light of this feedback, and the need for high standards of data security combined with greater operational flexibility to meet some customer needs, I have now agreed that the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, and other Department for Transport Agencies where necessary, may use secure distribution services which are not restricted solely to point-to-point networks, providing that the security arrangements are high, including identification and tracking of each individual package at each stage of the journey, as well as the use of secure premises where necessary. This is a significantly higher standard than the position prior to December.

I will keep these arrangements under review in the light of practical experience and the Cabinet Secretary's continuing review.