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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 22 May 2006

Constitutional Affairs

Freedom of Information Act 2000

The Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Ms Harriet Harman): My noble Friend the Secretary of State, has made the following written ministerial statement:

“Today I have deposited copies of The Freedom of Information Act 2000—First Annual Report on the operation of the Freedom of Information Act in Central Government—2005 in the Libraries of both Houses”.

This is the Annual Report analysing the performance of central Government in the first full year of Freedom of Information.

Education and Skills

Higher Education Applications Process

The Minister for Higher Education and Lifelong Learning (Bill Rammell): I am delighted to announce today the response to the Department for Education and Skill's consultation on Improving the Higher Education Applications Process. This response is issued on behalf of myself and my ministerial colleagues in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The consultation exercise that has led to today's publication was undertaken following a recommendation in the 2004 report from the Admissions to Higher Education Review group. That Group, chaired by Professor Steven Schwartz (former VC Brunel University), considered the principles that should underpin a fair and transparent admissions process and made a number of recommendations to the sector and to Government. One recommendation to Government was to -

My right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich. South (Mr. Charles Clarke), former Secretary of State for Education and Skills, in a statement to this House on 14 September 2004, accepted that recommendation and put in place the structures to fulfil that recommendation.

For the last 18 months, the Department for Education and Skills has been consulting with key stakeholders in the education sector on how this could be achieved. A public consultation was launched on 9 September 2005 that included a number of proposals for reform to the current application system and
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offered for consideration two models of post-qualification application (PQA).

Having analysed and considered the response to that consultation, we are pleased to recommend a number of reforms which will make the system fairer for students and more efficient for higher education institutions. Responses identified strong support in principle for a move towards a system of PQA, but also many practical obstacles to implementing such a system.

We believe that the reforms we recommend for 2008-09 will realise some of the key benefits of PQA and lay firm foundations for further steps in that direction. Crucially, the proposed new system for 2008-09 will offer those students who achieve higher grades than required by their first firm conditional offer the chance to seek an alternative place that best matches their aspirations and circumstances. We want to build on the step-change that these early reforms represent and, in light of experience of them, commit to working for the introduction of PQA from 2012. We have recommended a further review in 2010-11 to facilitate that objective.

In summary, the reforms would:

We have recommended the establishment of a delivery partnership, involving representatives from higher and further education, schools and other interested stakeholders, to introduce these recommendations for the 2008-09 academic year. The delivery partnership will also be tasked with assessing the impact of those changes after they have had time to bed down and to review again a move towards a full PQA system.

Home Department

Criminal Records Bureau

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Joan Ryan): The Criminal Records Bureau has today published its five-year strategy and business plan 2006-07. Copies of the document will be placed in the Library of the House.

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Ports Policy Review Launch

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): I am pleased to announce today, in conjunction with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and Northern Ireland, and with Andrew Davies AM, the Welsh Assembly Government Minister for Enterprise, Innovation and Networks, the launch of a review of ports policy covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland. (Ports policy in Scotland is being progressed separately by the Scottish Executive through its National Transport Strategy and subordinate freight strategy.)

We undertook, in the White Paper “The Future of Transport”, to:

That is the intention of this review. We publish today a discussion document, “Ports Policy—Your Views Invited”, aimed at stimulating wide debate during a consultation period spanning the coming three months.

The review covers a broad range of policy issues. Based on new forecasts of demand for port facilities, which the Department's consultants MDS Transmodal are publishing alongside the discussion document, our discussion document starts from the broad principles which we see as informing Government involvement in the seaports sector following this review.

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It includes coverage of the national, regional and local policy dimensions; expected capacity requirements; inland and coastal connections by road, rail and water; safety, security and environmental issues; competition at national and international level; governance and accountability; how the country's smaller ports can make the most of their opportunities, and whether there is scope for improving ports planning procedures.

The House is aware that our original intention had been to await decisions on the three proposed major container terminals at Felixstowe South, Bathside Bay and London Gateway. The first two have been approved, but the London Gateway decision is taking longer than originally expected to determine. We do not want to delay the review: our view is that we need to press on with addressing important questions affecting ports policy for the longer term.

We shall, in close liaison with our partners in Government, carefully consider all responses to the discussion document. The aim is then to develop a policy statement in the first half of 2007.

Alongside the discussion document, the Department is also publishing the conclusions of the municipal ports review, Opportunities for ports in local authority ownership. This has been developed in close liaison with the Department for Communities and Local Government, with the British Ports Association and with the municipal ports themselves. I am grateful for their contributions. The review highlights opportunities for real improvements in ports' management and performance, and I look forward to its recommendations being taken forward. Copies of all documents will be placed in the House Library, and can be found on the Department's website www.dft.gov.uk.

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