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Written Statements

Volume 454: debated on Wednesday 13 December 2006

Written MinisterialStatements

Wednesday 13 December 2006

Communities and Local Government

Climate Change (Zero-Carbon Development)

I am today announcing the publication of environmental measures in new housing as part of a wider package aimed at tackling climate change by moving towards zero-carbon development. These are:

(i) a consultation document, “Building a Greener Future”,

(ii) a draft Planning Policy Statement, “Planning and Climate Change”,

(iii) final details of the Code for Sustainable Homes; and

(iv) a consultation document, “Water Efficiency in New Buildings”.

All these documents will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

As the Stern Review made clear, climate change is a serious and urgent issue, and carbon emissions are the main cause. More than a quarter of the energy used in this country is used by domestic households. So, to meet our goal of reducing carbon emissions by 60 per cent. by 2050, we will need to ensure new as well as existing homes are environmentally sustainable.

There is also an urgent need to build more homes. Since the early 1980s we have not been building sufficient housing, market or affordable, to meet demand. On 29 November, we published “Planning Policy Statement 3—Housing”, which aims to increase housing supply to help ensure that the growing number of households have access to decent homes at prices they can afford.

But we need to make sure that the new homes are truly sustainable for the future; by 2050 these new homes will make up around a third of the stock. That is why we are publishing:

a proposed timetable to progressively improve the energy/carbon standards in Building Regulations, with a target to achieve zero carbon for all new homes by 2016;

a new Planning Policy Statement on climate change for consultation, so that shaping places with lower carbon emissions is at the heart of what Government expects from good planning; and

a new Code for Sustainable Homes, which will provide a set of environmental standards for developers and consumers to meet on a voluntary basis.

These measures will also promote an emerging market in environmental technologies, pushing innovation and driving costs down. A diverse energy market will mean consumers gain through lower fuel bills and warmer homes.

Building a Greener Future

The consultation document “Building a Greener Future” sets out the overall strategy for moving towards zero carbon development. It sets out the three elements: a consultation on a timetable for progressively improving building regulations to achieve zero carbon homes by 2016; a draft planning policy on climate change (see below) and a Code for Sustainable Homes (see below).

The proposed timetable would see the energy/carbon requirements of building regulations revised to be equivalent to the following levels of the Code for Sustainable Homes:

Level 3 (25 per cent. improvement on 2006 regulations) in 2010

Level 4 (44 per cent. improvement on 2006 regulations) in 2013

Level 6 (zero carbon) in 2016

In his pre-Budget Report 2006, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a time-limited stamp duty exemption for the vast majority of new zero-carbon homes. This exemption will provide an incentive for buyers of new homes to demand, and housebuilders and developers to offer, zero carbon homes in advance of Level 6 of the Code becoming a mandatory standard.

Planning Policy Statement: Planning and Climate Change

The planning system has an important role to play in setting out a framework for the location, siting and design of new development, and in helping to secure enduring progress against the UK's emissions targets. This draft PPS on climate change sets out how planning, in providing for the new homes, jobs and infrastructure needed by communities, should contribute both to the reduction of emissions and delivery of zero-carbon development, and to the shaping of sustainable communities that are resilient to climate change. We are putting tackling climate change at the centre of what we expect from good planning. This is why the new PPS will sit alongside and supplement PPS1, where we set out our core objectives for the planning system

The draft PPS sets out where and how planning can contribute most effectively. We expect to see:

planning strategies put in place that help secure progress against the UK's emissions targets - both by direct influence on energy use and emissions and through bringing together and encouraging action by others.

these planning strategies being tested on their carbon ambition. They should deliver patterns of urban growth that help secure the fullest possible use of sustainable transport and, overall, reduce the need to travel. New development should be located to optimise its carbon performance. It should make the most of existing and planned opportunities for decentralised, renewable and low-carbon energy supplies.

real ambition in regional and local planning policies for renewable and low-carbon energy supplies. We are challenging regional planning bodies to set targets for renewable energy capacity in line with national targets, or better where possible. Applicants for renewable energy will no longer have to demonstrate the need for their project, either in general or in particular locations.

a planning process that supports business innovation and engages constructively and imaginatively with developers to secure the delivery of sustainable buildings. The draft PPS sets out the vision of a planning system that underpins delivery on the ground and helps secure the sustainable development needed in all communities.

