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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 13 March 2008

Children, Schools and Families

Lamb Inquiry

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Kevin Brennan): In October 2007 the House of Commons Education and Skills Committee published “Special Educational Needs: Assessment and Funding”. The report identified parental confidence in the special educational needs (SEN) assessment system as a key issue in making provision for children with SEN. We share the Committee’s desire to improve parental confidence and in the children’s plan we set out an ambitions package of measures supported by £18 million of additional investment over 2008-11. This package will improve the skills of the workforce in meeting children’s special educational needs and focus on the outcomes being achieved.

This year we will roll out new, specially developed SEN and disability units for primary undergraduate teacher training courses to be followed by units for secondary and PGCE courses next year. We are developing the skills of the early years and schools work force through the inclusion development programme and promoting specialist training through the work of the three trusts we have supported in communication, autism and dyslexia. In addition we are learning about the progress of children with SEN through the Making Good Progress pilots and will be improving data to support progression.

Building on this, in our response to the Committee’s report (HC 298, published 4 February 2008) we committed to setting up a group of expert advisers, under the chairmanship of Brian Lamb, the chair of the Special Educational Consortium, to advise on the most effective ways of increasing parental confidence in the SEN assessment process. In formulating their advice, we have asked the inquiry to:

consider whether increasing parental confidence could be best achieved by:

making the provision of educational psychology advice “arm’s length” from local authorities;

sharing best practice in developing good relationships between the authority and parents, through effective parent partnership services and other local mechanisms;

effective practice by schools and local authorities in meeting the needs of children at school action plus;

other innovative proposals;

commission and evaluate innovative projects, in the areas identified, that can demonstrate the impact on parental confidence of a particular approach;

draw on the evidence of other work currently commissioned by the Department; and

take into account the evidence of the submissions to the two Select Committee reports, in 2006 and 2007.

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To advise him, Brian Lamb has brought together a group of expert advisers who reflect a range of interests and opinions. The group consists of:

A broader reference group of professionals and parents will also inform the inquiry. This group will bring a wide range of evidence and extensive networks to the process of evidence gathering.

I have asked the inquiry to start its work immediately and have asked for a report in June 2008 on the commissioning of the innovative projects and initial areas of focus for the inquiry. The projects will run for the school year September 2008—July 2009 and an evaluation will run concurrently.

I have asked Brian Lamb and his advisers to report in September 2009. The findings of the inquiry will be available to the Ofsted SEN survey of 2009-10 and will help to inform the development of the next stage of our thinking in this area.

Communities and Local Government

Town and County Planning (General Permitted Development) (Amendment) (England) Order 1995

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Iain Wright): I have today laid before the House an amendment to the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Amendment) (England) Order 1995 (the GPDO) which will apply from 6 April 2008. The amendment provides permitted development rights for the installation of specified types of microgeneration equipment on or within the curtilage of dwellinghouses. The equipment includes solar photovoltaics (PV), solar thermal, ground and water source heat pumps, biomass heating and combined heat and power systems. Where permitted development rights are granted, no application for planning permission is needed.

The Government consulted in April 2007 on the proposed extension of householder permitted development rights for microgeneration. There were two main policy objectives; first to provide extra freedom for permitted development so long as it had little or no impact beyond the host property. Secondly, the Government wanted to make it easier for householders to combat climate change by producing their own energy from renewable sources.

In November 2007 the Government issued their response to the consultation. The Government announced that they intended to provide permitted development for the following types of microgeneration: solar panels, wind turbines, heat pumps, biomass and combined heat and power, subject to specific limits and conditions that would ensure that any adverse impact on others was not significant. The response said that standards would need to be set on noise and vibration for wind turbines and air source heat pumps to ensure that neighbours were not disturbed by the development. For that reason,
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permitted development rights for wind turbines and air source heat pumps would be implemented as soon as these standards and safeguards had been drawn up and put in place. These would be dealt with principally through further work being led by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform working with key stakeholders, including industry, to develop a certification scheme for microgeneration that covers both standards for products and their installation.

