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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 4 November 2004


Regulatory Impact Assessments

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Ruth Kelly): The Government are committed to ensuring that regulations are necessary, give effective protection, balance cost and risk, are fair and command public confidence. In accordance with this, we require Departments to produce and publish regulatory impact assessments (RIAs) for all regulatory proposals likely to have an impact on business, charities or voluntary bodies. Since 1 April 2004, RIAs have also been carried out on proposals with a significant impact on the public sector.

I have today presented to Parliament a Command Paper (Cm 6329) listing RIAs published between 1 January and 30 June 2004. Copies of those listed have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. This is the 21st such Command Paper.


Gulf Veterans' Illnesses

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ivor Caplin): As part of the Government's commitment to investigate 1990–91 Gulf veterans' illnesses issues openly and honestly and to learn lessons of the past, the Ministry of Defence has today published the paper "The 1990–91 Gulf Conflict Health and Personnel Related Lessons Identified". The purpose of the paper is to focus on the health and personnel related issues resulting from the First Gulf Conflict (Operation GRANBY), with the key aim of learning from the problems identified. In producing the paper, we have attempted to be as open and forthright as possible in examining the health problems experienced by serving personnel, veterans and civilians since the First Gulf Conflict.

The paper identifies what the Ministry of Defence has already done to improve procedures and assesses how these have been applied to the current Iraq deployment (Operation TELIC). It also indicates where improvements are still required. In making these assessments it has been acknowledged that during operations it is not always possible to achieve the ideal situation; inevitably, in the heat of battle there will always be some things that do not go as intended. The aim of this paper is not to seek to attribute blame but to identify how the Ministry of Defence can do better in future. I am today placing copies of the paper in the Library of the House and it is also being placed on the Ministry of Defence website at: www.mod.uk/issues/gulfwar.
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Secondary School Admissions

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Charles Clarke): I am today laying before Parliament the Government's response to the report by the Education and Skills Select Committee on secondary school admissions. This is the fourth part of their inquiry into secondary education.

I welcomed the report when it was published at the end of July. It is thoughtful and detailed, focusing on the nature of the school admission and the school admission appeals codes of practice and on selection and standards. Our response shares that focus.

We agree with the Committee that every school should be a good school and we welcome their belief that schools are improving. We share their concern that not all schools are or are perceived to be good schools. Earlier this year we published our five-year strategy for children and learners. In it we set out our plans for greater diversity and freedoms for schools to drive up standards so that parental choice becomes more meaningful. We also expect schools to work more collaboratively and to take collective responsibility for all children in their area. Our response to the Committee's report needs to be seen in the context of the five-year strategy.

We understand the Committee's wish to see stronger codes of practice and we will amend them in a number of areas and include a list of appropriate and acceptable admissions oversubscription criteria. This clearer guidance will be helpful to the schools adjudicators who must have regard to the code in determining objections to admission arrangements referred to them.

We continue to believe in the local decision-making framework for admissions, with its emphasis on local discussion and consensus, which we put in place in 1998. We strengthened that framework in 2002 and it is too early to evaluate the effect of those measures—in particular co-ordination of admissions and the working of admission forums. We do not think it necessary or appropriate to consider new regulatory measures before we see the results of those changes. Nevertheless we do want to help admission forums to work effectively. We are therefore developing— as set out in our five year strategy—guidance for admission forums on how to develop protocols for hard-to-place children and how to seek agreement with admission authorities on them.

We are mindful of the Committee's concerns on the quality of some admission appeals. We have already produced some training materials for appeal panel members but we have committed in the response to developing exemplar letters and other Materials for admission authorities to use in their communications with parents on their appeals.

Our position on selection is clear. We do not support academic selection at age 11 and do not wish to see it extended. We have looked very carefully at the Committee's concerns about aptitude selection. We want all secondary schools to play to their strengths and provide a flexible curriculum to meet the needs of individual pupils. Selection by aptitude allows a small number of pupils who would not otherwise have the opportunity to do so to benefit from particular curriculum strengths.
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The Schools Adjudicator takes the view that it is possible to assess aptitude—rather than academic ability—in subject areas such as sport, the visual and performing arts and languages. The Government believe there is general acceptance that such a distinction is possible and will continue to allow admission authorities that wish to do so to select a small percentage (up to 10 per cent.) of pupils in these subjects. We intend to prohibit new aptitude selection in design and/or information technology but allow schools already using such selection to continue to do so. We are not intending to introduce aptitude selection in any other area.

We share the Committee's aspirations for an admissions system that is transparent and fair. The changes we are intending to make in response to the Committee's report will ensure that this is the case.


Guantanamo Bay Detainees

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): A Foreign and Commonwealth Office official visited Guantanamo Bay between 2 and 5 October 2004 to check on the welfare of the four British detainees. This was the ninth welfare visit to Guantanamo Bay.

The FCO official saw all the UK detainees individually. US officials observed the meetings. The FCO official talked to all the British detainees about mail, their health, exercise, diet, living conditions, treatment by the Camp authorities and status, the value of the welfare visits and about the British Government's policy towards their detention. The detainees' families have been given details of the visit.

The official gave personal mail and reading material to the detainees and brought mail back to their families in reply. The detainees are also able to send and receive mail through the Camp authorities and ICRC. Delivery times have been irregular but are improving following a review of the US mail system.

The British detainees appeared in sound physical health, are frustrated by their continued detention but heartened by recent access to legal representation, in the case of three of the detainees. Individual medical and detention matters raised during this and previous welfare visits by the detainees were pursued with the Camp authorities. Most have now been addressed. The Government will continue to pursue the outstanding matters. All the detainees said that they welcomed the welfare visits.

The official explained the British Government's policy towards their detention—that, in absence of a fair trial, the British detainees should be returned to the UK—and that talks between the British and US Governments on their detention continued. The official also explained to two detainees designated for trial by Military Commission that the legal proceedings concerned remained suspended.

The Camp authorities were open and co-operative throughout the visit.
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