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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 17 June 2010

Business, Innovation and Skills

Further Education Colleges and Training Organisations

The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr John Hayes): I am pleased to inform Parliament that the Government are announcing today a series of measures aimed at boosting economic recovery. These measures will give further education colleges and training organisations greater freedom to deliver the education and training that employers and individuals need, and to raise opportunities for lifelong learning through a system that is freed of unnecessary bureaucracy, and driven by empowered, informed learners.

The main measures are:

I will be writing today to all colleges and training organisations about these and other changes, which will help them to focus on meeting the demands of employers and learners in their areas.

The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills will also be writing to the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency-the body responsible for funding colleges and training organisations-confirming his priorities for the adult education and skills budget in 2010-11, including the refocusing of £150 million to pay for 50,000 extra apprenticeship places this year, and £50 million for new capital grants to colleges. A key goal will be to strengthen the supply of qualifications that are valued by employers; and to secure high-quality training opportunities to help unemployed people get the skills they need for work-readiness and sustainable employment; as well as encouraging an increasing number of people to participate in adult and community learning, both to re-engage those disenchanted by previous educational experience and to offer people opportunities to enrich their lives through learning.

Underpinning these changes, we are seeking to empower learners so that they can drive the learning and skills delivered by colleges and training organisations. A professional and impartial advice and guidance service will be available to support learners. Publication of clear information about the performance of colleges and training organisations will allow learners and employers to make well-informed choices. This will include information about learner success rates, learner and employer satisfaction, and the destinations of those who leave learning. As a result of the freedoms that we are announcing
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today, colleges and training organisations will be able to respond quickly and flexibly to their choices, offering a wide range of programmes that drive both high-tech innovation and new enterprise and support adult recreational learning.

Over the coming months, the Government will be looking at a wide range of other ways to remove unnecessary bureaucracy from the system, and we will be making further announcements in due course.

Communities and Local Government

Houses in Multiple Occupation

The Minister for Housing (Grant Shapps): Today I am announcing the Government's intention to amend the planning rules for houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) which were introduced on 6 April 2010.

I understand the concerns of local people who see their neighbourhoods being damaged by undue concentrations of HMOs and the significant impact this is having on their quality of life. However there are also many areas where HMOs are not causing problems and indeed provide an important supply of low cost housing. I believe that the planning system needs to take account of both these differing circumstances and allow for local solutions rather than continue with the present "one size fits all" approach.

The current rules impose a blanket requirement for planning permission in order to change use from a domestic house to a HMO. When introduced, it was estimated that these rules could result in an additional 8,500 planning applications per year and could lead to a reduction in supply. This goes against the recommendations in successive reports on the planning system that Government should reduce the number of planning applications for minor development. It also runs the risk of losing low cost housing in areas where it is needed most.

I believe that we need to move away from this kind of centralised, regulatory approach which has dominated planning in recent years and create a system which encourages local people to take responsibility for shaping their communities. Decisions should reflect local priorities expressed through the local plan, rather than nationally imposed rules.

I therefore intend to amend the HMO rules to allow changes of use between family houses and small, shared houses to take place freely without the need for planning applications. However, in those areas experiencing problems with uncontrolled HMO development, local authorities will be able to use their existing direction-making powers to restrict this freedom of movement by requiring planning applications. This change will allow the free development of smaller shared housing, which is a vital component of our private rented sector, unless there is a serious threat to the area.

My officials will work through the detail of the proposed changes with interested partners to ensure that the new rules work for local people without placing an unnecessary burden on businesses.

My aim is to have the revised arrangements in place by 1 October 2010.

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Defence Vetting Agency: Key Targets Financial Year 2010-11

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Andrew Robathan): Key targets have been set for the chief executive of the Defence Vetting Agency for financial year 2010-11 to deliver national security vetting to defence customers. Delivery of vetting to its repayment customers will be to similar standards as set out in their joint business agreements.

Key target 1: External validation of quality of defence vetting cases

Key target 2: Delivering excellent customer service

Key target 3: Completing routine cases for defence customers

Key target 4: Completing priority cases for defence customers

Key target 5: Completing aftercare cases for defence customers by

The timeliness key targets represent net performance that exclude delays outside of DVA control.

Key Target 6: Delivery of the Cerberus project in line with planning tolerances.

Energy and Climate Change

EU Environment Council

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Chris Huhne): I represented the UK at the Environment Council in Luxembourg on 11 June, together with Lord Henley, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Stewart Stevenson, Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change in the Scottish Government, also attended.

The presidency presented progress reports on the proposal for a regulation on biocidal products, the restriction of hazardous substances (RoHS) directive and the waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) directive.

