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Written Statements

Volume 563: debated on Friday 10 May 2013

Written Ministerial Statements

Friday 10 May 2013

Communities and Local Government

Empty Homes

The coalition agreement outlined this Government’s commitment to introduce a range of measures to get empty homes back into use, reflecting the general election manifesto pledges of both coalition parties. We want to increase housing supply, remove the blight that rundown vacant properties cause and help support local economic growth from refurbishment and improvements. I would like to update the House on the steps we have taken.

As part of this commitment, we have explicitly rejected the last Administration’s top-down, large-scale Whitehall targets for demolition and clearance. The obsession with demolition over refurbishment was both economically and environmentally wasteful, as well as involving significant damage of our nation’s heritage. By contrast:

The Government have committed £160 million to bring empty homes back into use. Some £100 million of this funding is being paid directly to local authorities, registered housing providers and community groups to bring around 7,600 empty homes back into use as affordable housing. £60 million is being allocated to 20 partnerships which suffer from significant clusters of empty homes which have good market prospects but require an intensive approach to return them to a liveable standard. This will produce a further 3,600 homes, resulting in a combined total of over 11,000 empty homes being brought back into use by March 2015.

In November, we launched a second bidding round to bring up to a further 5,000 empty homes back into use using a further £75 million of funding, with a particular emphasis on refurbishing former commercial and high street properties. Combined with existing empty homes commitments, this funding will take our overall target to over 15,000 empty properties being brought back into use as housing by March 2015.

We are further supporting local authorities to take a lead. Under the new homes bonus, local authorities now earn a financial reward for bringing a long-term empty home back into use. To date this has provided an income to councils of £63 million for 55,000 homes brought back into use.

Our reforms on council tax flexibilities and the new empty homes premium now allow councils to remove the special tax subsidies being given to empty homes and instead use the funding to keep the overall rate of council tax down and support front-line services.

My Department’s refurbishment schemes are also assisting the improvement of social housing and getting empty homes back into use. During the current spending review period, the Government have allocated £1.6 billion to the decent homes backlog programme to provide a grant to local authorities to support them in bringing 127,000 poor quality council homes up to the decent homes standard by April 2015.

In addition, following a number of large-scale voluntary transfers, the Government have made gap funding grants to private registered providers to enable stock to be brought up to decent homes standard. The total amount of gap funding will be £500 million during the current spending review. It is currently expected that gap funding outside London will contribute to making 43,500 homes decent between 2011 and 2015 (we do not have comparable figures for London).

By the end of April 2015, 18,500 homes will have been renovated through housing private finance initiative schemes.

As outlined in the written ministerial statement of 9 May 2013, Official Report, column 4WS, we have introduced a series of planning reforms to facilitate change of use; this includes making it easier to convert empty offices into homes. Further changes will be implemented to help convert redundant agricultural buildings into new homes.

Our new community right to reclaim land will help communities to improve their local area by making information about land and empty properties owned by public bodies more easily available. It will also help to ensure that underused or unused land and buildings owned by public bodies can be brought back into beneficial use.

The last Administration’s programme created large-scale Whitehall targets for demolition and clearance across the midlands and the north of England. The National Audit Office previously estimated that there were plans for a total of 57,100 properties to be demolished under the scheme. This Government have cancelled the pathfinder programme.

Last year, SAVE Britain’s Heritage challenged the Government’s decision to award transition funding, to help councils exit the pathfinder scheme; in doing so, we needed to balance ending the scheme with not leaving councils in the lurch with unfinished building sites. We have now agreed terms with SAVE to settle that case. Local authorities are now working to align their regeneration priorities more closely to refurbishment. Liverpool remain committed to refurbishing 40 houses on the Welsh Streets, including the former home of Ringo Starr, with strong community involvement and all local authorities that received transitional funding will now undertake the refurbishment of over 2,000 empty houses.

We are reviewing what further steps can be taken to end the bias for demolition in the state sector. This will include revising outdated Office of the Deputy Prime Minister guidance, stating in housing fund bidding documents that demolitions are not appropriate, and working with our independent adviser George Clarke to take forward his best practice recommendations on empty homes.

The number of long-term empty homes has already fallen by 20,000 between 2011 and 2012 and by over 40,800 since 2010. Ministers will keep the House updated with progress.

Energy and Climate Change

Daw Mill Colliery

I want to update the House on developments since the previous statements made on 11 March and 15 April 2013 on the future of UK Coal Operations Ltd (UKCOL) following the closure of their deep mine at Daw Mill in Warwickshire on 7 March due to the serious fire which broke out on 22 February.

