21 July 2008 : Column 59WS

21 July 2008 : Column 59WS

Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 21 July 2008

Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

Das Air

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas): My predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) committed in 2006 to make a statement to the House once the UK National Contact Point had completed its investigation in to Das Air’s behaviour in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The complaint was submitted to the UK National Contact Point under the auspices of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises by a Non-Government Organisation RAID (Rights and Accountability in Development) on 28 April 2005.

I am therefore happy to fulfil that commitment; the UK National Contact Point today published the final statement on the DAS Air complaint. The National Contact Point concluded that DAS Air:

The NCP upheld the allegations brought by Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID) and concluded that DAS Air had failed to meet the requirements of the guidelines.

Strategic Export Controls

The Minister for Energy (Malcolm Wicks): The Government will today—21 July 2008—publish their further response to the public consultation on UK Strategic Export Controls.

On Wednesday 6 February 2008, I announced to the House the publication of the Government’s initial response to a public consultation on strategic export controls introduced under the Export Control Act 2004. This response is available at: http://www.berr.gov.uk/european trade/strategic-export-control/legislation/export-control-act-2002/review/index.html . In it, the Government made a commitment to tighten controls in four areas.

21 July 2008 : Column 60WS

I am pleased to announce that since the initial response was published, the Government:

The initial response also identified a number of other areas where further detailed analysis and discussion was needed. I am now in a position to update the House on these areas. The further response commits the Government to:

The further response also identifies areas where the Government have decided not to make a change. These are:

21 July 2008 : Column 61WS

There are also some areas where work is continuing. This further response therefore also:

I am very pleased to announce this wide ranging package of measures, which I am satisfied address the main interests of our stakeholders, and is at the same time proportionate to the risks concerned, effective and enforceable.

Children, Schools and Families

Contingencies Fund Advance

The Minister for Children, Young People and Families (Beverley Hughes): The then Secretary of State for Education and Skills entered into a two-year contract with Serco Ltd in October 2006 for support for the development of children’s centres and the modernisation of services for children and their families. Under this contract the consortium Together for Children is responsible for supporting, challenging and helping local authorities build their capacity, with their partners, to plan and commission to time and cost, the development of sustainable, high quality children’s centres.

Parliamentary approval is being sought for expenditure on a continuing service, through an extension of the contract from 1 October 2008 for a further two years. Expenditure on this contract currently rests solely on the authority of the Appropriation Act, in the absence of specific statutory authority. The Children and Young Persons Bill currently before Parliament will put the Secretary of State under a duty to promote the well-being of children. One effect of this duty will be to enable the Secretary of State to enter into this and other such contracts in pursuit of this duty.

The timetable for Royal Assent of the Bill, which is expected in this session of Parliament, means that Parliamentary approval for additional resources of £1,500,000 for this new service will be sought in a supplementary estimate for the Department for Children, Schools and Families to enable expenditure on this new service in advance of Royal Assent of the Children and Young Persons Bill. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure estimated at £1,500,000 will be met by repayable cash advances from the Contingencies Fund.

The expenditure cannot await parliamentary approval of the enabling legislation because any extension of the contract must take place before expiry of the existing contract on 30 September 2008. Disruption of support for local authorities at this stage would threaten the roll out of children’s centres at a crucial time when key decisions are being taken about where to locate the remaining centres and how to reconfigure existing services in order to achieve universal coverage for children under five and their families. It could lead to a delay in children and families accessing and benefiting from children’s centre services.

21 July 2008 : Column 62WS

The Contingencies Fund advance can be repaid immediately the Children and Young Persons Bill receives Royal Assent.

School Inspection

The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): School inspection plays an important role in both the publicly funded and independent sectors to ensure quality of provision, to protect the interests of pupils, and to ensure parents have reliable information about schools. The Education and Skills Bill now provides an opportunity for us to secure the high quality of independent school inspection and give this system a clear legislative foundation.

Independent schools in England are required to meet the statutory standards set out in the Education (Independent School Standards) (England) Regulations 2003 (as amended), and are inspected regularly to ensure that they do so. The existence of independent inspectorates allows for simultaneous inspection against both statutory standards and other criteria. For example, the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) checks that schools which belong to the Independent Schools Council (ISC) meet a range of criteria that have to be met in order to belong to ISC. In addition, since 2005 we have been approached by smaller school groupings that want to form their own school inspectorates.

