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Written Statements

Volume 447: debated on Wednesday 14 June 2006

Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 14 June 2006

Communities and Local Government

EU Energy Performance of Building Directive

I am making a further statement today on how the Government intend to implement the remaining provisions of the EU Energy Performance of Buildings Directive in order to encourage the reduction of energy consumption and associated carbon emissions arising from the use of buildings.

Nearly 50 per cent. of the UK's emissions are generated through the way we heat, light and use our buildings. The Government's climate change agenda recognises that comparatively minor changes to the ways in which we construct and use buildings can have a large cumulative effect.

These measures aim to ensure that appropriate energy performance information is made available to enable people to make informed choices when buying or renting new or existing buildings.

Last September the Government announced that there would be an amendment to Part L of the building regulations to raise energy efficiency standards and at the same time implement Articles 3, 4, 5 and 6 of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive in England and Wales. These changes, which improve building energy efficiency standards by 40 per cent. over 2002, came into force on 6 April 2006 and are being supported by a comprehensive dissemination and training programme to help industry and building control bodies comply with them. This amendment sets out national methods for calculating energy performance, and tougher energy efficiency standards for building work. It is the Government's intention to adopt reduced data SAP (RDSAP) a simplified SAP methodology for the assessment of existing dwellings including the energy performance certificate for HIPs.

For the remaining provisions of the European Directive, we need to ensure that there are sufficient qualified and/or accredited surveyors and appropriate procedures in place. The Directive allows a three-year derogation to apply fully the requirements for energy certificates and plant inspections and we are working with stakeholders to ensure sufficient numbers of trained inspectors are in place to support a phased programme of implementation. We are rolling out this programme shortly with energy certificates in home information packs and making a separate statement about this today.

We will adopt a system of calculated asset ratings when energy performance certificates are required upon construction, sale or rent and to allow for the use of operational ratings, derived from measured energy consumption, for those obliged to provide certificates for public display. We are engaging with other Government Departments over the implementation and particular display requirements.

Public display will initially be for buildings over 1,000m2 occupied by public authorities and by institutions providing publicly funded services to large numbers of persons. This is important as the public sector should be seen to be taking the lead in respect of disseminating energy performance and actively seeking ways of reducing its energy consumption.

We are committed to widening the display requirement to all public and private sector buildings where it can be demonstrated this is cost-effective to do so. We shall be publicly consulting on this to take full account of stakeholders' views.

In September last year the Government signalled that we would develop a system of nationally recognised qualifications for those wishing to practice as building, boiler plant and air conditioning plant energy surveyors.

This process is under way and a national occupational standard has already been created that covers energy certification of dwellings at the point of marketed sale. There are over 4,000 home inspectors who are undergoing training to support the introduction of the home information pack that will become mandatory from June 2007. We are now working with the appropriate Sector Skills Councils and industry stakeholders to expand this across other sectors.

Preparatory work for the phased programme of implementation has been proceeding, involving key stakeholders from across both industry and consumer organisations and we will increasingly be working with these groups to finalise the details of the phasing programme and other aspects of the implementation. As this work matures, the Government plan to lay a Statutory Instrument in early 2007 to transpose the Directive into law.

Over time most business owners, home owners and tenants are likely to be affected by the Directive in some way and it is of considerable importance that they are fully aware of developments in this area. To this end, we shall also shortly be initiating a programme of communication aimed at the different sectors involved.

Ministers in Scotland and Northern Ireland are responsible for the implementation of the Directive in their regions.

Home Information Pack Regulations

I have today laid before Parliament the Home Information Pack Regulations 2006, made under the Housing Act 2004. This is a key milestone for the introduction of home information packs throughout England and Wales from 1 June 2007.

The Regulations prescribe the contents of home information packs. They provide for exceptions from the Home Information Pack duties, and make provision for the approval of certification schemes in connection with home condition reports. The Regulations also make transitional provision for homes already on the market when the Home Information Pack duties come into force, and specify the level of penalty charge that may be levied where these are breached.

Making the Regulations a year ahead of the Home Information Pack duties coming into force ensures that the industry has good time to prepare for the introduction of packs, including processes for assembling and supplying pack documents which comply with the Regulations and bring genuine benefits for consumers. It also enables the Secretary of State to approve certification schemes required to ensure that there are enough home inspectors qualified and able to prepare home condition reports.

The Regulations and the principles underlying them have been the subject of extensive consultation with the industry and consumers. Consideration of consultation responses and drafting of the Regulations have been undertaken in close consultation with consumer and industry organisations including Which?, The Law Society, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, National Association of Estate Agents and the Council of Mortgage Lenders.

