10 Feb 2011 : Column 13WS

Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 10 February 2011

Business, Innovation and Skills

Fair Access to Higher Education

The Minister for Universities and Science (Mr David Willetts): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have today written to the Director of Fair Access setting our expectations about how he should approach the approval and monitoring of new access agreements for higher education institutions. This updates a draft guidance letter that was published on 7 December. A copy of today's letter is in the Libraries of both Houses.

The guidance to the director sets out significantly increased expectations for the priority that institutions should be giving to fair access and widening participation, focusing more sharply on the outcomes of outreach and other activities, and less on the inputs and processes. In particular the Government believe that progress over the last few years in securing fair access to the most selective universities has been inadequate, and that much more determined action now needs to be taken.

From September 2012, no institution will be able to levy a graduate contribution above £6,000 without an approved access agreement. Institutions will make their own proposals for the measures they will take and the ambitions they will set for themselves. The director will take his own, independent decisions about each institution's application.

The Deputy Prime Minister has also announced today further details about the national scholarship programme. This is being published today on the Higher Education Funding Council for England's website, and I am placing copies in the Libraries of both Houses.

The national scholarship programme will provide financial assistance to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Each eligible student will receive a benefit of not less than £3,000. All universities charging over £6,000 graduate contribution will be required to participate in the national scholarship programme and will commit more of their own resources towards helping to improve fair access. The Government will contribute £50 million in financial year 2012-13; £100 million in 2013-14; and £150 million from 2014-15.

Insolvency Practitioner Regulation

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr Edward Davey): Everyone who is affected by insolvency, whether they be employees, consumers who have lost deposits or suppliers who have not been paid should have every confidence that insolvency procedures operate fairly and that insolvency practitioners deliver the best possible outcome in what are often
10 Feb 2011 : Column 14WS
difficult and challenging circumstances. In response to the OFT market study into corporate insolvency practitioners, I am today launching a consultation in respect of policy proposals intended to improve confidence in the insolvency regime and lead to better outcomes for those affected by insolvency proceedings.

These proposals are in line with the policies of this Government to drive balanced and sustainable growth, improve regulation and build a stronger economy. A dynamic economy, where it is easy to start and grow a business, needs effective and efficient insolvency mechanisms which return as much as is fair and possible to creditors when businesses fail.

The consultation seeks views on proposals to reform the regulatory framework for insolvency practitioners (IP's) and amend some of the technical legislative provisions applicable to companies in administration and liquidation.

A key proposal is the introduction of an independent complaints body to handle complaints about IP's, including complaints about their fees. While creditors can, at the moment, refer complaints about fees to the courts, this is cumbersome and costly. The new proposals would cut the cost of making a complaint and, also, would encourage unsecured creditors to hold IP's to account for the fees they charge. Although the OFT study focused solely on the corporate insolvency market, the benefit of these proposals would extend to personal insolvency cases.

Further information, along with a copy of the consultation document, can be found on The Insolvency Service's website at www.insolvency.gov.uk.

Communities and Local Government

Local Enterprise Partnerships

The Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Greg Clark): The Minister of State for Business and Enterprise, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr Prisk), and I would like to inform the House that today we have written to the proposed York and North Yorkshire and Enterprise M3 local enterprise partnerships inviting them to put their governance arrangements in place.

Local enterprise partnerships see a real power shift away from central Government and quangos and towards local communities and the local businesses who really understand the barriers to growth in their areas. This announcement brings the total number of partnerships so far invited to put their governance arrangements in place to 30. We will continue to work with other areas with a view to establishing further local enterprise partnerships across England.

Park Homes

The Minister for Housing and Local Government (Grant Shapps): I announced on 14 July 2010 that I intended to bring forward in Parliament secondary legislation that would transfer most of the functions of county courts under the Mobile Homes Act 1983 to residential property tribunals. The aim of the transfer of the jurisdiction is
10 Feb 2011 : Column 15WS
to provide residents of park homes and the owners with a level playing field in the resolution of disputes. This will be achieved by providing access to a dedicated, low-cost specialist (housing) tribunal, which can deal with cases quickly and without the parties needing to be legally represented. The necessary statutory instrument was laid on 31 January and subject to it receiving approval of both Houses of Parliament will come into force on 30 April 2011.

I am also today announcing my intention to consult on a further package of measures that could improve and modernise the licensing regime that applies to caravan and park home sites to enable local authorities to more effectively monitor and enforce licences and, therefore, better protect the many thousands of older households who live in this sector. I intend to consult on giving local authorities powers to charge site owners for their licensing functions and services instead of these being funded by the taxpayer or not provided at all to a satisfactory standard because authorities do not have the resources to do so. I also intend to consult on enabling the courts to impose higher fines for the most serious breaches of licence conditions, and on giving authorities a more effective means of carrying out emergency safety-critical works at the owner's expense where the site owner has refused to do the work himself. I believe these reforms to site licensing will modernise the regime and make it more effective in delivering its objective of ensuring that sites are safe and properly managed.