Code for Sustainable Homes

We are also publishing the final version of the Code for Sustainable Homes, which sets environmental sustainability standards which can be applied to all homes. A consultation on the Code was published in December 2005 with the Government's response to the Barker Review of Housing Supply. The Code applies only in England, although it will have implications for Wales.

The revised Code has six levels. Minimum standards at Code Level 1 are higher than the minimum mandatory standards in Building Regulations. There are set minimum energy/carbon efficiency and water efficiency standards at each level. The Code also rewards other environmental considerations, such as sustainable construction materials, recycling availability, cycle spaces and home offices, with credits towards their Code rating.

We are proposing that assessment against the Code starts for new homes in April 2007. This will put in place accreditation and assessment arrangements to ensure that new homes can voluntarily receive a Code assessment from that date. We are minded to propose mandatory rating against the Code of all new homes by April 2008, which we believe will encourage take-up of higher environmental standards, and boost demand for environmentally-friendly technologies and construction methods. A further consultation on this will follow in the new year.

Water efficiency in new buildings

The consultation sets out proposals for setting minimum standards for water efficiency in new homes and new offices and shops. It seeks views on the approaches suggested and on the performance standards that should be set for homes and the workplace.

These new regulations would provide minimum mandatory standards for water in the building regulations to underpin the minimum standards for water efficiency at level 1 of the Code for Sustainable Homes and will establish best practice in the water efficiency of offices and shops as the norm. The minimum standards would also contribute to the wider package of measures being developed by the DEFRA-led Water Savings Group to reduce consumer demand for water.

Constitutional Affairs

1911 Census Records

My right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has made the following written ministerial statement:

“On 13 December, the Information Commissioner published his decision on the first of the complaints he has received in relation to the release of 1911 census records under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The Information Commissioner upheld the complaint on the grounds that disclosure of the record requested would not constitute an actionable breach of confidence.

In response to this decision, the National Archives is developing plans for the release online of 1911 census information, with the exception of that considered to be sensitive personal information within the meaning attributed to it in section 2 of the Data Protection Act 1998. The 1911 census as a whole will remain closed until 2012, which means that the full census will not be available to order and research until this date. The National Archives views this as an appropriate response to the Commissioner's decision. The Government are concerned to maintain their longstanding commitment to keeping census records closed for 100 years following their creation. This closure period strikes an appropriate balance between the right of census respondents to have information they provide kept confidential, and the access interests of family historians. Therefore, information collected during 1921 and later censuses will be treated in line with this commitment.

The first digitised records from the 1911 census, excluding the sensitive personal information described above, could be made available online during early 2009. Individual requests for census records received while the digitisation process is taking place, but which are not available digitally at the time of the request, will be considered on a case-by-case basis in accordance with the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act and the Information Commissioner's decision referred to above.”

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

National Contingency Plan (Exotic Animal Diseases)

I have today laid before Parliament the “National Contingency Plan for Exotic Animal Diseases” in accordance with section 14a of the Animal Health Act 2002 which came into force on 24 March 2003.

This plan sets out the operational arrangements DEFRA will put in place to deal with any occurrence of foot and mouth disease, avian influenza or Newcastle disease. It is composed of two elements: DEFRA’s framework response plan for exotic animal diseases, outlining systems, structures, roles and responsibilities during an outbreak of disease, and DEFRA’s overview of emergency preparedness which provides details of our preparedness and operational response.

It replaces DEFRA’s exotic animal disease generic contingency plan which was laid before Parliament on 15 December 2005.

