Skip to main content

Written Statements

Volume 449: debated on Tuesday 25 July 2006

Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 25 July 2006

Communities and Local Government

Validation of Planning Applications

Today I have launched a consultation on the requirements for local authority validation of planning applications. This follows on from an earlier consultation on proposals for a standard application form.

The consultation proposes that there is a core and mandatory list of national requirements for applicants to comply with in submitting a planning application, which is to be supplemented by a list of local authority requirements. These local requirements must be consulted on by the local authority prior to being published on their website. The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) intends to publish guidance for local authorities on what the local lists should contain, and will also make clear that there are a number of national requirements on applicants to provide information on such areas as flooding, and land contamination. The proposals provide that where an application does not meet the published national requirements and locally consulted on requirements, the authority will not be required to validate it.

The consultation is linked with the development of the standard application form, and the proposals are intended to complement the streamlining and efficiency benefits that will result from there being a single national form.

The consultation period ends on 30 September 2006. Any proposed legislative changes would be brought in by April 2007, and local authorities would have to adopt these by July 2007, the date on which the standard application form would become mandatory.

The consultation paper has been published on the DCLG website at http://www.communities.gov.uk/index.asp?id=l017165 and a copy of the paper has been placed in the Library of the House.

Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities

Today we have published a revised edition of the Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities. The revised code is issued jointly by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and the Secretaries of State for Health and for Education and Skills, and will replace the current guidance (issued in July 2002) with effect from 4 September.

The code provides clear statutory guidance on how local authorities should carry out their homelessness functions and will assist authorities in providing appropriate and effective responses to homelessness and potential homelessness. It also complements other forms of advice, guidance and best practice which have been produced to help local authorities strengthen the services they provide to help people avoid homelessness, wherever possible.

The revised code strengthens the guidance on dealing with vulnerable groups, including people fleeing violence and families with children. It also includes stronger guidance on preventing homelessness, on providing a wide range of housing options, and limiting the use of bed and breakfast accommodation.

Copies of the revised Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities are being made available in the Libraries of both Houses. Copies will also be available free of charge from the Department for Communities and Local Government and the guidance can also be accessed through the Department’s website at: http://www.communities.gov.uk/index.asp?id=1501614

Constitutional Affairs

Human Rights Act

My right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor made the following written ministerial statement:

“I have today placed in the Printed Paper Office, the Vote Office and the Libraries of both Houses copies of the Review of the Implementation of the Human rights Act. The review was commissioned by the Prime Minister. It considers the impact of the Human Rights Act on UK law, the impact upon policy formulation by Government, the myths and misperceptions that have grown up around the Act and proposals for the way forward.

The Government remain fully committed both to the European Convention on Human Rights and to the way effect is given to it in the UK by the Human Rights Act. As shown in the review, the Human Rights Act has had a significant, but beneficial, effect upon the development of policy by central Government.

The Government will take forward a number of actions to address areas of concern highlighted by the review. The Government are conducting a thorough review of how police, probation, parole and prison services balance public protection and individual and collective rights and, if necessary, will legislate to ensure that public protection is given priority. Other initiatives include a major push for the provision of better and more consistent guidance and training on human rights within Departments; and a proactive, strategic and co-ordinated approach to human rights litigation, so that it has the maximum possible impact on future case law under the Human Rights Act. The Government will also lead a drive to ensure that the public s well as the wider public sector are better informed about the benefits which the Human Rights Act has given everyone in the UK.”

Draft Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill

My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Baroness Ashton) had made the following written ministerial statement:

I am pleased to announce today publication of the draft Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill. Copies of the draft Bill, explanatory notes and accompanying regulatory impact assessments are being placed in the Libraries of both Houses and on the DCA’s website.

The main effects of the Bill are to:

Create a new, simplified, statutory framework for tribunals to provide coherence and enable future reform;

Unify the tribunals judiciary under a senior president;

Amend the existing threshold criteria for eligibility for appointment to judicial office in order to enable a wider range of applicants to apply;

Unify the law relating to enforcement by seizure and sale of goods, including power of entry to premises;

Allow creditors with claims in the civil courts to be able to enforce their judgments more effectively; and;

Introduce a package of measures to help those who are willing and able to pay off their debts over time and a new personal insolvency procedure for those who have fallen into debt but have nom foreseeable way out of it.

