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Written Statements

Volume 487: debated on Thursday 29 January 2009

Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 29 January 2009

Children, Schools and Families

National Curriculum Tests

In my response to Lord Sutherland’s report into the delivery of National Curriculum tests for 2008. I gave a commitment to provide the Government’s response to his report by the end of January. The Schools Minister and I are giving evidence to the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee on Wednesday 4 February. We have now received the Qualification and Curriculum Authority’s action plan following Lord Sutherland’s report. We will publish this, alongside the Government’s response to Lord Sutherland’s report, in advance of that hearing.

Youth Alcohol Consultation

The Secretary of State for Health, and I are today announcing a 12-week consultation on proposed guidance, advice and information on alcohol consumption by children and young people. This consultation is on two documents that are aimed at reaching all parents, children and young people under 18 as well as health, education and children’s services professionals: the first is new guidance by the chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, on the consumption of alcohol by children and young people; the second contains the Government’s initial ideas for the supporting advice and information for parents and young people in the light of the independent medical guidance.

The number of young people who drink is decreasing, but those who do drink are drinking more, more often and at a younger age. Young people who drink regularly are more likely to put their health at risk and get into trouble by getting involved in anti-social behaviour or dropping out of school. We also know that there is a strong link between young people’s drinking and unprotected sex, which can lead to unplanned pregnancies.

We want to reduce the damage that young people, families and the community experience as a result of youth drinking. That is why we launched the Youth Alcohol Action Plan in June 2008 containing firm proposals to tackle the problems of young people drinking in public places and to work in partnership with the alcohol retail industry to continue to tackle instances of underage sales. In the Youth Alcohol Action Plan, we said that we would ask the chief medical officer to produce clear health guidance in order to help young people to make sensible decision, about drinking, and to support parents to protect their children from the harms associated with early alcohol use. This work has been done and I am grateful to the chief medical officer for producing his guidance on which our advice and information for parents and young people will be based.

This England only consultation will last 12 weeks, finishing on 23 April 2009. It is available at: www.dcsf.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Sustainable Development Commission

The Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) is the Government’s independent adviser and “watchdog” on sustainable development, reporting to the Prime Minister, the First Ministers for Scotland and Wales and the First Minister and Deputy First Minister for Northern Ireland.

The SDC was established as an advisory NDPB in October 2000. In the 2005 UK sustainable development strategy, “Securing the Future”, the Government committed to reviewing the status of the SDC to assess whether it might be better equipped to fulfil its expanded “watchdog” role as an executive rather than advisory body. The outcome of this review was that it would. Therefore from 1 February 2009 the SDC will be established as an executive NDPB, as a company limited by guarantee, with Jonathon Porritt as chairman (until the end of his term of office in July 2009) and Andrew Lee, previously director of the SDC, as chief executive. This change has been made with the agreement of Ministers in the devolved Administrations.

The SDC will maintain its current staff, objectives and Commissioners but will now be better able to fulfil its role. It will continue to receive core funding from DEFRA and the devolved Administrations.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Global Security: Japan and Korea (Foreign Affairs Committee Inquiry)

I will today lay before the House the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Command Paper giving the FCO’s response to the Foreign Affairs Committee’s 30 November 2008 report “Global Security: Japan and Korea”. This document will also be available on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website link

The Government welcome the detailed work which the Committee has undertaken. Japan and South Korea are important partners for the UK and, over the coming year, the Government will work closely with both to tackle the new global challenges. The financial and economic crisis is at the top of our international agenda and the UK Government are working closely with both countries as we prepare for the London summit in April. We will also be working with both countries on promoting a low carbon economy, and continuing to advise Japanese and South Korean companies that the UK is the place with which and in which to do business.

North Korea’s nuclear ambitions are the single biggest threat to international security in the north-east Asia region. The UK Government strongly supports the six- party talks mechanism and continues to see it as the best means of achieving verifiable denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. Our close relationship with the US and our representation in North Korea offer us opportunities to contribute to this process.


Co-operation and Competition Panel

Patient choice and contestability are potentially powerful drivers of improved quality and efficiency in the provision of National Health Service services. Involving individuals in decisions about their care and offering people a choice of provider, type of treatment, or the time and location of that treatment, are all characteristics of a high-quality, patient-centred health service.

We must ensure that choice, co-operation and competition within the NHS operate in the interests of patients and taxpayers, and that quality is the organising principle. Achieving these aims depends on having a rules-based approach, clear roles and responsibilities for oversight of the system and effective mechanisms for redress.

The Co-operation and Competition panel was established to ensure that NHS-funded services support the delivery of high quality care for patients and value for money for taxpayers. After announcing on 11 September 2008 that Lord Carter of Coles will take up the post of Chair, I am pleased to confirm that the Co-operation and Competition Panel will open for referrals from 30 January 2009.

