Monday 2 September 2013
Parliamentary Written Answer (Correction)
I regret to inform the House that a written answer I gave on 10 January 2013, Official Report, column 415-16W, to the hon. Member for Angus (Mr Weir) was incorrect. The hon. Member asked the Attorney-General how many civil service posts have been made redundant by the Law Officers’ Departments in each year since 1999; and what has been the cost of redundancies in each such year.
The data concerning the Crown Prosecution Service were incorrect and reported that no posts had been made redundant. This was due to a database recording error which has now been identified and corrected. In fact the Crown Prosecution Service did make a small number of senior posts redundant and an additional table showing the missing data is included in the revised answer below. All other information provided in the original response was correct. The revised answer is as follows.
During the period 1999 to 2012 there were five redundancies declared and made in Attorney-General’s Office, Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate, and the Treasury Solicitor’s Department (TSol), at a total cost of £185,788.90. No breakdown by year is given so as to preserve confidentiality.
In addition the Government Property Lawyers office in Taunton was closed in 1999 and a number of people would have been transferred elsewhere, accepted voluntary exits or made redundant. TSol does not hold information on numbers of staff declared and subsequently made redundant or the costs of such an exercise.
The following table shows the number and cost of paid early exits from the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in each year since April 2005, including redundancy and early retirements. Data prior to that date are no longer held and details about cost are not held prior to 2008. The cost of exits is not given where the number of exits is fewer than five, in order to protect the personal data of the individuals concerned.
Under the old Civil Service Compensation Scheme, which was replaced in 2011, most individuals under 50 received what were known as early severance terms, while those over 50 took early retirement.
Number of early exits
Cost (£ million)
2Fewer than five exits.
The table shows the year in which exits took place and payments were made rather than where any accruals have been made. Therefore the information is not directly comparable with what is published in the SFO’s annual accounts. It does however include the provision in the accounts to meet ongoing liabilities generated by the agreements. Under the old Civil Service Compensation Scheme, individuals taking early retirement had their pensions paid by their employer until they reached the normal retirement age. This could include a pension made up of up to six and two thirds years for staff over 50. Details of these associated costs are published in the SFO’s annual accounts.
During the period 1999 to 2012 the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) made five posts redundant at a total cost of £994,849. These were all senior posts and were part of a programme to reduce headcount in the CPS. The breakdown by year is as follows:
Number of Redundant Posts
During this period the CPS reduced staff headcount from 8,940 at 31 December 2009 to 7,442 at 31 December 2012. This was primarily achieved through applying robust recruitment controls for vacancies that arise through normal attrition, and in utilising the civil service provision for voluntary early release (VER). The following table shows the number of staff released under VER during this period and the cost.
Number of early exits
Cost (£ million)
12012-13 numbers and cost as of 2 January 2013 are provisional.
Communities and Local Government
Summer Recess (Department's Work)
I would like to update hon. Members on the main items of business undertaken by my Department since the House rose on 18 July 2013.
Supporting local high streets
High streets are the hearts of our communities, hubs of local businesses and drivers of growth.
In order to remain so in the 21st century, high streets must become thriving centres of culture, entertainment and social activity: not just the place to shop but the place to be. They also have to be distinct to be successful and that character can only come from within the community.
This Government are determined to support those local efforts so businesses can flourish and communities prosper by creating the conditions for that to happen following some of the recommendations in the Portas review. Already we have increased the business rates discounts for small shops, introduced planning reforms for the high street; committed new Government investment and set up 350 town teams, which are seeing some great results. Since the summer recess we have taken a number of further steps.
On 23 July my Department announced proposals to bring property owners into the business improvement districts scheme so they can play an active part in regenerating trading areas. To boost the scheme a new £500,000 loan fund will enable the set up of more business improvement districts. Business improvement districts mean local companies can pool funds, deliver projects to improve town centre safety, support local traders, establish parking initiatives and help maintain the high street.
