Wednesday 29 November 2006
Armed Forces: Army Regional Command Structure
My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Defence (Adam Ingram) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I am today announcing a number of changes to the Army's regional command structure.
The command of garrisons across the UK is inconsistent, with a variety of commanders from different chains of command holding garrison command responsibility. Responsibility for administration, both within the Army and with external organisations, can at times be unclear. To address these anomalies:
from April 2007, garrisons should be commanded by the local regional forces brigade commander; and
if there is no deployable brigade commander in the garrison, command will fall to the senior officer with most troops in that garrison.
RF Brigade and Division Structure
Changes to the regional brigade and divisional structure are proposed in order to bring Project Allenby-Connaught under a single general officer commanding and improve alignment to regional prime contractors. These changes will also enable the army to develop the super-garrison concept and ensure an even distribution of the potential future super-garrison sites. The changes will entail:
43 (Wessex) Brigade moving under command 4 Division, so 4 Division comprises all the southern brigades (43 (Wessex) Brigade, 145 (Home Counties) Brigade and 2 (Infantry) Brigade) on 1 April 2007.
49 (East) Brigade moving under command 5 Division, so 5 Division comprises the central formations (160 (Wales) Brigade, 143 (West Midlands) Brigade and 49 (East) Brigade) on 1 April 2007.
38 (Irish) Brigade (which will form from 39 Inf Bde and 107 (Ulster) Brigade) moving under command 2 Division and, simultaneously, 42 (North West) Brigade moving to come under command 5 Division. No date is yet set for these changes, as it will be dependent upon the rate of the Northern Ireland normalisation process.
The single point of accountability for the Colchester PFI transferred to the general officer commanding 5 Division (Major General Farquhar) when the GOC 4 Division retired in May 2006. General officer commanding 4 Division will assume responsibility for Allenby-Connaught from Commander Regional Forces during 2007.
The maps showing these changes will be placed in the Library of the House.
Cigarettes: Minimum Duty Levels
My honourable friend the Financial Secretary (John Healey) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I am today laying legislation confirming the introduction of quantitative restrictions on travellers bringing cigarettes from the newest EU member states, who are taking advantage of a derogation allowing them to delay meeting minimum duty levels on cigarettes. The restrictions will apply from 1 January 2007 to cigarettes bought duty-paid in Bulgaria and Romania. From that date, travellers to the UK bringing in cigarettes from Bulgaria and Romania will be restricted, as they are currently, to a limit of 200 cigarettes.
The Excise Duty Points (Etc.) (New Member States) (Amendment) Regulations 2006 and the Customs and Excise Duties (Travellers’ Allowances and Personal Reliefs) (New Member States) (Amendment) Order 2006 allow the UK to maintain these restrictions on travellers who are bringing back cigarettes from Bulgaria or Romania. The Relief for Legacies Imported from Third Countries (Application) Order 2006 makes consequential amendments to the Customs and Excise Duties (Personal Reliefs for Goods Permanently Imported) Order 1992 (S.I.1992/3193) so that its territorial application includes Bulgaria and Romania.
While the minimum duty rates are not met, concerns and uncertainties over the impact of EU enlargement on excise smuggling and cross-border shopping are heightened. Therefore where new member states take advantage of a derogation, existing member states are entitled to maintain the same restrictions on the import of cigarettes bought in those countries for a travellers’ own use, as are currently applied to travellers arriving from third countries.
Imposing restrictions in respect of Bulgaria and Romania will maintain consistency of approach taken by the UK with other countries that have yet to reach the EU minimum rates of duty, extending to Bulgaria and Romania the current restrictions imposed on eight countries that joined in 2004. These restrictions will provide certainty for both travellers and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) officers, and will also reduce the front-line cost of countering smuggling.
Once the legislation is passed, HMRC has plans in place to explain the restrictions to the travel industry and general public.
EU: Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council
My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (James Plaskitt) has made the following Statement.
The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council will be held on 1 December in Brussels. My honourable friend, Minister for Employment Relations and Minister for London (Jim Fitzpatrick), will be representing the UK. Health and consumer affairs issues are being taken on 30 November.
