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Written Statements

Tuesday 23 March 2010

Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Lord Young of Norwood Green): I gave a commitment to this House in response to assurances sought by the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, during the Report stage of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill to report on progress on three specific areas below. I can now report on the implementation of the apprenticeships provisions of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 and specifically how each of the commitments I gave will be taken forward.

A timescale for exercising the powers that are being taken under this legislation and associated regulations

Sections 82-86; 104 and 106 will commence in full on 1 April 2010, at the same time as those sections relating to the chief executive of Skills Funding and the Young People's Learning Agency.

We expect that Sections 1, 3-6, 11-17, 23-27, 32-39 and 105 will come into force in April 2011.

We are currently working to establish a detailed timeline for the development of regulations. Specifically, we have begun preparatory work in relation to the regulations that are to be made under Part 1, and in Part 4, Sections 92 and 95, using the anticipatory exercise of powers provision in Section 13 of the Interpretation Act. The timeline for regulations to be laid, subject to the will of Parliament, is as follows:

Part 1, with the exception of Section 1(5) relating to the alternative completion conditions-we expect to lay regulations in autumn 2010, and they will come into force in April 2011. The regulations in respect of Section 1(5) will be laid in spring 2011 and come into force in September 2011; and Part 4, Sections 91-99 will come into force in April 2013. Regulations to be made under Sections 92 and 95 will be laid in the summer of 2012 and come into force in April 2013.

Work with key stakeholders on regulations, guidance and practical steps to encourage participation of those aged 19-24

Mindful of the need to engage fully with stakeholders to help shape the development of the regulations apprenticeship offer requirements for learners with learning difficulties and disabilities under Sections 92 and 95 we have established a stakeholder reference group to advise and work with officials and the National Apprenticeship Service. A preliminary meeting of the group was held on 25 February. At that meeting it was agreed to establish a small working group, chaired by Peter Little OBE, to consider and make recommendations on the specific flexibilities that the regulations should contain in relation to Sections 92 and 95. The work of

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this group will inform the drafting of the regulations to be laid before Parliament in the summer of 2012. This work will also help to provide clarity on the scope of the proposed flexibilities and allow sufficient time for local authorities, delivery partners and learning providers to make appropriate preparation and provision for the regulations before they come into force in 2013.

A clear lead from the top that the recruitment of disabled apprentices should be a priority, with no less priority being given to disabled young people than they currently enjoy from the Learning and Skills Council, will be given.

We fully acknowledge that inequalities within the apprenticeship programme remain a challenge. Overall, the latest data show that of the 73,000 people who started an advanced or higher apprenticeship in 2007-08 only 9 per cent considered themselves to have a learning difficulty/disability/health problem. These inequalities are not unique to apprenticeships-they are mirrored in the wider employment pattern-but many apprenticeships are still more segregated (by gender, ethnicity and disability) than the rest of the corresponding sector's workforce.

I can assure the House that disabled young people will be no less a priority for the chief executive of Skills Funding and the chief executive of the National Apprenticeship Service than they are currently. I have asked the Joint Apprenticeship Unit in my department and the Department for Children, Schools and Families to work with the National Apprenticeship Service to ensure that the service meets the commitment I gave to the House on increasing the proportion of learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities in apprenticeships; and that equality and diversity is a key priority for their second year of operation and for the future. The National Apprenticeship Service is working with employers to help them understand and be more responsive to the needs of learners from underrepresented groups; and to promote apprenticeships to those underrepresented groups, their communities and key influencers, including parents, teachers, community leaders and support workers.

I am able to report also that initial discussions have taken place between the Joint Apprenticeship Unit, the National Apprenticeship Service and the Department for Work and Pensions to explore how additional learner support funds and the access to work programme can form a package to support better those learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities to take up and sustain employment with training as an apprentice.

Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science: Targets

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Davies of Oldham): My honourable friend the Minister for Marine and Natural Environment (Huw Irranca-Davies) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.



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I have set the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) the following performance targets for 2010-11.

Value for public money

Finance: achieve break-even performance and deliver efficiency gains-to demonstrate financial sustainability through full cost recovery, sound financial management and governance. Measured through achieving an audited break-even performance 2010-11 and delivering £0.5 million of efficiency gains.

Delivery

Customer satisfaction to exceed 82 per cent-measured through weighted average of customer response to post-contract survey that covers seven aspects of service quality. Incorporates project delivery metrics.

Social responsibility to exceed 75 per cent-measured through health and safety key performance indicators; delivery of strategic actions in Cefas's health and safety plan; maintaining ISO14001 accreditation; and delivery of Cefas sustainable development action plan.

