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Written Statements

Volume 507: debated on Wednesday 17 March 2010

Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 17 March 2010

Treasury

Turks and Caicos Islands (Counter-Terrorism)

An Order in Council in respect of the Turks and Caicos Islands has been made today. It comes into force on 18 March 2010.

The Order in Council provides new powers for the Governor of the Turks and Caicos Islands to implement a graduated range of financial restrictions in response to certain risks to the interests of the Turks and Caicos Islands or the United Kingdom. The risks it addresses are those posed by money laundering, terrorist financing, and the proliferation of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons. Any directions given under the Order will be made by the Governor of the Islands.

The powers replicate those in schedule 7 to the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 which apply to the United Kingdom. The Order in Council has been made in response to a request by the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Children, Schools and Families

Laming Report (Government Response)

My right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Justice and for Health, the Home Secretary and I are today publishing “The Government’s Response to Lord Laming: One Year On”, an update on progress on implementing the Government’s action plan in response to Lord Laming’s report, “The Protection of Children in England: A Progress Report” published in March 2009 and a description of the priorities for the year ahead.

A great deal has been achieved. Over 50,000 people have registered for information on how to become a social worker in response to our national recruitment campaign. The action on health visiting programme has raised the profile of this important profession and introduced new requirements to monitor their numbers and case loads. There has also been significant focus and challenge on arrangements for child safeguarding across the NHS over the last year. A new police child protection delivery plan has also been commissioned which will set out recommendations for future improvements to police capability and practice to enhance the delivery of child protection within forces.

The report also pays tribute to the many thousands of social workers, teachers, police officers, doctors, nurses, health visitors and many others who support and protect children and young people. They are making a positive difference to so many children and young people’s lives every day.

We are also publishing today a revised version of “Working Together to Safeguard Children”. This is the statutory guidance used by all those who work with children, young people, families and their carers. It implements many of Lord Laming’s recommendations and also takes account of a consultation exercise that ran from December 2009 to February 2010. The revised guidance strengthens the requirements relating to the publication of serious case review (SCR) executive summaries, including requiring local safeguarding children boards (LSCBs) to make sure that executive summaries accurately reflect the full overview report and include:

information about the review process;

key issues arising from the case;

the recommendations; and

the action plan.

These requirements, made explicit in a template setting out a recommended format for SCR executive summaries, will build on the action which we have already taken to further strengthen SCRs. Today’s revised guidance also builds on responses from experts in child protection such as the NSPCC and Barnado’s.

We will be working with stakeholders in the next few months to produce a short practitioner guide to complement “Working Together”.

We are also publishing today for consultation “Local Safeguarding Children Boards—Practice Guidance” and the Government’s response to the “Working Together to Safeguard Children” consultation.

Also today, Sir Roger Singleton, the Government’s first chief adviser on the safety of children, has produced his first independent annual report to Parliament on progress in safeguarding. I have written today to Sir Roger thanking him for his advice and support over the past year which has helped to shape and strengthen safeguarding policy across many areas. His report recognises the progress made but it also challenges us to go further in respect of resources, working closely with partners, learning from serious case reviews and supporting practice improvement. We welcome his report and look forward to working with him in the year ahead to tackle the issues he identifies, in partnership with the national safeguarding delivery unit and the many safeguarding stakeholders, service managers and front-line practitioners who are equally committed to making a difference for children, young people, families and carers.

One of the issues identified in his report is the increase in demand that many children’s services are experiencing, especially children’s social care. As a first step in responding to that, today we are announcing a new local social work improvement fund of £23 million. This can be used flexibly by local authorities and their partners to put in place local solutions which help to reduce pressure at the front line and to build capacity for earlier support and intervention.

This commitment of new funding sits alongside “Building a Safe and Confident Future: Implementing the Recommendations of the Social Work Task Force” which we are also publishing today. This sets out our long-term and ambitious programme of reform for social work.

Keeping children safe is our highest priority. I am committed to working across Government and with our national and local partners to do all we can to support, and where appropriate to challenge, with the aim of delivering the best possible outcomes for children and young people.

We are placing a copy of the above documents in the Libraries of both Houses. For more information, please visit: www.dcsf.gov.uk/nsdu and www.dcsf.gov.uk/swrb.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Annual Report on Human Rights

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office 2009 annual report on human rights will be published at 5 pm. The report explains the Government’s activities and policies to address human rights challenges overseas in the period 1 January to 31 December 2009

The report will be laid before Parliament this afternoon and copies will be made available in the Vote Office and Printed Paper Office in the House of Lords. A copy of the report is also available on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website: www.fco.gov.uk. I commend the report to the House.

FCO Services (Performance Targets)

My noble Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead, has made the following written ministerial statement: FCO Services operates as a trading fund of the FCO. I have set the following performance targets for 2010-11:

An in-year surplus before interest and tax of at least £4 million.

A return on capital employed of at least 3.5 per cent. (weighted average).

Wider market revenue growth of 10 per cent. on that achieved in 2009-10.

A contribution to the FCO’s comprehensive spending review commitments by delivering £12 million of cumulative cash savings over the three years 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11.