Today, I am announcing that starting this month dedicated teams of local experts will train and mentor towns on how to adapt their high streets to changing consumer behaviour. The training is to be targeted at the leaders of every town team across the country.
encourage towns to carry out high street health checks;
agree what the town centre “offer” will be to residents and visitors;
explain how to make best use of planning powers and new community rights to take over closed pubs or shops; and
detail how neighbourhood planning should be used to decide what local areas should look like in the future.
On 6 August the Department published plans to extend permitted development rights to ensure better use is made of existing buildings. The proposals will allow local people to transform empty premises not in prime retail locations, or disused agricultural buildings into much-needed homes, nurseries and free schools.
New planning guidance published on 28 August calls for councils to deliver more town centre parking spaces, tackle the blight of ugly street clutter and reduce aggressive “anti-car” traffic calming measures like road humps.
The new practice guidance, covering design, town centres and travel plans, will state that councils should reflect the important role appropriate parking facilities can play in rejuvenating shops and high streets. It also sets out how town hall planning rules should not be used to tax drivers or justify development of crude traffic calming measures, such as poorly-sited bollards and road humps.
This Government are working to ensure that town hall parking policies and practices also support local high streets. The Government have scrapped Whitehall rules that previously told councils to increase parking charges and adopt aggressive parking policies. On 31 July my Department released statistics revealing that councils are forecast to make £635 million profit from parking charges and fines in 2013-14 and called upon councils to take a fairer approach to charges.
Across the country, assisted by internet “matching”, households are renting out their spare or unused dedicated off-street parking space in and near town centres, train stations and sports grounds. This provides a small income for hard-working families, more cheap parking spaces for people to park their car and takes pressure away from on-street parking.
In August my Department announced new guidance (published 9 August) on change of use making it clear that the public should be able to rent a single parking space without planning permission, provided there is no public nuisance to neighbours, or other substantive concerns. We will be making further announcements on car parking in due course.
Small firms and shops are at the heart of our high streets and local communities, and we are supporting them to help the economy grow. On 14 August my Department released new figures showing that the level of small business rate relief has trebled since the general election, because of Government initiatives. Rate relief in England has risen from £333 million in 2009-10, to £507 million in 2010-11, to £784 million in 2011-12 and now to £900 million in 2012-13.
Fairness in the fire service
Members will be aware that the Fire Brigades Union has announced a “yes” vote in its ballot on potential strike action over reforms to the firefighters’ pension scheme. The union has not yet set out whether it intends to commence industrial action, but we have been working closely with local fire and rescue authorities, who have a statutory responsibility for contingency planning, to make sure preparations are robust. We are satisfied that they are.
We all hold our brave fire men and women in the highest regard. The offer to firefighters is one of the most generous available in the public sector. A firefighter who earns £29,000, and retires at sixty after a full career, will get a £26,000 a year pension, which includes the £7,000 state pension. A firefighter would need to double their level of contributions to get the same pension from a private provider.
The normal retirement age has been sixty since 2006, one in three firefighters already has a retirement age of 60. An independent review, commissioned with the agreement of the fire brigades union, found that 100% of firefighters who remain physically active can still be operational at age 60.
The retained fire service, many of whom will not take part in this strike action, play a vital role in protecting the community across most of England, and it is only right and fair that their efforts are recognised.
On 23 July my Department announced proposals to correct a long standing anomaly that discriminated against retained firefighters employed between 2000 and 2006. Providing similar pension terms for retained firefighters to those enjoyed by whole-time firefighters employed at the same time will introduce fairness into the system and provide a level playing field. Subject to the consultation, legislation will be laid in Parliament to give effect to the new pension arrangements.
Supporting hard-working families staying together
Many hardworking families benefit from living in properties with self-contained annexes that allow them to house or care for extended family members. The current council tax system unfairly penalises those with family annexes with a second bill for the annex on top of their main property.
On 26 August my Department announced plans to remove this unfair council tax surcharge to help support extended families. Proposals include a new national discount for all family annexes (not just those for older people), as a quick and easy way to remove this council tax surcharge from the system, saving an average £485 a year on a typical £2,427 combined yearly bill.
With both an ageing population and young people finding it difficult to get on the housing ladder, the Government want to remove barriers to extended families living together. Ministers believe the tax cut will ultimately save taxpayers’ money by helping reduce adult social care costs in the long-term. It will deliver against the Government’s commitment to help more people live independently. The reforms will also increase housing supply and support the construction trade.