In addition to daily contact with the company we are in regular contact with the union representatives of the work force and other key stakeholders including Members of Parliament. The cross-government response, co-ordinated by my officials, has ensured that we have been able to respond to the company’s needs, and help facilitate its financial position.

As part of the local response supporting the Daw Mill work force, BIS East Midlands arranged a further employee-focused event, providing advice and information on entitlements and alternative employment opportunities, in Mansfield on 8 May, which was well attended and positively received. This mirrors the event attended by nearly 200 employees in Arley on 22 March. In addition, information compiled by Jobcentre Plus has been sent to the Daw Mill work force with links to information sources and resources both locally and nationally.

In relation to the future of the company, and its remaining 2,000 employees, Members will have seen the statement made on 1 May 2013 by Kevin McCullough, chief executive for UKCOL in which he advised that the company

“continue to work closely with our employees, government, pension funds, the Pensions Regulator, suppliers and customers”.

Our priority remains to assist the company’s efforts to ensure that as far as possible the viable parts of the business are maintained, and that those who are regrettably likely to be made redundant following the fire at Daw Mill receive appropriate support.

Smart Metering

I am today publishing an update on progress and plans for the roll-out of smart meters across Great Britain. The document will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses and on the Government’s website

The roll-out of smart gas and electricity meters is expected to deliver significant economic benefits and, more widely, to improve the consumer experience and engagement with the energy market, for example by making switching between suppliers quicker and easier.

Smart meters are becoming available to more and more people—removing estimated bills and giving customers better information to manage their energy consumption and choose the right tariffs for them. The coalition are committed to making smart meters available to everyone as soon as possible. We support moves by some suppliers to offer smart meters as early as possible and we have already taken steps to support this. Today we are announcing further policies designed to give energy suppliers confidence to move quickly.

We have decided that from the end of this year, when a customer switches from a supplier who has provided them with a compliant smart meter, the new supplier cannot replace that smart meter with a dumb meter and must either rent the previous supplier’s meter or install their own new smart meter. This will give greater confidence to early movers over their investments. We are also proposing for consultation that, when a customer with a compliant smart meter switches supplier, the new supplier must continue to provide remote meter readings. This would make sure that customers continue to receive one of the important benefits of smart metering: more accurate bills. These and related proposals are set out in today’s Government response to the consultation on the foundation smart market. Industry has told us that they expect to roll out in excess of 2 million compliant smart meters to customers over the next two years of the foundation stage of the smart metering roll-out and today’s proposals will give them even greater investment confidence to do so.

In December 2012, the Government committed to review the programme plan and timetable during the first half of 2013, taking into account learning from energy suppliers from their early smart meter deployments and from bidders who wish to provide the common data and communication infrastructure (the “DCC services”) necessary to support smart metering on a nationwide scale.

As part of the procurement process, DECC has therefore tested with bidders for DCC communication and data service provider contracts, and with the energy industry, the time needed for the design, build and test phases of their programmes. The consistent message was that more time was needed if the mass roll-out was to get off to the best possible start and ensure a quality experience for consumers. We therefore now expect suppliers to be ready to start their full scale roll-out by autumn 2015, supported by the DCC services.

Completing the national roll-out will be an enormous logistical and technical challenge for the industry, involving visits to around 30 million homes and small businesses and installing over 50 million meters. To this end, and reflecting the extended period to build and test the systems required by industry, the Government have decided to move the completion date for the mass roll-out from end 2019 to end 2020—although I expect the vast majority of smart meters to be in place against the original 2019 deadline. Getting this right for consumers is the Government’s priority and this package of proposals will give consumers and industry the confidence they need for a successful roll-out.

I am also laying before Parliament today licence modifications to require: energy suppliers and network operators to accede and comply with the Smart Energy Code, energy suppliers to ensure that smart meters provide domestic and micro-business consumers with access to key data, and that key smart meter functions are switched on. Subject to the successful completion of the parliamentary process, the licence conditions will come into force on 14 July 2013. More information on these publications can also be found on the Government’s website

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture and Fisheries Council (Agenda)

The next Agriculture and Fisheries Council is on Monday 13 and Tuesday 14 May in Brussels. I will be representing the UK on the agriculture items while my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Minister with responsibility for natural environment, water and rural affairs, the hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), will cover fisheries. Richard Lochhead MSP, Alun Davies AM and Michelle O’Neill MLA may also attend.

Monday morning will be dedicated to agriculture and I expect the presidency to report back to the Council progress on the CAP reform package currently being discussed in trilogue. Monday afternoon and Tuesday will concentrate on the CFP reform package. There are two any other business points: on the global oceans action summit from the Dutch delegation and a UK item on the ongoing dispute regarding north-east Atlantic mackerel.