The first item is the communication from the Commission: Green Paper on adapting labour law to ensure flexibility and security for all. This will be a presentation from the Commission and exchange of views. The document was published on 22 November. The council hopes to adopt the council conclusions on decent work which essentially promote the International Labour Organisation response to the global jobs crisis.
The council will look at two aspects of responding to the challenges of globalisation and demographic change:
Enhancing higher productivity and more and better jobs including for people at the margins of the labour market. This will be an endorsement of Employment Committee opinion.
Commission communication: The Demographic Future of Europe—From Challenge to Opportunity. This will be a presentation by the Commission and then the endorsement of the Social Protection Committee opinion.
There will be council conclusions on the review of the implementation by the member states and the EU institutions of the Beijing platform for action and men and gender equality. Following the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995, the council asked member states to undertake an annual review of the implementation of the resulting platform for action.
Council hopes to reach political agreement on the amended proposal for a decision of the European Parliament and of the council establishing for the period 2007-13 the specific programme “Fight against violence (Daphne)” as part of the general programme “Fundamental Rights and Justice”.
There will be a progress report from the presidency on the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the council on improving the portability of supplementary pension rights. This is intended to make it easier for workers with occupational pensions to move around the EU. Member states will be invited to take part in the policy debate to make their positions clear.
The council will aim to reach agreement on a partial general approach on both the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the council implementing Regulation (EC) No. 883/04 on the co-ordination of social security schemes and the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the council amending Regulation (EC) No. 883/2004 on the co-ordination of social security systems, and determining the content of Annexe XI.
Under “any other business” the chair of the Employment Committee will give a report on the examination of national reform programme. The chair of the Social Protection Committee will give a progress report on work on social services of general interest.
EU: Energy Council
My honourable friend the Minister of State (Malcolm Wicks) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
Lord Truscott represented the UK at the Energy Council in Brussels on 23 November. Discussion focused on the Commission's recent Energy Efficiency Action Plan and on renewable energy.
Informal discussion over dinner, on the eve of the council, reinforced the unanimous view that energy mix was a matter of subsidiarity. Views on an appropriate overall CO2 reduction target were mixed, with two member states particularly cautious. Lord Truscott underlined the UK's emphasis on the broader climate challenge that ambitious action on energy efficiency could help meet.
In the council itself, Commissioner Piebalgs presented the Energy Efficiency Action Plan as a key element in the battle against climate change, with the aim of achieving 20 per cent savings in energy use by 2020. Priority areas include product standards, labelling and education, buildings and transport, added generation efficiency and directing more structural funds towards energy efficiency. He added that transport had huge potential—the 120g/km CO2 target for vehicle emissions, while not mentioned in the conclusions, remained valid. What was needed now was ambitious and effective action. The council adopted conclusions on the action plan (15210/06) after one member state registered its preference for binding targets.
In the policy debate that followed, all member states supported the action plan, with significant support for the more focused priorities that offered the most added value in the conclusions. Many member states emphasised the importance of education and the need to give member states maximum flexibility to address their national situation, to engage industry, financial institutions and the public sector at all levels and to mobilise community funding opportunities. New member states particularly, focused on access to funding. Two major member states supported market mechanisms, one arguing for legislation on transport efficiency and for an EU-wide “white certificates” system.
On renewables, while many reinforced that energy mix was for member states to decide, most supported a general 20 per cent target of renewables by 2020. Only two member states wanted this to be binding; several wanted this to be at EU level only, with differentiated targets for member states. Most wanted flexibility for member states to use the most competitive technologies. Use of market mechanisms, particularly the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, and the need for a sustainable and predictable framework were also mentioned.
On the international dimension, there was considerable support for an international framework agreement on energy efficiency (IFAEE). All supported more EU leadership and effort internationally; international organisations or bilateral dialogues, particularly with the US and China; and research and technology transfer, especially with emerging and developing countries. In response, the Commission agreed with the points made on energy efficiency, emphasising the need for leadership both within the EU by the public sector and by the EU internationally. The Commission would call a meeting to discuss an IFAEE in January. On renewables, it would look at some of the new ideas but continued to believe that a well justified mandatory target was appropriate.