My Department has also consulted on the intention to remove the community infrastructure levy on self-build properties, which include all extensions, family annexes and home improvements. In addition the Government are considering the removal of section 106 levies on such annexes and extensions.
Protecting local services
Councils make up a quarter of all public spending and they have a vital part to play in tackling the inherited deficit from the last Administration. New statistics published by my Department on 29 August show councils have trebled their cash reserves over the last 10 years and by over 20% in real terms since 2010-11. Reserves now stand at over £19 billion—an increase of £2.6 billion in the last year alone.
Local authorities should consider whether such substantial reserves are needed. While it is sensible for local authorities to maintain a healthy cushion, such substantial reserves are completely unnecessary and should be tapped into to ensure councils can protect front-line services and keep council tax down for hardworking people. Councils should also be making creative use of reserves to address short-term costs, such as restructuring or investing now to realise savings in the longer-term.
Supporting coastal towns
This Government are committed to supporting our seaside towns and on 23 August, the coalition Government announced that next year’s coastal communities fund will be worth £29 million, an increase of 5%. This will help coastal towns make the most of their potential by diversifying their economies and industries so they can become year-round success stories.
The projects approved in the first year alone are forecast to deliver over 5,000 jobs and create 500 apprenticeships.
Colleagues will also want to join me in welcoming the first steps towards the reopening of Hastings pier after it was saved from disrepair and abandonment by a local community group. Hastings and the pier charity have benefited from £14 million Government, lottery and council support. While attending a ceremonial opening I was able praise the Hastings pier charity behind the campaign to save it.
The Localism Act 2011 has created new powers that give communities like Hastings the ability to list local assets and protect them from sell offs. These rights are helping to save many treasured assets across the country. Some members will be interested to note that over the summer months fans of Manchester United and Liverpool footballs clubs successfully listed their team stadiums.
Protecting Community Pubs through Community Rights
This Government are doing everything they can to support and safeguard community pubs from closure. On 12 August my Department announced that 100 pubs had been listed as assets of community value, giving communities the opportunity to buy their treasured local pub if it comes up for sale using the community right to bid.
The great British pub is recognised around the world as a quintessential part of British culture and it will now form part of the Great Britain campaign, which promotes the best of Britain to the world.
Increasing housing supply and building more homes
The tough decisions have been taken to tackle the deficit by this Government and their programme is now delivering a sustainable increase in housing and providing real help to hard-working people.
In the last two years almost a third of a million additional homes have been delivered, and 150,000 more affordable homes have been built. Figures released on 13 August show that since the launch of the Help to Buy equity loan scheme in April 2013 there have been 10,000 reservations for new build homes—this is giving confidence to house builders to deliver and build more new homes.
In addition figures from 15 August show there were 29,510 new homes started between April and June this year—6% higher than the previous quarter, and a third higher than the same time last year. This increase was seen across the country, with 178 of the 326 councils in England reporting an increase in house building starts over the year.
Latest figures on the Right to Buy released on 22 August show a total of 2,149 properties were sold between April and June this year, four times more than the 443 sold during the same period in 2012. The total of new homeowners under the reinvigorated Right to Buy now stands at over 8,000. Sales have generated £129 million in gross income, which will be recycled back into the development of new affordable homes for rent.
We know how important housing affordability is for many people and on 27 July my Department announced a multi-million pound boost to build thousands of new affordable homes across the country. Sixty-nine different housing associations and developers will each receive a share of £220 million to deliver almost 14,000 new affordable homes outside London. Work on the new properties will be started by March 2015 and completed by 2017.
On 5 August my Department announced the extension of the £17 million Right to Build fund to include any community project. Communities who want to make a change in their area, such as creating a new playground, renovating an empty home or making plots available for house building will be able to access the money they need to develop plans and make it happen. The fund is available for communities outside London until March 2015.
This country has some of the strongest protections for families in the world to guard against homelessness, and the Government have invested £470 million. The law is clear that families must only be placed in bed and breakfast accommodation as a last resort, and then for no more than six weeks.
