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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 4 November 2009


Service Children's Education (Key Targets 2009-10)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Kevan Jones): The chief executive of Service Children's Education has been set the following key targets for 2009-10:

Key Target 1-Foundation Stage

Key Target 2-Key Stage 1

Key Target 3-Key Stage 2

Key Target 4-Key Stage 3

Key Target 5-Key Stage 4

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Key Target 6-Key Stage 5

Key Target 7


Regulation of Social Care

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Phil Hope): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State issued a written ministerial statement on 20 July, Official Report, column 96WS about the discovery of a backlog of conduct cases which had been identified by the General Social Care Council (GSCC). He announced that we would be asking the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence (CHRE) to undertake a review of the GSCC's conduct functions. CHRE today published the report of its review of the GSCC. The Government welcome this report.

CHRE's report sets out a series of serious operational failings in the conduct function by the GSCC, which investigates complaints about social workers. Insufficient attention was paid to a growing backlog of conduct cases, despite additional funding being provided by the Department for three years to enable GSCC to address a growing number of complaints. Of particular concern was the decision to suspend, for a period of time, any new referrals to the GSCC's professional conduct committee.

The Government have today broadly accepted all of the recommendations made by CHRE and a full response to its report is available at:


I met with the GSCC's Chair, Rosie Varley, on behalf of both the Department of Health and the Department for Children, Schools and Families to express Ministers' concerns about the issues raised in the report and to set out clear expectations for the GSCC going forward.

Significant progress has already been made in handling cases on receipt of complaints and addressing any ongoing risks to the public resulting from the poor management of conduct since July. Ministers have been assured by the Chair of the GSCC that all cases are now routinely risk-assessed and allocated to a responsible manager who ensures that risk is continually reviewed as new information arises. Interim suspension orders, which suspend the registration of social workers against whom serious complaints have been made while they are investigated, are now being applied for where appropriate.

The GSCC has also begun the process of reforming its operational processes and strengthening its infrastructure to support performance management of its conduct function. A remedial plan to address the backlog of cases is now in place and Ministers have asked for monthly reports on progress to be provided to the Department.

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Ministers have made it clear to the Chair of the GSCC that they expect to see significant operational improvements as a result of the implementation of the Council's action plan by the end of March 2010, including the resolution of the oldest cases. The Chair of the GSCC has been asked to personally oversee reform of the GSCC's procedures, to ensure effective governance and to report on progress to Ministers in March 2010.

The Department of Health will continue to work closely with the GSCC to assure and assist in the delivery of its recovery plans.

The CHRE's report and the Government's response have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and copies are available for hon. Members from the Vote Office.

Home Department

Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000

The Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism (Mr. David Hanson): The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) marked a major step in the protection of privacy. Prior to RIPA, many of the more intrusive techniques which it regulates could be used by any public authority and authorised at any level, for any purpose. There was no comprehensive system of independent oversight, no independent judicial complaints mechanism available in relation to all these techniques, and no means by which Parliament could prescribe the ranks of authorising officers or limit the purposes for which the techniques could be used. In addressing this situation, RIPA ensured that only specified public authorities could continue to use certain key techniques to protect the public, and only if they could do so compatibly with the European convention on human rights and, particularly, the article 8 right to respect for private and family life.

Nevertheless, a small number of local authorities have authorised techniques under RIPA in circumstances when most of us would say it was not necessary or proportionate for them to do so. In order to prevent this happening again, my Department published on Friday 17 April a consultation paper entitled "Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000: Consolidating Orders and Codes of Practice". This paper set out proposals to ensure that techniques regulated in RIPA can continue to be used when they are necessary and proportionate, but that there is no repetition of the small number of cases when they have been misused.

Today I am publishing a summary of the responses submitted as part of this consultation exercise. The summary explains how I intend to develop the proposals set out in the consultation paper in the light of the responses received.

My Department received 222 responses to the consultation exercise. As explained in the summary, most of the responses were broadly supportive of the proposals in the consultation document. Subject to minor changes set out in the summary, I intend to take forward the proposals for secondary legislation described
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in the consultation document as soon as possible. The secondary legislation, and the related codes of practice, will include measures to:

Following a proposal by the Local Government Association, I intend to require each local authority to appoint a single official to be responsible for ensuring that all authorising officers are of an appropriate standard. This new role will have to be filled by a member of the corporate management team to whom authorising officers will report.

