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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
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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 Republic’s 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.

EU Informal Meeting (Bordeaux)

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:

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
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the European Universities Association’s “Charter on Lifelong Learning”—a publication outlining ideas for universities and Governments to increase universities’ contribution to lifelong learning.

Justice

Persistent Young Offenders

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): The PYO pledge was one of the Government’s 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 area’s 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
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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 Justice’s 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.

Corsten Report (Government Response)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Maria Eagle): 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) 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 Government’s 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 Government’s
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response and the wider work we are undertaking to take this agenda further forward beyond the Corston commitments:

Northern Ireland

National Security (First Annual Report)

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 report finds the operation of arrangements to be working effectively, and Lord Carlile is confident there will be no diminution of national security in Northern Ireland.

Consistent with his terms of reference, the report was submitted to both the Home Secretary and to me.

The Home Secretary and I welcome the content of this report which I am today bringing before Parliament. I have placed copies in the House Library.


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Transport

Local Transport Act 2008

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 operator’s 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 Government’s 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 Government’s 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 Transport’s website at: www.dft.gov.uk, and copies are available in the Library of the House.


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