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Written Statements

Volume 454: debated on Tuesday 5 December 2006

Written MinisterialStatements

Tuesday 5 December 2006


Leitch Skills

Lord Leitch’s final report: “Prosperity for all in the Global Economy—World Class Skills”, is published today. Copies of the report are available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.

Communities and Local Government

Local Development Frameworks

The Government are today announcing provisional allocations of the first tranche of £28.8 million out of a total of £120 million of planning delivery grant (PDG) for 2007-08. We are also announcing additional support to local planning authorities in preparing local development frameworks.

Planning Delivery Grant allocations

Planning delivery grant is paid to local authorities and other bodies to support improvement in the delivery of planning services. Over the period 2003-08 the Government will have made available a total of £605 million through PDG. Kate Barker’s review, published today, as well as our own independent impact monitoring acknowledges the benefits which the grant has had in raising the profile of planning, in providing additional resources for both development management and plan making, and in incentivising improvement in performance against a background of rapidly expanding volume of applications.

The announcement today includes the first tranche of awards for performance in improving the speed of handling planning applications in the year ending June 2006. These awards amount in total to £14.5 million with a further allocation of £500,000 in respect of mineral and waste applications.

As with last year, grant allocations for development control performance have been reduced for those authorities whose performance in defending appeals is significantly below the national average. Authorities who are at least 40 per cent. worse than the national average of 33.26 per cent. have their development control allocation abated by 10 per cent., and for those whose performance is at least 50 per cent. worse, this abatement increases to 20 per cent. This is to ensure that the grant is not rewarding poor quality decisions.

Authorities participating in a housing market renewal pathfinder have been allocated £100,000 each from a total of £2.5 million to pump-prime planning efforts to tackle low demand. Additionally, authorities identified by the Chancellor as having enterprise areas within their boundaries are provisionally allocated a share of £2.2 million to recognise challenges of high deprivation and that is intended to work alongside existing forms of Government assistance, such as exemption from stamp duty, and neighbourhood renewal projects.

Regional planning bodies (RPBs) receive provisional allocations totalling £3 million to support their work preparing regional spatial strategies and in recognition of the additional work which the strengthened regional planning function involves. RPB performance against business plans has been satisfactory, and there are no proposals to abate these awards. The Greater London authority (GLA) receives £50,000 for its contribution to improving planning in London.

The remaining £6 million of the grant will be used to support a number of national initiatives and this is broken down as follows: the planning advisory service and the advisory team for large applications will be allocated £2 million each, for their work supporting local authority planning performance; £1 million will be allocated to the planning inspectorate for its work on local development plan preparation; and finally, there is £1 million to fund post-graduate planning bursaries to increase capacity in local planning authorities and address difficulties caused by the shortage of qualified planners.

The provisional allocations will be finalised and a final determination made in April 2007. A further allocation for the remainder of PDG will be made in June 2007 which will include the second tranche of development control, progress on plan-making and sustainable development, e-planning and housing in high demand areas. This represents a further£91 million of planning delivery grant.

A table showing the provisional amounts payable is available in the Libraries of both Houses. This sets out the details of each recipient’s provisional grant allocations for development control, enterprise areas and low housing demand together with abatements for poor appeals performance.

Local Development Frameworks

The new local development frameworks (LDFs) are bringing together community members, infrastructure providers and the development industry to draw up new plans for the provision of the homes, jobs and community facilities. It is therefore vital that local authorities have the key documents up to date and in place as soon as possible. The production of local development frameworks is proceeding, with considerable work underway in local authorities across the country, some of which have given little attention to this side of their responsibilities in the past. The new system is very different from the old and we are setting out additional support for LAs to complete this round of LDFs. The Government are also introducing immediate additional support to local planning authorities in this area.

First, we are preparing some illustrations of how different kinds of core strategies might look to give further guidance to LPAs and we will be publishing these before Christmas. A number of staff from the planning inspectorate will provide additional support and advice to local planning authorities through Government offices. My Department is today publishing some key reports from the spatial plans in practice project which identify emerging good practice. The planning advisory service continues to provide key support to local authorities on their LDF responsibilities through seminars and is producing a diagnostic tool for assessing LPAs’ capabilities, which is being trialled in 22 authorities.

Following the submission of annual monitoring reports at the end of this year and any review of what documents may need to be prepared to support implementation of the new PPS3, we will be expecting LPAs to make final adjustments to their local development schemes. Thereafter Government offices will be treating them as the definitive programme management documents which will only be departed from in exceptional circumstances.