On 1 August my Department announced £1.9 million for seven councils to help them support the housing needs of the most vulnerable of families.
Ending the scourge of bin blight
On 16 August my Department announced measures to tackle “bin blight”—the daily obstacle course of wheelie bins and recycling boxes clogging up front yards, gardens and driveways. New guidance on both housing design and planning will require suitable provision to be made for proper waste storage in new homes. This will help avoid bins dominating residential streets or contributing to increased odour and roadside litter, and problems with rats, mice, flies and urban foxes.
These actions build on this Government’s decisions to abolish bin taxes, stop unfair bin fines being issued on family homes and scrap Whitehall directives demanding fortnightly bin collections. My Department’s £250 million weekly collection support scheme has protected the weekly bin collection for 6 million families and supported 41 innovative reward schemes showing recycling can be increased without using punitive fines and taxes.
Improving housing standards
On 30 July my Department published new “Part L of the Building Regulations” as set out in the written ministerial statement in the House of Lords, Official Report, column WS165-66—this will mean a 6% cut in carbon emissions for new build homes, and a 9% cut for non domestic buildings.
The measures, which include energy saving features such as better fabric insulation and more efficient heating and lighting, will come into force in April 2014.
On 20 August my Department published proposals to scrap burdensome and confusing locally applied housing standards. Essential safety and accessibility rules will not be changed, but a mass of additional housing standards that councils applied locally created a patchwork of different standards which will now be reduced from over 100 to fewer than 10. This will help free up the industry, support growth and get high-quality homes built.
Involving local people in planning decisions
Planning always works best when local communities have the opportunity to influence the decisions that affect their lives. To achieve this my Department is streamlining the planning system to make it simpler, more accessible and more efficient.
To address local communities concerns that insufficient weight is being given to environmental considerations like landscape, heritage and local amenity when determining wind farm applications my Department published on 29 July new strong planning practice guidance to make it clear that the need for renewable energy does not automatically override environmental protections and the planning concerns of local communities.
An effective planning system needs to be supported by practical guidance. On 28 August my Department launched a new online resource that will make planning guidance much more accessible and easier to keep up to date.
It also includes a new affordability test for determining how many homes should be built; advice for councils to open up planning hearings and plan positively for an ageing population; and guidance on new neighbourhood planning and protections for local green spaces.
On 9 August my Department outlined strengthened powers councils can use to take decisive action, including pre-emptive injunctions, to protect vulnerable land in advance from unauthorised encampments; possession orders to remove trespassers from land; police powers to order unauthorised campers to leave land.
As part of the Government’s commitment to protecting the nation’s green spaces, these powers will protect green belt land and the countryside from illegal encampments. New temporary stop notices now give councils powers to tackle unauthorised caravans, backed up with potentially unlimited fines. This Government have strengthened councils’ powers so they have the confidence to take decisive action.
Strengthening community bonds
This Government have continued to support local efforts to bring communities closer together.
On 27 July, as the holy month of Ramadan drew to a close, mosques across the country opened their doors and welcomed those from all faiths and none to join in the fast-breaking meal of the iftar—the special daily meal that is consumed at the end of each day when fasting finishes. The aim was to dispel any myths about the practices of Islam and to bring communities closer together. The Prime Minister and other Ministers attended “The Big Iftar” events across the country and I can report to members it was a fantastic way of enabling people of different religions, and those of no faith, to visit a local mosque and learn about their role in the community.
It is also our duty as citizens to remember the British and Commonwealth troops who lost their lives fighting in the great war and this Government are determined to make sure their bravery for king and country is not forgotten.
On 5 August my Department announced that special commemorative paving stones will be laid in the home towns of all those in the United Kingdom awarded the Victoria Cross for valour “in the face of the enemy” during the conflict. A national competition will be launched to design the paving stones so people from all comers of the United Kingdom can get involved.
The Government will be setting out more of their plan to commemorate the 100th anniversary shortly. This will include the most appropriate way to commemorate Commonwealth and overseas Victoria Cross winners. No hero will be forgotten.