The Government intend to introduce the Bill as soon as parliamentary time allows.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Independent Monitor for Entry Clearance Refusals Without the Right of Appeal

I have today placed in the Library of the House copies of the annual report by Fiona Lindsley, the independent monitor for entry clearance refusals without the right of appeal.

Decisions taken in the calendar year 2004 were under review. Ms Lindsley’s report raises a number of interesting proposals as to how we may improve our entry clearance operation world-wide and we are committed to doing this.

I wish to express my thanks to Ms Lindsley for her hard work in completing this, her third and final report as independent monitor for entry clearance matters. Ms Lindsley’s contract as independent monitor has now ended and she has been succeeded by Mrs. Linda Costelloe Baker, whose first report covering decisions made during 2005 will be published later this year.

Hong Kong

The latest report on the implementation of the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong was published today. Copies have been placed in the Library of the House. A copy of the report is also available on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website www.fco.gov.uk The report covers the period from 1 January to 30 June 2006. It includes a foreword by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. I commend the report to the House.

Cyprus: Export Licensing Policy

The Government have reviewed the application of our arms export licensing policy for Cyprus. We currently assess all export licence applications against the consolidated criteria as well as the policy restriction imposed in 1997 on exports to military forces on the island. We have determined that the consolidated criteria alone will be sufficient in assessing future export licence applications for Cyprus.

We will continue to scrutinise the export of military equipment to Cyprus with the same rigour, applying strict controls on a case-by-case basis with due regard to security on the island and stability in the region, and in accordance with the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions. We will no longer have regard to the EU common embargo list in assessing licence applications to Cyprus.

Leader of the House

Senior Salaries Review Body (SSRB)

In 1996 the independent Senior Salaries Review Body (SSRB) recommended that parliamentary pay, allowances and pensions should be reviewed every three years starting in 2000. In line with this recommendation, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, has written to John Baker, the Chairman of The Review Body, in the following terms:

Terms of the review

“I understand that the Senior Salaries Review Body is ready to undertake the triennial review of parliamentary pay and allowances;

You will be aware of recent statements by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury on public sector pay restraint and the underlying rate of inflation. I am sure that the review body will wish to take account of this important context in its deliberations.

I am writing to confirm that the Government would like to see the following areas covered in your report:

(a) The salaries of Members of the House of Commons taking into account the benefits of the parliamentary pension scheme;

(b) the salaries of Ministers and other office holders, including those with additional responsibilities in Parliament, and the operation of severance pay;

(c) aspects of the benefits and funding of the parliamentary contributory pension fund;

(d) an appropriate approach to the annual increase to parliamentary salaries between triennial reviews to replace the current automatic link to the senior civil service given the changing recruitment and retention strategy for senior staff;

(e) the rate of allowances for Members of the House of Commons, including eligibility for the additional costs allowance and the London supplement, and the operation of the resettlement grant in the light of forthcoming age discrimination legislation;

(f) the rate of peers’ expenses allowances; and

(g) the extension to unmarried partners of eligibility to spouses’ travel costs, and to cover travel to devolved assemblies for Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland MPs.

I should also be grateful for your recommendations on the adequacy of the current provision of IT equipment for Members both in the House of Commons and in their constituencies.

I look forward to receiving your recommendations next year.”

The review will also take into account the recent appointment of the Lords Speaker.

Consultation with Members of Parliament

As previously outlined to the House following the last triennial review, the SSRB will be pro-active in seeking contributions from each Member of Parliament. The SSRB will write to Members of Parliament in due course.

Contacting the SSRB

Not withstanding this, Members who have views should submit their comments to the SSRB by early December 2006 at the following address:

Alan Dawson

Senior Salaries Review Body

The Office of Manpower Economics

6th Floor

Kingsgate House

66-74 Victoria Street

London, SW1E 6SW

Alternatively, those Members of Parliament who have comments can email the secretariat to the SSRB. Please contact: alan.dawson@dti.gsi.gov.uk

Northern Ireland

Causeway Project

The Government have received a report from the Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland, Mr. Kit Chivers. The report, “The Causeway Project: A Short Inspection”, has today been published.