In carrying out its responsibilities, the Co-operation and Competition panel will work with all parts of the NHS, the independent sector and others to promote best practice, drive improvements in the delivery of healthcare and protect the interests of patients.

The role of the Co-operation and Competition panel is to provide independent advice to strategic health authorities and the Department of Health, and Monitor (for compliance issues concerning NHS foundation trusts), on alleged breaches of the principles and rules of Co-operation and Competition published alongside the 2008-09 operating framework. The rules aim to foster patient choice and use competition to drive service improvements.

On receipt of advice from the Co-operation and Competition panel, it is the responsibility of strategic health authorities, the Department of Health, and Monitor (for compliance issues concerning NHS foundation trusts) to decide whether and how to implement the recommendations.

Strategic health authorities retain responsibility for strategic, competitive and comparative oversight in their locality but now have the additional support offered by the Co-operation and Competition panel to ensure the NHS has effective governance and oversight and operates in the best interests of patients and taxpayers. Strategic health authorities will continue to hold primary care trusts and NHS trusts to account for managing choice and competition.

The Co-operation and Competition panel can also advise the Department of Health and Monitor on the development of policy and wider competition issues within healthcare. In making its recommendations, the Co-operation and Competition panel will help ensure that co-operation and competition within the NHS supports the objective of delivering high-quality care for all.

The commencement of the Co-operation and Competition panel also marks the start of a consultation phase they are undertaking guided by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Code of Practice on Consultation. A series of guidance documents published on their website for consultation, outline how the Co-operation and Competition panel will do business with the NHS. The consultation phase will allow NHS staff and stakeholders sufficient time to understand the process and offer advice, suggestions and alternatives to meet their needs.

I welcome the launch of the Co-operation and Competition panel.

More information about the Co-operation and Competition panel can be found at http://www.ccpanel.

NHS Foundation Trusts and Monitor (Health Committee Report)

The Government have today laid before Parliament their response (Cm 7528) to the Health Committee’s report into NHS foundation trusts and Monitor.

NHS foundation trusts (FTs) are a key part of the Government’s reform programme in the NHS. FTs are delivering high standards of care and good financial performance. The annual health check ratings produced in October 2008 by the Healthcare Commission showed that of the 42 trusts rated “excellent” for both quality of services and use of resources, 38 were FTs.

The Government welcome the Committee’s report. Since first being authorised in April 2004, the number of FTs has grown steadily. Of the 225 acute and mental health trusts eligible to apply for FT status, 113—just over half—are now FTs. Now is a good time to take stock of their progress.

One of the key strengths of the FT model is the involvement of local people through being members and governors. The FT governance model is a key part of the Government’s drive to move from a centrally managed NHS towards one that is managed locally, and so more responsive to patients. A recent independent review concluded that the FT governance model works well and offers significant benefits, but also noted that there is scope for further benefits to be realised. In the light of the Committee’s concerns that the governance arrangements seem to be slow to deliver benefits, the Government will work with stakeholders to ensure the potential benefits of FT governance are fully realised.

The Government are satisfied that FT status is delivering significant benefits, both in terms of patient care and corporate governance. To spread these benefits as widely as possible, all remaining acute and mental health trusts are working towards achievement of FT status by the end of 2010. The Committee’s report will help to ensure that as FTs provide an increasing amount of NHS services, patients reap the benefits offered by FT status.

In response to the Committee’s concerns about no organisation having a clear remit to assess objectively whether or not FTs are becoming more innovative, the Government are exploring the options around research into FT innovation and the value added by FTs.

The Government’s response is available in the Library and hon. Members can obtain copies from the Vote Office.


(Government Information) National Archives

The independent team appointed by the Prime Minister to review the 30-Year Rule has today published its report. Copies are available in the Vote Office, Printed Paper Office and the Libraries of the both Houses.

The Government welcome the report and are grateful to Paul Dacre, Sir Joe Pilling and Professor Sir David Cannadine for producing this comprehensive and detailed report.

The Government will respond to its recommendations in due course, but agrees that there should be a substantial reduction in the period after which official papers should generally be released to the public, and that this should be introduced on a phased basis.

I will make a further announcement to the House once the Government have prepared its detailed response to the report.


Dartford-Thurrock Crossing Charging Scheme (Account 2007-08)

My noble Friend Lord Adonis, the Minister of State for the Department for Transport, has made the following ministerial statement:

The Dartford—Thurrock Crossing Charging Scheme account for 2007-08 is published today under section 3 (1) (d) of the Trunk Road Charging Schemes (Bridges and Tunnels) (Keeping of Accounts) (England) Regulations 2003. A copy of the accounts will be placed in the House Library.