On 23 August I endorsed the Flag Institute’s new guide for communities to design their own flags. The new guide outlines how community groups, councils, sports clubs and other organisations can design and register an official flag. My Department flew some of the nation’s newest flags—East and North Ridings of Yorkshire—in celebration.
The Government have relaxed the rules on flying flags without official permission, enabling communities to express their pride in local identities, heritage and traditions without falling foul of petty bureaucracy.
Tackling antisocial behaviour
The public should be able to enjoy public spaces, their parks, streets and town centres, without nuisance or annoyance. Spitting on Britain’s streets is not socially acceptable.
On 19 July the London borough of Enfield was given provisional approval by the Secretary of State, following their application, to make byelaws that prohibit antisocial spitting across the borough due to the significance of the problem in the local area.
Standing up to unnecessary EU red tape
A proposed EU regulation seeks to impose the EU flag on standardised birth certificates, marriage and death certificates on UK citizens. While the European Commission has suggested that this would be “voluntary”, on the 9 August Ministers warned of the risk of “mission creep” and “state building” as happened with driving licences. There is simply no need for the EU flag to be on these documents.
More broadly, this Department has a track record of pushing back against heavy-handed requirements to display European Union symbols. We also have a proactive policy of promoting and championing the United Kingdom’s national and traditional identities.
Planning for shale gas
The coalition Government believe shale gas has the potential to provide the UK with greater energy security, growth and jobs. Effective exploration and testing of the UK’s unconventional gas resources is therefore key for understanding the potential of this industry. The Government are creating the right framework to accelerate shale gas development in a responsible and sustainable way.
As the shale gas industry develops, the Government want to ensure an effective, locally-led planning system is in place. On 19 July a written ministerial statement was made in the House of Lords, Official Report, columns WS149-150, setting out the publication of planning practice guidance for industry, minerals planning authorities and local communities on how shale gas (and other onshore oil and gas) developments should proceed through England’s planning system. Alongside its publication, the Government indicated that they were minded to amend existing secondary legislation in relation to application requirements and fees for onshore oil and gas development. Today, I am publishing for comment a limited number of proposed changes relating to making a planning application.
All the associated documents and press notices have been placed in the Library of the House.
Armed Forces Pay Review Body (Public Appointments)
I am pleased to announce that I have reappointed two members of the Armed Forces’ Pay Review Body commencing March 2014. I have invited Mr Paul Kernaghan to serve a further three years and Sir Richard Ibbotson for a further two years. The reappointments have been conducted in accordance with the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments’ (OCPA) code of practice.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Following the National Farmers Union’s (NFU’s) statement of 27 August, I would like to confirm to the House that culling is now under way. The cull will be carried out in two areas (Somerset and Gloucestershire) over a period of six weeks. I understand the pilot cull is proceeding to plan and those involved are pleased with progress to date.
The aim of the pilot cull is to test how an industry-led badger control programme can be delivered effectively, humanely and safely. Monitoring will be carried out to test that controlled shooting meets these assumptions. The outcome of the pilot cull and an analysis of the monitoring will be published. The evidence will considered by Ministers in deciding whether or not the policy should be rolled out more widely.
The decision to pilot a badger cull is not one that has been taken lightly, but it is based on the best available scientific evidence and the experience of other countries. No country has successfully dealt with TB without tackling the disease in both wildlife and cattle. It is vital that we learn from the experience of the Republic of Ireland, the United States, Australia and New Zealand. We will be evaluating the outcome of this pilot cull carefully in deciding whether or not to roll this policy out more widely.
Culling is only one part of a broader, comprehensive TB eradication strategy for achieving TB-free status in England over the course of the next 25 years. Since July, I have been consulting all interested parties on the strategy. It sets out a full range of measures, including disease surveillance, pre and post-movement cattle testing, removal of cattle exposed to bovine tuberculosis (bTB), culling and vaccination trials. It also focuses on the development of new techniques such as badger and cattle vaccines and new diagnostic tests that could one day offer new ways of tackling the disease.