Capability

Science excellence to exceed 75 per cent-measured through numbers of peer-reviewed scientific papers, aspects of the customer satisfaction survey dealing with understanding customer needs and their rating of Cefas's science quality; additional aspects are scored together and include take-up of Cefas science by the media, numbers of positions of influence held by Cefas staff (high-level science working groups and advisory positions); numbers of conference presentations; investment in new science through seedcorn fund; staff qualifications and professional development.

Staff engagement to exceed 63 per cent-measured by an annual questionnaire to staff, using a weighted scale for the eight survey categories.

Further details are given in the Cefas business plan 2010-11, a copy of which will be placed in the Libraries of the House.

Child Maintenance

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Helen Goodman) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am pleased to announce that the full child maintenance disregard will be introduced on 12 April 2010.

In the child maintenance White Paper published in December 2006, the Government committed that by 2010-11 they would significantly increase the amount of maintenance that all parents with care on benefit can keep before it affects the level of benefits they receive. The first phase in meeting this commitment was taken in October 2008, when a full child maintenance disregard was introduced in housing and council tax benefits and doubled to £20 across the other income-related benefits.



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In the welfare reform White Paper-Raising Expectations and Increasing Support: Reforming the Welfare Future published in December 2008, the Government announced that a full child maintenance disregard would be introduced in all income-related benefits from April 2010.

By introducing a full child maintenance disregard, the Government are demonstrating their commitment to abolishing the revenue recovery function of the child maintenance system and instead focusing it on parental responsibility and tackling child poverty.

A full disregard will encourage both parents to set up an effective maintenance arrangement and the non-resident parent to pay maintenance, because all of the money will go to the children rather than the state. It is important that both parents arrange maintenance agreements which provide reliable financial support for their children.

Companies House: Targets

Statement

The Minister for Trade and Investment (Lord Davies of Abersoch): My honourable friend the Minister for Business and Regulatory Reform (Ian Lucas) has today made the following Statement.

Companies House

I have set Companies House the following targets for the year 2010-11:

Customer

achieve a score of more than 86 per cent in each quarterly Companies House customer satisfaction survey;to achieve on average a monthly compliance rate for accounts submitted of 96 per cent;to achieve an electronic filing target for accounts of an average of at least 30 per cent in quarter 4; to achieve an electronic filing target for other transactions of at least an average of 73 per cent in quarter 4; to increase the proportion of transactions that can be filed electronically to 90 per cent by March 2011; to ensure that 97.5 per cent of electronic documents can be accessed within 60 seconds by search customers from the Companies House download area; to resolve 97 per cent of all complaints within five days; andthe chief executive to reply within 10 days to all letters from Members of Parliament delegated to him for reply.Processesto ensure that 96 per cent of electronic transactions received are available to view on the public record within 72 hours;to ensure that 95 per cent of paper transactions received are available to view on the public record within eight days; and

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to ensure that 99.5 per cent of images placed on the Companies House image system are legible and complete;to ensure that Companies House Direct, WebCheck and WebFiling are available 99 per cent of the time. People to ensure that our average work days lost per person is no more than 10; andto improve the operational energy efficiency rating of Companies House's headquarters building by 10 per cent.Financeto achieve by 2010-11 a reduction, in real terms, of 15 per cent compared to 2007-08 in the operational monetary cost of the registry per company on the register (three-year target);to achieve taking one year with another, a 3.5 per cent average rate of return based on the operating surplus expressed as a percentage of average net assets; andto pay invoices within 10 days of receipt.

Criminal Justice: Out-of-court Disposals

Statement

The Attorney-General (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): On 14 December 2009, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Home Secretary and I announced to Parliament the terms of reference for the review of the use of out-of-court disposals to be conducted by the Office for Criminal Justice Reform (OCJR). I am issuing this Written Statement to update the House on further work that is being undertaken.

The initial work on the review provided a greater understanding of the operation of the existing out-of-court disposals frameworks for adults and young people. We plan now to seek further evidence by undertaking a detailed review of individual case files to examine the particular circumstances in which out-of-court disposals have been administered for apparently serious offences. This will inform an examination of the broader policy of these frameworks and consideration of how to improve transparency and accountability in how out-of-court disposals are used.

This is a substantial piece of work and will require public consultation. We will continue to keep Parliament informed of progress.

Debt: Personal Insolvency

Statement

The Minister for Trade and Investment (Lord Davies of Abersoch): My honourable friend the Minister for Business and Regulatory Reform (Ian Lucas) has today made the following Statement.

We are today launching a consultation about personal insolvency. Specifically, we are asking whether we should amend the eligibility criteria relating to debt relief orders (DROs) in order to allow access to those

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people who are currently excluded because they have pension rights based on a small current pension valuation that they cannot draw down for some years.

