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Written Statements

Volume 485: debated on Wednesday 17 December 2008

Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 17 December 2008

Children, Schools and Families

Speech, Language and Communications Needs

The Secretary of State for Health and I are today publishing “Better Communication: An Action Plan to Improve Services for Children and Young People with Speech, Language and Communication Needs” (SLCN). Copies of the action plan will be placed in the Libraries.

Last year, we asked the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) to review services for children and young people with SLCN. His report, published on 8 July 2008, set out 40 recommendations to improve services across five key themes: communication is crucial, a key life skill at the heart of every social interaction and vital to children’s successful development; early identification and intervention is essential to maximise each child’s chance of overcoming their communication need and succeeding; a continuum of services designed around the family is needed for children with SLCN; joint working is critical to deliver services that provide effective support; and the current system is characterised by high variability and a lack of equity.

Today’s action plan provides the Government’s full response to the Bercow report. As we announced in July, we accept the report’s key recommendations and up to £12 million would be invested in providing national leadership to improve services for children with SLCN. The action plan sets out a range of initiatives across Government that will improve services for children and young people with SLCN culminating in the National Year of Speech, Language and Communication in 2011-12. This includes:

Up to 20 local area pathfinders will be used to develop good practice guidance and a supplemental joint commissioning framework on SLCN;

Up to £1.5 million will be invested in grants to the alternative and augmentative communication sector; and

Up to £1.5 million will be invested in a research programme looking at SLCN over the next three years.

To provide ongoing support to the delivery of these initiatives over the next three years, we will form a Communication Council and appoint a Communication Champion early in 2009. The Communication Council will provide Government with ongoing advice and support on how best to develop effective services for children with SLCN. The Communication Champion will be appointed to raise awareness of speech, language and communication issues and work with delivery partners to co-ordinate initiatives and organise the National Year of Speech, Language and Communication.

The Government will also commission a review of progress to improve services for children and young people with SLCN in summer 2010.

Communities and Local Government

Zero Carbon Homes and Non-domestic Buildings

Today I am publishing a consultation on the definition of zero carbon homes and zero carbon non-domestic buildings, and a supporting impact assessment on zero carbon homes. These documents will be placed in the Library of the House.

In July 2007, following a full consultation, Communities and Local Government published “Building a Greener Future”—policy statement. This stated that all new homes would be zero carbon from 2016. In 2010, and 2013, building regulations would be strengthened to reduce carbon emissions by 25 per cent and 44 per cent as stepping stones towards that goal. Budget 2008 announced our ambition that new public sector non-domestic buildings would be zero carbon from 2018, and other new non-domestic buildings would be zero carbon from 2019.

The consultation being published today seeks views on:

a definition of zero carbon homes which would significantly reduce carbon emissions while allowing for a combination of on-site, near-site and off-site solutions; and

the feasibility and timetable for achieving a similar standard for new non-domestic buildings.

Zero Carbon Homes

In “Building a Greener Future”, we described a zero carbon home as having zero net emissions of carbon dioxide from all energy used to run the home, including an allowance for appliances, over the course of a year. We anticipated that this would be achieved through low and zero carbon energy sources installed on-site or directly connected to the development, although recognised that offsetting may be required in some developments. Industry called for early certainty as to the definition to enable them to plan. Meanwhile, technical work carried out for the 2016 Task Force, which oversees implementation of the policy, indicated that near-site and off-site solutions would be necessary to reach the zero carbon standard in a larger number of homes.

The detailed definition proposed in this consultation document maintains the ambition in building a greener future, and makes proposals for when and how near-site and off-site solutions may be used in achieving zero carbon homes. The proposals recognise the potential for carbon emissions from energy use in homes to be tackled through community scale heat and renewable energy generation, or exports of heat from a home to its surroundings. The aim of the proposals is to frame an ambitious but achievable objective that will greatly enhance standards of homes while promoting innovation and providing certainty to industry.

Under the proposals set out, a zero carbon home will need to:

incorporate high levels of energy efficiency;

achieve at least a minimum level of reductions in carbon emissions—compared to current building regulations—through a combination of energy efficiency, on-site low and zero carbon energy supply and directly connected heat; and

tackle remaining emissions from a menu of good quality “allowable solutions” such as community scale heat or energy generation.

Significant issues for debate through this consultation include:

the overall level of ambition on energy efficiency, i.e. how far regulations should push standards for the fabric of the home;

the minimum level of carbon reduction to be achieved onsite—including through connections to heat networks—; and

the range of allowable solutions proposed and the maximum cost that it would be reasonable to expect to be spent, per tonne of carbon dioxide, on the allowable solutions in order to achieve the zero carbon homes standard.

