Written Ministerial Statements
Monday 22 June 2009
Children, Schools and Families
Today, I welcome the publication of Sir Jim Rose’s report on identifying and teaching children with dyslexia or literacy difficulties.
In May 2008, I asked Sir Jim Rose to make recommendations on the identification and teaching of children with dyslexia and on how best to take forward the commitment in the Children’s Plan to establish a pilot scheme in which children with dyslexia would receive reading recovery support or one-to-one tuition from specialist dyslexia teachers.
Sir Jim’s final report makes 19 recommendations for the Government, local authorities and schools on assessing and advancing children’s progress, improving support to schools, strengthening teaching expertise, strengthening intervention programmes, assuring the quality of provision and providing guidance for parents and others.
We accept all those recommendations requiring action from my Department and also we endorse the recommendations requiring action from delivery partners.
My officials will look with the Dyslexia-Specific Learning Difficulties Trust at how they might best work with us at implementing the recommendations. I have set out our initial plans in my response to Sir Jim and we will provide further details in the autumn. We will make up to £10 million available over this and the next financial years, to support the implementation of Sir Jim’s recommendations and on other projects—including those taken forward by the Dyslexia-Specific Learning Difficulties Trust—to improve outcomes for children with literacy difficulties and dyslexia. We plan to invest most of this in specialist training.
Copies of the report and our initial response will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Marine and Fisheries Agency (Performance Targets)
I have set the Marine and Fisheries Agency (MFA) the following performance targets for 2009-10.
Quality service delivery
Licensing and monitoring of coastal and marine developments and activities to protect the marine environment and secure benefits from its use.
Provide an initial response to 75 per cent. of applications within 12 weeks of the receipt of complete applications1, summarising the responses to the consultation process and listing any replies still outstanding for which an extended response date has been agreed.
Issue a screening determination on 80 per cent. of marine minerals applications within six weeks of receipt of the application.
Confirm with applicants, in writing, when the negotiation stage of the renewables FEPA licensing progress has concluded and inform them of the licence decision within six weeks of the correspondence date.
Effective management and regulation of sea fisheries to secure a sustainable future.
Fishing vessel licensing
Issue 100 per cent. of over 10 metre licences biennially by 23 March and 100 per cent. of under 10 metre licences biennially by 30 June.
No overfishing of quota stocks by vessels or groups for which the agency has management responsibilities and which results in EU deduction or infraction proceedings against the UK.
Sea fisheries enforcement
Deploy enforcement and inspection resources in line with risk weightings and undertake monitoring, control and surveillance activities leading to inspection based on risk and intelligence.
Value for public money
Deliver the MFA transition programme and relocation within the resources allocated working in collaboration as appropriate with DEFRA and other network delivery partners.
Capacity and capability
Ensure that agency maintains capacity to deliver its services during the relocation of the HQ to Tyneside and to develop its new and existing people through a comprehensive training and development programme working as appropriate in collaboration with DEFRA and other network delivery partners.
Further details are given in the MFA business plan for 2009-10, copies of which will be placed in the Libraries of the House.
1 Include plans, charts, technical drawings, method statement and any environmental statement that may be required.
“Appraisal of Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management”
I would like to inform the House that the Defra policy statement: “Appraisal of Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management” was published on Friday. Copies will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
This policy statement sets out guiding principles for the appraisal of plans and projects to manage flood and coastal erosion in England. It promotes a strategic, risk-based approach to assessing the costs and benefits of investment. The policy applies to operating authorities in England (the Environment Agency, local authorities and internal drainage boards) when considering investing public money in flood and coastal erosion risk management. The Environment Agency will publish more detailed best practice guidance in support.
The intended benefits of the new policy statement include:
A greater focus on early involvement with the community and social factors; including better assessment of impacts on health, community well-being and social justice. It seeks to support the development of options that attract other sources of funding, to leverage Government investment and increase local and regional benefit.
A more thorough appraisal of a wider range of possible approaches including adaptation where it is not feasible to reduce the probability of flooding and coastal erosion from occurring.
A transparent framework for decision making to ensure that public investment represents good value for money.
