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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 24 June 2008

Children, Schools and Families

Juvenile Secure Settings (Restraint)

The Minister for Children, Young People and Families (Beverley Hughes): On 8 October 2007 the Minister of State for Justice, my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson), and I announced the appointment of Andrew Williamson CBE and Peter Smallridge CBE as independent co-chairs of the review of restraint in juvenile secure settings. The Ministry of Justice and the Department for Children, Schools and Families have joint responsibility for the review.

I am pleased to announce that the chairs reported their recommendations to my right hon. Friend and I on 20 June. We welcome their report and will give its recommendations careful consideration. We intend to publish the chairs’ full report alongside our response to its recommendations by the end of October.

Qualifications Regulation: Next Steps

The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): In December, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills and I published a consultation document, “Confidence in Standards: Regulating and Developing Qualifications and Assessment” (Cm 7281). We detailed plans for the creation of a new independent regulator of qualifications and tests for England—the Office of the Qualifications and Examinations Regulator (Ofqual), and the evolution of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) into a development agency for curriculum, assessment and qualifications.

The consultation finished in March, and in a written ministerial statement to the House on 2 April 2008, Official Report, columns 50-51WS, I confirmed that the proposals had been generally well received and that we were therefore proceeding with these reforms including through bringing forward new legislation. We also confirmed that Ofqual was about to be set up in an interim form, using the QCA’s current regulatory powers. Ofqual was duly launched in its interim form on 8 April.

We have today published a further progress report, including a summary of the responses to the consultation —“Confidence in Standards: Regulating and Developing Qualifications and Assessment”—next steps and confirmation of how in the light of comments we have decided to proceed. I have placed a copy in the House Library.

Ofqual will be a credible and clearly independent guardian of standards across the assessment and qualifications system, securing confidence in that system.
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Subject to legislation, it will become a regulator with even stronger powers to safeguard standards. The QCA, in its new form as the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA) will be able to focus on advising Ministers on the curriculum and on developing and delivering qualifications and assessments. These reforms have been widely welcomed, including in the responses to the consultation. They are the right thing to do and all will benefit—employers, higher education, the many and various players involved in delivering qualifications and—most important of all—the learners of all ages.

Communities and Local Government

Non-domestic Rating Valuations (Decapitalisation Rate)

The Minister for Local Government (John Healey): I have today published a consultation paper and draft regulatory impact assessment to seek views on the use of the ‘contractor’s method of valuation’ in non-domestic rating valuations in England for the 2010 revaluation.

Rateable values are assessed independently by the Valuation Office Agency and are generally based on annual rental values. Most are assessed having regard to actual rents but such evidence is not always available. In about 11 per cent. of cases, rateable value is based on capital values—found from the cost of construction and land values— which is then ‘decapitalised’ to give an annual value representing the rateable value. This is called the ‘contractor’s method of valuation’. The decapitalisation rate used in the valuation is prescribed by the Government.

The consultation paper I have published today contains proposals:

We will make final decisions on these proposals and, in the event of continued prescription, determine the decapitalisation rates in the autumn of this year in light of the consultation responses.

Copies of the document have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, and can be accessed via the Communities and Local Government website at: http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/local government/decapitalisationrate

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture and Fisheries Council

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): I and my hon. Friend the Minister for marine, landscape and rural affairs, the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw),
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will be representing the United Kingdom at this month’s Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Luxembourg. The three devolved Administration Ministers Richard Lochead, Elin Jones and Michelle Gildernew will also be attending.

There is only one substantive item for discussion on this month’s agenda relating to agriculture, which concerns the common agricultural policy health check. The codecision proposal updating the rules on placing plant protection products on the market will be adopted by the Council without need for further discussion (as an ‘A’ point).

A revision of the 2004 cotton reforms will also be adopted as an ‘A’ point. We shall be voting against this proposal which we feel is insufficiently ambitious at a time of further CAP reform.

With regard to fisheries, the Council is due to agree the proposal on illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing. A further proposal for fishing authorisations is also due to be agreed. In addition, there will be a discussion on the Mauritania fishery agreement but no adoption as the opinion of the European Parliament is still awaited.

The following issues will be raised under any other business:

The Agriculture Commissioner will provide the usual update on the WTO-DDA negotiations.

France will be tabling a memorandum for higher standards for imports of food products into the EU.