BTB is the most pressing animal health problem in the UK. The disease is getting worse and is spreading across the country. In the last 10 years, bTB has cost the taxpayer £500 million. It is estimated that this will rise to £1 billion over the next 10 years if the disease is left unchecked. This pilot cull is a necessary part of a wide range of actions that we need to take if we are to free the cattle industry from the burden of this devastating disease. We wish to see healthy cattle living alongside healthy wildlife.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Since 26 July, attempts by the Spanish Government to exert pressure on Gibraltar and its people have increased significantly. Disproportionate and time-consuming checks have been introduced at the Gibraltar/Spain border, leading to delays of up to seven hours. Other concerning actions have occurred, such as ambulances being searched and prohibitions placed on the transport of sand and materials used to manufacture concrete across the border. The Government of Spain have in addition publicly made a series of threats of further action which would harm Gibraltar’s interests. In parallel, Spanish state vessels have continued to make multiple illegal incursions into British Gibraltar territorial waters (BGTW), a situation which has been ongoing since April 2012.
These actions and threats are wholly unacceptable. The impact of the border delays has been felt most severely by local citizens, both Gibraltarians and the thousands of Spanish commuters who benefit from employment in Gibraltar. As well as having to endure long delays in hot weather, people crossing the border have reported aggressive behaviour by the teams of guardia civil officers brought from other parts of Spain to conduct the enhanced checks. There have been disturbing reports of Gibraltar-licensed cars being burnt or otherwise vandalised in Spain. The ban on importing certain materials is having an impact on infrastructure projects and the reduction in the number of people able to cross the border has reduced retail sales, having a negative impact on Gibraltar’s economic prosperity.
These measures are disproportionate and obviously politically motivated, having been introduced immediately after the lawful creation by the Government of Gibraltar of an artificial reef in BGTW. They are also unlawful under EU law: the creation of the reef was legal and is part of the Government of Gibraltar’s long-term marine environmental management plan designed to improve fish stocks and regenerate habitat. The use of inert concrete blocks to create artificial reefs is consistent with international best practice and with the Government of Spain’s own approach to artificial reefs.
The heightened rhetoric from the Spanish Foreign Minister is also concerning. It is clearly intimidating for the people of Gibraltar and indicates that there may be worse to come from the Spanish Government before we see an improvement in the situation.
The Government have responded to these developments robustly and in concert with the Government of Gibraltar. We summoned the Spanish Ambassador on 2 August. Our Ministers have protested in the strongest terms to their counterparts, including the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, emphasising that Britain will not stand by in the face of continued hostility and stands shoulder to shoulder with the people of Gibraltar.
We have asked that the European Commission urgently sends a monitoring mission to the border to investigate the delays, and following the Prime Minister’s call, we welcome President Barroso’s confirmation that a mission will be sent this month. In partnership with the Government of Gibraltar, we are continuing to collect evidence of the disproportionate unlawful border measures, and will share this with the European Commission before their monitoring mission arrives. We are also keeping under review the option of taking direct legal action against the Spanish Government, via a complaint to the European Court of Justice.
Despite these actions, the border delays, incursions and threatening rhetoric continue. The Government’s aim is to de-escalate the tension, so that Gibraltarians can go about their business unhampered and free from intimidation. At the same time, we will continue to protect the rights and interests of Gibraltar and the United Kingdom.
On 7 August the Foreign Secretary again confirmed to the Spanish Government our commitment to a diplomatic solution, repeating the offer made in April 2012 for ad hoc talks involving all relevant parties while remaining strongly committed to the Trilateral Forum of Dialogue between the UK, Gibraltar and Spain.
We will continue to press the Spanish Government to de-escalate the situation and to remove the additional checks at the border. We will also continue to work very closely with the Government of Gibraltar. On 28-30 August, Chief Minister Picardo visited London for meetings with the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary.
We will continue to respect the wishes of the people of Gibraltar, and will take whatever action is necessary to safeguard Gibraltar, its people and its economy.
National Crime Agency (Contingencies Fund)
The National Crime Agency will be a new non-ministerial Department created by the Crime and Courts Act, which achieved Royal Assent in April 2013. The agency will become operational on 7 October 2013.