We will be working with local planning authorities and the planning profession to see how the new system can be further streamlined for the next round of LDFs once core strategies are in place.

Copies of all supporting documents are being placed in the House Libraries.

Barker Review

Kate Barker has today published the final report of her independent review of land use planning. Copies of the report are available in the Vote Office.

Kate Barker was asked by the Chancellor and the Deputy Prime Minister in December 2005 to conduct an independent review of the land use planning system in England. The terms of reference were to consider how, building on recent reforms, the planning system could better deliver economic growth alongside other sustainable development goals. Her interim report was published in July 2006.

Kate Barker’s final report makes it clear that planning is a valued and necessary activity that can deliver positive economic outcomes, alongside important social and environmental objectives. She is clear that in taking forward further reforms the importance of consultation and democratic accountability must be respected. But within this framework, she concludes that the context for the planning system is becoming ever more challenging and therefore recommends further wide-ranging reform, building on recent changes and the plan-led approach, to ensure that the planning system supports sustainable economic growth in a global economy.

We have already introduced substantial reforms to the planning system to speed up the plan making process and most recently to planning for housing as a result of Kate Barker’s first report. We will also shortly publish a new draft planning policy statement on climate change to help reduce carbon emissions.

The Government welcome Kate Barker’s report, which we will take forward, and agrees with her overall analysis. We will set out in a White Paper in spring 2007 our proposals in response to her recommendations for improving the speed, responsiveness and efficiency of land use planning, and for taking forward Kate Barker’s and Rod Eddington’s proposals for reform of major infrastructure planning.

In the meantime, the Government will be interested to hear responses to the report.

Finally, I would like to put on record my thanks to Kate Barker and her team for their work on this review.

Constitutional Affairs

Legal Services Board

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

On 23 November the Government introduced the Legal Services Bill. Two of the key elements of the Bill are proposals for the establishment of a Legal Services Board (LSB) and the establishment of an Office for Legal Complaints (OLC). The LSB will be an over-arching regulator and the OLC will deal with all complaints about regulated legal service providers.

In June 2006 the Government announced that their preferred location for the OLC is the West Midlands. This announcement was made based on a strong business case. Since that announcement we have been looking at potential locations for the LSB.

Following a thorough analysis of a range of options there is not an obvious candidate for a preferred location for the LSB and, therefore, the Government have decided to leave the decision to the LSB, once appointed. In the absence of a strong business case to support a preferred location a decision at this stage would be premature.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Future of Europe (German Presidency)

According to the conclusions of the June 2006 European Council, the German presidency will present a report at the June 2007 European Council based on extensive consultations with member states about the future of Europe.

The purpose of this statement is to inform the House about the principles that will underpin the Government’s approach to these discussions.

Europeans need to be equipped to maximise the opportunities (and minimise the risks) that globalisation presents. By retaining our focus on the delivery of practical benefits to citizens, the EU can demonstrate the tangible contribution it makes to enhancing prosperity and security in a global age. Enlargement has delivered an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity within the EU’s borders. The prospect of EU membership is extending these benefits to our neighbours. In the forthcoming discussions, the Government’s overall aim will be to maintain the EU’s focus on the delivery of policy and, in discussion on the future of Europe, will be guided by the following principles:

Pursuing British interests: Our starting point is that we must safeguard our prosperity and security. Britain is a strong, confident and influential European power that can help to lead reform and modernisation, shape debates, build alliances and win the arguments. By engaging with our European partners and friends, we get the right results for Britain and for Europe as a whole. The EU’s focus on delivery of policy is an example of where we have helped to steer the EU towards a path that provides practical benefits for all Europe’s citizens.

Modernisation and effectiveness: The EU is crucial for delivering what we want in a whole range of areas such as: climate and energy security; promotion of trade liberalisation; and migration. We recognise that the EU must continue to adapt and modernise if it is to implement effectively the policies that we want and support. We will therefore favour proposals that modernise the workings of the EU so that it is better equipped to meet both today’s and future challenges.

Consensus: The European Union is now a much broader organisation and there is a wide range of views to be taken into account. Some 15 member states have substantially completed their domestic ratification procedures. Some 10 member states have not ratified, of which two, France and the Netherlands, have held referenda which resulted in ‘no’ votes. Decisions on next steps will have to be agreed by all the member states and take account of all relevant interests.

