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Ministers adopted conclusions on youth mobility, which seek to increase the numbers of young people spending a period of time abroad through undertaking part of their studies participating in EU mobility programmes. Ministers discussed the importance of mobility both for the development of individuals and also for the labour market. I highlighted our increasing
numbers of Erasmus participants, the aim to widen participation to less advantaged groups, and the increased language learning among teachers.
The presidency presented updates on the adoption of a new credit system in vocational training, quality assurance in vocational training, and the next phase of the Erasmus Mundus programme. The Commission presented information on the Europa diary; learning to learn; collaborative working with India and Israel; and on the Euroskills event held in Rotterdam in September. Portugal and Poland announced their bids to host the 2010 Euroskills event. I welcomed the Rotterdam event and noted that we would host Worldskills in London in 2011. The Czech Minister presented the Czech Republics presidency priorities in the field of education. These comprised the future strategy in education and training post-2010; encouraging partnerships between education and employers; and pressing for progress in higher education via the Bologna process.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Mr. Siôn Simon): The meeting was chaired by the French Minister for Education, Xavier Darcos. Win Harris, director of the DCSF/DIUS/DWP Joint International Unit represented the UK. The meeting focused on co-operation in vocational education and training for 2008-10.
Ministers adopted the Bordeaux Communiqué which laid out the vocational training objectives for Europe up to 2010. Based on conclusions adopted at the 21 November Education Council, it outlines four priorities in this field:
implementing the European Credit System for Vocational Education and Training (ECVET), together with the future European Quality Assurance Reference Framework;
attracting students into vocational training;
improving links between vocational training and the labour market;
improving European co-operation in this field, in particular by increasing peer-learning activities.
The full Communiqué is available at: http://ec.europa.eu/education/news/newsl087_en.htm
Ministers noted the Copenhagen process launched in 2002 had resulted in the development of the tools outlined in the communiqué. Such tools enabled comparability of vocational education qualifications, and flexible learning through credit transfer. As a consequence, many education systems now measured learning outcomes rather than inputs, and the numbers of vocational education students were rising.
An exchange of views on future skills requirements in Europe highlighted the challenges of long-term changes to employment structures, the increased mobility of individuals, and demographic change. Better anticipation of skills needs would allow both education systems and employers to respond effectively to the needs of the labour market.
The afternoon session of the meeting was chaired by Valérie Pecrésse, French Minister for Higher Education. Following discussion, Ministers endorsed
the European Universities Associations Charter on Lifelong Learninga publication outlining ideas for universities and Governments to increase universities contribution to lifelong learning.
The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): The PYO pledge was one of the Governments key manifesto commitments in 1997. Not only has it succeeded in demonstrating to persistent young offenders that their behaviour has consequences and those consequences follow quickly, but it has also improved the effectiveness and efficiency of criminal justice agencies in working together to tackle young offenders. In 1997 the average time from arrest to sentence for persistent young offenders was 142 days. We have bettered our pledge to halve the average time from arrest to sentence to 71 days and in 2007 we achieved 65 days, the lowest annual figure since the pledge was introduced in 1997.
The pledge was the first cross-criminal justice system target, and has been an excellent catalyst in bringing criminal justice agencies together to ensure that PYOs are dealt with expeditiously. Alongside the pledge, the criminal justice system is now delivering on a wide range of performance indicators and public service agreement commitments, such as increasing the proportion of serious offences brought to justice and improving public confidence in the criminal justice system.
We now want to build on the success of the pledge by concentrating on the most high-risk youth offenders. The PYO pledge focused on young, prolific offenders, but only after they had been convicted three times. We do not want to wait until a young offender receives multiple convictions before deciding that they are a priority for the attention of criminal justice agencies. We made clear in the Youth Crime Action Plan published earlier this year that the priority for the criminal justice system is to target those young people most at risk of offending. The success of the PYO pledge means that we will start from a strong position that should ensure that the benefits gained in terms of speed through the system and cross-agency working will not be lost.
From next year, we will be asking criminal justice agencies to focus their efforts on a single priority group of young offenders deemed to pose the highest risk. The group will be identified locally by youth offending teams who will determine who should be targeted under the areas prolific and priority offender programme. These offenders will be prioritised through the criminal justice process, with the application of a premium service by the agencies, and in terms of sentencing interventions. This new approach to addressing youth offending behaviour will be supported by performance measures focused on reducing the reoffending of this group, and on improving their timeliness through the criminal justice system. The reoffending measure will enable us to monitor performance on reducing the rate of reoffending (by comparing rates
of reoffending as measured by recorded convictions). The timeliness measure will enable monitoring, of the time through the system from arrest to conclusion (whether in the youth court or the Crown court). To supplement these performance measures, we will also use the Ministry of Justices time intervals survey to monitor expected improvements in timeliness of all youth cases through youth courts, as a result of the recent introduction of the criminal justice simple, speedy, summary initiative in youth courts.
This new approach means that for the first time, we will be targeting the combined efforts of the criminal justice agencies in a more holistic way on managing the offending of a common group of priority young offenders with an explicit focus on reducing their reoffending. The new approach will ensure the engagement of a wider partnership of agencies, both within and outside the criminal justice system, in working with and prioritising these young people, the continuation of interventions beyond the end of their time in the youth justice system, and a managed transition to adult services as they turn 18.
