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Bulk Mail Handling

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jim Fitzpatrick) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

On 17 December, the Secretary of State for Transport announced to Parliament a number of immediate measures to improve the security of personal data handled by the Department for Transport and its agencies. This included the precautionary requirement that any bulk transfer of personal data not by electronic transmission should take place through point-to-point transfer by a secure courier.

We have kept all security arrangements under active review, and continue to improve them as needed. We have also kept closely in touch with our customers, and with the Cabinet Secretary's ongoing review of data handling in government.

In the light of this feedback, and the need for high standards of data security combined with greater operational flexibility to meet some customer needs, I have now agreed that the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, and other Department for Transport agencies where necessary, may use secure distribution services

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which are not restricted solely to point-to-point networks, provided that the security arrangements are high, including identification and tracking of each individual package at each stage of the journey, as well as the use of secure premises where necessary. This is a significantly higher standard than the position prior to December.

I will keep these arrangements under review in the light of practical experience and the Cabinet Secretary's continuing review.

Prisons: HM Chief Inspector

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My right honourable friend the Minister of State (David Hanson) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Today I am delighted to announce that the appointment of Anne Owers CBE as HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales has been extended until 31 March 2010.

Ms Owers’s expertise and knowledge will continue to play a key role in enabling the Prisons Inspectorate to deliver a credible and effective inspection programme for prisons and immigration removal centres.

Qualifications and Assessment: Regulation and Development

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Lord Adonis): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I announced plans last September to set up an independent regulator of qualifications and tests. In December, along with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, I announced, for consultation, more detailed proposals. Subject to legislation, the new Office of the Qualifications and Examinations Regulator (Ofqual) will act as independent guardian of standards across the tests and qualifications system in England. The Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA) will develop curriculum, assessment and qualifications. I wish to update the House on progress with these plans.

As we develop and reform qualifications and tests, it is critical not only that they are of the highest quality, but also that they are seen so to be. The new arrangements that we are putting in place will help to achieve this, underpinning high-quality qualifications and tests with high levels of confidence. In making this change, we are building on the principles that underpinned the establishment of, for example, the Monetary Policy Committee and the Statistics Board, which have improved public trust in the systems they regulate through a combination of independence, clarity of remit and a transparent accountability framework. The joint command paper (Cm 7281) Confidence in Standards: Regulating and developing qualifications and assessment, published in December, sought views on the roles and powers of the independent regulator and of the development agency for curriculum, assessment and qualifications into which QCA will develop. The

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consultation period closed on 10 March. The proposals were generally well received, and there were lots of valuable and detailed points on which we will need to reflect as we develop our detailed proposals. We will publish a formal response to the consultation paper by mid June.

In the mean time, we will continue as planned to make those changes we can achieve within the existing legislative framework, so that we can secure benefits from the reforms as soon as possible. As a first step, the Office of the Qualifications and Examination Regulator will shortly be established on an interim basis carrying out the QCA’s regulatory functions across this spring and summer test and examination period. While working within current legislation, Ofqual will be operationally independent. These interim arrangements will be an important step towards the new regulatory landscape that we are developing, and in themselves will contribute to confidence in the standards of the tests and qualification system in England.

In the consultation paper on the reforms, we confirmed that we were setting in motion an appointments process for a chair of the regulator. Following a process overseen by the Office for the Commissioner of Public Appointments, I am delighted to tell the House that Kathleen Tattersall OBE has been appointed to be the first chair of the new independent regulator. Kathleen is the chair of the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors (which today receives its Royal Charter). Until 2003, she was director general of the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA), having been chief executive of a succession of awarding bodies over the previous 20 years. She will join the QCA board and lead Ofqual in its interim form. Subject to legislation, she will become the regulator’s first chair when it is established as an independent statutory body. Kathleen Tattersall and Ofqual’s acting chief executive, Isabel Nisbet, will play critical leadership roles in setting up the new organisation, setting its strategic direction and developing the new regulatory framework which it will operate.

