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The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): ODPM is today publishing a consultation paper on the handling of certain planning applications and appeals relating to listed buildings in England. Copies of the consultation document have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. Any comments are requested by 24 May.
Most listed building consent and enforcement appeals are currently determined by Planning Inspectors appointed by the Secretary of State to determine appeals on his behalf. However, those relating to buildings listed as Grade 1 and Grade 2* are reserved for determination by the Secretary of State himself, following consideration of a report from a specialist Inspector.
While the buildings affected are of national importance, many of the appeals involve small scale proposals and it is rare for the Secretary of State to disagree with the recommendations of his specialist Inspector. We consider that transferring jurisdiction to determine these appeals to Inspectors will help to speed up one area of the planning system, giving greater certainty to local authorities, developers and owners of listed buildings, but without putting at risk buildings which are an important part of our national heritage.
However there will, on occasion, be appeals involving Grade 1 or Grade 2* listed buildings that the Secretary of State will wish to recover and determine himself. This will depend on the particular circumstances of the case.
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Currently a Local Planning Authority, other than one in Greater London, may not grant listed building consent until the Secretary of State has decided whether to require referral of the application for his own determination. The Secretary of State may also direct that notification is not required in respect of certain categories of application.
Whilst remaining committed to the protection of listed buildings, the Government are keen that unnecessary delays, and the additional bureaucracy for local authorities and applicants, are removed from the system. We therefore now propose that listed building consent applications received by Local Planning Authorities outside Greater London, to which English Heritage have raised no written objections, will not require notification to the Secretary of State. Where English Heritage has expressed concerns, the Secretary of State would still require notification. Applications within Greater London will still be referred to English Heritage.
The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Ruth Kelly): On the 19 January 2006 I made an oral statement to the House about arrangements for vetting those working with children, and for barring those who are unsuitable. In the course of my statement I made a number of commitments and I would like to update the House on progress.
My key commitment was to bring forward the legislation necessary to implement the Government's response to Recommendation 19 of the Bichard Inquiry. Hon. Members will wish to be aware that the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill was introduced in the other place on 28 February 2006 and was published in full this morning. The Government are committed to ensuring we fundamentally reform and rebalance vetting procedures so that children's and other vulnerable people's safety is unequivocally the first priorityto achieve this we are introducing a new Vetting and Barring Scheme for individuals working with children and vulnerable adults.
As I promised in my statement to the House on 19 January, the Bill will also legislate to remove the responsibility for barring decisions from Ministers entirely, transferring this to a new and independent statutory board which will take all decisions to place someone on the barred list.
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Delivering this key commitment to bring forward legislation was essential. But we recognised more needed to be done and done quickly. This is why we have also acted to deliver other, more immediate operational improvements to the existing system.
In advance of legislating to remove Ministers entirely from the decision making process, I committed to establishing a panel of independent experts, chaired by Sir Roger Singleton, the former Head of Barnardo's, to oversee the List 99 process. Sir Roger Singleton has already started work and is considering current cases.
As promised, I have consulted stakeholders on the composition of the panel as it is crucial that the panel commands confidence and has the right balance of expertise. Alongside the appropriate legal advice, the following disciplines, professional groups and perspectives are to be represented on the panel:
Panel members need to have an understanding of how to identify and respond to abusive behaviour, so that informed decisions are made about whether an individual poses a risk to children. The public need to be satisfied that child protection will be the panel's number one priority. I can announce today that the membership of the expert panel will include:
I referred to 10 cases where a decision was taken by a Minister not to include an individual on List 99, where that individual was on the sex offenders register. Officials and police had examined each case and concluded that none of these individuals was working in a school or poses a current risk to children.
Decisions taken since 1997 by both Ministers and officials, where the relevant offences were committed prior to the Sex Offenders Register (and hence the individual concerned had not been placed on the Register).
This part of the review identified a further 46 cases. These cases were reviewed before my statement on 19 January, including visits to individuals by the police where necessary and 33 of the 46 individuals were considered not to pose a current risk to children. Checks on the remaining 13 cases were still ongoing on 19 January. Each of these 13 cases has now been considered further.
Throughout this process we have involved the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). At Sir Roger's request, the police, via Terry Grange Chief Constable of Dyfed-Powys Police, have been involved in undertaking inquiries into whether specific individuals appear to pose a risk of harm to children and the nature of any current contact that they may have with children.
In 10 of the 13 cases the individuals concerned have been assessed and, where necessary, additional information has been sought from the police. It is considered that all 10 individuals pose no current risk to children and no further action is now being taken.
In the remaining three cases Sir Roger Singleton has advised me to consider the possible barring of the individuals concerned. I have accepted this advice and am acting on it, working with ACPO, and through them with the relevant local police forces.
I also referred to 32 cases which had come to light when the police had carried out an initial review of individuals being monitored on the Sex Offenders Register who may also have been eligible for inclusion on List 99. Each individual has been assessed by the police and is subject to the ongoing monitoring that follows from being on the Sex Offenders Register. There is no identified cause for concern.
However, I have treated each of these cases as a new referral to List 99. Each case is being taken forward accordingly, and the Expert Panel will be advising me on whether to bar any of these individuals from working with children. I have already barred two individuals in this group where their offences make them subject to automatic inclusion on List 99.
On top of introducing the Bill to ensure fundamental reforms of the vetting and barring system, I announced immediate reforms to the system which will come into place before the Bill is implemented.
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I announced that, with HMCI's agreement that, in order to inform policy development, Ofsted would investigate staff appointment procedures in schools to find out how robust current processes are. The survey is already under way and will investigate whether schools:
The survey will also consider evidence of practice in FE institutions and independent schools. The FE aspect of the survey will be conducted in the course of inspections that are already planned and additional information will be drawn from recently concluded inspections.
As promised in my statement I am revising current regulations to require mandatory Criminal Records Bureau checks for all newly appointed school employees. This will also mean that supply agencies ensure that their teaching staff have a CRB check. These new legally binding regulations will replace the existing strong guidance.
Good progress is being made and I will publish draft regulations shortly. We have already discussed the changes with the CRB and will consult with other key stakeholders on the proposed associated changes to the guidance.
Current guidance also applies to Further Education institutions and work is under way to ensure that colleges are covered by equivalent regulations. I also propose to establish, as a matter of principle, that any revised guidance that applies to schools should also apply to further education institutions.
New regulations to be introduced shortly will ensure that any individuals working with children who are convicted or cautioned for sex offences against children will be automatically entered on List 99 and barred from working in schools and other education settings.
I am also reviewing current arrangements for overseas teachers, and the options for strengthening the vetting and recruitment checks that are made on overseas staff. I will build on initial discussions with the Recruitment and Employment Confederation and will consult more widely with stakeholders and other government departments to ensure that any changes to guidance or regulations are properly considered in line with other sectors of the children's workforce.
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This package of measures, both in the short and long term, will significantly strengthen our vetting and barring procedures. Continual updating of our processes both locally and nationally is needed to ensure children can be as safe as possible. The tasks of Government are to set in place the right framework to make this happen, and to close any loopholes where they exist.
These changes represent the first stage in a programme of work which has begun to deliver in practice on the commitments I made on 19 January. These measures together will bring about fundamental reform and will significantly strengthen the current system. However, while Government have a responsibility to set the right framework, employers, parents and the police have a responsibility to use the powers and checks we are putting in place to make sure the system works to protect children.
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