The Office for Criminal Justice Reform will monitor and report on performance both in terms of reoffending and timeliness, and will support and challenge the 42 local criminal justice boards which have responsibility for delivering the new approach. It will agree local levels of ambition with them, consistent with the performance management approach adopted across the wider Justice for All public service agreement 24 target as a whole.
I am therefore, today, announcing the conclusion of the Persistent Young Offenders (PYO) Pledge from the end of December 2008, and the plans we have to continue to deal with those young offenders whose behaviour causes the greatest damage and distress to law-abiding citizens.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Maria Eagle): The Governments response to the report by Baroness Corston of A Review of Women with Particular Vulnerabilities in the Criminal Justice System (Cm 7261) was published on 6 December 2007. This was followed by a written ministerial statement and a progress report I issued on 24 June 2008 (Official Report, Col. 7WS) outlining developments made over the last six months.
A year on since the Governments response was published, I am today updating Parliament and publishing a report on significant progress made since June 2008, detailing our continued commitment to bring about real improvements for women offenders. 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.
My new role as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Government Equalities Office alongside my continued role with the Ministry of Justice has created further synergies to strengthen the cross-Government joint working that is fundamental to the success of this agenda. I am pleased to report on the significant actions which we have been able to deliver against the commitments made in the Governments
response and the wider work we are undertaking to take this agenda further forward beyond the Corston commitments:
The Ministry of Justice is committed to providing additional resourcing in the new year to divert vulnerable women who are not serious or dangerous offenders from custody. We plan to reduce the number of women in prison and to provide additional services in the community for women offenders and women at risk of offending. The resources will be used to build capacity of one-stop shop services and to develop further bail support services better to meet the needs of women. Baroness Corston was convinced that one-stop shop services delivered through womens centres provide the radical new women-centred approach her review called for. The Ministry of Justice has been working with regional offender managersand directors of offender managementas well as the Griffins Society to map existing provision and develop a picture of where there is potential to develop capacity. It is proposed to invest in existing third sector providers to enable them to work with courts, police, probation and other statutory agencies to provide support and services to vulnerable women in the criminal justice system.
Pilots on a conditional caution specifically for women developed in joint co-operation between the Government, local police, prosecutors and Together Women centrespresenting a chance for diversion at an early stagewere launched in September 2008. The pilots are running in Leeds, Bradford, Keighley and Liverpool for a period of six months and early indications are positive. The condition attached to the caution commits the woman to attend a Together Women centre for a full needs assessment, providing them with an opportunity to address the causes of their offending.
Following successful pilots, using the new model women's full search, the National Offender Management Service is now implementing the introduction of the new arrangements for full searchingas set out in Prison Service Instruction 38/2008in all womens prisons. The new arrangements do not require the removal of underwear unless there is intelligence or suspicion at any stage that an item is concealed. To date this has taken place at HMP Downview, HMP Send, HMP Morton Hall, HMP Styal, HMP East Sutton Park, HMP Peterborough, HMP Bronzefield and HMP New Hall. All womens prisons will be on stream by 1 April 2009.
In October 2008 a probation circular providing guidance for greater use of female approved premises was issued. This encourages greater use of capacity in female premises by introducing flexibility into the admissions criteria to include women who may not necessarily present a high risk of harm to others. Such women could also benefit from the supervised, structured and supportive environment available. We are expecting to see an increase in numbers of women accessing them in the near future.
In July 2008 the independent Sentencing Advisory Panel published its consultation paper on the overarching principles of sentencing. The panel was asked by the Sentencing Guidelines Council to review the definitive guidelines Overarching Principles: Seriousness and New Sentences: Criminal Justice Act 2003. The consultation paper contains an important discussion of the principles of sentencing of women offenders. Further work needs to be done to understand current sentencing practice but we welcome the steps the panel has taken.
Lord Bradley's review into the diversion of offenders with mental health problems or learning disabilities is due to report to Government early in the new year. The review considers women offenders and the ongoing programme of work from the Corston report has formed part of the evidence Lord Bradley is considering. The Government welcome Lord Bradleys review and accepted recommendations will be taken forward in the offender health and social care strategy, currently being developed by Government for publication in the summer.
The cross-departmental criminal justice womens strategy unit now includes representatives from the Attorney-Generals Office, Government Equalities Office and the Department of Health,
and we are continuing to negotiate with other Departments to contribute resources. The unit informs the work of the ministerial sub-group on implementation of the Government's response to Corston; which has recently expanded its membership to include Ministers from both the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and Department for Children, Schools and Families.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Shaun Woodward): The Government have received and welcomed the first annual report of Lord Carlile of Berriew on the operation of arrangements for handling national security matters in Northern Ireland.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jim Fitzpatrick): The effect of section 47 of, and Schedule 3 to, the Local Transport Act 2008 is to empower the Secretary of State to make regulations establishing a new regime for the impounding of certain public service vehicles operated without a valid operators licence. These provisions were included in response to a recommendation of the House of Commons Transport Committee in its pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Bill.
The Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) is today publishing a consultation which sets out the Governments detailed proposals for this new regime, including draft regulations. The proposals build on the existing goods vehicle impounding regime, which has helped to deter illegal operation in that sector. They should support the Governments road safety objectives, as well as reducing unfair competition for legitimate operators. Comments are invited from all interested parties, and the consultation will close on 31 March 2009.
Copies of the consultation paper, draft regulations and a consultation-stage impact assessment will be available on the Department for Transports website at: www.dft.gov.uk, and copies are available in the Library of the House.