Setting up a new regulator will help ensure that learners of all ages and their teachers feel that their hard work and achievements are properly recognised. We are confident that these reforms to the regulatory landscape will both provide greater transparency in the arrangements for regulating and developing qualifications and tests, and secure the confidence in standards on which they depend.

Schools: Admissions

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Lord Adonis): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I made a Statement on 11 March in which I set out concerns about compliance with the school admissions code and admissions legislation, based on an internal review of the published admission arrangements of schools in a sample of three local authorities. I explained

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that my department was verifying the findings with the local authorities and schools concerned, and that we would present the detailed information to Parliament once we had given them the opportunity to respond.

I have today passed the results of this exercise on to the schools adjudicator to inform the work he is doing to ensure full compliance with all statutory requirements for admissions in 2009. A copy of my letter and a report including tables summarising the results of this exercise have been placed in the Library of the House.

I have also today published draft amendments to the Education and Skills Bill for consideration at Commons Report. The effect of the amendments will be to require local authorities to report to the schools adjudicator on admission arrangements in their areas; to extend the adjudicator’s powers so that he can act where he considers that any admission arrangements are not compliant with the statutory requirements; and to improve the process of consultation on admission arrangements in order to ensure that parents and communities can contribute to the development of admissions policies for their schools. Copies of the draft amendments have been placed in the Library of the House.

We are publishing today a step-by-step guide to the admissions and appeal processes for parents. A copy has been placed in the Library of the House. The guide contains straightforward advice for parents on all aspects of choosing a school place for their child, and sets out what they can do if they have concerns about the legality of a school’s admission arrangements. A copy of this guide will be made available for every parent applying for a school place in 2009.

My department will publish further detailed proposals in the early summer to improve the application and allocation process for parents and to further strengthen the admission system so that it works for all children. This will include an improved process for ensuring that parents and communities are consulted on admission arrangements for their schools and improvements to admission forums.

The steps I have taken today will help ensure that every parent has a fair chance of getting their child a place at a school of their choice, and that no parent or child will be disadvantaged by unfair admission arrangements.

Transport Innovation Fund

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Transport (Rosie Winterton) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

In July 2005, in a Written Statement to the House, local authorities were invited to bid for £18 million of “pump-priming” development funding to bring forward packages of measures that combined better local public transport with hard demand management measures, such as road pricing. We also announced that we were

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prepared to ensure that up to £200 million a year would be available from the transport innovation fund to support such packages.

So far, 10 areas have benefited from this pump-priming funding, enabling them to analyse their current and emerging congestion issues and consider how demand management could form part of the solution. In March 2008, we announced that we were extending the commitment to make available up to £200 million a year out to 2018-19, in line with our long-term funding profile for transport, and inviting authorities to bid for further pump-priming development funding for 2008 and 2009.

I am today announcing the first successful area to benefit from this additional funding. We are making up to £500,000 available to the West of England Partnership (covering Bristol City Council, Bath and North East Somerset Council, North Somerset Council, and South Gloucestershire Council), to take forward the development of their proposals for improved public transport and demand management.

I should be clear that receipt of this pump-priming funding is no guarantee that an authority will be successful in bidding for the main transport innovation fund. We are, however, committed to working closely with the successful authorities to deliver the work programmes set out in their pump-priming bids and to support future decisions on the main transport innovation fund.

Local authorities have until 30 May to submit bids for this additional pump-priming and I shall announce further successful authorities after that date. We will also work with other local authorities developing proposals for improved local transport and demand management and this decision does not affect their ability to bid for substantive TIF funding in the future.

Tribunals Service: Key Performance Indicators

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Bridget Prentice) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The following key performance indicators have been set for the Tribunals Service for 2008-09.

75 per cent of tribunal applications will be dealt with, within each individual tribunal's target time;72 per cent of Tribunals Service customers are satisfied with the service they receive; andto reduce annually the operating costs of the Tribunals Service in real terms. The Tribunals Service is committed to achieving efficiency savings of £9 million in 2008-09.

Copies of the Tribunals Service business plan for 2008-09 have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

More information on these and other supporting targets are published in the Tribunals Service business plan.

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