This maximum cost will inform a further review of the allowable solutions, which we propose to undertake in 2012, once we have a clearer picture on the extent and cost of allowable solutions that will be available by 2016.

Non-domestic buildings

Evidence on energy usage in non-domestic buildings is less developed than that for homes, but it is clear that it varies greatly from building to building according to their use. Office buildings, factories, shops, hospitals are all constructed differently and use energy in different ways, because of the very different purposes that they serve. The Government maintains its ambition that all new non-domestic buildings will be zero carbon from 2019 but recognises the need to improve the evidence base before determining the right way forward in order to realise this ambition. We are therefore taking this opportunity to set out our current thinking, inviting views and submissions of evidence to supplement our analysis. A more detailed consultation will be held during 2009.

Next steps

The consultation will close on 18 March 2009 and will be followed, in summer 2009, by a policy statement on zero carbon homes and a further, in-depth consultation on zero carbon non-domestic buildings. In early 2009, we will also be consulting, on the amendments to be made to the building regulations in 2010 in order to achieve an interim reduction of 25 per cent of emissions, as the first step along the way to the zero carbon homes standard.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

British Waterways Board (Salaries)

In accordance with the provisions of paragraph 8(2) of the first schedule to the Transport Act 1962, the following information is furnished by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

In exercise of the powers conferred by paragraph 8(1) of that schedule, and now vested in him, the Secretary of State has determined, with the approval of the Treasury, that, with effect from 1 July 2008, the salaries of the members of the British Waterways Board shall be as follows:

Fees (£)

Allowances (£)

Annual Remuneration (£)

Tony Hales (Chair)

50,600

50,600

Richard Bowker (Vice Chair)

17,184

2,500

19,684

Margaret Carver

13,030

2,500

15,530

Eric Prescott

13,030

2,000

15,030

John Bridgeman

13,030

4,500

17,530

John Bywater

13,030

2,000

15,030

Prodoman Sarwal

13,030

2,000

15,030

Nigel Hugill

13,030

2,000

15,030

Duncan Sutherland*

13,030

3,000

16,030

Jonathan Hargreaves*

13,030

3,500

16,530

* Scottish Ministers’ Appointee

Single Payment Scheme

Following successful trial runs earlier this month, the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has now begun to make full payments under the 2008 Single Payment Scheme (SPS). As at 16 December, just over £700 million had been paid to around 21,000 claimants and the RPA is planning to make further payment runs before Christmas.

This represents a good start towards the RPA meeting its targets of making 75 per cent. of SPS 2008 payments, by value, by the end of January 2009 and 90 per cent. by the end of March 2009.

Justice

Family Legal Aid Reform

My noble friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Lord Bach) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

“Today the Legal Services Commission (LSC) and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) publish a consultation paper, Family Legal Aid Funding From 2010, which sets out proposals for legal aid payments for family work to apply from 2010.

Currently there are different advocacy payment schemes depending on the profession of the advocate and on whether they are a self-employed advocate, such as a barrister, or an in-house advocate, such as a solicitor or employed barrister. Self-employed barristers can be paid significantly more than in-house barristers or solicitors for the same work. The consultation paper proposes a new scheme that pays the same fee for the same work regardless of whether the advocate is a barrister or a solicitor by profession.

The proposed scheme recognises that some cases are more complex than others, and additional payments are available, for both barrister and solicitor advocates, for additional interim hearings, and for lengthy final hearings. Different fees are also available for advocates’ meetings in child care or supervision proceedings in order to support the new judicial case management protocol: the Public Law Outline.

Particularly complex cases, such as child abduction or wardship proceedings, are outside the proposed scheme and will continue to be paid under existing arrangements. Very High Cost Cases will also be remunerated separately as is presently the case.

The consultation also includes proposals to remove from funding certain expert disbursements, in order that civil legal aid funds are better focused on clients. The consultation closes on 18 March 2009, and any changes would be implemented in 2010.

Expenditure on legal aid barrister family advocacy has risen from £74m to nearly £100m in the last five years. To address this, and to protect client services, the MoJ and the LSC consulted on changes to the Family Graduated Fee Scheme, which governs payments to barristers for family legal aid work, between the 18 June and 10 September 2008. Our consultation was announced in a statement made by my noble Friend, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, on 18th June, Official Report, column WS 81. I will inform Parliament of my decision on this matter before the February recess.

The consultation document Family Legal Aid Funding From 2010 is available on the LSC website at www.legalservices.gov.uk and copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.”

Cremation Regulations

I wish to make the following statement to the House about new Cremation Regulations for England and Wales. New cremation regulations were laid in Parliament on 3 November 2008 and replace the 1930 Cremation Regulations, which are now seen as confusing and outdated. They therefore required modernisation and consolidation.