Care Bill

To accompany the Care Bill, which was introduced yesterday, I am today laying before Parliament “The Care Bill Explained—including a response to consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny on the Draft Care and Support Bill” (Cm 8627).

This document describes the measures in the Care Bill. It explains the importance of reforming care and support legislation, of taking steps to drive up the quality of care following the findings of Robert Francis’s inquiry into the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, and of establishing Health Education England and the Health Research Authority as non-departmental public bodies.

Parts 1 and 3 of the Care Bill build on the provisions in the draft Care and Support Bill, which was published in July 2012. “The Care Bill Explained” sets out the changes that have been made to those provisions. It is the Government’s response to the public consultation and to the report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Care and Support Bill.

The Government are grateful to the Joint Committee for its careful scrutiny, and to everyone who expressed their views during the consultation. The feedback we received has considerably improved the final provisions in this critical and historic piece of legislation.

Home Department

Daniel Morgan

Daniel Morgan, a private investigator, was found murdered in a pub car park in south-east London on 10 March 1987. It is one of the country’s most notorious unsolved murder cases. After numerous separate police investigations into the case between 1987 and 2002, the Crown Prosecution Service discontinued the final attempted prosecution against five suspects in 2011.

The Metropolitan Police (MPS) have indicated that there is no likelihood of any successful prosecutions being brought in the foreseeable future. They have also admitted that police corruption was a “debilitating factor” in the original investigation. This has led to calls for an inquiry from Mr Morgan’s family, who have waged a long campaign for those responsible for his murder to be brought to justice. I have met the family and, after further serious consideration with them and their representatives, I am today announcing the creation of the Daniel Morgan independent panel.

Importantly, the panel’s work will put Mr Morgan’s family at the centre of the process and the approach to this issue has the support of the MPS Commissioner and the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

The panel will utilise learning from the Hillsborough independent panel process in addressing how to approach its work. The panel will be chaired by Sir Stanley Burnton, a retired Lord Justice of the Court of Appeal. The appointment of other members of the panel will take place over the coming weeks and will be announced as soon as possible.

The remit of the panel will be to shine a light on the circumstances of Daniel Morgan’s murder, its background and the handling of the case over the period since 1987. In doing so, the panel will seek to address the questions arising, including those relating to:

police involvement in the murder;

the role played by police corruption in protecting those responsible for the murder from being brought to justice and the failure to confront that corruption;

the incidence of connections between private investigators, police officers and journalists at the News of the World and other parts of the media and alleged corruption involved in the linkages between them.

The panel will ensure maximum possible disclosure of all relevant documentation, including information held by all relevant Government Departments and agencies and by the police and other investigative and prosecuting authorities. There is a serious and considerable public interest in having an independent panel look at this case, as part of the Government’s commitment to identifying, exposing and addressing corruption.

Recognising the volume of material that must be catalogued, analysed and preserved, the panel will seek to complete its work within a year of the documentation being made available.

A copy of the full terms of reference of the Daniel Morgan independent panel has been placed in the Library of the House.


Currency Counterfeiting (European Directive)

The Government on 20 April decided not to opt in to the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the protection of the euro and other currencies against counterfeiting by criminal law.

The proposed directive is a criminal law approximation instrument proposed under article 83.1 of title V of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union. Accordingly the UK’s title V opt-in applies. The directive builds on and updates the regime put in place by previous EU legislation and in particular the Framework Decision 2000/383/JHA (“the framework decision of 2000”). For those EU member states that will be bound by its terms the proposed directive will replace the framework decision of 2000.

The stated objectives of the Commission’s proposal are to counter the divergence in levels of sanctions between member states and difficulties in cross-border judicial co-operation, which, the Commission believes, have a negative impact on the effectiveness of the Union’s policies to protect currencies, and in particular the euro, against counterfeiting. The Government agree that a proportionate criminal justice response to counterfeiting requires robust national laws and effective international co-operation at the operational level. The UK contributes to the international fight against counterfeiting through the enforcement of our very robust criminal law on counterfeiting and through our active and continuing participation in international operational co-operation.

This proposal could have unwelcome legislative consequences for the UK, particularly as regards obligations in respect of minimum penalties and jurisdiction over counterfeiting offences committed by UK nationals overseas. The former is objectionable on the grounds that it is inconsistent with previously agreed EU Council conclusions on legislation on penalties and because of the obvious threat to the exercise of judicial discretion in sentencing for counterfeiting. As regards the latter, there are strong doubts about the practicability of exercising jurisdiction over UK nationals who are accused of committing counterfeiting offences overseas.