There is a need to meet the cash requirement for the National Crime Agency from 7 October. Although Parliament has already approved the specific enabling legislation, the resources to fund the National Crime Agency are currently within the Home Office baseline. The National Crime Agency will have its own estimate in due course.
As an interim measure, parliamentary approval for resources of £422,000,000 for this new expenditure will be sought in a supplementary estimate for the Home Office. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure estimated at £198,700,000 will be met by repayable cash advances from the Contingencies Fund.
Reforming Mesothelioma Claims
My right hon. and noble Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Lord McNally, made the following written ministerial statement:
I am today—Wednesday 24 July 2013—announcing the publication of the Government’s consultation “Reforming mesothelioma claims”.
It is a tragic fact that around 23,000 deaths from mesothelioma are predicted to occur between 2014 and 2024. Mesothelioma is an aggressive and terminal occupational disease caused by exposure to asbestos, with sufferers having a median life expectancy of seven to nine months from diagnosis. Despite this, there is evidence that around 50% of claims for compensation take over 12 months to settle, which means that victims may die before their claim is paid out.
The Government recognise that there is a special and urgent case for reforming the way mesothelioma claims are dealt with. The proposals in the consultation build upon the significant work taken forward by the Mesothelioma Bill, currently before Parliament, and seek to increase the pace and improve the efficiency of the claims process so that an early payment of compensation is made to sufferers and their dependants.
The consultation considers introducing a dedicated mesothelioma pre-action protocol (MPAP) supported by an industry funded secure claims gateway. It also seeks views on both the principle and structure of a fixed recoverable cost regime which aims to reflect the greater speed and efficiencies gained by the proposed MPAP.
As part of that consultation, we will carry out the review of the mesothelioma provisions required under section 48 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.
The Government accept that the handling of mesothelioma claims is a complex and sensitive issue, and are keen to hear views on our proposals and any further ideas from all interested parties.
Copies of this Government consultation have been placed in the Vote Office, the Printed Paper Office and the Libraries of both Houses. The document is also available online at: http://www.justice.gov.uk.
Inheritance and Trustees' Powers Bill
My right hon. and noble Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Lord McNally, made the following written ministerial statement:
The Government are today—Tuesday 30 July 2013—publishing its response to the consultation on the Inheritance and Trustees’ Powers Bill.
The consultation paper sought the views of respondents on proposed reforms concerning intestacy and family provision. Respondents were asked for comments on the draft Bill and the explanatory notes, for views in relation to an additional ground of jurisdiction for family provision claims, and views on the impact assessment.
The overall response was supportive of the proposed reforms and did not raise any significant doubts about the accuracy of the impact assessment. Differing views were expressed over the proposed additional ground of jurisdiction and this issue is dealt with in detail in our response. Although the Government have not accepted the additional ground of jurisdiction that attracted the most support among consultees the Government have robust reasons for reaching the decision they have and these are detailed in the response.
The Bill itself was today introduced into the House of Lords under the special House of Lords procedure for non-controversial Law Commission Bills.
Jury Service (Age Limit)
Trial by a jury of one’s peers is a crucial and long established feature of our justice system and jury service is one of the most important civic duties that anyone can be asked to perform. Currently the Juries Act 1974 specifies that the upper age limit for jury service in England and Wales is 70. The upper limit was last amended by the Criminal Justice Act 1988, which raised it from 65 to 70.
The previous Government consulted on changing the age limit. We have spent time considering the responses to that consultation, and the views of those who have written to us (and asked parliamentary questions) about this. We have now come to the conclusion that the age limit should be increased.
The health and well-being of those over 70 has improved significantly since the age limit was last set 25 years ago and it is right that this should be reflected in a higher upper age limit for jury service. Data from the Office for National Statistics show that, on average, people in England and Wales can expect to be “disability free” until they are 75. We believe that it is fair to expect people below this age to sit as jurors.
Over the age of 75, an increasing number of people would find it difficult or impossible to sit as jurors and would therefore seek to be excused from jury service. Rather than put them through the process of applying for excusal, and spend taxpayers’ money dealing with this additional administrative burden, we are increasing the upper age limit to 75.