The detailed content of home information packs prescribed in the Regulations will be tested fully during the dry run or phased implementation being undertaken over the next few months, as well as through further discussions with stakeholders, so that lessons can be learned and any changes made in time for full implementation next year. Home information packs aim to deliver:

A reduction in waste and duplication because different buyers won't have to pay several times for the same information - especially when sales fall through;

A reduction in the number of failed transactions because information on the condition of the property is available at the beginning, rather than problems emerging late in the day;

Fewer delays because information is provided at the beginning;

Increased competition and transparency in the market;

Better energy efficiency information on homes with practical information on how to cut fuel bills and costs for first time buyers;

Reduced costs for first-time buyers, who will get HIPs for free as costs are transferred from buyers to sellers: and

Improved redress arrangements for consumers when things go wrong. All estate agents marketing homes with home information packs will be required to belong to an approved independent redress scheme.

The industry is already developing home information pack systems and intends to market these well in advance of the packs becoming mandatory. An increasing number of estate agents and property professionals are already providing partial packs on a voluntary basis. These developments, backed by the Regulations, mean that sellers and buyers will not have to wait until June 2007 before they can benefit from the improvements that the packs will deliver to the home buying and selling process.

The Government have also published the standards for the Certification Schemes for home inspectors. These will ensure that home inspectors are properly qualified and have proper industry insurance so that buyers, sellers and lenders can have full confidence in the home condition report.

Once the Certification Schemes are in place later in the year, the dry run of voluntary home information packs will accelerate. The Government will ensure there is extensive assessment and monitoring of the dry run.

Guidance on the Regulations and an assessment of the impact of the introduction of home information packs are being published on the dedicated website http://www.communities.gov.uk/index.asp?id=1500716.

Copies will be available in both Libraries of the House.

Birmingham/Sandwell Housing Market Renewal Pathfinder

The Government will award up to £12 million to the Urban Living housing market renewal pathfinder. This additional funding is available subject to the pathfinder agreeing to terms in updated funding agreements with the Department. The funding will support urban living to continue good work over the next six months in a range of schemes designed to revise local housing markets in Birmingham and Sandwell. It follows £50 million originally allocated to the pathfinder up until March 2006.

The funding will also support the pathfinder to revise and develop its strategy for the remainder of 2006-08. Urban Living have developed their housing market evidence base significantly since the start of the pathfinder programme. We have asked Urban Living to look again at their proposals for the next two years to respond more fully to this evidence base, and to take account of comments from ourselves and recommendations from the Audit Commission in relation to their original proposals. We hope then to be in a position to allocate further funds for pathfinder expenditure in 2006-08.

We will be assessing Urban Living's revised proposals in the summer of 2006. In the meantime, this initial allocation will enable them to continue important projects already in train, which will contribute to improving their housing market and supporting sustainable communities.

Constitutional Affairs

Commonhold Review

My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State has made the following written ministerial statement:

“On 22 November my noble Friend the Lord Evans of Temple Guiting said that the Government were investigating the reasons for the slow rate of take-up of commonhold and considering whether it was necessary to hold a formal review. (Official Report, House of Lords, column 1496.)

After careful consideration it has been decided that a formal review into commonhold will not be undertaken. The commonhold legislation has introduced a major change to property ownership in England and Wales and will take time to make an impact. There are, however, indications that developers are starting to see how the benefits of commonhold can be applied to large scale projects. On 16 December 2005, proposals for a £500 million mixed-use commonhold, including up to 2,000 homes, were announced on behalf of the developer.

Work will continue on the development of the commonhold legislation and its promotion. In particular, our focus will be on increasing the flexibility of commonhold; on the provision of affordable housing in commonhold; and on the role of commonhold in creating sustainable communities. We intend to issue a consultation paper on draft regulations later in the year.

Since the implementation of commonhold in September 2004, work has been undertaken to make provision for commonhold in other areas so that:

The relevant provisions in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 will apply to a commonhold premises as they apply to any other managed or let premises;

the constitutional documentation for commonhold associations can be brought in line with the reforms proposed in the Company Law Reform Bill; and

the Home Information Pack Regulations 2006 include provision for the sale of commonhold properties.”

Defence

Departmental Key Targets

Key targets for the financial year 2006-07 for the following Ministry of Defence Agencies and trading funds have been placed in the Library of the House:

The Defence Bills Agency

Defence Estates

Defence Medical Education and Training Agency

The Defence Procurement Agency

The Defence Vetting Agency

The Duke of York’s Royal Military School

The Meteorological Office

Service Children’s Education

The UK Hydrographic Office.

