The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jane Kennedy): It is expected that the Finance Bill will be published on 27 March. Explanatory notes on the Bills 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 Treasurys website at: http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk.
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jane Kennedy): I have today announced the outcome of the Diploma Gateway 2 process to approve consortia to offer between one and 10 of the first 10 diploma lines to young people from September 2009. A list of the consortia and their approval status has been placed in the Library of the House.
The diplomas will broaden the options available to young people, encouraging more to continue learning for longer and gain the qualifications they need to progress into further and higher education, and employment. They are fundamental to our proposals on raising the participation age, as set out in the Education and Skills Bill introduced to the House on 28 November 2007. The availability of the first 10 diploma lines from 2009 shows that we are on track with our priorities set out in our 14-19 Education and Skills Implementation Plan (2005).
The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): I am pleased to announce to the House that later today I will be signing an agreement with Ofsted to enable the inspectorate to undertake external inspection of our individual training and education provision.
As Members are aware, commissioned external inspection of individual training was established in 2004 when we signed an agreement with the adult learning inspectorate (ALI) to inspect the care and
welfare provision for recruits and trainees in the armed forces. The ALI reported its original findings in the Safer Training report (2005) and commented on the improvements we had made in Better Training (2007).
We recognise that the training we provide to recruits and trainees is challenging and demanding in order to prepare them to join their chosen service and to use their trade or specialist skills on operations. We have used external opinion to optimise the significant changes that we have made to improve the training environment, reduce risks to recruits and trainees and enhance the support we provide to individuals. We wish to continue to improve and develop, supported by the scrutiny of Ofsted inspection.
In the coming months Ofsted will look at the armed forces recruitment and selection process, following the recruits journey from the armed forces career office and acquaint courses, through to arrival at phase 1 recruit training. Additionally, Ofsted will visit and inspect a number of training units and establishments, commenting on care and welfare provision and structures for the internal review of supervisory care and welfare processes. As with the ALI, Ofsted will report and publish its findings. This will happen in spring 2009.
The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): Over the course of January and February this year, the Ministry of Defence conducted an analysis of the policy baseline establishing the capabilities required of the reserve forces. It concluded that while, in broad terms, our existing policy on the reserve forces remains sound, there were some areas that would benefit from further development.
Taking all of these factors into account, I have decided to set up a review to examine how our reserve forces should be most effectively configured, structured, equipped, located and trained for Defences current and future needs. The review will commence on 1 April 2008.
The reserve forces provide the ability to deliver the capabilities required for relatively infrequent operations on the basis that this is the most cost-effective way of delivering the required effect, within the associated lower readiness timelines. For the Territorial Army this means that they are sized for large scale operations and for the Royal Naval Reserve, the Royal Marines Reserve and the Royal Auxiliary Air Force for medium and small-scale operations.
The review will take account of the way that reserve forces have been employed on current operations as well as their potential use in other roles related to projected requirements. It will consider the scope for greater integration into the regular forces structure. It will also investigate how the reserves can support effectively stabilisation and reconstruction tasks. There is widespread support among the services for this review. 2008 marks the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Territorial Army, which will be
celebrated under the banner of TA100. This is an appropriate time for us to consider how to ensure that the way the reserves contribute to the defence of the nation is as relevant for the 21st century as it was in the 20th century.
I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the reserves for the enormous contribution they make to our defence capability. Their commitment and sacrifice are key to our continued success. With around 17,000 reservists having deployed on operations since January 2003, they have played an invaluable role on current operations.
The review will be conducted transparently and inclusively, and will involve consultation with a wide variety of interested parties. The review is not resource driven. In order to ensure coherence, some of the initiatives we announced in March 2006 to rebalance and restructure the Territorial Army, where practicable, will be deferred until the review is complete.
The appointment of the Director of Service Prosecutions is an important step towards the full implementation of the Armed Forces Act 2006, which will for the first time provide a single system of service law for all three of our armed forces when it comes into effect in January 2009.
Mr. Houlder will take up post in May and will have a comprehensive induction prior to taking up his full prosecutorial role when the new Service Prosecuting Authority comes into effect in January 2009, replacing the three existing single service prosecuting authorities.
The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): The Ministry of Defence is determined to recruit and retain the right people for our armed forces. I wish to announce today two measures that I believe will enhance the attractiveness to service personnel of continuing their service career.
First, I am announcing a significant increase in the value of the commitment bonus to £15,000 for those who agree to serve another five years, nearly trebling
the amount currently available. From 2009, all those below officer level passing the four-year service point will have access to the new scheme. This is designed to encourage further retention in the critical four to eight-year period. The longer they serve the higher the payment will be.
Secondly, we are launching a new initiative on home ownership for service personnel. Important steps have already been taken to assist service personnel with home ownership and to improve access to affordable housing, including the introduction of long service advance of pay and, more recently, the extension to service personnel of the Governments key worker living programme. The increase to the commitment bonus set out above can also help more junior personnel achieve their home ownership aspirations. MOD now wishes to go beyond this with a pilot scheme tailored to the particular needs of service personnel. In the coming months we will work with commercial providers and public bodies to identify the most suitable approach, which is likely to be based on shared equity or rent to buy arrangements, and involve an element of MOD investment. This will be launched during 2009-10, to run for up to four years, and some £20 million has been allocated for this purpose.
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): I am pleased to inform the House that the proposed National Assembly of Wales Legislative CompetenceSocial Welfare and Other Fields Order dealing with vulnerable children has been laid today, as Command Paper (7343). Copies of this can be found in the Vote Office and will be placed in the Library from 12 noon. I have written to the Welsh Affairs Committee and the House of Lords Constitutional Committee to request they undertake pre-legislative scrutiny.