Practical Motorcycling Test (Consultation)

I have today published a response to the Consultation Paper which sought views on a proposal to introduce a new practical motorcycling test and associated fees.

The DSA is required to implement European Community Directive 2005/56/EC with the main aim of improving road safety for motorcyclists.

After consultation a key decision is that the practical motorcycling test will be split into two modules.

Module 1— a specified manoeuvres test

Module 2— a road riding test

Bookings for the test in its new format will commence from 30 March at the latest, with the first tests taking place on 27 April.

A two part test will provide more delivery options, from a greater number of locations, enabling better utilisation of the current test centre estate and thereby offering improved geographic coverage. It will offer an improved level of customer service for motorcycling candidates and reduce the travel to test distance for some candidates.

The current fee for the existing standard practical motorcycling test, £80.00 will be split into 2 elements: £10.00 for Module 1 and £70.00 for Module 2.

The motorcycling test fees will increase to £15.50 for Module 1 and £75.00 for Module 2, for tests taken on or after 5 October 2009.

Copies of the Response to Consultation Paper and Impact Assessments have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The documents are also available from the DSA Website

Kickstart Bus Funding Competition 2009

In September 2008 my predecessor, the right hon. Member for Bolton West, (Ruth Kelly), announced that £25 million had been set aside for a second round of Kickstart bus funding. I am now pleased to confirm that the competition is launched today, and that we are now welcoming bids for funding for new and enhanced bus services from local authorities and their partners.

Kickstart is targeted at schemes that have the potential to become successful but which initially might be more marginal in commercial terms and require some financial help to start them off, or which are currently marginal schemes that with some extra support could be made more successful.

Through Kickstart, we are looking to pump-prime bus services which will contribute to the Department’s overall objectives of increasing bus patronage, and in particular developing bus services as an alternative to car use, bringing with it a reduction in congestion and benefits to the environment. It is also about improving accessibility and social inclusion. This round will also focus on schemes which make use of the new bus powers in the Local Transport Act 2008. We hope this will allow us to build up good practice on the use of these powers to promulgate to other local authorities and operators.

The application form and guidance are today being placed on the Department’s website and in the House Libraries. We will also email these documents to the key bodies which represent local authorities and bus operators later today.

Applications for funding will be accepted through to 3 July 2009, and I anticipate that an announcement of the successful schemes will be made in autumn 2009.

Detrunking Programme (Removal of Route)

My noble Friend Lord Adonis, Minister of State, Department for Transport, has made the following ministerial statement:

The policy of transferring to local highway authorities the responsibility for trunk roads that are considered to be non-core was first set out in the White Paper “A New Deal for Transport”, published in July 1998 (Cm 3950).

Following advice from the Highways Agency, informed by discussions with the relevant authorities, I have now decided that the following route section should be removed from the announced detrunking programme and remain part of the strategic road network, maintained and operated by the Highways Agency:

A40 in Gloucestershire (from M5 Junction 11 to the Herefordshire boundary).

I have written to the appropriate local highway authority, and relevant MPs, outlining the reasons for my decision. Copies of these letters have been placed in the Library of the House.

Work and Pensions

Employment and Social Policy Ministers Meeting

Lord McKenzie of Luton has made the following statement:

The informal meeting of Employment and Social Policy Ministers was held on 22 and 23 January 2009 in Luhacovice, Czech Republic. I represented the United Kingdom along with my right hon. Friend, the Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs.

The theme of this informal was “Mobility—a bridge between the labour market demand and the supply of working skills”. Its aim was to highlight the role of workforce mobility in enhancing labour market flexibility, social cohesion and economic growth in the European Union.

Following on from the opening session when representatives from the European institutions and social partners outlined their views, the meeting was split into three plenary sessions, each devoted to specific challenges linked to mobility: job mobility, geographical mobility and social mobility. For the United Kingdom, I intervened on the job mobility session, supporting the European Union economic recovery plan and the European Union skills review, and described some of the recent United Kingdom initiatives in response to the current economic crisis. The presidency and many member states stressed the undiminished importance of mobility, particularly for those furthest from the labour market. The key role of education and skills to ensure the rapid re-inclusion of workers was highlighted. The presidency concluded that the current financial and economic crisis only highlighted the need for greater workforce mobility.

The meeting concluded with a ministerial discussion on the working time directive, attended by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs. The United Kingdom and many other member states argued that retaining the opt-out continued to be an absolute priority. The presidency stated that it would try and facilitate an agreement with the European Parliament during the conciliation process but that finding an agreement would not be easy.