A utilisation rate for revenue earning staff of at least 76 per cent.

A customer satisfaction rating of at least 85 per cent. satisfied or very satisfied.

FCO Services will report to Parliament on its success against these targets through its annual report for 2010-11.

Health

Social Work Task Force

With my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Children, Schools and Families, and Business, Innovation and Skills, I am publishing today “Building a Safe and Confident Future: Implementing the Recommendations of the Social Work Task Force”. In December 2009, the social work taskforce made 15 focused recommendations for the fundamental reform of the system that supports social workers in England. This publication sets out how the Government are working with employers, higher education institutions, the profession itself and people who use social work services to put those recommendations into effect.

Every day high-quality social work makes a big difference, not only to the safety, prospects and life chances of individuals, but also to the stability and equality of our society. It is therefore essential that the right support and systems are in place to enable social workers to practise to the highest professional standards.

“Building a Safe and Confident Future” sets out a route map for how the taskforce’s recommendations will be achieved over the next five to 10 years. Some of the changes recommended by the taskforce can and must make a difference immediately. Other taskforce recommendations will require extensive consultation and require time to put in place. “Building a Safe and Confident Future” sets out the anticipated time scales for implementing all of these recommendations, including:

work already under way in establishing the independent College of Social Work with the recruitment process for an interim chair to begin this month and the expectation that the college will be a fully functioning independent organisation by April 2011;

the expectation that over the coming year all social worker employers will work with their staff to conduct a local “health check” of the support they have in place, and to take action for improvement where necessary;

improvements to initial social worker education with strengthened entry requirements to the social work degree;

reviews of the degree curriculum, bursary arrangement and the quality and quantity of practice placements, and more transparent and improved regulation of higher education providers;

consultation and assessment of options and impact for the introduction of the recommended assessed year in employment and licence to practise; and

consultation on a new framework for continuing professional development in social work beginning in summer 2010 with the framework to be phased in from 2011.

The reform programme will require sustained commitment from all partners over a number of years. To establish the firmest possible foundation for this, “Building a Safe and Confident Future” is accompanied by a commitment to Government investment of more than £200 million in 2010-11. This investment is additional to core funding for social work in higher education, local government and the NHS. It will be used to support recruitment, student bursaries and practice placements, work force development, improvement of IT in children’s services and supporting employers to remodel services.

In recognition of particular pressures on local authority children’s services, £23 million of Government’s £200 million investment in social work next year will go directly to LAs to put in place local solutions which help to reduce pressure on front-line social workers and will build capacity for reform and improvement. Local authorities will be expected to consult with social workers and local safeguarding partners in deciding how to use it. This will be accompanied by a £15 million capital grant from DCSF to local authorities for the improvement of information technology systems, including the Integrated Children’s System.

We are placing a copy of “Building a Safe and Confident Future: Implementing the Recommendations of the Social Work Task Force” in the Library and copies are available for hon. Members from the Vote Office.

Home Department

Police National Database Code of Practice

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary today has laid before the House a statutory code of practice on the operation and use of the Police National Database (PND). The code of practice is made under section 39A of the Police Act 1996, following a public consultation exercise which finished at the beginning of February 2010.

The PND will, for the first time, enable the police service in England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and other law enforcement bodies that support public protection, to share, access and search existing local intelligence and operational information on a national basis. The PND fulfils one of the key recommendations of Sir Michael Bichard’s inquiry into the Soham murders and will replace the interim information-sharing solution we put in place in 2005, the IMPACT nominal index.

The PND, which is due to be launched in May 2010, will provide forces with immediate access to up-to-date information from across the service. It will bring together existing data from five operational areas of policing—custody, crime, intelligence, child abuse and domestic abuse—in to one central system. It will help the police to prevent and detect crime, with a focus on safeguarding children and vulnerable people, countering terrorism, and preventing and disrupting serious and organised crime.

The purpose of the code of practice is to promote consistent and lawful use of the PND. Chief police officers will have to have regard to the code and the supporting guidance when adopting practices for the use of the PND and the information obtained from it. This will help to ensure that such information is used effectively for policing purposes.

The PND will not hold new information—it will store intelligence and other information held on local force systems—but there will be concerns about how this information is used. The code of practice is one of a number of important safeguards that will help to prevent misuse of the new system.

Copies of the code of practice will be made available in the Vote Office.

Justice

Land Registry

Land Registry is announcing today the conclusions of its consultations on the five-year programme of reorganisation and transformation that that was set out in my earlier statement on 22 October 2009, Official Report, columns 76-77WS.

Land Registry believes that its decisions will help create an organisation that can meet the challenges of a developing property market, that can live within its means and that can continue to provide an outstanding service to its customers.

Land Registry has been involved in detailed discussions with its staff and their union representatives covering all the proposals since October and held a public consultation on the proposals to close five offices. Over 350 responses were received to the public consultation and Land Registry has made changes as a result. In addition, almost 600 members of the public and businesses took part in questionnaire surveys aimed at assessing the impact of the proposed office closures, and of these, over 100 were engaged in follow-up telephone surveys and a further 36 business customers in focus groups.