A number of respondents suggested that the key to effective and appropriate use of RIPA techniques was training, rather than the rank of authorising officers. With this in mind, I have asked my officials to work with the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Local Government Association and the Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services to establish a package of accredited training for local authority authorising officers, and, in addition, to prepare bespoke written guidance on how local authorities should use RIPA.

It is absolutely clear that a wide range of public authorities need to be able to authorise key techniques under RIPA in order to protect us from those who would do us harm. It is equally clear that public authorities must respect our right to privacy and only use techniques under RIPA when it is necessary and proportionate to do so. I believe the measures outlined in the summary of responses will ensure that both objectives can be met.

Leader of the House

Committee on Standards in Public Life (MPs' Expenses and Allowances)

The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): The Committee on Standards in Public Life will be publishing its report on Members' allowances today. Copies of the report addressed to individual Members will be available in Members' Lobby from 10.00 am. Copies will also be available to Members from the vote office.

I will make an oral statement this afternoon.

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Northern Ireland

Independent Monitoring Commission

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Shaun Woodward): I have received the Twenty-second report of the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC). This report has been made under Articles 4 and 7 of the international agreement that established the commission and it reports on levels of paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland. I have considered the content of the report and I am today bringing it before Parliament. I have placed copies in the Libraries of both Houses.

The IMC report on the serious threat posed by dissident republicans. They conclude that the activities of both the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA, including the murders of Sappers Quinsey and Azimkar and PC Carroll in March and a number of other extremely serious incidents, are designed to undermine peaceful political progress. The IMC note that the completion of devolution could be a potent intervention "because policing and justice would no longer be a point of contention across the political divide" but rather be "a platform for co-operation against those trying to undermine the peace process". The Government remain committed to do all they can to provide a solid foundation for a devolved Department of Justice.

The IMC also acknowledge the very real progress towards decommissioning made by loyalists. They conclude that the UVF is an organisation on its way to going out of business and that the leadership of the UDA has given a significant lead to change the organisation and shown remarkable commitment and progress in community development. I, too, hope that the UDA will follow through on the commitments it has made and complete the decommissioning process.


Special Grant Funding 2010-11 (National Bus Concession)

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr. Sadiq Khan): I am today issuing a consultation paper on the distribution of concessionary travel special grant funding for local authorities in 2010-11.

Following the extension of the statutory bus concession in April 2008, to provide free off-peak local bus travel anywhere in England, the Government have provided additional special grant funding to local authorities of £212 million in 2008-09, followed by £217 million for 2009-10 and £223 million for 2010-11. This is in addition to the funding that Government provide each year for concessionary travel through the formula grant process, bringing total spending on concessionary travel to around £1 billion a year.

A special grant report, which specified the amounts to be paid to authorities for the three years from 2008-09 to 2010-11, was approved by Parliament in March 2008. The formula used to distribute the extra funding was based on data on eligible local population, visitor numbers, retail floor space and current bus use. As such it was
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designed to take account of likely demand in areas such as coastal towns, urban centres and other places likely to experience an increase in costs.

There is no evidence that the additional special grant funding is insufficient in total to meet the costs of the new concession. However, I am aware of some distributional issues that have arisen that have led to around 30 (out of over 260) travel concession authorities at risk of a significant shortfall in funding. At the same time I am aware of other authorities that may have received more funding than they require to meet the additional costs of the improved concession.

It is for this reason that I am today launching a consultation on whether to allocate the special grant for 2010-11 using a revised distribution, which seeks better to match the pattern of costs being incurred by local authorities. Any revised grant distribution developed after the consultation will be published in the form of a special grant report which will itself then be the subject of parliamentary scrutiny in due course.

Earlier this year we also consulted on the way in which concessionary travel will be administered from 2011. Over 200 responses were received to the consultation and we are in the process of considering these responses. I expect to be able to make a further announcement on the outcome of this consultation in due course.

I would like to emphasise that the funding distribution and administrative issues should by no means detract from the success of the national bus concession, which the Government will continue to offer to older and disabled people in England. These changes make no change to either the services pass holders are entitled to use, or to who can receive the concession. Concessionaires themselves should therefore not notice any difference in the service they receive, under the proposals suggested.

The introduction of free off-peak local bus travel throughout England from 1 April 2008 has given the opportunity for greater freedom and independence to around 11 million older and disabled people. No older or disabled person in England now need be prevented from local bus travel by cost alone and the scheme represents a major step forward in tackling social inclusion for some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

Copies of the consultation paper have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

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