Written Ministerial Statements
Friday 27 March 2009
Court and Tribunal Costs
The policy of the Inland Revenue and HM Customs and Excise on coming to arrangements about costs (in the context of High Court cases) was set out on 12 March 1980 by Mr Peter Rees, then Minister of State at the Treasury.
This statement updates that policy in relation to cases which will be considered in the Tax Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal, or the Finance and Tax Chamber of the Upper Tribunal, after 1 April 2009 following the changes made under the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007.
The general rule in the appeal courts is that the losing party risks having to pay the other side’s costs, and I do not think it would be right to treat tax cases differently as a matter of course.
However, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) exercise their discretion and are willing in appropriate circumstances, and in particular where it is they who are appealing against an adverse decision, to consider waiving any claim to costs in cases before the Upper Tribunal or the appeal courts, or to consider making other arrangements—this may also extend to cases before the First-tier Tribunal.
In the minority of cases categorised as complex, where costs can be awarded in the Tax Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal other than for unreasonable behaviour, the appellant can ensure that there is no risk of them bearing HMRC’s costs by opting for the costs rules not to apply.
In considering the exercise of HMRC’s discretion, influential factors include the risk of financial hardship to the other party, the involvement of a point of law the clarification of which would be of significant benefit to taxpayers as a whole and the efficient collection and management of revenue for which HMRC have responsibility.
If HMRC are to come to an arrangement of this nature, they would expect to do so in advance of the hearing and following an approach by the taxpayer involved.
Communities and Local Government
Community Infrastructure Fund
My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Paul Clark), the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, and I are today announcing £170 million of capital support from the Community Infrastructure Fund for 29 transport projects in the growth areas and growth points that will help to unlock housing, and a further 26 projects that are being invited to submit full business cases for further consideration.
The housing market is experiencing significant challenges as a result of turbulence in the global financial markets. The growth areas and growth points are playing a critical role in helping us to meet these challenges, with plans to build 35 per cent. above previously planned levels. But if the infrastructure support for these new homes is not in place, their construction will be delayed when we need them most, hampering the economy’s recovery. This means we need to be investing today in tomorrow’s infrastructure. The long-term challenge to meet the housing needs of an ageing, growing population, while helping families and first time buyers priced out of the property market, remains. The Government are committed to promoting the long-term stability of the housing market and meeting the long term challenge of increasing housing supply.
The Community Infrastructure Fund is one of Government’s key mechanisms for supporting housing growth. As a joint Communities and Local Government and Department for Transport fund, it is designed to specifically support small and medium scale transport schemes that unlock housing growth. One hundred million pounds has already been allocated to 13 schemes in the Thames Gateway. A further £200 million has been ring-fenced to support the growth areas and growth points over the CSR07 period.
Today’s announcement allocates £170 million of this for 29 transport schemes in the growth areas and growth points that will support the delivery in housing growth over the next two years. The list projects include:
New public transport facilities, such as the new South East Hampshire Bus rapid transit scheme;
New road and junction improvements, such as the improvements to the Southgate area of Kings Lynn which will support the development of 900 new homes;
Innovative transport solutions that will ensure smoother traffic flows and reduced congestion such as the A14 ramp metering scheme in Kettering and the urban traffic management scheme in Aylesbury; and
Schemes to improve sustainability, such as the Wichestowe Pedestrian and Cycle Bridge which will provide a sustainable means for the new development at Wichelstowe to access the town centre in Swindon
Another 26 schemes from the second round growth points have been shortlisted to submit full business cases for consideration for a further £30 million from the community infrastructure fund together with any remaining funding from the first round. This includes projects to provide a new rail station at Chorley, new cycling facilities at Ellesmere Port and road improvements to service high frequency bus services in Newcastle.
The Community Infrastructure Fund is being managed on behalf of Government by the Homes and Communities Agency. This funding is in addition to the £833 million already provided to the growth areas and growth points from the growth fund over the CSR07 period.
Further details of the schemes that have been allocated funding have been placed in the Library of the House.
Draft East of England Regional Spatial Strategy (Accommodation Provision for Gypsies and Travellers)
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities is today publishing the Proposed Changes to the draft East of England Regional Spatial Strategy policy on accommodation for Gypsies and Travellers. In addition, the Secretary of State is publishing her decisions on the recommendations of the panel which conducted the examination in public of the draft policy. A sustainability report—encompassing Sustainability Appraisal, Strategic Environmental Assessment and Habitats Regulations Screening Assessment of the Proposed Changes—is also being published.
The proposed changes, and the Secretary of State’s Decisions and Sustainability Report are now subject to an eight week period of public consultation. Consultation responses should be submitted no later than 5 pm on Friday 22 May.
The Secretary of State will carefully consider all responses to the consultation before the Gypsy and Traveller accommodation policy is finalised later this year.