DROs were introduced in April 2009 following research that identified that there were people in long-term debt difficulties who had nothing to offer their creditors and who could not afford to make themselves bankrupt. Delivered in partnership with the professional debt advice sector, DROs provide low-cost easy access to debt relief for those overwhelmed by relatively low levels of unmanageable debt. They are designed to provide a fresh start for the most vulnerable people trapped in debt.

There are strict eligibility criteria of assets less than £300, debts no more than £15,000 and surplus income of less than £50 per month. But because a pension is treated as an asset, some people who would otherwise qualify find themselves unable to apply for a DRO because they have pension rights based on a pension that has a low current valuation. This consultation examines a number of options designed to make the system fairer for these people. In particular, we propose asking whether a pension should not count towards the value of assets provided that the current valuation is no more than either £1,000 or £5,000 or £10,000; and/or where the individual cannot draw down the pension for at least five years or 10 years. We also intend to ask whether there should be an additional requirement that the pension scheme must be one that is approved by HMRC.

I am placing copies of the consultation paper in the Libraries of the House.

We intend to actively engage with stakeholders throughout the consultation and welcome views on whether the proposals will deliver a workable solution that provides greater access to vulnerable debtors. The consultation will close on 23 June 2010.

ECOFIN

Statement

The Financial Services Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Myners): My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Economic and Financial Affairs Council was held in Brussels on 16 March 2010. The following items were on the agenda:

Alternative Investment Fund Managers (AIFM) Directive

The presidency deferred agreement on the AIFM directive to a later council meeting at the UK's request. The Government have made clear that the presidency's text is not acceptable in its current form, and believe that postponing agreement will provide an opportunity for further work on the draft directive to ensure proportionate regulation that operates effectively and properly strengthens the system, whilst realising the benefits of the EU single market. The directive broadly aims to establish a secure and harmonised EU framework for monitoring and supervising the risks that alternative investment fund managers pose to their investors, counterparties, other financial markets and financial

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stability more generally; and permit them, subject to compliance with certain requirements, to provide services and market their funds across the internal market.

VAT Invoicing Directive

ECOFIN agreed a general approach on proposals put forward by the Commission on the VAT invoicing directive. The UK supports the proposals, which aim to simplify and modernise electronic VAT invoicing, further harmonise general invoicing rules and reduce the burden on businesses. The directive will be adopted once the European Parliament has given its opinion.

Stability and Growth Pact: follow-up on Greece

The council held an exchange of views on the basis of a Commission report that follows up the council decision of 16 February 2010, giving notice to Greece to take measures for the deficit reduction judged necessary in order to remedy the situation of excessive deficit. Measures taken by the Greek authorities have been a combination of fiscal measures and structural reforms and include the announcements from the Greek authorities on 3 March of a further €4.8 billion in austerity measures. ECOFIN concluded that Greece is appropriately implementing the council decision and stability programme, and that announced measures appear sufficient to safeguard 2010 budgetary targets provided that they are implemented effectively, fully and in a timely manner.

Preparation for the European Council

Europe 2020

ECOFIN agreed council conclusions following the publication of the Commission communication on Europe 2020-A European Strategy for Smart, Sustainable and Inclusive and Growth. The UK believes that the strategy should be focused on delivering strong, sustainable and balanced growth. After the 25 and 26 March spring European Council, further work will be carried out by ECOFIN and other sectoral councils before returning to European Council for final agreement in June. Exit strategies The council adopted two sets of council conclusions, one on exit strategies in the financial sector, and one on the phasing out of temporary measures in labour and product markets. These will feed into further discussions at European Council. Climate change finance ECOFIN adopted council conclusions on the economic and financial aspects of climate change. The UK believes it will be important to maintain the EU's ambition post-Copenhagen, especially on the financial commitments made, and also hopes that the EU will issue support for work by the High Level Advisory Group on climate finance, which will meet for the first time in London later this month, co-chaired by the Prime Minister.

Budget guidelines for 2011

The council adopted a statement on its priorities and budgetary policy, which will serve as a reference throughout the budgetary process to come. The UK is

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content with the guidelines, which reflect the need for budgetary discipline in a time of fiscal constraint.

EU: Agriculture and Fisheries Council

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Davies of Oldham): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State (Hilary Benn) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

My honourable friend the Minister for Food, Farming and Environment (Jim Fitzpatrick) will represent the United Kingdom at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels on 29 March.

Discussions will take place on four substantive items-council conclusions on the Commission communication on A Better Functioning Food Supply Chain in Europe; presidency conclusions on the Future of the CAP-Market Management Measures Post 2013; an exchange of views on agriculture and the CAP in the perspective of the EU 2020 strategy; and the quarterly report from the Commission on the dairy market.


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