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Children in Care

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Jacqui Smith): The Department's Public Service Agreement (PSA), published July 2002, included a commitment to review the target on the education of children in care, in light of the Social Exclusion Unit (SEU) project on that subject. Work on the SEU project is nearing completion, and I am now in a position to announce the new target, which is to:

The elements of the PSA target relating to the level of education, training and employment outcomes for care leavers aged 19, the proportion of children in care who are cautioned or convicted, and the under-18 conception rate, remain unchanged.

In developing the target I have been keen to encourage action to support attainment by all children in care. This includes younger children, those who are able and have the potential to achieve at a high level, and those with difficulties who need support to remain engaged with education at all.

I therefore welcome the SEU's proposal that as part of the existing planning process, individual education targets should be set for all children in care and local authorities should monitor both the appropriateness and the achievement of these targets. We will be consulting stakeholders on how best to achieve this.

In order that the target reflects the influence of the care system on attainment, it will apply only to children who have been in care for one year or more. Nonetheless, I believe that promoting the attainment of children who spend a shorter time in care is important. I have therefore agreed with My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills that he will put in place arrangements to analyse data from the pupil level annual school census, in order to improve our understanding of outcomes for those young people who have spent any time in care. The results of this analysis will be used to inform the development of future policy.

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Copies of the technical note accompanying the new PSA target have been placed in the Library.


Regional Planning Guidance (North-West)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. Tony McNulty): RPG13 sets out the spatial development strategy that encompasses proposals for the development of the Region's economy, housing and transport infrastructure, and other land uses. Within the terms of the strategy, priority is to be given to sustainable development and investment within the North West Metropolitan Area (especially the Regional Poles of Manchester/Salford and Liverpool), together with defined Regeneration Priority Areas. RPG13 also sets out proposals for the conservation, management and enhancement of the Region's natural and cultural environment.

I am pleased that much of the vision, objectives and core strategy of RPG13 carries forward to a great extent what was proposed in the original draft RPG prepared by the North West Regional Assembly (NWRA). RPG13 reflects the effective working that was achieved between the NWRA, local authorities and other stakeholders, all of which have made valuable contributions to refine and enhance the original draft guidance through public consultation. It builds on the inclusive process for preparing RPG that the Government have put in place. Many of the comments received in response to the consultations carried out earlier have made a positive contribution to the overall strategy for sustainable development and have been taken on board.

The North West Regional Assembly, in its role as the Regional Planning Body, will work with partners—including the business community—to ensure its effective implementation, monitoring and review.

Housing Bill

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. Tony McNulty): The Government is today publishing as CM 5793 a draft Housing Bill for consultation. This aims to tackle some of the most pressing difficulties in private sector housing. The draft Bill will ensure action against unacceptably low housing standards, the impact bad landlords can have on some local communities and the stress in buying and selling a home. These proposals are part of our drive to deliver sustainable communities as set out in the Deputy Prime Minister's long-term action programme "Sustainable Communities: Building for the Future" published in February this year.

The draft Bill sets out specific legislation in five main areas:

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There are additionally clauses introducing a new office of Social Housing Ombudsman for Wales to investigate complaints against registered social landlords in Wales. There are also proposals to give local authority landlords the flexibility to continue introductory tenancies by up to six months, adding to the armoury of measures to tackle anti social behaviour by tenants.

The consultation period will run until 9 June. The draft Bill, together with the explanatory notes, Regulatory Impact Assessments and issues for consultation, has been published as a Command Paper and will also be available on the website for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Copies of all the consultation material have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The Government have also today published consultation documents on the Home Information Pack, covering its contents and its applicability in areas of lowest housing demand. There will also be separate consultation on possible changes to the powers of the Housing Corporation and National Assembly for Wales to regulate registered social landlords.


UK-US Bilateral Extradition Treaty

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): I am today, together with US Attorney General John Ashcroft, signing a new bilateral extradition treaty between the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

The current UK-USA extradition treaty was agreed in 1972 and ratified in 1976 with supplementary provisions from 1986. It is outdated and can be significantly improved.

The new treaty reflects best modern practice in extradition. In particular, it provides that any crime attracting a maximum sentence of 12 months' imprisonment or more in both the requesting and the requested state is extraditable rather than containing a list of offences which are extraditable, as the present treaty does. The advantage of that is that it encompasses offences, such as computer related crime, which did not exist when the 1972 treaty was drawn up.

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The new treaty brings the evidential rules for requests from the United States into line with those for European countries and simplifies the procedures for the authentication of documents.

As with the existing treaty, the new treaty provides that in death penalty cases, extradition may be refused unless an assurance has been received that no death sentence will be carried out.

The new treaty also maintains the present position that political motivation cannot be used to block extradition in the case of terrorist or other violent crimes. The treaty stipulates that neither nationality nor statutes of limitations will be a bar to extradition. The treaty also provides the standard speciality protection against onward extradition or surrender, and we have confirmed our understanding that this covers surrender to the International Criminal Court.

Before the treaty can come into force it needs to be ratified by the United States Senate. It will be brought into force in the United Kingdom by Order in Council. Such an order will be made under the existing Extradition Act 1989 and will carry over when the Extradition Bill, which is currently before Parliament, comes into force. At that point the United States, like all of our extradition partners, will benefit from the new streamlined extradition procedures which the Bill seeks to put in place.

The United States is one of our key extradition partners and there is a significant volume of extradition business between the two countries. It is therefore important that our bilateral extradition treaty should be as effective as possible. I am pleased that it has been possible to reach agreement on the new treaty and that I have the opportunity in person to affirm our commitment to the closest possible co-operation in the fight against terrorism and other serious crime.

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