I am also concerned about what appears to be abuse by some site owners of their role in approving the purchaser when a resident wishes to sell his park home in the open market. It seems clear that a small minority of site owners will routinely block sales for their own financial gain. I intend to consult on measures which would aim to eliminate this unacceptable practice and extend the role of the residential property tribunal in the approval process.

I intend to carry out a public consultation on these proposals in the spring.


Services for Adults with Profound Intellectual and Multiple Disabilities

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Paul Burstow): I am today formally launching the Government's response to last year's report "Raising our sights: services for adults with profound intellectual and multiple disabilities" produced by Professor Jim Mansell of the Tizard Centre, Kent. This report is a very valuable contribution to the debate on how we can ensure that people with highly complex needs can be supported to live as independently as possible and as included and valued members of society.

The Government have made clear their commitment to improving the health and well-being of all people with learning disabilities, including those who have profound intellectual and multiple disabilities. That is why we support this report and have taken on board its central message that the major obstacles to improving outcomes for adults with profound intellectual and multiple disabilities are prejudice, discrimination and low expectations.

10 Feb 2011 : Column 16WS

As our "Vision for Adult Social Care, Capable Communities and Active Citizens" made clear we were looking to empower service users and those who care for them and to enable a more personalised, preventative service focused on delivering the best outcomes for people who need support, enabling people to live as independently as possible.

The revised "Recognised, Valued and Supported: Next Steps for the Carers Strategy" outlines the priorities over the next four years to ensure carers get the support they need. "Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS" White Paper set out our long-term vision for the NHS which puts people at the heart of everything the NHS does focuses on continuously improving the outcome of their healthcare.

The response to "Raising our Sights" responds to the report's 33 detailed recommendations. In addition. Professor Mansell set out five key conclusions:

The Government accept and support these conclusions.

"Raising our sights: services for adults with profound intellectual and multiple disabilities" and the Government's response have been placed in the Library. Copies of both documents are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office and to noble Lords from the Printed Paper Office.


Search and Rescue Helicopter Procurement (Correction to Written Ministerial Statement)*

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Philip Hammond): On 16 December I and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence announced that information had come to light regarding the preferred bid in the search and rescue helicopter competition which required clarification.

In mid-December, the preferred bidder in the SAR-H competition, Soteria, voluntarily came forward to inform the Government of irregularities regarding the conduct of their bid team which had only then recently come to light. The irregularities included access by one of the consortium members, CHC Helicopter, to commercially sensitive information regarding the joint MOD/DFT
10 Feb 2011 : Column 17WS
project team's evaluations of industry bids and evidence that a former member of that project team had assisted the consortium in its bid preparation, contrary to explicit assurances given to the project team.

Since December, our two Departments have been working with Soteria to understand better the situation and its implications for the procurement process. In addition, the Ministry of Defence police are investigating how the commercially sensitive information came to be in the possession of the bidder. It would be inappropriate to comment further on the details of the investigation until it has finished.

However, even without the outcome of that investigation, the Government have sufficient information to enable them to conclude that the irregularities that have been identified were such that that it would not be appropriate to proceed with either the preferred bid or with the current procurement process.

The Department for Transport and the Ministry of Defence will now consider the potential procurement options to meet future requirements for search and rescue helicopters in the United Kingdom, including options to maintain continuity of search and rescue helicopter cover until new longer-term arrangements can be put in place.

We will make a further announcement once a way forward has been agreed.

Work and Pensions

Equality Act (Definition of Disability)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Miller): I am today submitting to Parliament the draft revised "Guidance on matters to
10 Feb 2011 : Column 18WS
be taken into account when determining questions relating to the definition of disability".

This guidance is primarily for adjudicating bodies (such as courts and tribunals) when they are determining whether a person is a disabled person for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010 (EA). These bodies are required by the EA to take account of any aspect of the guidance which appears to them to be relevant when deciding whether a person is disabled for the purpose of the EA.

The EA prohibits discrimination that occurs in relation to a protected characteristic in a range of circumstances, including in access to: services and public functions, premises, work, education, associations and transport. One of the protected characteristics is disability, which is defined in the EA and regulations made under it.

Although the definition of disability in the EA is similar to that which applied for the purposes of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA), the EA has simplified that definition. Unlike the DDA it does not require a disabled person to show how their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities affects one of a list of capacities, such as mobility, speech, or the ability to understand.

Existing guidance was produced under the DDA. That guidance has been updated to reflect the definition of disability which now applies for the purposes of the EA. The revised text was subject to a consultation exercise between 9 August and 31 October 2010. A report on the Government's response to the consultation has been produced and I have arranged for copies to be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

I am laying a copy of the draft revised guidance before each House. Subject to parliamentary approval, I aim to bring this revised guidance into force on 1 May 2011.

    Index Home Page