A greater emphasis on flexibility in future, such as being able to adapt solutions over time as the climate changes. This supports Defra's coastal change policy which is currently being consulted on.
The statement follows on from the public consultation held in summer 2008. The draft statement received broad support and the final document published takes account of the main issues raised during the consultation. To build on this, I will review ahead of the next spending review what we want to achieve from Government investment, including whether there is a case for establishing outcome measures for agricultural land and commercial property, to broaden the existing focus beyond households, deprived areas, the economy, and the environment if the benefits justify the additional costs. I will also review the local government national indicator 189, to ensure that it encourages a partnership in tackling flood and coastal erosion through local and multi-area agreements.
The Environment Agency has also published “Investing for the future: a long term investment strategy” (a key recommendation of Sir Michael Pitt’s review and from the EFRA Select Committee), a new external contributions policy, and “Flooding in England”, a national assessment of flood risks as they currently stand.
Sir Michael Pitt concluded that long-term approaches to flood and coastal erosion risk management should not assume all costs should be met centrally, and recommended that local areas be encouraged to invest more in their own protection given the private as well as public benefits involved. I hope these publications, taken together with the new UK climate projections, will inform a public debate on what long-term goals society should seek in managing the risk of flooding and coastal erosion given climate change, and how investment needs should be met. This will enable us to face up to the choices ahead, to take appropriate decisions based on the best evidence available, and to deliver sustainable flood and coastal risk management now and into the future.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
General Affairs and External Relations Council
The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) was held on 15 June in Luxembourg. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and the Minister of State for Europe represented the UK. The agenda items covered were as follows:
The full text of conclusions adopted, including ‘A’ points, can be found at: http://www.consilium.europa.eu/App/NewsRoom/loadDocument.aspx?id=349&lang= EN&directory=en/gena/&fileName=108527.pdf
Preparation of the 18-19 June European Council
The GAERC discussed the presidency’s agenda for the June European Council. The European Council will focus on EU institutional issues; financial supervision and regulation; climate change funding mechanisms; employment; illegal migration across the Mediterranean; and external relations.
On institutional issues, there was widespread support for a positive outcome from the June European Council on Irish legal guarantees, with a view to securing the entry into force of the Lisbon treaty.
On financial supervision and regulation, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary agreed the system for micro-prudential supervision needed to be reformed; however, the new supervisory authorities should not have the power to impose decisions on national supervisors or firms, where those decisions would require member states to take fiscal action. On macro-prudential supervision, he agreed with the establishment of a European systemic risk board, but made clear that its chairmanship should be representative of the EU as a whole, not only the eurozone. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary also noted the importance of G20 summit follow-up and preparation.
On employment, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made clear that any accelerated mobilisation of the social fund should remain within the existing financial perspective ceilings. He also suggested that June European Council conclusions should call for increased EIB lending, particularly to business and critical infrastructure projects, in order to accelerate economic recovery.
On climate change, the presidency said that the conclusions language would go forward to the June European Council, an outcome that the Government support.
On illegal migration, Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Malta emphasised the scale of the problem in the Mediterranean and its disproportionate impact upon them; they were looking for other member states to help share the burden. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary agreed with the need to address the issue at its roots — it was not enough just to deal with migrants when they arrived, we needed to take a more long-term approach, which prevents the migrants from travelling to the EU in the first place.
On external relations, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary welcomed the inclusion of an Afghanistan/Pakistan declaration in the European Council conclusions, and looked forward to the Pakistan summit on 17 June. He also noted that Aung Sung Suu Kyi’s birthday would coincide with the European Council; even before a verdict in her trial, it would be appropriate for EU heads to send a message of support from the Council to her, and to demonstrate commitment to democracy in Burma. The presidency confirmed that there would be European Council conclusions on Burma, which would send a clear message of the EU’s intention to act.
The Government support these discussions at the June European Council. In particular, we welcome the continued co-ordinated EU response to the economic and financial situation.
The presidency decided to drop this item from the GAERC agenda.