DEFRA’s contingency plan is very much a ‘living document’. It will be subject to ongoing revision taking on the latest developments in science, research, and epidemiological modelling.

To meet the provisions of the Animal Health Act, the plan will also be subject to formal annual review.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group Meeting

My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Lord Triesman of Tottenham) attended an Extraordinary Meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) on 8 December in response to the recent coup in Fiji.*

Lord Triesman along with all members of the CMAG condemned the unconstitutional overthrow of the Fiji Government and agreed with other members of CMAG that such action constitutes a serious violation of the Commonwealth’s fundamental principles as set out in the Harare Commonwealth Declaration. It was therefore decided by the Group, in accordance with the steps set out in the Millbrook Commonwealth Action Programme on the Harare Declaration, that Fiji’s military regime should be suspended from the Councils of the Commonwealth with immediate effect awaiting re-establishment of democracy and the rule of law within the country. The implications of suspension mean that Fiji will be unable to participate in Ministerial meetings of the Commonwealth such as CHOGM, and will not receive new technical assistance under the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation. Nor can they receive contacts with the Commonwealth Secretariat, other than those of a mediatory nature in pursuit of the return of democracy.

The Group has urged both bilateral and multilateral actions from Commonwealth member countries to encourage a speedy return to democratic governance within Fiji. CMAG recognised that these actions should be directed to the fullest extent possible at the military regime and were not primarily intended to impact on the population. The CMAG recognised the importance of ensuring that the Fiji people should have the right to select a government of their choice through democratic means. CMAG agreed to send a mission to Fiji to mediate with all parties and to encourage a swift return to democracy. Such a mission may be carried out in conjunction with the UN and/or the Pacific Islands Forum and is likely to take place in the new year.

CMAG hopes that the restrictions imposed on Fiji, including the suspension of the military regime from the Council of Europe, will urge a swift return to a democratic and lawful society. The Commonwealth stands ready to help with this process.

*CMAG members: Malta, Papua New Guinea, Tanzania, United Kingdom, Canada, Lesotho, Malaysia, St Lucia and Sri Lanka

Home Department

Independent Police Complaints Commission (Annual Report 2005-06)

I can today announce that the annual report of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is being laid before Parliament on 13 December 2006 and published on that day.

This is the second annual report from the IPCC. The report deals with the work completed in 2005-06 and, in particular, how the IPCC has dealt with the challenges which its second year of existence has brought and how it has engaged with diverse communities and stakeholders. It acknowledges that this has been a difficult year for the IPCC in which it has had to deal with many challenges and setbacks. The report also gives an insight into some of the high profile investigations in which the IPCC has been involved.

The report also looks forward to how the IPCC can help in showing how the new police complaints system can make a difference to policing. The three key areas which they suggest are: reducing the time it takes for bringing investigations of complaints to a conclusion; improving operational learning resulting from its work; and improvements to the discipline system.

Pilot Review Report (Project IRIS)

Today I am publishing the pilot review report for “Project IRIS (Iris Recognition Immigration System)”.

IRIS is the first major deliverable of the e-borders programme. Passengers enrolled on the scheme enter the United Kingdom through an automated immigration control barrier which incorporates an iris recognition camera.

Since January there have been in excess of 45,000 people enrolling on the scheme and over 135,000 barrier crossings have taken place. The e-borders programme is strengthening our borders and creating an integrated secure border for the 21st century.

Copies of the document entitled “Project IRIS (Iris Recognition Immigration System) Pilot Review Report” will be available in the House of Commons Library.

International Development

Palestinian Refugees (Government Contribution)

The Government will make a contribution of £76.6 million to help meet the basic needs of Palestinian refugees across the middle east over the next four years.

Palestinian refugees are among the very poorest people in the middle east. Their poverty levels are increasing, particularly where affected by conflict and insecurity, such as in the Gaza strip where refugees make up 70 per cent. of the population.

