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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 2 March 2011


School Capital

The Secretary of State for Education (Michael Gove): Mr Justice Holman, on Friday 11 February, handed down the judgment in the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) judicial review proceedings brought by Luton borough council and Nottingham city council; Waltham Forest London borough council; Newham London borough council; Kent county council and Sandwell metropolitan borough council.

The judge said that he was

“absolutely clear that the decision is not open to legal challenge on a discrete ground of irrationality, however that argument is developed or put”;

and he agreed that nothing which the Department for Education or Partnerships for Schools had done in respect of these local authorities went

“so far as to create a substantive legitimate expectation that any given project would definitely proceed.”

These were the substantive points in this case and I am delighted that the judge ruled in my favour.

There were further, procedural, grounds on which the claimants made their case, in particular on a duty to consult; and on the duty to have due regard to equalities considerations. On these procedural grounds, the judge has ruled in favour of the claimants.

The judge has not ordered a reinstatement of funding for any BSF project. Nor has he ordered me to pay compensation to any of the claimants. Instead, he concluded that I

“must now, after giving each of them a reasonable opportunity to make representations, reconsider [my] decision insofar as it affects the claimants and each of the projects in relation to which they have claimed, with an open mind, paying due regard to any representations they may make, and rigorously discharging [my] equalities duties.”

Officials have, today, written to the six claimant local authorities to begin a process of consultation on their affected BSF projects.

The process

I have requested that the six local authorities provide me with any and all information about the BSF projects in their area which they consider is necessary for me to take into account when making a fresh decision with respect to those projects.

I will not be making contact directly with the affected schools. Local authorities will want to engage with the schools concerned and will provide the school-level information that they consider is necessary for me to have in mind when making my decision. Local authorities are in the best position to give an overview of the local issues affecting the school estate in their areas.

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I have suggested that the local authorities may wish to include information on building condition, basic-need pressures, contractual liabilities, equalities impact and any school reorganisation proposals for each school within their claim. In addition, I have suggested that they highlight the particular circumstances of the schools which are covered by their claims and how these differ from schools which have either already received or are due to receive BSF investment as a result of inclusion in an earlier wave; and schools which are not due to receive any BSF funding at all. They may also wish to include information about costs that the councils have incurred by taking part in the repeat wave of the BSF.

During the consultation period, new general equalities duties may come into effect. As a result, in order to rigorously discharge my duty in relation to all protected characteristics, in addition to disability, race and gender characteristics, I will consider the protected characteristics of gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, religion or belief, marriage and civil partnership and sexual orientation.

The local authorities have been given a deadline of 11 April to return their representations to the Department.

Partnerships for Schools (PFS) has been commissioned to conduct site surveys of the schools in the consultation and their reports will be sent to the local authorities concerned.

Next steps

I will consider carefully the information that the local authorities provide. Local authority officers and relevant elected members and Members of Parliament will be invited to attend a meeting at the Department. These meetings will allow the local authorities to discuss the information they have provided in more depth and allow them to make further representations on issues that they consider need particular attention. The purpose of the meetings will be to allow local authorities the opportunity to fully present their case and is a further part of the information-gathering phase. No decision will be made at the meetings.

At the next stage a letter detailing my provisional or “minded to” decision will be sent to the local authorities and they will be given the opportunity to make further representations.

After that, I will make a decision on each of the projects, having considered, with an open mind, all of the information gathered over the consultation period and with due regard to my equalities duties. As the judge made clear,

“the final decision on any given school or project still rests with [me]”,

and that I

“may save all, some, a few or none”.

He concluded by saying that

“no one should gain false hope from this decision”.

I have written to all relevant Members of Parliament and local authority elected members to inform them of the consultation process. All schools within the consultation process have also been copied the letter sent to the local authority to ensure they are informed of the process. I have also placed in the Library of the House copies of the letters sent by my officials to the relevant local authority chief executives.

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Energy and Climate Change

2050 Pathways Analysis

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Chris Huhne): I am announcing that the Government are launching the updated 2050 pathways analysis and 2050 calculator tomorrow. This analysis has been updated following discussion with experts, and reflects suggestions received during the call for evidence held July to October 2010.