Existing statutory provision allows anyone summoned for jury service, including, in future, those over 70, to seek to be excused, where there is a good reason for this.
While the main motivation for increasing the upper age limit is to make juries more representative of all the people who are playing a full part in their communities, we do expect some savings to result from a reduction in the number of jurors in full-time employment. This will reduce the number of employers who have to pay staff who are on jury service, and the costs to Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service of paying for loss of earnings. The only costs involved in implementing this policy will be minor changes to our systems, and to the relevant forms and guidance.
Raising the upper age limit for jury service to 75 will involve amending the Juries Act 1974 by taking primary legislation through Parliament. We expect this legislation to be introduced early next year.
Able Marine Energy Park
I refer to the application made by Able Humber Ports Ltd on 16 December 2011 under section 37 of the Planning Act 2008 regarding a proposed development known as the Able Marine Energy Park comprising a quay of solid construction on the south bank of the River Humber at Killingholme, together with an ecological compensation scheme on the opposite bank at Cherry Cobb Sands. I have been appointed by the Secretary of State to decide this application.
The original deadline for the decision on this application under section 107 of the Planning Act 2008 was 24 May 2013. On 21 May 2013 I made a statement to the House as required by that section announcing that I was setting a later deadline of 24 July 2013 for the decision. On 25 July 2013 I decided to set a new deadline for the decision of 28 August 2013 to allow time for further consideration of the application and informed the applicant and other interested parties accordingly.
Since my last statement, I can inform Parliament that the Crown Estate advised the Department on 22 August 2013 that an agreement for a lease of the land required for the project had been reached with the applicant and that the Crown Estate was consequently giving consent in accordance with section 135 of the Planning Act 2008 for the above order to include compulsory acquisition and other provisions in relation to that land.
On 28 August 2013 the Department for Transport issued a letter to the applicant and other interested parties informing them that I am minded to give development consent for the project as recommended by the panel which examined the application. However, before reaching a final decision I have asked the applicant to provide further information about the likely effectiveness of the ecological compensation scheme and to provide assurance that the project will not jeopardise any future operations on the Killingholme branch railway.
In order to allow time for the applicant to respond to the Department’s letter, for interested parties to consider and comment on the applicant’s response, and for the Department to assess all those responses, I am setting a new deadline for the decision on this application under section 107(3) of the Planning Act 2008 of 18 December 2013.
Crossrail Station at Woolwich
My noble Friend, the Earl Attlee, made the following written ministerial statement in the Lords on 25 July:
I am pleased to inform the House that the Crossrail sponsors (the Department for Transport and Transport for London) yesterday instructed Crossrail Ltd to complete the Crossrail station at Woolwich. This instruction will allow the station at Woolwich to open alongside the rest of the central section of the Crossrail route, currently scheduled to happen in December 2018.
The then Secretary of State for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond), made a statement in February 2011 confirming that an agreement for building the station box at Woolwich had been finalised—16 February 2011, Official Report, column 88WS. Since then Berkeley Homes has proceeded with construction of the box, in line with that agreement. This work was completed ahead of schedule in March this year and the box has now been handed over to Crossrail Ltd.
Government had always made it clear that completion of the station would be conditional upon receiving sufficient funding contributions from those developers and businesses that stand to benefit from a Crossrail station at Woolwich.
The instruction to complete the station, therefore, follows the conclusion of an agreement to fund the fit-out works.
Crossrail Ltd is receiving fixed additional funding of £54 million. This is made up of contributions from the royal borough of Greenwich, through local developer contributions and a grant from the Greater London Authority; Berkeley Homes, the site developer; and Transport for London, whose contribution will be repaid through the additional farebox revenue generated by the station.
The remainder of the funding will be provided by Crossrail Ltd. Crossrail Ltd had made budgetary provision for works that were required to allow trains to run through the station box. This will be reallocated to the works required to complete the station.
A fully operational station at Woolwich will support the regeneration of this part of south-east London, supporting the local borough’s growth ambitions as well as significantly improving connectivity and access to job opportunities. It will also provide jobs during construction.
Crossrail Ltd will now begin the process of procuring the fit-out works and will be publishing an OJEU shortly.