The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): I am delighted to announce that, on 1 April 2006, FCO Services will become an Executive Agency of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Mr Christopher Moxey, formerly Director of Global Implementation Projects for Financial Network Services, has been appointed as its Chief Executive.
FCO Services will continue to supply the FCO with a broad range of products and services covering IT, communications, technical and protective security, estate and project management, logistics and purchasing, language translation, interpreting and training, VIP visits and organisation of major conferences both in the UK and overseas. FCO Services will employ approximately 1,200 permanent staff, many of whom are specialists, including about 100 staff serving at FCO Missions overseas.
FCO Services' long-term aim is to continue to improve the services it offers and the value for money provided to its principal customer, the FCO, while also broadening its customer base within government and the private sector. FCO Services will continue to improve productivity by streamlining work processes, standardising operating procedures, and improving staff utilisation rates.
FCO Services will continue to improve productivity by streamlining work processes, standardising operating procedures, and improving staff utilisation rates. As a result, the average utilisation rate target will improve by 10 per cent. during 200607.
A major element of FCO Services' strategy is to increase wider market sales in order to reduce costs to and improve service delivery to government. Its target is to achieve 5 per cent., 5 per cent. and 10 per cent. cumulative growth in its wider market business over the next three years.
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FCO Services aims to monitor improvements in service delivery through feedback from customer surveys. It aims to achieve a customer satisfaction rating of either good or excellent for over 70 per cent. of its work.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Clarke): Further to my written statements on 6 February and 3 March, I should like to make a statement to report progress on the review of police force structures.
The review was announced in September 2005 and followed the publication of HMIC's report, Closing the Gap, which revealed stark shortcomings in the current arrangements' ability to meet the policing needs of the early 21st century.
My statements of 6 February and 3 March set out the way forward for Wales and three English regions, the north-east, the north-west and the west midlands. I now have the professional policing and financial assessments to enable me to identify which options will be of the greatest benefit to three more regions, namely the east midlands, south-east and eastern. I am therefore today meeting representatives from the police forces and authorities in these areas. I will be inviting them to engage closely with me to consider taking forward the option for policing that I believe will be of greatest benefit to their communities. I will be inviting the police authorities concerned to respond by 7 April. I shall then make a final decision on how to proceed in these areas.
My vision for the police service in the 21st century is that it should be close, responsive and accountable to the communities it serves, supported by larger forces with the capacity and specialist expertise to protect the public from wider threats such as serious and organised crime. The roll out of neighbourhood policing across the country by April 2008 is, with the creation of strategic forces, the key to achieving that vision.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Hain): The protection of children is a matter that I and other Ministers in Northern Ireland take extremely seriously and an area in which we have prioritised action. There have been a number of high profile child protection cases and inquiries in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain, all of which have demonstrated the need for system improvement. Ministers are committed to ensuring the highest levels of protection are afforded to children in Northern Ireland. The purpose of this statement is to set out a package of child protection measures and initiatives that we intend to bring forward.
It is not possible to separate protection of children from prevention and support for parents, safe systems, funding and a range of inter-related Government policies. On children's issues this administration has taken a number of bold steps to build on the work of previous Ministers and the Northern Ireland Executive. Recently I appointed Jeff Rooker as the Minister for children and young people to bring greater co-ordination to children's policy and legislation across Government. This builds on the work of previous Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive which established the Commissioner for Children and Young People to safeguard the rights and best interests of children and young people in Northern Ireland.
We will shortly publish a 10-year strategy for children and young people. This strategy will set out what will be done across Government to improve the lives of children and young people in Northern Ireland. It will contain high level outcomes and indicators against which we will measure progress.
Allied to this are the new funding arrangements we have put in place for improved children's services. The children and young people's funding package will make £61 million of additional funding available over the next two years and is aimed at removing barriers to learning, reducing underachievement and improving the life chances of disadvantaged and marginalised children and young people. The range of measures it includes will help schools in these areas extend the traditional school day and offer a range of activities and services to children and their families before, during and after school hours, wherever possible on the school site.
I would like to emphasise that the protection and safeguarding of children is everyone's business: Ministers, Government Departments, local government, and the
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statutory, voluntary and community sectors. The public also clearly has an important role to play. There is a need to ensure that collective responsibilities are reflected in our systems and structures and that the protection and safeguarding of children is on everyone's agenda. Therefore we intend to take the following action.
We will strengthen inter-agency co-operation on child protection through the establishment of a new Northern Ireland safeguarding board. This will ensure co-operation on child protection and safeguarding arrangements at the highest level within Government Departments, local government and in the statutory, voluntary and community sectors. It will have an independent chair and clear accountability lines to Ministers. The board will be established in shadow form by the end of this year. We will publish a consultation paper on arrangements and structures underpinning the safeguarding board which will be given statutory basis.
The Department of Health and Social Services and Public Safety will shortly begin piloting a multi-agency, multi-discipliniary assessment framework aimed at ensuring that the needs of vulnerable children and young people are assessed on a consistent basis across Northern Ireland. Allied to this, front line child protection services will be enhanced and reorganised over the next 12 months to ensure a more expert, more consistent and faster response when assessing children in need and responding to child protection concerns.
The Department of Health and Social Services and Public Safety will shortly issue a consultation document on a regional child death review protocol. This will implement one of the key recommendations arising from the Lewis Inquiry and the case management review into the death of David Briggs. These arrangements will apply to the unexpected deaths of all children under 18 years of age and will ensure that all relevant information about a child's death is brought together at an early stage. The protocol will acknowledge that the vast majority of children who die tragically do so for natural or for reasons that can be explained. It will also help ensure that bereaved parents will receive a more co-ordinated response.