The draft policy was developed by the East of England regional assembly through a rigorous consultation process involving two years of research and consultation with local authorities, businesses, voluntary organisations, the public and Gypsy and Traveller communities, which was submitted to the Secretary of State on 25 February 2008 for 12 weeks public consultation. There was a public examination under an independent panel in October 2008. The Secretary of State’s proposed changes respond to the findings of the panel.
Key elements of the Secretary of State’s proposed changes include:
Increasing the numbers of additional pitches to be provided in the East of England by 2011 from 1,187 to 1,237 (4.2 per cent.) and treating them as minima;
Including provision for transit sites, 160 pitches by 2011;
Including provision for travelling showpeople, 184 pitches by 2011; and
Lower pitch requirements for Basildon and Epping Forest, recognising the particular delivery challenges in those districts.
The policy is part of the longer term planning process for homes within the East of England, and of the Government’s commitment to provide sufficient authorised sites for Gypsies and Travellers to stop the cycle of evictions from unauthorised sites that is both costly to the taxpayer and impacts on the quality of life for the travelling community and wider public.
Copies of the Secretary of State’s proposed changes and decisions, together with the sustainability report, have been placed in the Library of the House and have been provided for the region’s MPs, MEPs and local authorities.
Royal and Ministerial Air Travel
Further to the written ministerial statement on Royal and Ministerial Air Transport laid by, Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town, (Jim Fitzpatrick), on the 26 March 2008 (WS11-12), work has been carried out to explore solutions for non-scheduled and dedicated flights to support the Queen and members of the royal family in their official duties. Pending the finalisation of this work the Ministry of Defence has agreed that 32 (The Royal) Squadron will provide continued support to the royal family until 1 April 2010.
Criminal Legal Aid Services
The Legal Services Commission (LSC) has today published a consultation on Best Value Tendering (BVT) of criminal legal aid services. This follows an initial LSC consultation published in December 2007 which set out the principles of how a market based approach could be introduced for the procurement of criminal defence services, together with some broad design issues. This second consultation paper sets out a detailed model for the introduction of Best Value Tendering for police station and magistrates’ court work. It describes plans to pilot BVT in two criminal justice system areas (Greater Manchester and Avon and Somerset) from autumn 2009. Following a review of the pilot, the intention is to roll out BVT across England and Wales on a phased basis during 2010 and 2011.
The proposed model takes as its starting point the recommendations of Lord Carter of Cole’s review of legal aid procurement which identified the need for fundamental reform in the way legal services are procured. His report, published in 2006, recommended a market-based approach that defined best value in terms of quality, capacity and price. The Government accepted these recommendations and committed to the implementation of a quality assured tendering process.
The proposed reforms aim to secure long term sustainability for criminal defence services by allocating work to those providers who meet the required quality standards and offer best value for money. BVT will enable solicitors’ firms to offer their services at a price which they know is sustainable for them and reflects the costs of provision in their local area. It also offers firms of all sizes the opportunity to secure the volume of work that best suits their business model, and to expand should they wish to do so. The BVT proposals affect work undertaken at the police station and magistrates’ court only; any move to introduce BVT in the Crown Court would be subject to a further consultation.
The consultation paper also describes the contracting process that will apply to firms wishing to undertake criminal defence work outside of the BVT pilot areas from July 2010.
The 12 week consultation closes on 19 June 2009. Copies of “2010 Contracts and Best Value Tendering: a Consultation” have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office. The document can be downloaded from the consultation section of the LSC’s website at www.legalservices.gov.uk.
Preventing Deaths in Custody
The Forum for Preventing Deaths in Custody today publishes its final annual report. The forum has been independently chaired, and its policy positions have not always coincided with Government policy, I nevertheless welcome this report.
Every death in custody is a personal tragedy for those left behind and I recognise that the numbers are still too high. Bringing about a reduction in the number of deaths in custody remains a priority for the Government, and that is why, in July 2008, the Under- Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle), announced a radical overhaul of the machinery for dealing with this important issue, following an independent review, Official Report, 21 July 2008 column 75WS. The new Ministerial Council on Deaths in Custody that was announced by my hon. Friend will commence work in April 2009. I believe it will build on the good work of the Forum for Preventing Deaths in Custody, and will further contribute to our learning from deaths in custody across all custodial settings.
I also take this opportunity to record my gratitude to the forum’s outgoing chair, John Wadham. Mr. Wadham was heavily involved in the forum’s inception in 2005, and he has chaired it since that time, latterly in a voluntary capacity. I believe he has made a significant contribution to the objective of ensuring the safety of those held in state custody, and to the solid foundations the forum has laid for the future.
Copies of the 2007-08 annual report of the Forum for Preventing Deaths in Custody will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses. Copies are available from the forum’s website: www.preventingcustodydeaths.org.uk.