Belgium will be raising four issues relating to the high price of animal feed, the state aid de minimis rules, BSE testing and bluetongue.

Latvia will be tabling a point on border veterinary controls.

The Presidency will present an introductory paper and there will be a substantive paper agreed by France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Malta for discussion on the effects of fuel price increases on the fishing industry.


Corston Report

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Maria Eagle): On 6 December 2007 the Minister of State for Justice, my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson), published a Command Paper—“The Government’s Response to the Report by Baroness Corston of a Review of Women with Particular Vulnerabilities in the Criminal Justice System” (Cm 7261).

The paper detailed how the Government planned to respond to the 43 recommendations made by my right hon. and noble Friend Baroness Corston in her report. I am today updating Parliament and publishing a report on progress made over the last six months in taking forward the Government’s response, detailing the Government’s continued commitment to bring about real improvements for women offenders in both custody and the community. I have placed copies of the progress report in the Libraries of both Houses. Copies are also available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.
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Copies are also available on the internet at: http://www.justice.gov.uk/news/announcement240608b.htm

Since being appointed as the Ministerial Champion For Women and Criminal Justice matters, I am pleased to report the significant actions which we have been able to deliver against the commitments made in the Government’s response.

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Another key commitment is to improve health and social care services for women in contact with the Criminal Justice System. Health-related commissioning guidance specifically focused on services for women and their families will be developed by December 2008. The Government will also have reviewed and set out recommendations for improvements in the health care provided to women in police custody, in court cells and during transportation to prison.

I would like to thank my ministerial colleagues and officials in their Departments who have contributed to the progress made and I look forward to continuing working with them, and our non-Government stakeholders, in taking forward these commitments further. As the Ministerial Champion for Women and Criminal Justice matters, I will continue to make sure that everything possible is done to ensure that we have a system that is properly responsive to the needs and characteristics of women.

Weekend Voting

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. Michael Wills): The right to vote is the basis of our political system. Strengthening our democracy requires the removal of barriers to the exercise of that right. So the system for delivering elections must be accessible and responsive to the needs of voters. And accessibility must always go hand in hand with the security of the system: citizens need to be confident that their vote will count, and that
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elections are fair and free from fraud. It is the twin principles of accessibility and integrity that underpin the legitimacy of our electoral process.

In “The Governance of Britain” Green Paper, the Government set out a programme of work to reinvigorate our democracy and give citizens the means to participate in decision making at every level. As part of this programme, the Government committed to consult on moving elections to the weekend as a means of making voting more accessible, and so potentially raising levels of turnout.

To meet that commitment, I am today publishing a consultation paper on Election Day (Cm 7334). The paper invites views on the merits of moving the voting day for parliamentary and European parliamentary elections, and local elections in England and Wales, from the traditional Thursday to the weekend; and on the best way to do this. The paper sets out a range of issues that need to be taken into account, including practical considerations and the potential cost of holding elections at the weekend, and invites views and evidence. It makes clear that, in the event that elections were moved to the weekend, this would need to be implemented in a way which did not interfere with religious observance.

This consultation paper marks the start of a process of engagement on Election Day. The Government are committed to exploring new forms of engagement to encourage greater public involvement in policy making. The Government believe that the question of when elections should be held is an issue that would benefit from this new approach. So the consultation exercise I am launching today will be followed by a citizens’ summit at which a cross-section of the public will be invited to consider the barriers to voting and the options available to improve participation levels.

A citizens’ summit involves bringing together a broad sample of the public to deliberate and discuss issues of national policy. The Government believe that such techniques can improve the national policy-making process by introducing opportunities for a deliberative dialogue between Government and the public and encouraging people to debate policy options between themselves, to ask questions and to make informed recommendations to their representatives in Government and Parliament. Participants at this summit will be asked to deliberate on the issues, including those raised in the consultation and to make a recommendation on whether elections should be held at the weekend. The Government will respond to the consultation exercise after the summit with its view about the intended way forward.

I also intend that the summit should discuss more widely the factors that motivate people to exercise their right to vote. The sense of a civic duty to vote has eroded over the last 50 years. It is vital for the health of our democracy that we better understand the reasons for this, and what we can do to reverse the trend of falling turnout.

The consultation process on Election Day is an opportunity for a wide debate about how the democratic process can be shaped to the needs and preferences of citizens. But, whatever changes are made, we also need to ensure that the integrity of the electoral process is protected and enhanced.

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