22 Signal Regiment

It was announced by the Secretary of State to the House on 20 December 2004, Official Report, column 1795, that it was the Government's intention to restructure the British Army to meet the evolving needs of modern operations. It was confirmed that 22 Signal Regiment was to be formed under Future Army Structures in 2007-08. The regiment will consist of a new Regimental Headquarters and three Squadrons, involving the transfer and resubordination of 248 Squadron from Colerne and 222 Squadron from Bulford, and the creation of the new 217 Squadron formed largely from personnel of 219 Squadron in York.

After detailed examination, I am now pleased to confirm that it has been decided (subject to further detailed work and Trade Union consultation) that it is our intention to form up the unit at the former RAF site at Stafford. This will enhance the Armed Forces presence currently provided by the Tactical Supply Wing of the Joint Helicopter Command. It is our aim to have 22 Signal Regiment fully formed, with all sub-units, personnel and equipment, with effect from 1 April next year.

The proposal will see approximately 570 additional military personnel based at the site, who will be accommodated in the Stafford area. It is also anticipated that approximately 200 families are likely to move to the area, and there will be a requirement for a small number of administrative posts to support the regiment. Taking account of other movements, there will be net decreases of approximately 120 uniformed personnel at Colerne, 130 at Bulford and 40 at York. There are no concomitant reductions in civilian staff anticipated at these three locations.

Home Department

Assets Recovery Agency

The Assets Recovery Agency's Annual Report 2005-06 will be laid before Parliament today.

The report covers the Agency's third full year of operation and provides an assessment of performance against its Business Plan 2005-06.

The Agency continues to make an impact in disrupting criminal groups and seizing their assets. It disrupted a total of 79 criminal enterprises in England and Wales and 21 in Northern Ireland, exceeding the total target of 70. It did so by the early restraint of assets to the value of £85.7 million which exceeded the target of £25 million. The Agency adopted a total of 108 new cases for civil recovery and taxation investigation, exceeding the target of 100. It also adopted 38 cases for criminal confiscation investigation against a target of 20 cases.

The Agency obtained civil recovery orders and tax assessments in 24 cases with a value of £4.6 million. The total amount of realised receipts from recovered assets was £4.11 million. The time taken to complete litigation in civil recovery cases affected the Agency's ability to meet its targets on achieving final orders and realising receipts.

The Agency has delivered an extensive training programme for financial investigators, again exceeding its targets.

The Agency is also publishing its Business Plan 2006-07 today. The plan has been prepared by the Director of the Agency and has been approved by Home Office and Northern Ireland Office Ministers. The plan focuses on the Agency's aims, priorities and targets for the year ahead and sets out how the Director intends to exercise her functions in Northern Ireland.

The Agency will continue to exercise its powers of investigation and asset recovery against criminals in support of the Government's commitment to taking the profit out of crime.

Domestic Homicide Reviews and National Progress Report

I am pleased to announce today that the Government have issued two publications. One is a consultation document on guidance for conducting domestic homicide reviews across England and Wales, under the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 and the second is our annual domestic violence progress report. Copies of both publications have been placed in the Library and are also available from the crime reduction website at www.crimereduction.gov.uk/dv01.htm.

These publications are the latest phase in a long line of work aimed at tackling domestic violence, a crime that ruins families and devastates lives.

Section 9 of the Domestic Violence Crime and Victims Act 2004, establishes a statutory basis for conducting domestic homicide reviews. The Act imposes a duty on named agencies to have regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State as to establishing or conducting such reviews. The named agencies are: chief police officers; local probation boards; local authorities; strategic health authorities; primary care trusts; local health boards and NHS trusts.

Under the Act a domestic homicide review is defined as a review of the circumstances in which the death of a person aged 16 or over has, or appears to have, resulted from violence, abuse or neglect by:

a person to whom he/she was related or with whom he/she was or had been in an intimate personal relationship; or

a member of the same household as himself/herself,

held with a view to identifying the lessons to be learnt from the death. In practice this will include:

Identifying the lessons to be learnt from the death, in particular about how local professionals and agencies work together to safeguard victims;

identifying how those lessons will be acted upon and what is expected to change as a result; and

improving inter-agency working and improving protection for domestic violence victims to help prevent future deaths.

Domestic homicide reviews are designed to complement the existing serious case reviews (SCRs) that take place when a child dies or is seriously injured and abuse or neglect is known or suspected to have played a part in the death or serious injury.

The Government want to ensure that the reviews do not simply become a bureaucratic exercise. We will want to ensure that local agencies learn the lessons and implement any recommendations made by the reviews, and that findings with national relevance are shared and acted upon.

