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Early Learning Framework: Montessori Qualifications

Baroness Blatch asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My officials met representatives from the Montessori organisations in September. Officials of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority also attended. At this meeting my officials gave reassurance that Montessori qualifications, although not on the framework, would continue to be accepted as meeting the National Day Care Standards which came into effect from 1 September, at the same time making clear that in the longer term we wished to see Montessori qualifications finding their place on the framework.

AS-level Examinations

Baroness Blatch asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: On 12 September, the Secretary of State announced changes which will reduce the burden of assessment on candidates taking their AS examinations next year. These are standardisation in length of some examination papers, with most lasting one hour; many AS examinations will be available in a single half-day session of up to three hours; and reduction of examination timetable clashes, thus easing the administration of examinations in schools and colleges.

Baroness Blatch asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: On 12 September, the Joint Council for General Qualifications (JCGQ) published detailed guidance of the changes to AS-level examinations. This has been sent to schools and colleges.

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The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) has also published detailed guidance Managing Curriculum 2000 for 16-19 students, for schools and colleges and Review of Curriculum 2000, for students and parents. Both are available on QCA's website.

Abandoned Vehicles

Lord Beaumont of Whitley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many vehicles are abandoned in the United Kingdom each year; and what is the net cost of disposing of them. [HL760]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): Local authorities are responsible for dealing with abandoned vehicles. Although the department currently holds no central records of the number of vehicles abandoned each year, we estimate that some 350,000 are abandoned in the United Kingdom each year.

The net cost of disposing of abandoned vehicles is estimated to be between £30 and £50 per vehicle. The total annual net cost of their disposal would therefore be in the range of £10 million to £17 million.

More up to date information on the number of abandoned vehicles removed by local authorities is being collected in the department's 2000-01 Municipal Waste Management Survey which should be published in July 2002.

Livestock Diseases: Insurance

Baroness Byford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether or not they are still considering requiring farmers to insure against future outbreaks of animal disease.[HL878]

Lord Whitty: The Government are continuing to study the options for insurance against the consequences of outbreaks of livestock diseases.

Edmonton Incinerator: Dioxin Content of Ash

Lord Hughes of Woodside asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action has been taken in respect of allegations made by the Newsnight programme on 3 July 2001 concerning the dioxin content of ash used for construction from the Edmonton incinerator.[HL1029]

Lord Whitty: My right honourable friend the Minister of State for the Environment is grateful for the opportunity to clarify the Answers he gave on Tuesday 11 July 2000 (H.C. Deb., 11 July, cols. 496-7W) and Monday 26 March 2001 (H.C. Deb., 26 July, col. 565W). Until August 2000, the Edmonton incinerator mixed bottom ash and precipitator ash.

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From August 1998 to May 1999, this mixed ash was reprocessed and used in the production of concrete building blocks. This ash has also been used as an aggregate.

As the reply to the first of these two questions said, neither the Department nor the Environment Agency routinely held information on the dioxin content of ash from incinerators. However, in July 1998 the Environment Agency was given an estimate of the dioxin content of the mixed ash, based on a 1997 analysis of the fly ash. My right honourable friend was not advised about this when he replied to the second of these Questions and regrets any consequent inaccuracy in his answer. He has written to both MPs and has placed a copy of the letter and the analysis in the fax in the Library of the House.

The Environment Agency is currently carrying out a full and thorough investigation into the destination of ash from incinerators, the environmental implications of its use and what steps may be needed in the light of these findings. This thorough investigation will establish the true picture for all municipal waste incinerators, its results will be made public and any necessary action will be taken.

Universal Banking Services

Baroness Byford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are proposing to restrict the number of people who can access the universal bank.[HL799]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): Together with the planned expansion of commercial network banking through post offices, Universal Banking Services will be available comprehensively to ensure that we meet our commitment that both before and after the change to ACT, those benefit and pension recipients who wish to continue to collect their benefits money in cash, in full, across a post office counter, will still be able to do so.

Baroness Byford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the original estimated cost of setting up the universal bank; and what was the original estimated running cost of the scheme per year.[HL800]

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: Universal Banking Services consists of two elements: access through post offices to basic bank accounts provided by financial institutions; and, for those who are unable or unwilling to use even a basic bank account, a Post Office card account (POCA) for the encashment of benefit and tax credits. For the basic bank accounts, the costs will be met by the banking industry. For the POCA, it would not be appropriate to disclose current estimates of the cost as this is subject to commercial negotiations between Consignia and the Paying Departments, and between Consignia and the potential supplier of the banking engine for POCA.

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Palace of Westminster: Works of Art

Lord Marlesford asked the Chairman of Committees:

    Who is the legal owner of works of art and other artefacts in the Palace of Westminster; and who would be able to decide to sell any such articles.[HL988]

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Tordoff): Under powers granted by the Parliamentary Corporate Bodies Act 1992, the Government transferred ownership of property to the Corporate Officer of each House. In the case of the House of Lords, the Corporate Officer is the Clerk of the Parliaments. At no time has the Corporate Officer disposed of works of art or other artefacts, nor are there currently any plans to do so. However, there would not appear to be any legal bar to disposal, should the appropriate domestic committees so decide.

Social Exclusion Unit

Lord Moynihan asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What assessment they have made of the effectiveness of the Social Exclusion Unit in ensuring that the joined-up problems of social exclusion receive a joined-up response.[HL818]

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Baroness Morgan of Huyton): The Social Exclusion Unit was set up to help improve government action to reduce social exclusion by producing "joined-up solutions to joined-up problems". The unit has published reports on five key areas: truancy and school exclusions; rough sleeping; neighbourhood renewal; teenage pregnancy; and bridging the gap: 16 to 18 year-olds not in education, training or employment.

The unit was reviewed in the summer of 1999. The review said that, while it was then too early to judge the impact on the ground of the unit's reports, external feedback and the group carrying out the review produced a broad measure of agreement that the unit had been a success so far and was well conceived. The quality of the unit's reports and analysis was widely praised; its recommendations were accepted as sound and were being implemented, and the unit was having a broader impact on raising the profile of social exclusion and pioneering new ways of working.

The Prime Minister announced the results of this review in December 1999 and decided the unit would continue in existence. Since then the unit has worked closely with other government departments or cross-cutting units that implement its reports. The strategies in the reports are for the long-term but there is already strong evidence of real change. For example, numbers of people sleeping rough in England have fallen by 62 per cent since 1998; conception rates for under-16s in England fell by 7 per cent in 1999 compared with the previous year, and by 4 per cent for under-18s; the number of teenage parents out of education, training or work came down from 84 per cent in 1997 to 69 per cent in 2000; and numbers of pupils permanently excluded from school were down by a third in 1999-2000 compared to 1996-97.

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