Subsidiarity (working at the right level): We will continue to ensure that action is taken at the right level. In areas where the EU can add value it should do so. But where there are issues that can most effectively be tackled at the national level the onus remains on member states to take action. We continue to be in favour of measures which enhance subsidiarity and the role of national Parliaments.

Use of existing Treaties: As agreed at the June 2006 European Council, we need to make best use of the possibilities offered by the existing treaties in order to deliver practical results that citizens expect. For example, the European arrest warrant, which was agreed on the basis of the current treaties, allows us to speed up and simplify arrangements for cross-border investigations and prosecutions thereby making a significant contribution to the fight against cross-border crime.

Openness: The EU must keep pace with global change. We want an EU which is outward looking, and open to new developments, to trade and investment, and to developing partnerships with third countries.

Northern Ireland

Sentencing Framework (Northern Ireland)

Protection of the public is the first duty of the Criminal Justice System. That is one of the key reasons why, last year, the Northern Ireland Office undertook a comprehensive public consultation on proposals for reviewing the sentencing framework for Northern Ireland. As part of that process I asked for views about the way in which the criminal justice system can best tackle the threat which offenders, particularly violent and sexual offenders, pose to our society.

It is the role of Government to ensure that the widest possible range of sentencing options are available to the courts to ensure that our responsibilities in terms of public protection, deterrence, punishment and rehabilitation can be fully realised.

Today I am able to announce that I intend to bring forward legislative proposals to introduce robust new indeterminate and extended public protection sentences that would in future put an end to automatic 50 per cent. remission for dangerous violent and sexual offenders. These sentences would mean that those committing the most serious offences could if necessary be detained indefinitely, while those committing other specified offences could be detained to the end of their prison sentence.

Release, when it is deemed appropriate, would be decided by a new independent professional body, akin to the Parole Board in England and Wales, which would have to be satisfied that these offenders no longer pose a risk of serious harm to the public. Those released would remain subject to supervision for an extended period and would be required to comply with specific licence conditions which would target, where appropriate, the factors which contributed to their offending in the first place. Offenders’ compliance with their licence conditions would be stringently monitored throughout the licence period, and breaches could result in their immediate recall to custody.

When implemented, the revised framework would in future see the end of automatic 50 per cent. remission and the introduction of supervised licence periods for all prisoners. For this purpose, I intend to build on the successful foundations of existing statutory provisions to create a new sentence providing for compulsory post-release supervision. This would provide that the court would set a clearly defined custodial part of the sentence, which the offender must serve in full, before being released on licence to serve the remainder of their sentence under supervision in the community. Offenders who breach their licence conditions can be subject to recall to custody to complete their sentence.

In support of these stringent supervision arrangements I also intend to take powers to introduce electronic monitoring. The ability to ‘tag’ prisoners would enable us more effectively to monitor their compliance with any curfew-based licence conditions while serving or completing their sentences under supervision in the community. I will additionally be making provision for electronic monitoring to be available as a condition of bail where the court feels this would be warranted.

As part of the overall approach to modernising the sentencing framework, I have also been examining measures which might provide a viable alternative to custody for low-risk offenders who do not constitute a danger to the public and for whom imprisonment may not necessarily be the most appropriate disposal. I would intend to introduce a range of measures to support the collection of fines and provide that offenders defaulting on payment of fines may be subject to non-custodial sentences, requiring them to undertake unpaid work in the community, rather than being imprisoned for very short periods which for some has little deterrent or rehabilitative effect.

In addition, I would also intend, subject to resources, to implement existing statutory provisions for drug testing and treatment orders. These orders would provide that individuals who do not pose a risk to the public and whose offending is triggered by dependency problems could, instead of being given a custodial sentence, be subject to these robust community sentences requiring them to undertake a treatment and rehabilitation programme. Their progress would be subject to review by the courts.

I propose to consult on a set of draft legislative proposals and will welcome further views on the detail of what is proposed at that time. Subject to those views and available parliamentary time, the provisions should be passed into law during 2007. The fact that significant resources will be needed to give effect to these measures means that the pace of implementation will be dependent on the spending review settlement to be agreed next summer.

I firmly believe that the package of measures which I have outlined will significantly enhance Northern Ireland’s sentencing framework. It will provide courts with the range of sentencing options necessary to enable the sentence to reflect to the full the seriousness of the offence. It will provide increased levels of supervision of offenders and provide a focus for rehabilitative efforts both in custody and in the community. And most importantly it will provide the community with enhanced levels of public protection from the most dangerous people in our society.