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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 22 March 2007


Finance Bill

The Paymaster General (Dawn Primarolo): It is expected that the Finance Bill will be published on Thursday 29 March. Explanatory notes on the Bill's clauses will be available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office and in the Libraries of both Houses on that day. Members of the public will be able to obtain copies of the explanatory notes from the Treasury. These will also be available on the Treasury's website at http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk


Constitutional Affairs

Family Courts

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

Deputy Prime Minister

Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. John Prescott): This year is the bicentenary of a remarkable piece of legislation—the 1807 Abolition of the Slave Trade Act. This Act outlawed slave carrying by British ships in the former British Empire.

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Although slavery itself was not abolished until 1833, with the Emancipation Act, 1807 marked the beginning of the end for the transatlantic slave trade which had seen more than 12 million men, women and children bought and sold into slavery and over 2 million die.

The anniversary of this Act is a chance to look into the past, to remember a period of dreadful inhumanity and pay tribute to the campaigners who fought this injustice and of those who enforced the new law, including the Royal Navy. But it is also an opportunity to look forward, and to recognise the tremendous contribution of Black African and Caribbean communities not only to the success of this country, but also the vibrancy of our culture and heritage.

It is also an important opportunity to recognise the fact that slavery did not die out with the end of the transatlantic trade. There are an estimated 12.3 million enslaved people in the world today. In the 21st century, slavery persists in the form of human trafficking, bonded labour and the forced recruitment of child soldiers.

The Government want to ensure we gain the best possible legacy from the bicentenary. So as part of our work to commemorate this anniversary and to focus attention on tackling contemporary or legacy issues that arise out of the slave trade I am pleased to announce that the Government are today publishing a commemorative magazine to mark the bicentenary.

This magazine aims to inform members of the public about the slave trade, those who fought for its abolition, the subsequent emancipation process as well as work taking place to tackle discrimination in Britain and forms of slavery still present in the world today. Copies will be distributed to museums, libraries and local community organisations across the country over the next few days. Copies will also be sent to all MPs and Peers.

In the meantime further information about the bicentenary including details of events taking place all around the country to mark the anniversary can be found at www.direct.gov.uk/slavery.

Copies of the magazine will also be placed in the Library for the reference of Members and will be available in the Vote Office.

Education and Skills

“Raising Expectations: Staying in Education and Training Post-16”

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Alan Johnson): I have today laid before the House a Green Paper, “Raising Expectations: Staying in Education and Training Post-16” which sets out the Government’s proposals that young people should continue to participate in some form of education or training until the age of 18.

The Green Paper sets out proposals to raise the aspirations of young people and to galvanise the entire education system to offer them more, so that they are able to stay on and achieve success. The benefits to young people, the economy, and society will be significant.
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For young people, participating in education and training for longer and achieving more leads to better outcomes—improved job prospects, higher earnings, and better health. Employers know that as the skills of employees improve their workforce becomes more productive.

These proposals have a long history. Both the 1918 and 1944 Education Acts sought to keep young people learning up to 18—though these provisions were never successfully implemented. It has now been 35 years since the last change in the leaving age, 35 years in which the UK has been transformed technologically, economically, and socially. There are many fewer unskilled jobs—a 16-year-old leaving school with no qualifications today is not prepared for the economy and society they are entering. As the Leitch review of skills highlights, the challenges of globalisation mean that British businesses will need ever more skilled employees to remain competitive.

We already recognise this need for improved levels of skills. We are already committed to making sure that 90 per cent. of 17-year-olds participate in education or training by 2015. This is a challenging target that we are confident we will meet, and it will represent a real improvement on the current participation rate in England of 76 per cent. Yet, it will still not be enough to pull us into the top tier internationally. The current UK participation rate places us 20th out of 30 OECD countries. Even an improvement to 90 per cent. would only place us around 10th, and that assuming other countries make no progress. So, we need to move beyond 90 per cent. participation to compete globally, but also for reasons of social justice. If 10 per cent. of young people do not participate then there is a risk that it is those young people with lower aspirations, who perhaps come from families and communities that have themselves had a poor experience of schooling, who miss out as participation increases. Within this group are often the young people who would have most to gain from longer participation and higher attainment. We cannot allow the most disadvantaged to miss out.

To ensure that all young people benefit, “Raising Expectations” sets out a central proposal that we will consult on:

To fully realise the benefits, participation must lead to attainment. And to ensure this happens we will need:

The central proposal recognises that different routes will work better for different young people. That is why “Raising Expectations” does not simply propose to raise the school leaving age. Rather, it proposes that young people should be able to choose the route that best suits them: this could be in school, college, or at work, working towards general qualifications, one of the new diplomas, or an apprenticeship. This range of
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provision and flexibility of approach will be critical to ensure that there is a suitable and attractive route for every young person. It will also mean that young people can choose to work alongside learning if they want to. We are already committed, as part of the programme of reforms detailed in the 2005 “14-19 Education and Skills” White Paper, to expand the curriculum options available to young people, and do not seek to raise the participation age until this is done. This means waiting until 2013, when the national entitlement to diplomas will see all 14 diploma lines available across England, and when the apprenticeship entitlement will be in place, so that every young person who is ready to and who wants to take an apprenticeship will be able to do so. The Green Paper proposes to raise the participation age to 17 from September 2013, and to 18 from September 2015.

“Raising Expectations” sets out the Government’s commitment to ensure that every young person is given the appropriate information, advice, and guidance, and the right financial and other support to ensure that they are able to access the right programme of study to suit their needs and aspirations. It also sets out a number of ways in which the Government will continue to encourage employers to provide valuable training opportunities for young people who want to work as they learn. These include increasing the number of apprenticeships available, utilising Train to Gain brokers to help employers find a training opportunity that meets a business need, and improving the accreditation system so that all employer training that is substantial and good quality is recognised.

