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Ministerial Accountability Following Devolution

Baroness Smith of Gilmorehill asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Lord Chancellor: I am today placing in the Library a Devolution Guidance Note (Number 11) on ministerial accountability after devolution, covering Scotland and Wales. The guidance note will also be made available on the Cabinet Office website ( While the note does not supplant the devolution legislation, it is intended to offer a lay guide to the broad areas which remain the responsibility of UK Ministers, and for which they are accountable to the UK Parliament. The note will be expanded over the summer to include guidance on Northern Ireland.

Montgomeryshire: Magistrates' Courts

Lord Carlile of Berriew asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Lord Chancellor: The Government's policy is that magistrates' courts are best managed locally. Decisions about the number, location and future of magistrates' courts in the Montgomeryshire part of Powys, are for Dyfed Powys Magistrates' Courts Committee to determine, in consultation with its local paying authority.

I expect Committees to undertake regular reviews of their accommodation requirements, in order to provide modern facilities which meet the needs of all court users. This includes the possibility of sharing court accommodation with the Court Service and other agencies. The Crown Court already sits occasionally at Welshpool.

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Dyfed Powys Magistrates' Courts Committee has bid for a new courthouse in Newtown under the Private Finance Initiative. In the Autumn, my Department will be reviewing all the new courthouse projects including the Dyfed Powys scheme, to consider which projects should be in the next building phase.

American Bar Association Visit

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What funding and support in kind they are contributing to events connected with the visit of the American Bar Association to the United Kingdom this month:

    (a) in the Palace of Westminster; and

    (b) elsewhere in the United Kingdom.[HL3450]

The Lord Chancellor: I hosted a Reception in the Lord Chancellor's Residence on Sunday 16 July 2000, and a Dinner at Lancaster House on Monday 17 July, for participants in the American Bar Association conference. Both of these events were funded by the Government. The total cost is estimated at £8,000. In addition, the Royal Gallery was made available for the morning of Tuesday 18 July 2000, followed by a lunch in the Cholmondeley Room; Cherie Booth QC hosted a reception at No. 10 Downing Street that evening; and Baroness Scotland hosted a reception in the Durbar Court on the evening of Thursday 20 July 2000. In each case the American Bar Association met the full expense.

Ufl Ltd

Viscount Chandos asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What effect Ufl Ltd's change to charitable status has had on its financial and other arrangements with the Department for Education and Employment.[HL3724]

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): Further to my reply dated 11 January, Official Report, col. WA 100, in order to achieve charitable status, Ufl Ltd. has split into two companies: one, the charity "UFI Charitable Trust", which wholly owns the second, its trading subsidiary "Ufi Limited", which is the operating company.

The controls exercised by my right honourable Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment have been adjusted in the light of the new company structure.

Each company's Memorandum and Articles of Association were approved by the Secretary of State and the Department for Education and Employment continues to exercise similar controls over the companies, although the Secretary of State's right to appoint the Chairman and between 30 and 49 per cent

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of Ufi Limited's Board of Directors/members is now time-limited to 31 March 2005. The Secretary of State's control over appointment of the chairman and directors of the charity is not time bound.

The previous Funding Agreement between the Department and Ufl Ltd. has been superseded by one with both companies which provides for a number of checks and controls on the spending of public funds. It specifies the requirement to submit an annual Financial Plan for the approval of the Secretary of State. The Funding Agreement and the Financial Plan provide the basis for financial support.

Ufi Limited will own the assets it creates (mainly intellectual property rights on learning products) and retain any receipts from the disposal of assets. The department will take account of any income received by Ufi Limited as a result of government investment, including asset disposal proceeds, in fixing the level of future financial support. This regime will apply only so long as Ufi Limited receives government support.

If the Funding Agreement is terminated due to breach of contract or insolvency, the intellectual property rights will pass to the Secretary of State if he so requests. The Memorandum of the charity provides that, if it is wound up or dissolved, the Secretary of State has a right of veto over the disposition of any remaining assets. The charity cannot dispose of any of the shares of Ufi Limited without the prior authority of the Secretary of State. The charity cannot alter the constitution of Ufi Limited in so far as this affects the Secretary of State's controls.

Merrywood School

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Paymaster General, when launching the Government's Annual Report in Bristol on 13 July, explained how the closure of Merrywood School, Knowle West, Bristol, improved the educational opportunities for the children of Knowle West.[HL3430]

Baroness Blackstone: As the noble Lord is aware, the Annual Report describes, amongst other factors, the Government's progress in improving standards of education. It also underlines our commitment to ensure "high standards are met in every school and college" so that "the talents of all can be developed to the full".

My right honourable Friend the Secretary of State's decision to approve the proposals to close Merrywood fully accords with this commitment. In reaching his decision, the Secretary of State was mindful of the fact that Merrywood has been in special measures since April 1997. Since going into special measures, OFSTED has undertaken seven monitoring visits. Despite this, the school has still not made sufficient improvements to be removed from special measures. Numbers on roll are low, attendance levels are low and academic achievement is the lowest in the LEA. As a result, the small number of pupils displaced by the

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school's closure will be likely to benefit by accessing a better standard of education through attending alternative schools.

Sex Education in Schools

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will give an account of all their contacts and discussions with members of the Bishop's Bench regarding guidance and legislation concerning principles of sex education in schools in a form which will enable members of the House of Lords to respond adequately to correspondence from Christian and other groups. [HL3511]

Baroness Blackstone: DfEE Ministers and officials maintain close relationships with the Church of England Education Service (as well as representatives of other faith groups) as a matter of course on all education matters. A number of Church representatives commented on the draft sex and relationship education guidance issued for consultation on 16 March. DfEE Ministers discussed in detail with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, in his capacity as Chairman of the Church of England Education Service, and Archbishop Nichols, in his capacity as Chairman of the Department for Education and Formation of the Bishops' conference of England and Wales, the government amendment to the Learning and Skills Bill introduced by the Government at Lords Third Reading in March. Subsequent to the defeat of this amendment, the Government drew up a further amendment, introduced in another place. The Bishop of Blackburn also introduced a further amendment at Lords Consideration of Commons amendments. There was an exchange of information between the Government and the Bishop of Blackburn about this amendment, but no negotiation. The Secretary of State has in the course of the last six months had a range of discussions and correspondence with a variety of organisations and representatives as part of the formal consultation on the guidance.

Children's Commission for Wales

Lord Carlile of Berriew asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will make it their policy to ensure that any arrangements made in Wales for the appointment of a Children's Commissioner will achieve the impartial representation of the interests of children living in Wales, together with the ability to pursue individual cases; and in addition the establishment of a commission to advocate and lobby in the general interests of children. [HL3508]

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: The Care Standards Act, which received Royal Assent on 20 July, allows for the provision of a Children's Commissioner for Wales. The remit of the commissioner extends to all children covered by the services regulated in the Care Standards Act.

Appointment to the post of Children's Commissioner will be for the National Assembly for Wales. They are currently considering the details of the specification and selection process for the post. The appointment will be advertised publicly and widely and will be subject to open competition and be on merit.

The Assembly has put proposals to the Secretary of State to extend the role of the commissioner to all children and across a wider range of services.

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