The full text of all conclusions adopted can be found at: http://www.consilium.europa.eu/App/NewsRoom/loadDocument.aspx?id=349&lang=EN&directory=en/gena/&fileName=108525.pdf
High Representative Solana debriefed Ministers on his recent visit to the region and noted that continued EU-US co-operation would be vital, especially over the next few weeks. There was widespread agreement on the importance of further EU-US co-operation, addressing settlements, securing access to Gaza, and supporting a comprehensive, regional approach. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary agreed and urged the EU to encourage support for the Arab peace initiative.
Ministers agreed conclusions on the MEPP, welcoming the US Administration’s commitment to pursuing a two-state solution and a comprehensive peace. They also confirmed the EU’s readiness to work actively with the US and other Quartet members to achieve this goal and contribute substantially to post-conflict arrangements aimed at ensuring the sustainability of peace agreements.
Following the outcome of the elections in Iran, Ministers agreed conclusions without discussion, based on a UK text, setting out the EU’s concerns about the post-election situation, focusing on the need to respect freedom of expression and, while underlining the EU’s willingness to engage with Iran, stressing the need for Iran to meet its own responsibilities.
Ministers spoke positively about the conduct of elections in Lebanon, noting the longstanding EU contribution to help stabilise the situation there, and adopted conclusions that congratulated the people of Lebanon and encouraged all parties to co-operate with President Sleiman.
The Council adopted conclusions, which renewed the EU’s commitment to the common position and extended the EU-Cuba political dialogue for a further 12 months. The Council undertook to review these in June 2010, based on an assessment of progress on issues raised in the conclusions, in particular human rights and political reforms. The conclusions called for the Cuban Government to allow unimpeded contacts with civil society in the margin of high level EU visits. The presidency commented that practically no progress had been made by Cuba on human rights and civil liberties, however the EU would continue its two-track approach and keep open the door for continued dialogue. Developments would be closely monitored with a view to reporting back to the Council by the end of 2009.
Discussion of Burma in the context of the June European Council is recorded in the section “Preparation of the 18-19 June European Council”.
The presidency noted that member states were united in their condemnation of the trial of Aung Sung Suu Kyi and in their desire for a robust response to the verdict. They underscored the importance of engaging Asian partners, of working to address circumvention of the existing measures and working through EU special envoy Fassino.
In terms of additional measures against the regime, there was consensus around the need to keep these under further consideration, pending the verdict of the trial.
International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) Chief Prosecutor Brammertz briefed Ministers on the co-operation of Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia with the ICTY. Following an exchange of views on implementation of Serbia’s Interim Agreement and following Brammertz’s report on Serbia, Ministers noted that Heads of Government would discuss the issue at the June European Council.
The Council adopted conclusions on visa liberalisation, regional co-operation and Bosnia and Herzegovina — all of which the Government support.
The Netherlands highlighted the need for a discussion in the autumn. Sweden, as incoming presidency, confirmed that this was in their plans.
EU attendance at international meetings
Sweden voiced its concern at the level of EU attendance at the recent ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting) Ministerial and EU-ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) Foreign Ministers meetings; they urged the EU to plan meetings carefully and ensure proper attendance to deliver impact. The Commission supported.
Ministers discussed this issue in the context of preparations for the June European Council, as reported above.
The presidency decided to drop this item from the GAERC agenda.
NHS Dental Services
Today the Department of Health is publishing Professor Jimmy Steele’s report on the future of NHS dental services. The report sets out a clear vision for the future of NHS dental services which are accessible to all, provided to a high quality and focused on prevention and improving oral health.
Professor Steele was asked by my predecessor to conduct an independent and comprehensive review of NHS dental services in December 2008, and to provide advice on some of the specific issues raised in the Health Select Committee’s report on NHS dental services published last July.
Professor Steele acknowledges the current problems that some people have in accessing NHS dental services and agrees that the NHS should continue to address specific capacity shortages through the current dental access programme.
Further, Professor Steele notes specific concerns that patients have about NHS dentistry, and makes recommendations on improving the provision of information to patients to help them find an NHS dentist, as well as improving support for NHS dentists to provide high quality care for more patients, as dentists themselves wish to do.