The Government warmly welcome this report, and thank the chief inspector and his team for the evident care and reflection which has gone into producing this work. The criminal justice organisations are actively considering the report and have already taken some actions in line with the recommendations.

Copies of the chief inspector’s report have been placed in the Library.

Community-based Restorative Justice

The House will recall that in December 2005, I published for consultation draft guidelines setting out a proposed framework regulating the community-based restorative justice schemes that are currently operating in Northern Ireland.

That period of consultation afforded the opportunity for all interested parties to make their views known to Government and generated responses from 56 organisations and individuals across the statutory and voluntary sectors as well as from members of the public. The consultation revealed general support for restorative justice as a concept but highlighted serious concerns about the way in which some key aspects of schemes might operate. It was clear from the strong criticisms that the draft guidelines did not get it right and so today I am publishing a robust new protocol to address those concerns.

The Government have always been clear that where community-based restorative justice schemes operate they must be part of the criminal justice system and must not act, or be perceived to act, as an alternative to the existing policing structures. Society would not tolerate officially approved schemes becoming a tool for local paramilitary control and neither will the Government.

The regulation of community-based restorative justice in Northern Ireland was a key recommendation of the Criminal Justice Review which itself was central to the Good Friday Agreement.

I have today published that revised framework which I have renamed a “Protocol for Community-based Restorative Justice Schemes” to affirm its status, not simply as guidelines, but as a document which requires full compliance by all participants and which effectively sets a ‘gold standard’ for schemes. I have placed a copy of the protocol in the Library of the House.

The protocol contains a number of important changes which will, I believe, substantively address the four keys issues of concern raised by respondents during the consultation. Those concerns centred on: the ability for schemes to use third parties to distance themselves from direct engagement with the police; arrangements for determining the suitability of persons working in schemes; the need for a robust independent complaints mechanism; and the need to set demanding standards for schemes underpinned by an effective inspection regime.

As a consequence of those concerns I have:

Removed the provision for schemes to report offences to the Police Service of Northern Ireland through a third party. The protocol now requires that schemes engage, and have a direct relationship, with police on all matters governed by the protocol. The centrality of the police to the way in which schemes operate is non-negotiable.

Agreed arrangements for a panel, comprising representatives of relevant statutory bodies, to determine the suitability of individuals to work in posts governed by the protocol. The panel will consider criminal records and other pertinent information provided by statutory agencies, including the police, in determining the suitability of any individual in accordance with published criteria contained in the protocol.

Agreed with the Probation Board for Northern Ireland that they will establish an independent complaints mechanism for victims and offenders who may have cause to raise concerns about how a scheme has handled their case.

Ensured that the new protocol sets exacting standards which schemes must meet to achieve accreditation, with continued compliance tested by a rigorous, regular and unannounced inspection regime undertaken by the Criminal Justice Inspectorate who shall publish their inspection reports.

The protocol would establish the relationship between schemes and the criminal justice system in dealing with low-level criminal offences and offenders and, by definition, govern cases which have both achieved the criminal threshold and been deemed suitable by the Public Prosecution Service for referral for a restorative disposal. While the protocol cannot therefore formally extend to schemes’ other activities, as part of the inspection regime records on non-criminal cases handled by schemes will be examined to help ensure that all cases attaining the criminal threshold have been referred to the police. Schemes which achieve accreditation will, as organisations, have demonstrated the attainment of the high standards required in the protocol which I expect to see reflected in all aspects of their activities.

Due to the significant nature of the changes I want to allow for a further period of consultation on the new protocol, which will run in parallel with an Equality Impact Assessment to explore the potential for any of its measures to adversely impact on equality of opportunity for any of the nine categories set out in section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. This will be launched shortly and will involve a 12-week public consultation period.

It has never been a direct corollary that schemes which sigh up to the protocol will receive NIO funding. However I expect that accredited schemes meeting the exacting standards set out in the protocol should be in the best position, where they meet the appropriate grant criteria, to apply for funding from whatever statutory or charitable sources are currently available to them. Conversely any scheme which does not sign up to them will not receive any funding whatsoever from Government for community-based restorative justice.

I hope that the revised protocol can provide an effective way forward but I am keen to hear the views of all the stakeholders and interested parties during the consultation period.

