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Volume 559: debated on Monday 25 February 2013


Monday 25 February 2013


Petition presented to the House but not read on the Floor

Human Rights in India

The Petition of residents of the United Kingdom,

Declares that the Petitioners believe that the UK Government should encourage the Indian Union to take immediate action to stop human rights abuses facing minorities in India and that India should sign and ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and the UN Charter against torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment which encompasses the death penalty and thus India should abolish the death penalty as it is a cruel, inhumane and degrading form of punishment; further declares that the UK Government should campaign to stop Balwant Singh Rajoana’s death sentence and have him released from jail as he has served 17 years in custody and that the Indian Union should release all political prisoners, prisoners of conscience and prisoners who have been imprisoned without trial.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to appeal to India for the above actions to be taken, and requests that the House holds a debate on these issues and brings them to light in the European Union and United Nations.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr David Winnick.]



Culture, Media and Sport

Hemlington library (Middlesbrough)

The Petition of residents of Middlesbrough,

Declares that the Petitioners acknowledge the unfair and savage cuts imposed on Middlesbrough and particularly the impact to Hemlington library; further that the Petitioners note that local authors Richard Millward and Peter Brunton support this Petition and also note the great work done by local Councillors Nicky Walker and Jeanette Walker who made this Petition possible, alongside local volunteers including school children from Hemlington Hall Primary, St. Gerard’s Primary and Viewley Hill School.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Department for Communities and Local Government to explore every possible avenue, including the obtaining of funds from the development at Hemlington Grange, to keep Hemlington Library open.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Tom Blenkinsop, Official Report, 18 December 2012; Vol. 555, c. 820.]


Observations from the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport:

The Government are committed to championing the public library service. Libraries can and do contribute to a range of local and national government priorities including assisting people to access a range of educational materials, to find employment and work with parents, schools and colleges to support education and learning agendas. All these connections can have positive benefits for communities.

The Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 requires all library authorities to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service based on local need within available resources. The assessment, funding and provision of library services, including issues such as opening hours, are therefore for local authorities to determine. Decisions about Hemlington library are a matter for Middlesbrough Council, and the Department notes that the Library could remain open through a move to a volunteer-supported service in 2013-14.

The Secretary of State, has a duty under the Act to superintend the delivery of library services by local authorities. A number of local authorities have announced plans to reconfigure their library services, and we monitor progress on plans, including those of Middlesbrough Council. Where the Government consider that a local authority is no longer providing a comprehensive and efficient service, it has the power to order an inquiry.

The Government continue to support libraries and has transferred the responsibilities for the development and improvement of public libraries to Arts Council England (ACE). ACE is currently undertaking a major research project to help develop a long-term vision for public libraries in England. Additionally, they have worked with the Local Government Association to publish new research into communities’ involvement in library service delivery and management. The report, “Community libraries—Learning from experience: guiding principles for local authorities” was published on Tuesday 22 January and the guiding principles will assist local authorities who are considering reviewing the delivery of their library services to work with their communities.


Home to School transport

The Petition of residents of Durham,

Declares that the Petitioners believe that the Home to School Transport Guidance and Education Act 1996 does not make adequate provision for children travelling safely to and from school and that it should be amended to set a new statutory threshold of 2 miles to access free school transport; to properly define a safe route to school as one that considers issues of lighting topography, degree of isolation and other relevant matters and defines a safe route as one that can be walked safely by secondary school aged children without being accompanied by an adult.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to amend the Home to School Transport Guidance and Education Act 1996 accordingly and ensure that all households in receipt of any earnings replacement or means tested benefit or tax credits shall have access to free home school transport.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Roberta Blackman-Woods, Official Report, 29 January 2013; Vol. 557, c. 872.]


Observations from the Secretary of State for Education:

Having confidence in the safety of their children on the home to school journey is of paramount importance to every parent. I want pupils to be able to travel to school safely. It is the responsibility of local authorities to decide whether a route is safe or not, having had regard to the guidance produced by the Department for Education.

Existing Home to school Travel and Transport Guidance, to which local authorities have a duty to have regard, suggests that in assessing walking route safety, the assessment should be conducted as if children are accompanied. However, the guidance also makes provision for local authorities to consider whether it is reasonably practical for the child’s parent/carer to accompany the child on a route which would otherwise be classified as too dangerous to walk in reasonable safety. Parents have a right to appeal any decision not to provide transport support. Following our Efficiency and Practice Review, I am considering strengthening the transparency of those appeals processes so as to ensure parents are clear on what basis (and information) all such decisions are made by local authorities.

The guidance sets out that in assessing the safety of a route, consideration should be given to risks a child might face and that a range of factors are taken into consideration, including, for example, the child’s age; whether risks might be mitigated if the child were accompanied by an adult; road width and the existence of pavements; the volume and speed of traffic and the existence of street lighting etc. This list is not exhaustive and I look to local authorities to work with their communities, even in times of reducing public expenditure, to give parents the confidence that routes are safe.

There are no plans at this stage to amend the statutory walking distances, given that local authorities have discretionary powers to make necessary transport arrangements as appropriate; the flexibility in existing guidance and the right of parents to appeal against a decision not to award transport.