The presidency and Commission summarised progress on a range of international dossiers including Russia where, despite lack of agreement on the post-partnership and co-operation agreement mandate, the presidency would rearrange the Energy Permanent Partnership Council for before the end of next month. The Commission said it would continue with a robust approach to the range of energy discussions with Russia, based on the principles of the Energy Charter Treaty.
The Commission also noted that the creation of the proposed energy security correspondents’ network should be agreed by council conclusions before the end of the year. Commissioner Piebalgs emphasised it would be a light structure, involving no duplication and would operate on an entirely voluntary basis. Member states were invited to nominate two members.
Responding to a request from one member state, the Commission confirmed it would consult on the new environmental state aid guidelines early in 2007.
Housing: The Rent Service
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (John Hutton) has made the following Statement.
I am today announcing my intention to transfer my responsibilities in relation to the appointment, remuneration and administration of rent officers to the Commissioners for Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs. Accordingly, the work of the Rent Service (TRS), which is currently an executive agency of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), will become the responsibility of the Commissioners for Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs and will be integrated into the Valuation Office Agency (VOA), an executive agency of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs. The transfer will be effective from 1 April 2009.
Following the expected rollout of the local housing allowance, the cornerstone of the Housing Benefit Reform Programme in 2008, the number of staff required to perform the rent officers' residual functions, both to support housing benefit and make valuations on fair rent cases, will not be enough to warrant an independent agency of the DWP. It would be more efficient for TRS to integrate its work with another more appropriate organisation to support the Government's wider efficiency agenda of collaboration and shared services, in order to provide better value for money to taxpayers. We have concluded that the TRS should be transferred to the VOA, due to the strong similarities between the two organisations.
This change of responsibilities will be effected by way of secondary legislation in due course. Any related changes to the proposed information-sharing gateway between rent officers and the Secretary of State in Clause 35 of the Welfare Reform Bill will be brought forward at the first appropriate opportunity.
Immigration: Migration Advisory Committee
My honourable friend the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr Liam Byrne) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The House will wish to know that I am publishing today a consultation document on the establishment of a Migration Advisory Committee. Copies of this consultation document have been placed in the House Library.
This Government are committed to attracting people with the skills Britain needs from around the world. That is why we have announced a new points-based system for managed migration, which we will introduce from next year. In implementing this system, I believe that we could benefit greatly from independent advice. I propose that a Migration Advisory Committee, comprising independent experts and key stakeholders, should provide that advice.
I set out the proposed remit of the Migration Advisory Committee in the consultation document. The key decisions on which it would advise relate to whether there are particular labour shortages in the economy which could best be filled by migration, and what the points criteria should be for highly skilled and skilled workers in the new points-based system. We would ask the Migration Advisory Committee to assess, in formulating its advice, the net benefit to the UK as a whole of particular categories of migrants, taking into account economic, fiscal and wider impacts of migration.
The consultation period ends on 31 January. We will then report on the results of the consultation and our proposed course of action.
My honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Planning has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
Today we are publishing a new Planning Policy Statement 3: Housing, a housing policy document on delivering affordable housing, as well as documents by English Partnerships as part of a consultation on a new National Brownfield Strategy. The purpose of the changes to planning and housing policy is to:
support further increased housing needed across the country;
bring additional brownfield land back into use;
increase the design and environmental standards of new homes and neighbourhoods in order to move towards zero carbon development;
deliver more affordable homes in rural and urban areas;
support more family housing, including more play spaces, parks and gardens for children;
give local authorities more flexibility about how and where to deliver the homes that are needed.
We need to increase the quantity and improve the quality of new homes at the same time.
Government research found that if we do not build more homes, the proportion of 30 year-old couples able to afford their own home will fall from over 50 per cent today to nearer 30 per cent in 20 years’ time.
Forty-five towns and cities have come forward to propose significant increases in new homes and jobs—in addition to the existing growth areas such as the Thames Gateway. These planning changes aim to support those areas to deliver the additional homes we need, while raising standards at the same time.
Planning Policy Statement (PPS) 3: Housing
In December 2005, as part of the Government’s response to Kate Barker’s Review of Housing Supply, we issued a consultation draft of a new Planning Policy Statement: Housing (PPS3). We are today publishing final PPS3. A copy of the new PPS will be placed in the Library of both Houses, together with the accompanying summary of the consultation responses.