Prime Minister

Armed Forces Pay Review

I am pleased to announce that I have reappointed Professor David Greenaway as chairman of the Armed Forces’ Pay Review Body for a second three-year term, commencing March 2007. The reappointment has been conducted in accordance with the office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments’ guidance on appointments to public bodies.

Solicitor-General

Fraud Review

My right hon. Friend the Attorney-General has made the following written ministerial statement:

“The final report of the fraud review was published yesterday and I have placed copies in the Libraries of both Houses. The Government are issuing it for consultation and seeks responses by 27 October 2006.

The report outlines current arrangements for dealing with fraud, identifies gaps and shortcomings in the system, and makes recommendations for dealing with them. The recommendations are wide ranging and are aimed at improving fraud deterrence, prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution, and penalties. Benefits will include reduction of fraud losses to taxpayers, consumers and businesses and a reduction in the harm that fraud causes to individuals and communities.

The Government accept the analysis of the report and is sympathetic to the broad conclusions and recommendations; but we believe the report would benefit from a wider public consultation. Implementation of the recommendations will be considered in the light of consultation responses and after further evaluation of the funding and legislative implications.”

Trade and Industry

Facilities Research Council

My noble Friend the Minister for Science and Innovation (Lord Sainsbury of Turville) has made the following ministerial statement:

“The Government announced on 22 March 2006 a consultation on a proposal to create a Large Facilities Council. The consultation was announced in the document Science and Innovation Investment Framework 2004-2014: Next Steps, and the Government asked for responses on two principal questions as follows:

The Government would welcome views on whether all large facilities operations should be integrated under a new Large Facilities Council, or whether there is a case for some facilities to remain under the management of other Research Councils.

Furthermore, in the event of a merger, should the grant-giving functions of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) be moved to the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)?

Following this consultation, which closed on 16 June, the Government have decided to create a new Large Facilities Council by merging the current responsibilities of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC), and the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils (CCLRC). PPARC's grant-giving functions will not be transferred to the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). Responsibility for nuclear physics will be transferred from EPSRC to the new Council. The Government aim to set up the new Council so that it can take on its new functions by 1 April 2007”.

Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive

I have today published a consultation document on the Government’s proposals to implement the waste electrical and electronic equipment directive (the WEEE Directive).

The Government are firmly committed to sustainable development and recognises that effective implementation of the WEEE directive has a key role to play in achieving this goal. Electrical and electronic equipment is the fastest growing category of waste across the European Union, with an estimated 17 to 20 kg per person produced every year. The UK alone generated around 1 million tonnes of WEEE last year. By ensuring that WEEE is treated, recycled and disposed of to high environmental standards as required by the directive, we protect the environment and human health from the risk of hazardous contamination.

The proposals published today follow on from the implementation review announced last December, and have been developed through extensive consultation with companies and other interested parties who will be directly affected by the new regulations. They represent a balance of controls needed to identify and discourage free-riders and give companies the freedom to find the most cost-effective routes to meet their obligations.

The intention is, subject to the outcome of public consultation, that the directive should be transported into UK law early in 2007, leading to full implementation on 1 July 2007.

The consultation document will be placed on the DTI website so that it is available to the wider public. The consultation period will run for 12 weeks, with a closing date for comments of 17 October 2006. Copies of the consultation document have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Unfair Terms in Contracts

The Law Commission and the Scottish Law Commission published a report on unfair terms in contracts in February 2005 (Law Com No. 292; Scots Law Com no. 199). It set out detailed recommendations, together with a draft Bill designed to produce a unified regime replacing the Unfair Contracts Terms Act 1977 and the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 for the whole of the UK in a way that is much clearer and easier to follow, and also addressed some gaps in protection that the Commissions identified. I am grateful for the Law Commissions’ detailed and comprehensive report and for their extensive consultations on the issues involved, and appreciate their commitment to this project.

This project was undertaken jointly by the Law Commissions at the request of both the Department of Trade and Industry and the then Lord Chancellor’s Department—now the Department for Constitutional Affairs. The Government have carefully considered the Law Commissions’ report and are content in principle to accept the recommendations for reform. This acceptance is subject to further consideration of the detail of the issues, and to further work to identify potential cost impacts. The proposed legislation will be subject to full public consultation.