The report highlights many of the complexities in NHS dentistry and therefore recommends that all proposed changes to dentists’ contracts should be piloted thoroughly, and that the recommended changes to the pathway of the dental patient through care should be evaluated carefully. It also recommends much more effective collection and use of information to help monitor and develop the quality and effectiveness of the care patients receive. The Government accept the recommendations in principle, subject to working through the detail of their financial implications. The report recognises the more difficult future fiscal environment, and rightly puts an emphasis on piloting, cost containment and more efficient ways of working. With that in mind, we will begin work immediately to set up the pilots and develop plans for further implementation, working closely with the profession as we do so.
I wish to put on record my thanks to Professor Steele and his team for an excellent report that will provide a way forward to improve NHS dentistry over the next decade.
This report has been placed in the Library of the House and copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office.
Olympic Delivery Authority
The Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) has entered into agreements for Triathlon Homes LLP (Triathlon) to purchase 1,379 affordable homes on the Olympic village development. I have given a guarantee, as Minister for the Olympics, in support of those agreements.
Triathlon is a consortium of First Base and the registered social landlords Southern and East Thames. The principal agreements are between Triathlon, its debt funders and Stratford Village Development (GP) Limited (Stratford Village Development), a wholly owned subsidiary of the ODA which is developing the village on the ODA’s behalf.
As Stratford Village Development is a newly established company, with minimal financial strength, the ODA has guaranteed its obligations under the terms of those agreements and has also undertaken to Triathlon, and its debt funders, to perform certain obligations which fall directly on the ODA.
The ODA itself has no significant sources of funding independent of Government and is expected to have a limited life span that many of Stratford Village Development’s obligations are expected to exceed. In such circumstances, and given that the obligations go beyond the lifetime of the 2012 games, I have agreed to a ministerial guarantee of the ODA in support of its guarantees of Stratford Village Development and the ODA’s direct obligations. Such a guarantee is provided for under the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006.
The guarantee essentially covers the ODA contracting to build and convert the units from athletes’ use at games time to affordable housing specification and the ODA delivering its scope for the wider Olympic park infrastructure.
All Stratford Village Development’s and the ODA’s obligations to Triathlon and its funders are within the ODA’s existing scope and budget—therefore no additional funding is required. As with the rest of the ODA’s programme, there would be access to programme and funders’ contingency, if it became necessary, from within the existing public sector funding package.
The obligations do not constitute additional contingent liabilities because the obligations covered by the guarantees can be funded within the overall public sector funding package for which a contingent liability was announced to Parliament in March 2007.
At the point at which the ODA is wound up, any remaining rights and obligations under its guarantees and direct undertakings will be managed and considered as part of the Government’s decision at the time on the allocation of the ODA’s remaining assets and liabilities.
The Local Transport Act 2008 includes powers for the Secretary of State to make provision, in secondary legislation, to establish a new regime for the impounding of illegally-operated public service vehicles (PSVs). A similar existing regime in the goods vehicle sector has contributed to a significant reduction in illegal operations.
The Government have consulted on proposals to establish a new impounding regime for PSVs, and to make some minor amendments to the existing goods vehicle regime. A response to the consultation is being published today, confirming the Government’s intention to proceed with the proposals. Copies are available in the Libraries of the House, and on the Department for Transport’s website.
Work and Pensions
UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Following our ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on 8 June, I am pleased to announce that the explanatory memorandum and Command Paper for ratification of the optional protocol to the convention will be laid before Parliament later today.
Ratification of the optional protocol is an important step and underlines the messages in the convention about respect for the human rights of disabled people.
As my statements of 3 and 27 February indicated, the optional protocol builds on the convention by establishing two additional procedures in respect of implementation and monitoring of the convention itself.
The first is a procedural avenue that, subject to meeting conditions set out in the optional protocol, will enable individuals or groups of individuals to bring petitions to the UN Committee that has been established to monitor implementation of the disability convention if they believe that their rights under that convention have been breached. The second is an inquiry procedure giving the Committee authority to undertake inquiries when reliable information is received into allegations of grave or systematic violations of convention rights.