The consultation period will end on 13 September 2006

The progress report provides an update on the comprehensive framework set out in last year's national delivery plan for domestic violence and the Government's achievements on this. All the achievements outlined in the delivery plan have only been possible because of the close partnership working across Government and with the support and help of the public, private and non-Government sectors. Future developments are predicated upon partnership making. It also looks forward to activities planned in 2006-07 and gives direction to local partnerships, agencies and communities on how to protect adult and child victims of domestic violence and bring perpetrators to justice.

Proceeds of Crime Act 2002

I am pleased to announce that the fourth annual report of the appointed person under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 will be laid before Parliament today. The appointed person is an independent person who scrutinises the use of the search power introduced to support the measures in the Act to seize and forfeit criminal cash.

The report gives the appointed person's opinion as to the circumstances and manner in which the search powers conferred by the Act are being exercised. I am pleased that the appointed person, Andrew Clarke, has expressed satisfaction with the operation of the search power and has found that there is nothing to suggest that the procedures are not being followed in accordance with the Act.

From 1 April 2005 to the end of March 2006 over £62 million in cash was seized by police and Customs Officers under powers in the Act. These sums are subject to forfeiture in the magistrates' court. These powers are a valuable tool in the fight against crime and the report shows that the way they are used has been, and will continue to be, closely monitored.

Northern Ireland

Sixth Report by Justice Oversight Commissioner

The Government have received and welcomed the sixth and final report from the Justice Oversight Commissioner, the right hon. the Lord Clyde, on the progress achieved in implementing the recommendations of the Review of the Criminal Justice System in Northern Ireland. Consistent with his terms of reference, the report was submitted to the Attorney General, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Bridget Prentice), who is the Minister responsible for the Northern Ireland Court Service and me in May.

Lord Clyde's sixth and final report acknowledges the significant transformation of the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland. He confirms that the majority of the recommendations of the Criminal Justice Review have been implemented and he considers that the completion of most of the few remaining individual recommendations is simply a matter of time. He concludes that throughout the course of his oversight work, there has been a steady momentum of progress, commenting that the institutional changes and the operational progress which have been achieved over the past three years have been remarkable. The key elements of reform have included, inter alia, the establishment of a Youth Justice Agency; a Community Safety Unit; a Criminal Justice Inspectorate; the introduction of new lay magistrates; a new Public Prosecution Service; an independent Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission; the signing of an Intergovernmental Agreement on cooperation on criminal justice matters; the Lord Chief Justice as the Head of the judiciary in Northern Ireland; the continued guarantee of judicial independence in Northern Ireland; youth conferencing; the introduction of victim information schemes and court witness schemes; and the bringing of 17-year-olds within the ambit of the youth court.

Lord Clyde concludes that the agencies who have managed these reforms deserve credit and congratulation. The Government warmly endorse these conclusions.

Copies of the Commissioner's report have been placed in the Library.

Transport

Crossrail Depot Strategy

The Government are aware of the concerns that have been expressed by the London Borough of Havering and others in the borough about the impacts of the proposed Crossrail train depot at Romford. Cross London Rail Links (CLRL) have been working for many months to reduce those impacts and at the same time to identify whether there is a viable alternative depot strategy that would remove the need for facilities at Romford altogether.

Following a fundamental review of its depot strategy, in the light of changes in the occupation and expected future use of existing depots, CLRL has concluded that it is possible for Crossrail to operate entirely from the existing rail depots at Old Oak Common in west London and Ilford in east London. As a result Crossrail would not need to construct any of the proposed facilities at Romford or to make use of sidings at West Drayton in the London Borough of Hillingdon.

The revised depot strategy will reduce the overall environmental impacts of the Crossrail project by removing the need for the construction of new facilities at Romford. CLRL estimate that the cost of the revised strategy will be up to £80m lower than that of the Romford scheme.

The revised strategy will require the acquisition of a small amount of open land at Old Oak Common to allow for improved rail access. The land lost will be replaced by an equivalent amount from an adjacent brownfield site.

In order to implement the revised strategy, the Bill will need to be amended. The Government will promote an additional provision in due course (including a detailed environmental assessment), which will be subject to the agreement of the Select Committee. Those affected by the additional provision will be able to petition Parliament.

As part of the revised strategy, it is proposed to move EWS Limited from Old Oak Common to North Pole, which is to become vacant in 2007. It is also proposed to move Bombardier Transportation Ltd. from, or within, Ilford depot. CLRL will continue to work closely with these organisations to try to minimise the impacts upon them.

CLRL will in due course write to existing petitioners affected by this announcement and undertake information rounds in relevant areas to explain the details of the revised depot strategy and the implications for the local area.