PPS3 will underpin the delivery of the Government's key housing policy objectives to deliver more homes, but of higher quality and higher environmental standards to meet the challenge from climate change.
The key policies are:
Local and regional planning bodies will need to take more account of affordability when determining how many new homes are needed in their area.
Local authorities will need to identify more appropriate sites for housing. Councils need to plan 15 years ahead, to ensure they have a rolling five-year supply of sustainable and deliverable sites, in order to prevent much needed new homes being held up by unnecessary delays in the planning process.
Stronger emphasis on improving the quality of design of housing and neighbourhoods. PPS3 makes it clear that local authorities should turn down poor quality applications.
Stronger environmental standards. Developers and planning bodies will have to take account of the need to cut carbon emissions as well as wider environmental and sustainability considerations when siting and designing new homes. The forthcoming planning policy statement on climate change and the new code for sustainable homes will set out further details including plans to move towards zero carbon development.
New emphasis on family homes. For the first time the planning system will be required to consider the housing needs of children, including gardens, play areas and green spaces. Local authorities will have more ability to promote mixed communities and to ensure larger homes are being developed alongside flats and smaller homes.
A continuing focus on brownfield land, retaining the national target that at least 60 per cent of new homes should be built on brownfield land. Local authorities will need to continue to prioritise brownfield land in their plans and will need to set their own local targets to reflect available sites and support the national target. They will also need to take stronger action to bring more brownfield land back into use, supported by the new National Brownfield Strategy led by English Partnerships. In response to the consultation we have also introduced new safeguards so that local authorities can ensure their brownfield approach is delivered, to support regeneration and to prevent developers concentrating only on greenfield sites.
More flexibility for local authorities to determine how and where new homes should be built in their area, alongside greater responsibility to ensure the homes are built. Local authorities will be able to set their own local standards for density (with a national indicative minimum of 30 dwellings per hectare) and for car parking. They will also be able to set separate targets for different kinds of brownfield land where appropriate, to give them more flexibility to shape new developments to meet the needs of their local area.
Stronger policies on affordable housing. The new definition of affordable housing will concentrate public funding and planning contributions on genuinely affordable housing. In addition local authorities will be able to require developer contributions to affordable housing on smaller sites where it is viable.
Stronger emphasis on rural affordable housing. Following the recommendations of the Affordable Rural Housing Commission, local authorities and regional planning bodies will have to take greater account of affordability pressures in rural areas, and the need to sustain village life by providing additional housing that is sensitive to the area and the environment.
We are also publishing today a statement on delivering affordable housing, intended to support local authorities and other key players in delivering more high quality affordable housing within mixed sustainable communities by using all the tools available to them. It provides information on how existing delivery mechanisms operate. This statement should be read in conjunction with Planning Policy Statement 3: Housing (PPS3), but is not itself planning guidance. It is available on the Communities and Local Government website at www.communities.gov.uk
National Brownfield Strategy
The National Brownfield Strategy team within English Partnerships, in its role as specialist adviser to government on brownfield land issues, has been working with us and a wide range of stakeholders for the past three years to develop a National Brownfield Strategy for England, to help understand and overcome the problems which are preventing brownfield sites from being brought back into use. The strategy considers brownfield use in the widest sense including all types of development as well as various green end uses, such as parks.
The strategy consists of two documents; the first, a substantial best practice guide The Brownfield Guide—A Practitioners Guide to Land Re-use in England; and the second, a short policy discussion paper that sets out the policy issues raised by stakeholders and through English Partnerships’ own work in developing the guide. The policy discussion paper suggests a set of overriding principles for brownfield development and sets out a number of outline policy proposals for further discussion at a stakeholder event in mid-December. The discussion paper will be available on the EP website at www.englishpartnerships.co.uk
Following the input of stakeholders at this event, English Partnerships will then submit detailed policy recommendations to government early in the new year.
Social Fund Commission
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (John Hutton) has made the following Statement.
I am pleased to announce that from 1 December 2006 Sir Richard Tilt will serve a further three-year period as Social Fund Commissioner for Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Sir Richard, who has already served two terms as commissioner, was successful after an open recruitment exercise.