New structures are important. However, they also require a change of thinking, practice and culture. We will look at ways in which this can be facilitated. For example, we will consider a new statutory duty to co-operate to improve well being. This would take account of current structural arrangements and those proposed under the reform of public administration. We will also consider how this might be complemented by a statutory duty to make arrangements to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, a duty which school boards of governors now have, but which would be placed on a wide range of agencies and organisations. It is our intention to consult on these new statutory duties in the near future.
I am keen to ensure that safeguarding the welfare of children remains a high priority for all, particularly at a time of considerable administrative reform, and that the risk of children falling between stools is minimised. I intend to commission all Departments, executive agencies and non-departmental public bodies to conduct an audit of existing child protection arrangements to determine how these might be strengthened. I also
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intend to ask those inspectorates and regulatory bodies with responsibility for children to assist with audit exercises, by offering professional input. As recommended by the Commissioner for Children and Young People, I will ask all Departments and relevant executive agencies and non-Departmental public bodies to appoint a senior official with responsibility for child protection. Nominated officials will receive the necessary training, will be the custodians of child protection policy and will ensure that systems are in place, which provide assurances that policy is being appropriately applied.
Local government clearly plays an important role in the lives of children and young people in Northern Ireland. It is absolutely essential that local government has robust protective arrangements in place. Lord Rooker, in his dual role as Minister for Children and Young People and Minister of the Environment, has undertaken to engage with district councils to promote an acceptable standard of child protection practice.
It is essential, when there are child protection concerns, that there is certainty and confidence about how those concerns are reported. To help create greater certainty, I have asked the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to prepare short guidance on child protection, which will set out what steps need to be taken when there are concerns about the safety of a child. This guidance will be widely distributed through Government and, with the assistance of the four area child protection committees, local government, the statutory, community and voluntary sectors.
I would like to turn to the matter of vetting arrangements for those who work with children. This is a matter which is of great concern to parents and the public. We must ensure our systems are safe, robust and reliable and, most importantly, that they have the confidence of the public. The tragic events in Soham act as a constant reminder.
In Northern Ireland vetting arrangements have recently been strengthened by Government. My colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Angela E. Smith) announced a wide ranging review of vetting and recruitment for staff in the education sector on 18 January. New measures have now been introduced which will strengthen the pre-employment checking for all new recruits to work in schools or in support of schools and will provide clear guidance to employers and schools. A programme to promote full vetting coverage of all staff already working in or in support of grant aided schools and the vetting of governors will provide reassurance to the public, and parents in particular, about the safety of the environment in which children are educated. Procedures for the engagement of substitute teachers and other temporary staff have been tightened, as have the arrangements for training members of selection panels. We are implementing Part 5 of the Police Act 1997 to ensure the Police Service of Northern Ireland has a statutory basis to disclose relevant non-conviction data on posts that involve work with children. We continue to work with the Commissioner for Children and Young People, who recently conducted a review of vetting arrangements in Northern Ireland. The review endorsed the Government's work in this area. Recommendations arising from the review are currently being implemented and we have provided the Commissioner with an update
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on progress. We will also provide the Commissioner with a timetable for the completion of outstanding actions and will cooperate fully with his planned follow-up review later this year.
Sir Michael Bichard's Inquiry and subsequent report, following the Soham tragedy, provides a route map for system improvements that have United Kingdom-wide applicability, particularly his recommendation, which will be lead to the creation of a new vetting and barring scheme. New legislation, the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill, will shortly be introduced in Parliament.
I am confirming today that the new vetting and barring scheme will apply in Northern Ireland and Departments will be working in close collaboration to take forward the implementation of the new legislation. Our aim is to ensure that Northern Ireland keeps pace with developments both in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.
Parliament enacted the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults (POCVA) Order in 2003. This legislation brought Northern Ireland into line with developments in England and Wales with the creation of a new statutory list of those banned from working with children and a new offence of applying to work in certain post whilst disqualified. There is a unique provision in POCVA relating to "accreditation arrangements". The Order allows non-child care organisations such as churches, uniformed and sporting bodies in Northern Ireland to become accredited by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety. Once accredited, those organisations will acquire a statutory duty to carry out vetting and to report staff moved or dismissed for harming children. To become accredited, organisations will have to demonstrate that they meet specific child protection standards, including the need to have in place a child protection policy and a code of conduct for staff.
Accreditation will, in effect, "kite mark" organisations and will assist in improving child protection arrangements in voluntary and community organisations. We will shortly be publishing a consultation paper on the future shape of accreditation arrangements and are aiming to see the situation where all organisations, which work with children, do so within a framework that ensures the highest standards for children.
When the Sexual Offences Act was made by Parliament in 2003 a number of new child sex offences were not extended to Northern Ireland. We intend to ensure that children in this jurisdiction will receive the same protections as those in England and Wales. My colleague, the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, the hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. David Hanson) will shortly be announcing more detailed proposals on a review of sexual offences law in Northern Ireland. This will see the creation of new offences and increased tariffs for those who harm children.
The Government will also seek to bring forward legislation to strengthen the interagency arrangements that exist, currently on a procedural basis, for the assessment and risk management of sex offenders. These arrangements, known as MASRAM (multi agency sex offender risk assessment and management), were launched in 2002. While they have worked well, it is our intention to give MASRAM arrangements statutory force and to ensure that risk assessment and
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management arrangements are extended to violent offenders. As with new child protection arrangements we will seek to underpin the operation of assessment and risk management of sexual and violent offenders with a duty on agencies to co-operate with the police, prison and probation services.
I conclude by saying that the proposed measures I have announced today represent a firm foundation for the protection of children from those intent on causing them harm. I recognise that we can never be complacent and we will seek to continually build on and strengthen and improve arrangements to ensure that all of our children and young people are afforded a high standard of protection, comparable to that afforded to children and young people living in other parts of the United Kingdom.