“Raising Expectations” is predicated on a solid foundation of good economic sense and strong social justice. It recognises the challenges of implementation, and sets out how we propose to meet these challenges. In doing so, it sets out a clear vision of how all young people can benefit from longer participation and higher attainment, and how society and the economy will benefit in turn.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Sewer Overflows (River Thames)

The Minister for Climate Change and the Environment (Ian Pearson): Since 2000 this Department has been involved in the development of options to improve the water quality of the tidal Thames by addressing the environmental impact of large volumes of sewage overflow discharges. The overflows, which are made up of sewage and run-off rainwater, are an integral part of the sewer network, originally designed by the Victorian engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette, to convey sewage to east London, where it now receives treatment at Beckton and Crossness.

It is estimated that annual overflow discharges from the sewers and the sewage treatment works to the tidal Thames and River Lee amount to around 52 million cubic metres. This would be enough to fill the Albert Hall 525 times. Of this 32 million cubic metres is discharged from the sewer network overflows, and 20 million cubic metres from the sewage treatment works (Crossness and Mogden).

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These overflows are having an adverse effect on the environmental quality of the Thames. It has been found that the frequent overflows (on average once a week), and the large quantities of untreated discharges are causing:

The Department has already been involved in decisions to significantly increase the secondary treatment capacity at Beckton, Crossness and Mogden sewage treatment works. The expenditure is planned through Thames Water’s existing (2005-10) and assumed (2010-15) investment programme, and the schemes are expected to be completed by March 2012 (Beckton and Mogden), and by March 2014 (Crossness). But this does not address the fundamental problem of discharge overflows into the River Thames and River Lee.

On 27 July 2006 I wrote to Thames Water, the sewerage service provider for London, requesting a detailed assessment of two short-listed options to tackle sewer overflows to the tidal Thames and River Lee.

The two options assessed were: 1) a single tunnel, over 30 km long, to intercept discharges from unsatisfactory overflows along the length of the tidal Thames and to the River Lee; 2) two separate shorter tunnels in West and East London to intercept overflow discharges along those stretches of the river. Both options were to convey the collected sewage for treatment in East London.

I have carefully considered the reports Thames Water submitted to me at the end of 2006, and met with stakeholders, who were involved in this work, to hear their views. A Regulatory Impact Assessment has been completed and is available on the DEFRA website.

Today I am announcing the Government decision for an option 1 type solution. As part of the overall scheme I am asking Thames Water to limit overflow discharges from Abbey Mills Pumping Station in East London first, as it is responsible for around 50 per cent. of the total volume of overflow discharges.

This approach is needed to provide a River Thames fit for London in the 21st century and to meet the statutory requirements of the Urban Waste Water Treatment (England and Wales) Regulations 1994. Construction of such a major infrastructure scheme may well cost at least £2 billion, which will be funded through the bills of Thames Water customers and take until 2019-20 to deliver. Depending on how the planning and funding applications progress, indications are that customers bills for this project will start to increase from 2010. It is estimated by the Water Services Regulation Authority that the peak impact on average customer bills could be £37 in 2017.

Thames Water, the Environment Agency, the Water Services Regulation Authority and others will be taking this forward for planning and funding applications. Government will be closely following this detailed work as it develops.

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Home Department

Control Orders

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (John Reid): Section 14(1) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 (the 2005 Act) requires me to report to Parliament as soon as reasonably practicable after the end of every relevant three-month period on the exercise of the control order powers during that period.

The level of information provided will always be subject to slight variations based on operational advice and legal requirements.

Control orders continue to be an essential tool to protect the public from terrorism, particularly where it is not possible to prosecute individuals for terrorist-related activity and, in the case of foreign nationals, where they cannot be removed from the UK.

During the period 11 December 2006 to 10 March 2007, four new control orders were made. Three were made with the permission of the court under section 3(l)(a) of the 2005 Act; two were served on British citizens—one on 28 December 2006 and one on 3 January 2007—and one was served on a foreign national on 9 March 2007. A control order was already in force at the beginning of this reporting period in relation to the foreign national; it was revoked and the new order made and served in its place.

The fourth control order was made using the urgency procedures under section 3(l)(b) of the 2005 Act, and was served on 16 February 2007. This replaced a control order on the same individual that was already in force at the beginning of this reporting period. The previous control order was revoked at the same time the new control order was served. The court confirmed the new control order on 21 February 2007. The revocation of the old order and service of the new control order was as a result of the High Court judgment of 16 February in the case of Secretary of State for the Horns Department v E [2007] EWHC 233 (Admin). This was the third control order review hearing under section 3(10) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 but the first hearing with full evidence about the factual issues of a particular case. The court accepted that the Secretary of State had reasonable grounds for suspecting that E was involved in terrorism-related activity. However, the court found that the control order obligations cumulatively amounted to a deprivation of E's liberty under Article 5(1) ECHR and that the Secretary of State's decision to maintain E's control order was flawed because he failed to review the prospects of prosecuting E in the light of certain Belgian judgments after they were received and translated. The control order was quashed on that basis. The full judgment is available via http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/.

The Secretary of State is appealing this judgment. Before making the new order against E, the Crown Prosecution Service reviewed the Belgian judgments referred to above as well as other recent material. The position remains that there is currently insufficient admissible evidence available to the police that could realistically be used for the purpose of prosecuting him for an offence relating to terrorism. However, the position will be kept under review.

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