The Council agreed conclusions on forest protection, and water scarcity and drought. A number of member states intervened to stress the importance of adequately
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preparing forests for climate change, and the presidency highlighted the need to reconcile increasing water scarcity with rising demand. Ministers also agreed conclusions setting out the EU position for the forthcoming meeting of the parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in October, and conclusions in support of the "Rio+20" UN conference on sustainable development. Lord Henley stressed the importance of concrete outputs from the conference which recognised the need for sustainability, the importance of ecosystems services and international governance in line with future climate change arrangements.

Under any other business, the UK and Germany raised the forthcoming meeting of the International Whaling Convention (IWC). Lord Henley emphasised the importance of IWC reform to ensure conservation of whales, and stressed the need for the EU to show leadership and consistency in opposing commercial whaling. The French raised an AOB item pushing for a moratorium on the authorisation of genetically modified organisms; the UK welcomed the progress made by the Commission and stressed the importance of ensuring proportionate and efficient regulation, but argued against a moratorium.

The lunchtime discussion focused on international climate change. The presidency gave a presentation on the outreach activities undertaken by the presidency and the Commission during the past six months.

The Commission presented their communication analysing the options to move beyond 20% greenhouse gas emission reductions and assessing the risk of carbon leakage. In the policy debate that followed, member states welcomed the communication as providing a solid evidence base for further discussions on this issue. I intervened to underline the key message of the communication that the costs of moving to a 30% target are significant but manageable, and that they have reduced since 2008. I expressed my hope that the EU would show leadership by increasing our target to 30%, and insisted that unless we do so it is very hard to imagine that we will be able to remain on the trajectory of keeping global temperature increase to within 2°C. While a number of other member states' interventions supported these arguments, others highlighted the reduced capacity in the European economy for the investment which would be required to meet a higher target. The Council agreed conclusions on the communication which noted the need to return to the issues no later than October 2010 and welcomed the Commission's intention to conduct more detailed analysis.

Lastly, the presidency presented a progress report on the proposed regulation on reducing CO2 emissions from light commercial vehicles (i.e. vans), which was noted by the Council.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Veterinary Medicines Directorate and Veterinary Laboratories Agency

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): The 2009-10 annual report and accounts for each of the following was laid before Parliament today:

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NHS South West

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr Andrew Lansley): I have asked Sir David Nicholson, chief executive of the NHS in England, to initiate a review into the approach and behaviour of the NHS South West in relation to Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust, in particular, to the dismissal of John Watkinson and, by association, the trust's position in relation to the provision of upper gastro-intestinal (GI) services in Cornwall.

John Watkinson was dismissed from his role as chief executive of the Royal Cornwall NHS Trust in April 2009. He took his case to employment tribunal, which has recently published its judgment that he was unfairly dismissed.

In the opinion of the employment tribunal, John Watkinson was unfairly dismissed because he made a "protected disclosure" covered by the Public Interest Disclosure Act. The disclosure was linked to the reconfiguration of upper GI services in Cornwall. The employment tribunal also found that Royal Cornwall NHS Trust acted as it did as a result of pressure from the South West Strategic Health Authority (NHS South West).

Verita, a specialist company that conducts independent investigations, reviews and inquiries has been commissioned to undertake this review.

The Terms of Reference for this review will be;

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The review should not duplicate the review of the upper GI service configuration which was recently carried out by the independent reconfiguration panel, nor any subsequent appeal of the employment tribunal's decision. However, it may consider these and any other relevant background evidence to make its determinations.

The findings of the review will be published later this year and I will update the House on the outcome of the review and my response.


Rail Franchising

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mrs Theresa Villiers): The Department for Transport will shortly begin a consultation exercise on the future of rail franchising policy. This consultation will provide industry partners with the opportunity to comment on the Government's approach to rail franchising and whether bidders for longer franchises would be able to offer investment in improvements to trains and services. It will also allow the industry to set out its proposals for improving the efficiency and value for money of rail franchises, for both taxpayers and fare payers. I will set out further details to the House in due course.

To enable the next Greater Anglia and Essex Thameside franchises-which are currently in the process of being re-let-fully to reflect the changes resulting from this review of policy the competitions for these franchises, which were started in January 2010, are to be cancelled.

It is currently expected that a new competition for the Greater Anglia franchise will be advertised by the end of the year, after the consultation responses have been considered, with the Essex Thameside franchise following in autumn 2011.

It is also expected that there will be some consequent changes to the procurement time scales previously published for the InterCity East Coast franchise. Rail services will continue to run as normal on all affected franchises. A prior information notice (PIN) setting out the Department's proposed future rail franchising programme will be issued in due course.

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