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Written Statements

Volume 407: debated on Wednesday 18 June 2003

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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 18 June 2003

Northern Ireland

Independent Commissioner For Detained Terrorist Suspects

I have today arranged for copies of Dr Bill Norris' Annual Report for 2002 to be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.I welcome Dr Norris' report and I will consider it carefully. I will respond as soon as possible.

Deputy Prime Minister

Right To Buy

On 22 January 2003, the Deputy Prime Minister announced that he intended to reduce the maximum discounts available to tenants under the Right to Buy scheme in 42 areas that were under the greatest housing market pressure, as evidenced by a high incidence of homelessness and high house prices.Having considered representations from a number of local authorities and post-transfer housing associations, the Deputy Prime Minister decided to reduce the maximum discounts in 41 areas. This decision was implemented by the Housing (Right to Buy) (Limits on Discounts) (Amendments) Order 2003 (Statutory Instrument 2003 No. 498), which was laid before Parliament on 6 March 2003 and came into effect on 27 March 2003.At the request of Opposition Members, this Order was debated on 12 May 2003 in the Third Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation (

Official Report, 12 May 2003, columns 3–26). During the debate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East, agreed to publish information on how all housing authority areas ranked in terms of housing pressure.

A table containing the information has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The Order does not affect areas in Wales, which for Right to Buy purposes are subject to different arrangements administered by the National Assembly for Wales.

The areas are grouped according to the nine English regions—London, South-East, East, South-West, East Midlands, West Midlands, Yorkshire and the Humber, North-East and North-West. Each area was ranked on a scale of 1 (high) to 5 (low) according to the levels of homelessness and house prices locally, and these rankings were used to determine the 41 areas under the greatest housing pressure.

Subsequently, information relating to earned incomes became available, and the model was rerun to take account of affordability. The effects on individual areas of doing so were marginal.

I have today written to the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) and to the Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation to convey this information, and to the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) and to the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) to clarify a separate point made during the debate about the costs of the Right to Buy. Copies of these letters have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs

Sierra Leone

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Bill Rammell)

With the support of Her Majesty's Government, the UN Security Council has allowed the remaining sanctions under UNSCR 1446(2002) against the import of uncertified rough diamonds from Sierra Leone to terminate with effect from 5 June 2003. The resolution extended the embargo against the direct or indirect import of rough diamonds without a Certificate of Origin, controlled by the Government of Sierra Leone. This is in recognition of the peace in Sierra Leone and the efforts that the Government of Sierra Leone has made towards securing its diamond-mining areas and in pursuing a successful diamond policy. Sierra Leone is now a participant of the Kimberley Process.

Treasury

National Insurance

In my written statement on the suspension of National Insurance Contributions deficiency notices of 16 May, I informed the House of the action I had taken to ensure that no-one missed out. I took action to:

protect the position of those who choose to make voluntary contributions by suspending the six year rule;
ensure that the six year rule will run from the beginning of this financial year so that people affected have the same amount of time to make contributions as they would have had if they had been informed earlier;
freeze the contribution rate at the rate that would have applied at the time, so no one has to pay more than they would have to at to the time;
ensure that people receive a consolidated deficiency notice to enable them to make an informed decision.
I also informed the House that I had asked the Inland Revenue to carry out a full enquiry into the circumstances surrounding the suspension of National Insurance Contributions deficiency notices in 1998 and of subsequent events.I have today received and am now publishing the recommendations of this inquiry and I am pleased to be able to inform the House that the Board of Inland Revenue have accepted all of these recommendations.

In the course of the inquiry, the Inland Revenue have confirmed that no Minister was consulted or informed of the decision to suspend deficiency notices at the time it was taken in 1998.

A detailed trawl of former DSS files has however found that, during 2000 and 2001, Ministers at the then DSS saw internal DSS submissions that, in the wider context of NIRS2 recovery, made reference to the fact that deficiency notices had been suspended, but that they could begin again in the last quarter of 2000–01. In the same period, a submission on NIRS2 was sent to me which referred to the use of deficiency notices, but did not inform me that they had been suspended. Thereafter, in March 2001, the Minister of State at the then DSS was informed that the issue of deficiency notices would be resumed shortly.

The Inland Revenue will publish details shortly of how it plans to issue deficiency notices in respect of the years since 1996–97. These notices will tell people if they have any missing contributions in those years, and what they can do to fill the gaps in their contribution record if they choose to do so.

I will continue to keep the House fully informed of any further information on this matter.