Land Registry has recognised particular concerns that the initial proposals could have left them with no presence in the south east of England (with the future of its head office being uncertain at that time). This would have meant that access to certain services that are currently provided face-to-face would have been restricted in this area.

In response to those concerns, Land Registry will now keep open their offices at Croydon and Peterborough. Land Registry will now only be closing two offices completely in 2011, those at Stevenage and Tunbridge Wells. In addition, the main Portsmouth office will close by 28 February 2011. Land Registry does, however, intend to retain a reduced presence in Portsmouth, co-located with Portsmouth city council, until 31 March 2013. Land Registry has decided upon this approach in recognition of representations that, due to particular local circumstances, a longer period of transition was desirable.

Land Registry will close one of its offices in Plymouth, relocating the staff affected to its other main building in the city.

The conclusion of the head office review has resulted in a decision to co-locate this with the Croydon local office. Discussions will be now held with staff and their unions, and work will be done to ensure that customers using the contact centre at Lincoln’s Inn Fields are alerted to the changes.

Land Registry’s board also recognises that the prospect of a further two office closures beyond 2011 was creating particular uncertainty. Therefore, further staff reductions beyond 2011 will be achieved as far as possible through targeted voluntary redundancy severance, rather than office closures.

A combination of office closures and voluntary severance means Land Registry will reduce by 1400 staff, to 4600 by 2011. Additional voluntary severance between 2011 and 2014 should result in a further reduction to 3800. The staff numbers used here are on a full-time equivalent (FTE) basis. The total number of staff in post, taking account of part-time working etc, is estimated at just over 5,000 by the end of 2011, and 4,200 by the end of 2014. This decision means that a third less staff will be facing compulsory redundancy than was originally envisaged.

The proposals regarding the outsourcing of certain support functions have been confirmed.

The decisions announced today retain a greater office presence than the original proposals and rely more on the use of voluntary redundancies, but are still expected to save around £500 million over 10 years.

Final decisions, following consultation, should mitigate significantly the impact on Land Registry’s loyal and hard-working staff. There will be more opportunities for staff to apply for voluntary severance. For those facing compulsory redundancy, there will be more opportunities for re-deployment in Land Registry or to other Government Departments, and a comprehensive support package is being put in place—including outplacement support, opportunities for further education and financial advice.

Land Registry believes that the decisions will allow it to make far better use of its buildings and to create significant efficiency savings.

Building as robust and sustainable an organisation as possible will allow Land Registry to be proactive rather than passive in the face of market changes and to be in good shape for a recovery in the property market. Land Registry will be formulating a clear vision and strategic plan of delivery over the coming months to position itself for the future. Land Registry will continue to work to meet the needs of its customers and harness technology to build services around those needs.

The Lord Chancellor also approved changes to Land Registry’s governance arrangements that will result in a new Land Registry board, chaired by a non-executive chairman and with more non-executive directors. The new arrangements will strengthen Land Registry’s corporate governance and ensure that the actions of the chief land registrar and his management team are subject to appropriate scrutiny.

Land Registry have today published “Land Registry’s Accelerated Transformation Programme: Consultation Responses Report”, copies of which have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and are available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.

Prison Service Pay Review Body Appointments

My right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice has appointed Professor John Beath for three years, and re-appointed John Davies and Bronwen Curtis, also for three years, as members of the Prison Service Pay Review Body, all commencing March 2010. The appointment and re-appointments have been conducted in accordance with the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments code of practice for ministerial appointments to public bodies.

Northern Ireland

Devolution (Policing and Justice)

On 9 March 2010 the Northern Ireland Assembly voted, on a cross-community basis, to request the devolution of matters relating to policing and justice. The legislation required to give effect to the transfer of these powers will be debated in the House next week.

To underpin the practical arrangements relating to policing and justice post-devolution to the Northern Ireland Assembly, several documents have been developed or revised. These documents are, in summary:

A Protocol on National Security

The national security protocol sets out how the Secretary of State and the Justice Minister will work together where there is an interface between the Justice Minister’s responsibilities for policing and justice and the Secretary of State’s statutory responsibility for national security.

Concordats on Judicial Independence and on Prosecutorial Independence

Concordats are non-legally binding agreements between the UK Government and the devolved Administration. Both of these documents underscore the principles of judicial and prosecutorial independence enshrined in legislation, and reflect the constitutional position that there should be a clear separation between the executive arm of Government and the administration of the law.

Intergovernmental Agreements on Criminal Justice Co-operation and on Police Co-operation

There are existing agreements in these fields between the two sovereign Governments of the United Kingdom and Ireland and they are binding in international law. They now incorporate minimal amendments that are necessary to take account of the devolution in responsibility for policing and justice. The purpose of the agreements is to underpin cross-border co-operation on policing and criminal justice.

A separate protocol on policing architecture is in development and will be finalised by the Northern Ireland Executive after devolution. I expect to be able to share this with Parliament at a later date.

I have arranged for copies of each of the documents to be placed in the Library of the House.