The 4.3 million registered Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza, Jordan and Syria need healthcare, education, housing, water and sanitation. The body charged with providing these basic services is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which needs predictable funding to ensure it can plan and prioritise its work

This £76.6 million package of support announced yesterday will help ensure that UNRWA can continue to deliver services to meet the basic needs of Palestinian refugees. The funding will be used to ensure pupils have more time at school, graduates are trained to find jobs quicker and small businesses have access to microfinance. By providing predictable funding over four years, DFID will enable UNRWA to plan its work better and ensure that effective help reaches those who need it the most. The funding is linked to a performance framework, developed with UNRWA and the European Community. This will enable the release of additional DFID funding as UNRWA improves its efficiency in management and service delivery. Other donors are considering a similar approach and we will continue to work with them and with UNRWA to improve the situation for Palestinian refugees in the middle east.

Leader of the House

Joint Committee on Conventions Report (Government Response)

I have today published the Government response to the report of the Joint Committee on Conventions: “Government Response to the Joint Committee on Conventions Report of Session 2005-06: Conventions of the UK Parliament” (Cm 6997).

On behalf of the Government, I should like to register my gratitude to my right hon. and noble Friend, Lord Cunningham of Felling, and his colleagues on the Joint Committee for all their work.

The Government accept the Joint Committee's analysis of the effect of all the conventions, and the Committee's recommendations and conclusions. The Government believe that further reform should not alter the current role of the House of Lords as a revising and scrutinising Chamber, or its relationship with the Commons. The relationship and conventions identified by the Joint Committee therefore should apply to any differently composed chamber.

Northern Ireland

Irish Language Legislation

On 13 October at St Andrews, the Government made a commitment to introduce an Irish Language Act, reflecting on the experience of Wales and the Republic of Ireland. 1 am publishing today a consultation document setting out possible approaches for such legislation. The Government welcome views from all interested parties. The closing date for responses is 2 March 2006.

Copies of the document will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses today.


Rail Franchise

I am today announcing the reinstatement of a franchise agreement with Virgin Rail Group to operate Intercity services on the west coast main line. The train-operating company running services on the route will continue to be Virgin West Coast.

The original franchise agreement with Virgin Rail Group provided for the operation of services between Scotland, the North-West, the Midlands and London Euston between 1997 and 2012.

The agreement was predicated on the assumption that Railtrack would deliver their contractual commitments outlined in the west coast main line route modernisation programme by 2005. In response to Railtrack’s failure to deliver the agreed terms of the modernisation programme a ‘letter agreement’ was put into place with Virgin West Coast in 2002.

The letter agreement provided for the unique circumstances that prevented the franchise agreement from being implemented. It allowed the Government to secure continued passenger services whilst the modernisation project could be rescued.

The reinstatement of the franchise agreement is the last stage in the overall programme of modernisation of the west coast main line. It puts our agreement with Virgin West Coast back on a secure contractual footing and has allowed my Department to secure additional public value. It incentivises the operator to reduce costs and has provided a good deal for the taxpayer and the fare-payer.

The franchise agreement contractualises services improvements outlined in the west coast main line progress report published in May 2006. At the introduction of a new timetable in December 2008 there will be a significant increase in rail services between major cities and faster journeys. Services between London and Manchester and London and Birmingham will operate at 20 minute intervals all day.

London-Scotland journey times will be farther reduced by 30 minutes, so that by 2008 the journey between London and Glasgow will take four and a half hours. There will be hourly services all day between London and Liverpool, London and Preston and London and Chester.

The agreement also transfers services between Birmingham and Scotland, currently operated by Virgin Cross Country, to Virgin West Coast from 11 November 2007. From December 2008 additional and faster services will be put in place. The journey time will be further reduced by up to 30 minutes, giving an overall journey time of four hours.

Further capacity enhancements are being examined across the rail network. My Department is actively examining the needs of the passenger, the economy and the environment and will publish a high-level output specification and longer-term framework for the railways next summer.