The amendment to the GPDO allows for the installation of solar PV or solar thermal equipment on the wall or roof of a dwellinghouse or a building within its curtilage so long as the equipment does not protrude more than 200 millimetres. Stand alone solar PV or solar thermal will be permitted if its height does not exceed four metres above ground level and it is more than five metres from the boundary. There are restrictions that apply to solar in conservation areas, in world heritage sites and to listed buildings.

Good progress has been made on the associated test standards that will apply to wind turbines and air source heat pumps, as part of the Microgeneration Certification Scheme. The scheme and standards have been developed in consultation with stakeholders and industry. In due course, the GPDO will incorporate standards to ensure that habitable rooms of any neighbouring residential property are not exposed to an outside noise level exceeding 45 decibels. The noise limit will apply to free-standing wind turbines and those mounted on detached dwellings. Similar provisions will apply to air source heat pumps. The decibel level will be reviewed after two years in the light of conditions prevailing at the time.

The Microgeneration Certification Scheme has been notified to the European Commission and cleared. However, reference within the GPDO has to be notified to the Commission under the EC Technical Standards Directive 98/34/EC as a new regulation. This process is likely to be concluded within a few months. The Government will amend the GPDO to grant permitted development rights for wind turbines and air source heat pumps that comply with the certification scheme and standards upon satisfactory completion of this legal process. This amendment will apply to free standing wind turbines, those mounted on detached dwellings, and to air source heat pumps. These rights will not extend to wind turbines on attached dwellings such as semi-detached and terraced houses until further work has been carried out by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and industry on potential nuisance to neighbours from structure-borne noise and vibration.

I wish to make it clear to the House that it is only the need to provide a satisfactory standard that addresses noise and vibration issues, which then has to go through the legal process mentioned above that prevents the inclusion of wind turbines and air source heat pumps in the Statutory Instrument laid before Parliament today.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Environment Council

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): I represented the UK at the Environment Council in Brussels on 3 March 2008.

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At this Council, member states set out their positions on the 2020 climate and energy package. The UK intervened to welcome the ambition of the proposals in meeting the EU’s targets for a 30 per cent. reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as part of an international climate agreement, or a unilateral 20 per cent. reduction. The UK highlighted the need for aggregate member state whole economy figures to be presented as a clear signal to those international negotiations of the effort required by each member state. The EU should continue to play a leading role in combating climate change.

The UK signalled that we will do our fair share of the emission reductions under the greenhouse gas effort sharing proposal, but these targets should be met cost-effectively. The UK also welcomed the Commission’s proposal for the level of a central EU ETS cap with a clear downwards emissions reduction trajectory and the Commission’s proposals on carbon capture and storage (CCS), including the demonstration projects. The UK did however state our opposition to hypothecation of auctioning revenues and the reallocation of auctioning rights. Finally, the UK and many others emphasised the importance of coherent sustainability criteria for biofuels. Member states also set out their positions on the Commission’s proposal for a regulation to reduce CO2 emissions from new cars. The UK welcomed the proposal, called for the addition of challenging long-term targets and stressed the need for provisions to protect independent niche and small-volume manufacturers.

Ministers adopted Council conclusions as input to the spring European Council on 13 to 14 March. The conclusions form the basis of EU leaders’ response to legislative proposals to achieve Europe’s climate and energy objectives for 2020. It also covers issues including halting biodiversity loss, environmental technologies, sustainable consumption and production, and better regulation. The Council also adopted Council conclusions establishing the EU priorities and negotiating position ahead of the fourth COP serving as the meeting of the parties to the Cartagena protocol on biosafety and the ninth conference of parties to the convention of biological diversity both to be held in May 2008 in Bonn, Germany.

Under “Any Other Business”, the presidency provided information on emissions from heavy duty vehicles (Euro VI). At the request of delegations, additional AOB items include noise from military aircraft, shipping emissions (on which the UK intervened), management of GMOs and Ukraine’s final decision regarding the Danube-Black sea deep navigational canal.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

FCO Scholarships and Fellowships

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): In parallel with the work on the new Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) strategic framework, that I announced to the House on 23 January, I should like to inform the House of our plans for the future of scholarships and fellowships funding.