The UK faces major choices about how to move to a secure, low-carbon energy system and wider economy over the period to 2050. The 2050 pathways analysis is a tool to help policy makers and the public understand these choices. The analysis was developed with extensive engagement of experts from business, academia and the third sector.

Alongside the updated 2050 calculator and pathways analysis report, tomorrow I will launch a new tool: the My2050 simulation. This user-friendly version of the analysis is aimed at a youth audience and we plan to engage schools and colleges in using it to raise awareness of the issues. My2050 is designed to help young people explore the hard choices the UK faces when it comes to tackling climate change and securing energy supplies. Scientists, engineers and politicians around the world have been grappling with these issues, but in the end it is ordinary people, especially young people, who in 2050 will be living with these decisions.

Tomorrow also sees the launch of our online event: “The 2050 Pathways Debate: having an energy-literate conversation about the UK’s options to 2050”. Leading climate and energy experts will use the 2050 pathways calculator to present their personal view of how the UK can reduce its emissions by at least 80% by 2050, ahead of the online debate being opened to the wider public.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Christchurch Earthquake

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Jeremy Browne): A significant earthquake hit Christchurch, in New Zealand’s South Island, at 12.51 pm local time (23:51 GMT) on Tuesday 22 February 2011. The earthquake, which was measured at 6.3 on the Richter scale, caused widespread destruction and multiple fatalities in the city centre. There are still frequent aftershocks.

New Zealand is one of our closest allies and there are many close ties between the people of both countries. Around 300,000 British nationals visit New Zealand each year. The New Zealand authorities have confirmed 160 deaths, but this is expected to rise. I understand that at least four British nationals are among the dead. Our High Commission is in contact with the New Zealand police force concerning the formal identification of the deceased. I am unable to rule out further British casualties as the situation develops and more information is made available.

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Officials from the British High Commission in Wellington, led by our High Commissioner, were quickly deployed to Christchurch to liaise with the New Zealand authorities and provide consular assistance to British nationals. They have responded to the needs of over 300 British nationals in Christchurch, issued more than 70 emergency passports, made regular visits to hospitals, attended family liaison meetings, kept in close contact with the New Zealand emergency operation centre, and provided consular assistance to the families of British victims. The remaining High Commission staff in Wellington have provided assistance on a 24-hour basis to British nationals arriving from Christchurch, while Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials from the wider region have been deployed to New Zealand to reinforce our efforts.

In response to a request for assistance from the New Zealand Government, we sent a self-sufficient search and rescue team of 63 experts drawn from the British emergency fire and rescue services, including trained paramedics. The UK team are now fully absorbed into the Christchurch search and rescue effort.

In addition, our offer of support in the process of disaster victim identification has been gratefully accepted by the New Zealand authorities. A 10-man team, specially tailored to support the local authorities, has arrived in Christchurch and will provide essential support and expertise in helping to identify any potential British victims and bolster the New Zealand authorities in their wider identification process.

Home Department

East Caribbean Visa Waiver Test

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): Today my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and I are announcing the final decision under the UK’s first global review of visa regimes in relation to two countries in the Eastern Caribbean—Dominica, and St Lucia.

A visa regime is a very effective immigration, crime and security control measure. As part of our overseas defences our visa waiver test helps us determine whether our visa regimes are in the right places. Travellers from every country beyond the European economic area and Switzerland were measured against a range of criteria including illegal immigration, crime and security concerns.

In the final stage of the test we worked closely with Dominica and St Lucia whose nationals had been identified as posing a sufficiently high risk as to warrant, in principle, the introduction of a visa requirement for all visitors to the UK.

Work was undertaken over a six-month period to find ways to reduce the risks posed to the UK without the need for a visa requirement. Progress was made with both countries through a combination of advice, training and improved working relations on migration matters.

As a result, Dominica and St Lucia have made concrete improvements to the immigration, border control and identity systems which would not have happened without the test. At the end of this process we assessed the overall progress made by each country, and whether or not it was sufficient to mitigate the risks to the UK.

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It has been decided that we will not be introducing new visitor visa requirements at this time for Dominica and St Lucia. We will continue to work with these countries on migration matters and assess the longer-term effectiveness of the actions taken.

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Britain will always welcome genuine visitors but will continue to take all steps necessary to protect the border. Should circumstances warrant it, we will re-examine the situation and take prompt action to address any risk to the UK.