These new regulations come into effect on 1 January 2009, with a transitional period of one month, during which time both old and new statutory forms may be used. The right of families to inspect the medical forms completed by doctors, contained for the first time in the new regulations, is a significant reform and follows recommendations from Dame Janet Smith’s inquiry into the Harold Shipman murders. The new regulations are an interim measure which will be replaced by a new system of death certification, on which the Department of Health is leading. The Coroners and Justice Bill mentioned in the Queen’s Speech on 3 December will create the role of medical examiner. The Medical Examiner will examine all deaths not requiring coronial post mortem or inquest, including those where the method of disposal is burial. The Cremation Regulations will no longer be required in their present form once the medical examiner system has come into effect throughout England and Wales.

These new regulations allow the applicant for cremation to inspect the medical forms of a deceased family member before a cremation takes place. The applicant will be able to draw the medical referee’s attention to any concerns about unexpected symptoms or discrepancies in the case.

The countersignature on the application form has been abolished, and instead a warning about making a false statement has been placed on all of the forms. Making such a false statement is a criminal offence under section 8(2) of the Cremation Act 1902 and is punishable by up to 2 years’ imprisonment.

The Secretary of State appoints medical referees on the nomination of the cremation authority and will also now have a power to revoke the appointment of a referee on the grounds of incapacity or misbehaviour. Guidance may also be provided for cremation authorities when considering who they would ask the Secretary of State to appoint as a medical referee.

There are also new statutory forms to permit the cremation of stillborn babies, as well as modernised versions of the forms made under the 1930 Regulations.

Northern Ireland

Justice and Security (Northern Ireland ) Act 2007 (Independent Reviewer's Report)

Robert Whalley CB has submitted his first report as independent reviewer of the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007 (the “2007 Act”). I have today arranged for copies to be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The report of the independent reviewer covers the operation of section 21 to 32 of the 2007 act and also the procedures adopted by the General Officer Commanding Northern Ireland for receiving, investigating and responding to complaints. The report covers the period 1 August 2007 to 31 May 2008.

The report provides a positive assessment of the use of the powers under the 2007 Act and makes clear the need for their continued requirement. The report provides a valuable reassurance to both the public and Government on the use of these powers ensuring that they are exercised appropriately and proportionately.

The report paints a positive assessment of the procedures adopted by the GOC for dealing with military complaints. I welcome Mr. Whalley’s undertaking to explore this issue in more detail in his next report.

I welcome the recommendations made by Robert Whalley and I will consider them carefully.

Transport

Private Hire Vehicles (Bus Provisions)

Section 53 of the Local Transport Act 2008 allows the owners of private hire vehicles (PHVs or minicabs) to provide local bus services in the way that taxis (hackney carriages) are already able to do. This will bring benefits in extending the range of transport services available, particularly to those in rural areas

I have today published a consultation paper seeking views on the draft regulations which are necessary to enable PHV owners to use their vehicles in this way.

The draft regulations will apply in England (outside London), Wales and Scotland. Transport for London are responsible for making any regulations governing PHV-buses in London.

Copies of the consultation—including the draft regulations and a consultation-stage impact assessment—have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The documents are also available on the Department for Transport’s website.

Those wishing to comment on the proposals have until 13 March 2009 to do so.

Work and Pensions

Child Dependency Increases

I would like to announce measures to ensure that people who have dependent children will continue to receive the benefit they are entitled to through child dependency increases, payable with incapacity benefit, state pension, widows benefit, bereavement benefit, and carer’s allowance.

The Child Benefit Act 2005 introduced a new definition of “qualifying young person” used to decide whether or not child benefit is payable for people aged 16 to 19. However, the Act did not make corresponding amendments to provisions for child dependency increases made under the Tax Credits Act 2002.

As a result, payments of child dependency increases, where the child is aged 16 years or over are not covered by primary legislation from 10 April 2006. This omission in primary legislation was an oversight and did not reflect Parliament’s intentions. Consequently these payments are considered irregular.

We estimate that 28,800 increases are affected in 2006-07 and 24,500 in 2007-08, with the level of overpayment amounting to approximately £15.1 million in 2006-07 and £12.6 million in 2007-08.

To enable payments of child dependency increases to continue as normal, we will reverse the unintentional effects of the Child Benefit Act 2005, by including a measure in the forthcoming Welfare Reform Bill. We expect this to be introduced in early 2009.

In the meantime I am issuing this statement to provide transparency and an assurance that no-one will lose any benefit entitlement or be asked to make any repayment as a result of this oversight in legislation.

This statement has been approved by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.