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We have found a transformed situation in higher education, and an FCO scholarship programme that has not always been well aligned to foreign policy goals. So we propose a smaller, better organised programme, focused on the leaders of tomorrow, from a wide range of backgrounds. The savings we make from this reform will support new priority programmes, principally on climate change.

Twelve years ago 30,000 post-graduate students came to the UK from outside the EU. Since then that number has gone up by 160 per cent. British universities actively market themselves, and many offer their own scholarships. So we need to focus on the value-added from the FCO’s scholarship schemes. This value-added is the creation of relationships between the United Kingdom and the international leaders of the future.

We currently support three scholarship schemes (Chevening, Marshall and Commonwealth) in addition to our Chevening fellowship programme. Our scholarship schemes bring young post-graduates to the UK, normally for master degree courses. Our fellowship scheme brings mid-career professionals for 12-week custom designed specialist courses.

As we reviewed our schemes we found a number of weaknesses. The purpose of the scholarship schemes has not always been clear. We have not always sought out students we thought could become international leaders. We have pursued high numbers of scholars, which has sometimes reduced focus on quality. We have not consistently done enough to build the personal relationships with the scholars that we need to get the most out of the schemes, including during selection, which we have sometimes left to others, during their time in the UK and after they have finished their studies. We have not always worked closely enough with our partner Government Departments with an international focus or with British business to ensure the scholarship schemes work for them. And the Chevening scholarship brand has been stronger in some countries than in others.

The schemes have had real strengths. But we need to refocus them to ensure that these strengths are consistent. We will maintain a global scheme, but we will focus scholarships particularly on those countries such as China and India which are going to be most important to our foreign policy success over coming years. We will select more carefully to ensure our scholars really are potential future leaders, with our heads of mission having personal responsibility for ensuring their posts are getting this right. We will work to ensure we are drawing from the widest possible pool of potential scholars.

We will maintain a much closer relationship with those scholars who do come, making sure that right from the start of the selection process we begin to build links with them, increasing our contact with them while they are here, and staying in closer touch with them after they leave, including through the introduction of a new web-based alumni networking system.

We want to increase the engagement British business and Government Departments with an international focus have with the scholars, and we are starting a consultation process to ensure this happens. We will work in the future through two scholarship schemes only, the Marshall scheme in the USA and the Chevening scheme in the rest of the world, and will
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develop the strength of these brands. This means an end to the FCO contribution to the Commonwealth scholarship and fellowship plan. We will maintain the highly successful Chevening fellowship scheme at its current level.

These changes will free up some £10 million a year for new activity on our new policy goals. The majority of this will be spent on programmes to support the development and implementation of a low-carbon, high-growth economy, in particular:

Under the new strategic framework we are also increasing our resources for staff working on these issues in London and overseas.

Home Department

Control Order Powers (December 2007 - March 2008)

The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Tony McNulty): Section 14(1) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 (“the 2005 Act”) requires the Home Secretary to report to Parliament as soon as reasonably practicable after the end of every relevant three-month period on the exercise of the control order powers during that period.

The level of information provided will always be subject to slight variations based on operational advice.

Control orders continue to be an essential tool to protect the public from terrorism, particularly where it is not possible to prosecute individuals for terrorism-related activity and, in the case of foreign nationals, where they cannot be removed from the UK.

As stated in previous quarterly statements on control orders, control order obligations are tailored to the individual concerned and are based on the terrorism-related risk that individual poses. Each control order is kept under regular review to ensure that obligations remain necessary and proportionate. The Home Office continues to hold control order review groups (CORGs) every quarter, with representation from law enforcement and intelligence agencies, to keep the obligations in every control order under regular and formal review and to facilitate a review of appropriate exit strategies. During this reporting period, three CORGs were held in relation to the orders currently in force. In addition, further meetings were held on an ad hoc basis as specific issues arose.

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