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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 11 March 2010


Double Taxation Agreement (Bahrain)

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Stephen Timms): A Double Taxation Agreement with Bahrain was signed on 10 March. The text of the agreement has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and made available on HM Revenue and Customs' website. The text will be scheduled to a draft Order in Council and laid before the House of Commons in due course.

Children, Schools and Families

Common Assessment Framework

The Minister for Children, Young People and Families (Dawn Primarolo): I am announcing today progress in the implementation of the National electronic Common Assessment Framework system (National eCAF)

Many children and young people in England need support from a range of services because they have additional needs. The Common Assessment Framework (CAF), which came about as part of the Every Child Matters reforms, plays a crucial part in delivering this for them. The CAF is designed to help practitioners to assess the additional needs of children and young people when they emerge, and to work together to meet them. CAF is used only with the consent of children and young people, or their parents and carers as appropriate. Since its introduction in 2006 thousands of practitioners have been trained in the CAF and are now using it successfully in their day-to-day work.

CAF information is currently recorded using a paper format or on local systems. A new system to electronically enable the CAF, called National eCAF, will be made available from 22 March 2010 to a small group of early adopter organisations who have applied to take part in this scheme. They comprise four local authorities-Birmingham, Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire and Walsall, and two voluntary organisations-Barnardo's and Kids. Information will be held on National eCAF, as with the CAF, only with the explicit consent of the child or young person, or their parents or carers as appropriate.

The security of National eCAF is of paramount importance. Only authorised, trained practitioners with enhanced Criminal Records Bureau checks will be able to use National eCAF; they will also need a token and a password to access the system.

We have worked closely with professionals and partner organisations on the development of National eCAF to date, and we will continue to do so as we develop the system further, and in the light of the experience of early adopter organisations.

For more information, please visit www.dcsf.gov.uk/ecm/ecaf.

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Secondary School Applications and Offers 2010 (Statistics)

The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): My Department is today publishing the statistical release "Secondary School Applications and Offers 2010" which can be viewed on the DCSF Research and Statistics Gateway. This statistical release was produced by officials working under the direction of Government statisticians in accordance with the code of practice for official statistics and was released at 9.30 today.

The schools admissions code and related legislation ensure that all school places are awarded in an open, fair and transparent way. We have outlawed unfair and covert admission practices which disadvantage low-income families. The code has transformed the admissions system by placing parents and families at the heart of the process, helping them to choose the best school for their child. We have extended the role of the independent schools adjudicator, ensuring he is there to champion fair access for all, allowing him to look into any admission arrangements that parents feel are unfair or overly complicated as well as requiring him to monitor compliance and report to me annually.

The Information as to Provision of Education (England) Regulations 2008 require local authorities (LAs) to submit data to the Department on how many families received an offer of a place at one of their preferred secondary schools. This year on Monday 1 March, almost 530,000 families were advised as to which secondary school their child was being offered a place at.

Today we are publishing validated data, based on returns from 151 LAs, showing that across the country 83.2 per cent. of families received an offer at their first preference school-the same percentage as last year. A further 8.6 per cent. of families were offered a place at their second preference school and 94.9 per cent. were offered a place at one of their three preferred schools. In total, 96.6 per cent. of families were offered a place at one of their preferred schools. I am placing a copy of these data in the Libraries of both Houses.

There is considerable variation nationally. Outside of London, more than 86 per cent. of parents were offered a place in their first preference school. For Greater London, this figure is 66 per cent. However across London, almost 94 per cent. of pupils have been offered a place at one of their chosen schools.

Parents have the right of appeal against any application that has been turned down; and over the summer, local authorities and schools will be re-allocating places where others have moved address or chosen a different route of education for their child.

Parents now have a fairer choice because of our action to enforce the code, and also more real choice because there has been a transformation in the quality of our state schools. More schools are judged by Ofsted as outstanding. In 1997, 45.1 per cent. of pupils achieved five or more A*-C at GCSE compared to 69.7 per cent. in 2009. No Government have done more to reduce failure. In 1997 half of all secondary schools were below the basic benchmark of 30 per cent. of pupils achieving 5A*-C at GCSE including English and maths, it is now one in 13.