We have therefore proposed to take powers to set criteria for the approval and withdrawal of approval of inspectorates. The proposed criteria cover issues such as the qualifications and experience of inspectors, the inspection framework, management and quality assurance of inspections, public confidence in inspectorates, complaints handling, financial viability, and the school to be covered by new inspectorates. Our proposed criteria were set out in a consultation document published on 21 January 2008, and we have published our consultation response at: http://www.dfes.gov.uk/consultations/conResults.cfm? consultationId=1528 today. Responses to the consultation have been positive and constructive and I am grateful to all those who have participated.

In its response to the consultation and subsequently, Ofsted has provided evidence that the quality of independent inspection and public confidence in this system will best be promoted by a system of larger inspectorates. It concludes that such a system will make it easier to secure consistent assessment of standards, help prevent the inspector body becoming over-familiar with the school groups with which they were associated and promote public confidence about an inspectorate’s breadth of perspective and genuine independence from the schools they inspect.

This analysis has led us to re-examine the criteria for size, diversity and the composition of the inspectorial workforce which we consulted on in January. We are therefore today launching a supplementary, limited consultation with those who responded to the initial consultation and other key stakeholders, in which we propose a higher minimum threshold of 350 schools. I have placed a copy of this further consultation in the Library of the House.

21 July 2008 : Column 63WS

Communities and Local Government

Data Matching

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Iain Wright): The Secretary of State has today laid the Audit Commission’s Code of Data Matching Practice as required by part 2A of the Audit Commission Act 1998, as amended by the Serious Crime Act 2007.

The code governs how all organisations that participate in the Audit Commission’s data matching exercises, including the Commission itself, are required to have regard to it. The code also sets out best practice standards for the Audit Commission and these participating organisations.

The Audit Commission’s National Fraud Initiative is a data matching exercise aimed at detecting fraud. The new powers, as conferred by the Serious Crime Act 2007, allow the Commission to build on their previous exercises by making it available to a wider range of bodies.

Housing and Planning Delivery Grant

The Minister for Housing (Caroline Flint): Following the Government’s announcement of provisional allocations for Housing and Planning Delivery Grant for 2008-09, a number of local authorities expressed concern that their grant had been abated for poor performance on development control. Unfortunately, a figure of 80 per cent. was used for all development control targets on which grant is abated, rather than of 60 per cent., 65 per cent. and 80 per cent. for major, minor and other applications.

The abatement figures have now been corrected. The changes affect all local authority provisional allocations as there is less abated grant to be redistributed to unabated authorities.

A revised schedule of local authority provisional allocations has been placed in the Library of the House.

Culture, Media and Sport

The Tote

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): In my ministerial written statement on 5 March I said that the Government intended to prepare for an open market sale of the Tote, and would take advice on strategic options. I also announced that the overriding criterion for a sale of the Tote would be to maximise value for the taxpayer and that the Government would honour their commitment to return half of the net proceeds of any open market sale to racing subject to the requirements of European state aid and competition rules.

The Government remain of the view that it is appropriate that it removes itself from detailed involvement in the affairs of the racing and bookmaking industries. It is also keen to give certainty to the Tote and its businesses so that they can develop and flourish for the benefit of their staff and racing.

21 July 2008 : Column 64WS

The Government have received preliminary views from its advisers on the strategic options available with regard to the Tote. It is clear that the Tote is a highly attractive asset which would enjoy significant interest if brought to market in an open auction.

However the Government will need to be satisfied that it is right to proceed with a sale in the light of current market conditions. The Government intend to commission detailed work on the Tote to be undertaken during the course of the summer, which would provide the necessary groundwork to launch a sale in the autumn. This work will also provide further data on the company which would enable the Government and the Tote board to consider how best to create further value inside the Tote if, in the light of market conditions, the Government decided in the autumn not to proceed to a sale at that time.

Finally, the Government would like to place on record their warm appreciation of the fortitude and professionalism of the Tote’s staff up and down the country at this time. If a sale of the Tote were to proceed the Government would emphasise in any sale documentation and process both the quality of the Tote’s workforce and the north-west as an excellent business destination.


Low Flying

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Derek Twigg): I have today placed in the Library of the House a report giving a detailed account of the low flying training that has taken place in the UK low flying system for the training year April 2007 to March 2008.

Additional copies of “The Pattern of Military Low Flying Across the UK 2007-2008” are available on request from the following address:

Alternatively it can be viewed on the MOD’s web site: www.mod.uk/issues/lowflying.

Next Section Index Home Page