The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. John Hutton): The 2004 Fast Stream Recruitment report was published online at http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk today. It covers the 2004 schemes covering the period April 2003 to November 2004, and reports the results of the fast stream competitions completed during that period, together with the developments that have taken place.
The standard of entry to the fast stream recruitment scheme has remained consistently high and the report shows that the civil service has continued to have increasing success in filling its vacancies.
Women applied in slightly reduced numbers during the 2004 scheme however, in terms of their progress through the selection process female applicants were more successful than their male counterparts in the general fast stream and economist schemes.
The proportion of candidates from ethnic minority groups dropped from the previous year, down by 2.4 per cent. We have increased our marketing and outreach activities to this audience, the selection process has been updated and there is early indication of improved figures.
The percentage of candidates declaring a disability rose again this year from 2.4 per cent. in 2003 to 3.2 per cent. in 2004. Those recommended for appointment rose from 3.5 per cent. in 2003 to 7.3 per cent. in 2004.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): I am announcing that the Ministry of Defence has decided to seek an alternative to the current private finance initiative (PFI) solution for the armoured vehicle training services (AVTS).
I realise that this will be disappointing for the bidders. However, robust decisions need to be taken and we will only proceed with such a long-term commitment of public money where we are confident of a successful, value for money outcome for our armed forces and the taxpayer.
Improvements to our armoured vehicles training will continue. This change in direction will allow us to examine other procurement options. We plan to take advantage of emerging technology and best practice as it develops in the commercial training areas, which could include public-private partnership forming part of the
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overall future solution. In the meantime, the quantity and quality of existing armoured vehicles training will be maintained to support the professional performance of our armoured fighting vehicle crews as exemplified in Iraq.
Although not continuing with this PFI, the MOD will continue to use PFI where it can be shown to deliver better value for money as exemplified by the recent PFI deal with the Amey Lec consortium to provide C vehicles for the armed forces.
The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Tony McNulty): The Government believe strongly that the acquisition of British citizenship should be recognised and celebrated as a crucial stage in integration into British life. To that end it has introduced citizenship ceremonies and has taken powers to specify the knowledge of language and life in the United Kingdom which new citizens should possess. I am pleased to be able to announce the next stages in the implementation of those changes. While the arrangements announced today relate primarily to those seeking citizenship through the medium of English, special arrangements will be made to allow people wishing to apply through the medium of Welsh or Scottish Gaelic to do so. A separate statement on the implementation of similar tests for those seeking permanent settlement in the UK, announced in principle on 7 February in "Controlling our Borders", the five-year strategy for asylum and immigration, will be made in due course.
The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 amended the British Nationality Act 1981 to require those seeking naturalisation as British citizens to demonstrate sufficient knowledge of life in the UK as well as knowledge of English. The way in which these provisions should be implemented was considered by an independent group under the chairmanship of Professor Sir Bernard Crick. The group published its final report "The New and the Old" in September 2003; and in a written ministerial statement on 2 February 2004, Baroness Scotland of Asthal, on behalf of the Government, accepted the majority of their recommendations. An advisory board on naturalisation and integration has now been set up to monitor and advise on their implementation.
Regulations came into force on 28 July last year specifying that all those applying for naturalisation must demonstrate knowledge of English to the standard of English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) entry 3. We are now looking forward to the next stages of the process, which will be the commencement of the requirement that intending new citizens should demonstrate knowledge of life in the UK and the introduction of regulations which will set out how such knowledge is to be demonstrated. The regulations will come into force on a date to be announced later this year and from then new applicants will have to demonstrate both knowledge of language and of life in the UK. Applications received before the requirement is introduced will not be affected by this change.
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It is envisaged that there will be two principal methods by which intending citizens based in the UK can demonstrate their knowledge of language and of life in the UK. First, applicants who are at or above ESOL entry 3 standard of English will be able to undertake a specially developed short test of knowledge of life in the UK. Subject to contract, these tests will be prepared and administered by Ufi Ltd. and will be available to be taken on computer at many of their existing learning centres throughout the UK. There will be different versions of the test, including variations appropriate to the devolved Administrations. The tests will be based on the information contained in the handbook "Life in the United Kingdom: A Journey to Citizenship", prepared by members of the independent group chaired by Sir Bernard Crick, which was published on 15 December and is available from The Stationery Office.
To make the whole process more convenient and cheaper to applicants, the Government have decided that successful completion of this test will remove the need for applicants to provide separate evidence of language ability, as it will be set at a level that requires language skills at or above ESOL entry 3 level. In the light of this decision, the Government have decided not to add elected representatives or any other group to the list of people designated under existing legislation as able to certify that applicants for naturalisation are fluent in English.
The second method is for those potential new citizens assessed as below ESOL entry 3. They will be able to meet the new requirements by successfully completing new "ESOL-with-citizenship" classeslanguage courses involving learning materials which incorporate information about life in the UK. These materials have been designed for delivery in the context of the new DfES "ESOL-Skills for Life" suite of language qualifications or equivalents in other jurisdictions; they have been developed by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) in conjunction with the London Language and Literacy Unit and are faithful to the concepts outlined in "The New and the Old". They are intended to enable a student to gain sufficient knowledge of the UK at the same time as developing their knowledge of the English language.
Again the Government intend to make this as convenient as possible by providing that a person who successfully completes one of these programmes (which, in accordance with normal practice, will be pitched at the appropriate level for their learning needs) will not have to take separate tests in English or knowledge of life in the UK.
The Secretary of State retains discretion to grant citizenship to applicants who cannot satisfy the above conditions because of age or infirmity but who meet all the other requirements for naturalisation as a British citizen.
The new ESOL-with-citizenship classes are already being piloted in 18 Learning and Skills Council areas, including at adult, community, further education and sixth-form colleges. The courses have now been validated, and the Home Office and Department for Education and Skills will continue to work together to make them widely available.
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As was emphasised in "The New and the Old", the availability of good quality English language teaching is crucial to the success of the new arrangements. ESOL provision to meet adult language needs has increased significantly over the last three years, in cost, volume or provision and in terms of the range of groups able to access it. The Department for Education and Skills is working with the Learning and Skills Council at national, regional and local levels to improve the planning, delivery and quality of ESOL provision with the aim of targeting it more effectively so that priority needs can better be met.
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