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We will continue to look at ways to improve the admissions system to ensure that it has families and children firmly at its heart. I will today place a copy of a report by the chief schools adjudicator on misleading applications for school places in the Libraries of both Houses along with my response.

While the chief schools adjudicator has found that only a tiny minority of applications are misleading, this is clearly an important issue. Every place that is awarded through deception is denying another child their rightful place. I accept the findings of the report and will work with the adjudicator on addressing the issue.


Afghanistan Troops

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): Over the past 12 months, and principally as a result of the uplift in US forces announced by President Obama in December 2009, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troop numbers in Helmand province have risen from around 7,700 to over 20,000. In the light of this increase in the resources available to them, ISAF commanders are considering options for rebalancing forces in the province in order to ensure that international troops can have the greatest effect in countering the threat posed by the insurgency and protecting the civilian population. As a first step, General McChrystal, Commander ISAF, and General Carter, Commander Regional Command (South), have agreed that responsibility for the security of Musa Qaleh district, in the Upper Helmand Valley, will be transferred from UK to US forces over the coming weeks.

Ministers have been consulted throughout ISAF's decision-making process and we fully support the transfer of Musa Qaleh as the logical next stage in adjusting the distribution of security responsibility in Helmand, as the US establishes its presence in the north of the province. The transfer will allow UK troops to be redeployed from Musa Qaleh to central Helmand, the most heavily populated area of the province, where the majority of our troops are already based. The thickening of our force density in central Helmand will allow us to continue the progress over the last 12 months in increasing our emphasis on partnering and training the Afghan national security forces and will reaffirm our central role in delivering General McChrystal's population-focused counter-insurgency approach, both of which are key elements of ISAF's strategy to defeat the insurgency and build a stable and secure Afghanistan.

Further changes are likely in due course, as the ISAF force laydown continues to evolve to increase the presence of ISAF and Afghan forces across the main population centres in the province. We will make further announcements at the appropriate point as decisions are made.

UK forces first deployed to Musa Qaleh in summer 2006. The history of our involvement since then reflects the complexity of the campaign, but our objectives throughout have remained clear: to protect the population against the insurgency and to reinforce the legitimate Afghan Government. Over the period in which we have been responsible for security there, 23 British service
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personnel have lost their lives in the district. However, through their professionalism and courage, and that of their colleagues, insurgent activity in the district centre has been contained, the authority of the legitimate Afghan Government has been reinforced, and there has been steady progress on governance and development, especially in the last 12 months, as the daily lives of its citizens have been improved. While responsibility for security will now transfer to US forces, the UK will remain committed to building on the progress of development through the ongoing activities of the UK-led Helmand provincial reconstruction team in Musa Qaleh.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture and Fisheries Council

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): The Minister with responsibility for food, farming and environment my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick) represented the United Kingdom at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels on 22 February. Richard Lochhead MSP also attended. It was also the first Council for Commissioners Ciolos and Dalli.

On animal welfare labelling there was a first exchange of views on the Commission's communication for labelling food to reflect the animal welfare status of their production. Discussions showed some common ground among member states, not least on a call for any welfare labelling system to be simple, clear, voluntary and allow for higher levels than the EU minimum. There were also calls for a thorough cost-benefit analysis of any proposals so as not to place undue burden on producers, but conversely it was also acknowledged that welfare labelling could provide producers with new market opportunities. There was little discussion of the concept of EU animal welfare reference centres.

Next, the Presidency tabled a paper on the future of market management measures (MMMs) under the common agricultural policy (CAP). Most member states believed the current degree of market orientation to be sufficient, while others (including the UK) believed the degree to be insufficient. The majority of member states also thought the existing suite of MMMs were efficient but not sufficient for the future given the increasing prevalence of price and income volatility. The UK was among those that welcomed the expected abolition of export refunds-and Commissioner Ciolos confirmed that their abolition was a core element of the EU's Doha development agenda (DDA) position-and also doubted the utility of MMMs across the piece. A number of member states also called for additional MMMs, while a bloc-the UK included-remained sceptical of adding to the existing instruments.

Commissioner Ciolos stressed that there would be no return to the pre-2003 days of market management. The Presidency noted the views around the table and set out its intention to submit draft Council conclusions to the Special Committee on Agriculture-SCA.