UK enforcement experience in the area of counterfeiting suggests that, should the UK be bound by all of the obligations contained in the directive, it would have very little if any positive impact on UK enforcement or on the UK’s participation in international operational co-operation and intelligence sharing. In light of this lack of utility and the concerns expressed above, the Government have decided that the UK will not be opting in to this directive.

Work and Pensions

Mesothelioma Bill

Yesterday the Government introduced the Mesothelioma Bill. The Bill provides for the introduction of a “diffuse mesothelioma payment scheme” to make payments to people with diffuse mesothelioma who were exposed to asbestos either negligently or in breach of statutory duty by their employer in the United Kingdom and who are unable to bring a claim for damages against a relevant employer or that employer’s employers’ liability (“EL”) insurer. In addition to the proposed payment scheme the Bill provides for a technical committee to be established, which will make binding decisions in disputes between an EL insurer and a person with diffuse mesothelioma about whether the insurer was providing EL cover to a particular employer at the time the person with diffuse mesothelioma was negligently exposed to asbestos.

This Bill meets the commitment made in our response to the previous Government’s consultation, published on the 25 July 2012:

In addition to the proposed payment scheme and technical committee the consultation response detailed proposals to compel membership of the Employer Liability Tracing Office (ELTO). We have looked at this proposal closely and have concluded that, while this is not possible, we can still achieve the desired outcome of helping more people to successfully trace an insurer against whom to bring a claim.

The Financial Conduct Authority are considering requirements around the tracing of EL insurance policies that will mirror those that are operated by ELTO which should result in more evidence of cover being passed to people with mesothelioma. The Government consider that these measures combined will result in an overall improvement in the tracing of EL insurance policies.

In addition to this written ministerial statement we are publishing the impact assessment and delegated powers memorandum that accompany the Bill. These detail the costs and benefits for the proposed payment scheme and also explain the rationale for the delegated powers we have included in the Bill. Copies of these documents will be available in the Vote Office and Printed Paper Office.

The consultation response also included various measures to do with the process that a person with diffuse mesothelioma has to go through in order to bring a civil claim for damages. The Ministry of Justice will be consulting on these measures in 2013. The consultation will look at matters such as the proposed pre-action protocol (PAP), claims portal and a fixed costs regime in relation to mesothelioma claims.

Later today I will place a copy of the relevant older papers, impact assessment and delegated powers memorandum in the Libraries of both Houses.

Pensions Bill

I am pleased to announce that the Pensions Bill and associated documents will be published today.

The Bill was introduced into Parliament yesterday and provides for important reform to both state and private pensions, and bereavement benefits. This Bill will:

introduce the single-tier pension, a simpler, fairer system that encourages retirement saving, to be implemented from April 2016;

bring forward the increase in the state pension age to 67 and establish a framework for considering future changes in light of increasing life expectancy to maintain the long-term sustainability of the system;

provide for a system of automatic transfers of small pension pots, which will reduce the number of dormant pots and make it easier for people to keep track of their pensions savings and secure a better income in retirement;

introduce a new statutory objective for the Pensions Regulator to take account of the sustainable growth of employers, and contains a number of smaller amendments in relation to private pensions legislation, including some measures relating to automatic enrolment into workplace pension schemes; and

reform the existing suite of bereavement benefits to simplify the system in line with changes to the state pension and wider welfare reform measures, and ensure that it is fit for the 21st century.

It is vital that the pension savings of individuals who are automatically enrolled are protected. Following a thorough review, I have concluded that the consultancy charging mechanism is not appropriate in schemes used to comply with the employer duties under the Pensions Act 2008. I am therefore also announcing the Government’s intention to ban consultancy charges in automatic enrolment schemes. This will apply to both occupational and personal pension schemes and I intend to lay regulations before Parliament as soon as possible. Furthermore, in light of the forthcoming Office of Fair Trading report, the Government plan to publish a consultation this autumn. This will set out proposals including for introducing a charge cap.

Later today, the Government will also publish a response to the Work and Pensions Committee’s report of their pre-legislative scrutiny on part 1 of the draft Bill. I would like to express my thanks to the Committee for agreeing to undertake pre-legislative scrutiny and for their helpful recommendations. The report raised a number of important issues and has resulted in changes to the Pensions Bill since it was published in draft, including to specify that the single-tier pension will now be implemented from 6 April 2016.

I will place a copy of the delegated powers memorandum in the Libraries of both Houses along with a high-level single-tier communications strategy document and a list of all older papers relevant to the Bill.

Copies of the Government’s response to the Work and Pensions Committee, the impact assessment and the delegated powers memorandum will be available in the Vote Office and Printed Paper Office and on the GOV.UK website later today.