Italy requested Council to approve extension of its state aid scheme to support land purchases, calling for European solidarity. The application required Council approval because it was outside regular state aid rules.
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A number of member states indicated they would vote against, therefore the Presidency halted the discussion, noting that the Council was not unanimous.

There were a number of items under any other business. Portugal-supported by the UK and some other member states-urged the Commission once more to take action to increase supplies of raw sugar for the EU cane refining industry. The Commission demurred, but promised to continue to monitor the situation.

The Netherlands expressed its concern about increased trade in illegal ivory and noted that the number of seizures had doubled last year. As this was not directly Agriculture Council business, the Commissioner recognised the widespread concern on this issue, which he would pass on to his colleagues.

Greece outlined its concern about the impact of the financial crisis on its agricultural sector, in particular calling for additional market management measures to prevent crises developing.

Commissioner Ciolos responded to a written French request to intervene in support of the cereals market, stressing that there was no justification to activate additional market management measures-intervention was already open-and that the prospects for the market for 2010 were optimistic.

Poland made a plea for the date of the entry into force of the ban on the use of conventional cages for laying hens to be delayed for five years to 2017. Commissioner Dalli responded that a delay would be a major step backwards, would undermine EU law, and would confuse producers, and urged member states to take full advantage of money available through rural development funding to help their respective industries adapt.

On BSE testing, Belgium suggested that it should be able to move from controlled risk to negligible risk status, and increase the age for BSE testing to 60 months from 48. Commissioner Dalli suggested that this would be considered as part of a suite of amendments being considered to BSE controls as part of the revised TSE Roadmap which will be published in May.

Finally, Council took note of the update given by the Netherlands on the Q fever situation, the rigorous measures they are taking, and the international conference on Q fever that the Netherlands will host.


Violence Against Women and Children (Taskforce)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Ann Keen): Today, on behalf of the Government, I formally welcome the report from the independent Taskforce on the Health Aspects of Violence Against Women and Children (VAWC).

The taskforce, led by Sir George Alberti, was established in May 2009 to identify the role of the national health service in responding to women and children who are victims of violence. It created four sub-groups to examine domestic violence; sexual violence against women; child
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sexual abuse; and harmful traditional practices (female genital mutilation, forced marriage, honour-based violence) and trafficking.

It brings together expertise from the health service, third sector and academia, and its report sets out recommendations on what more the NHS needs to do to improve its response to victims of violence. Women and children service users and NHS staff were also consulted to inform the report.

I welcome the messages in the report and would like to thank Sir George and the members of the taskforce steering group and four sub-groups for all the work that went into this report and those of the sub-groups. The health service has a crucial role to play in identifying and treating victims and it is important that we are able to support victims effectively and sensitively and to prevent them from becoming victims of any further violence.

Alongside the independent report, the Department has today published an interim Government response to the recommendations setting out our proposed next steps. A more detailed implementation plan will be drawn up by the autumn.

I am placing a copy of the report in the Library and copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office.

Home Department

Police Report Card

The Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism (Mr. David Hanson): I am pleased to report that Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) is launching today the police report card, which is a significant milestone for both the police and the public. The police report card gives the public a clear independent view on the quality of policing in their local area. An interactive website called mypolice will be launched soon.

The delivery of this assessment is an important milestone in the new role of HMIC. It follows the excellent work that the police and their partners have achieved in reducing crime by 36 per cent. since 1997, raising public confidence and ensuring that the risk of being a victim is at its lowest point ever.

I am placing a summary of the police report card in the House Library.

Police Collaboration (Legislation and Statutory Guidance)

The Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism (Mr. David Hanson): I am today announcing that on 12 March we will commence the provisions in section 5 of the Policing and Crime Act governing collaboration arrangements in the police service and will also be publishing statutory guidance to support those provisions.

Commitments were made in Parliament during the debate of the Policing and Crime Bill that these revised provisions would be fully supported and clarified by the issuing of guidance. That commitment was reinforced in our recent White Paper, "Protecting the Public: Supporting the Police to Succeed", and I am pleased to confirm our delivery on that promise now.

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