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Written Statements

Volume 713: debated on Tuesday 27 October 2009

Written Statements

Tuesday 27 October 2009

Administration and Enforcement Restriction Orders

Statement

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Bridget Prentice) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On 18 September the Ministry of Justice published the consultation paper entitled Administration and Enforcement Restriction Orders: Setting the Parameters. I have today deposited copies of the consultation paper in the Libraries of both Houses, in the Vote Office, the Printed Paper Office and on the internet at www.justice.gov.uk.

This was a formal consultation exercise undertaken by the Ministry of Justice to discuss the areas where secondary legislation will be used to establish the constraints and limits required for the effective operation of the revised administration order (AO) and the enforcement restriction order (ERO) schemes. These are contained in chapters 1 and 2 of Part 5 of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act (TCEA) 2007.

Responses were received from various sectors of the community including the creditor, debt advice, legal and government sectors as well as individuals, and were generally supportive of the proposals.

However, due to the need for supporting IT changes in the county courts it will not be possible to introduce the reformed AO scheme and the ERO until April 2011, at the earliest. This would result in delay in providing help and support to debtors.

The ERO would only be available to those who have experienced a sudden, unforeseen change in circumstances from which they are likely to recover within six months, but it has become clear that this is not fully understood and there is a significant risk that large numbers of debtors might apply for an ERO, without considering the requirement for evidence of recovery in the short term, in the mistaken belief that it will be available to them.

If debtors apply for an ERO in inappropriate circumstances, this could worsen their position as:

if awarded, interest will continue to be added to the debt;

if not awarded, they will have wasted time in identifying an appropriate workable solution; and

it would place a significant strain on HMCS as these would be priority hearings, which need to be heard on the same day as the application is received.

Armed Forces: Coroners' Inquests

Statement

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Bridget Prentice) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

My honourable friend the Minister for the Armed Forces and I wish to make the latest in the series of quarterly Statements to the House about the inquests of service personnel and others who have died overseas. We cannot express highly enough the regard in which we continue to hold our service personnel who are serving, or who have served, in the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our deepest sympathies lie with the families of those personnel who have lost their lives in these operations. It is a cause of particular sadness that since our last Statement a further 47 service personnel have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

Today, we are announcing the progress that has been made since the Written Ministerial Statement on 15 July 2009 (Official Report, Commons, col. 30WS), with information about the conduct of inquests by the Wiltshire and Swindon and other coroners. This Statement gives the position at 16 October.

The tables which accompany this Statement again include information about those cases which involve a board of inquiry or a service inquiry.

Progress with inquests

At the time of the last Statement, we reported that up to 6 July 241 inquests had been held since June 2006, 227 into the overseas deaths of service personnel and 14 into the deaths of civilians in Iraq whose bodies were repatriated via RAF Brize Norton or RAF Lyneham.

Since 6 July a further 19 inquests have been held into the deaths of service personnel who died in operations in Iraq or Afghanistan. This makes a total of 260 inquests held since June 2006.

Since operations commenced in 2001 there have been a total of 284 inquests into the deaths of service personnel who lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, including four service personnel who died in the UK of their injuries. In two further cases, no formal inquest was held, but the deaths were taken into consideration during inquest proceedings for those who died in the same incident.

We remain deeply grateful for the efforts of all the coroners who are involved in conducting these inquests, and totally committed in our support for the independent coronial system.

Our departments continue to work closely together, and with the coroners, to review the way in which the system is working and to look for opportunities, prior to the implementation of the coroners’ legislation which is currently before Parliament in the Coroners and Justice Bill, to make improvements for the benefit of the bereaved families.

Open inquests

Pre-31 March 2007 fatalities

There are no outstanding pre-31 March 2007 inquests in the Oxfordshire coroner’s district.

Post-1 April 2007 fatalities

Since October 2007, additional resources have been provided by the Government to ensure that a backlog of inquests does not build up in the Wiltshire and Swindon district (since 1 April 2007 fatalities have been repatriated via RAF Lyneham). The coroner transfers inquests for service personnel to a coroner closer to the bereaved family, where possible. It is helpful that the district continues to benefit from the experience and expertise of David Masters, who retired as coroner on 31 March but has been appointed as an assistant deputy coroner by his successor, David Ridley.

There are 105 open inquests to be concluded into the deaths of service personnel who died in Iraq and Afghanistan whose bodies were repatriated after 1 April 2007 (64 involving deaths in the past six months). Of these, Mr Ridley has retained 56 inquests, whilst 47 inquests are being conducted by coroners closer to the next of kin, and two inquest transfers are pending. At 16 October one recent fatality had been repatriated but the inquest was yet to be opened. Hearing dates have been set in 13 of these cases.

Inquests into the deaths of service personnel who returned home injured

There remain eight inquests to be held of service personnel who returned home injured and subsequently died of their injuries.

We shall continue to keep the House informed about progress with the remaining inquests. I have placed tables in the Library of the House which outline the status of all cases and the date of death in each case. Copies are also available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.

By-laws and Consent Regimes

Statement

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (John Denham) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today announcing action to further the Government’s commitment to ensure decisions on local matters are made as close to the people affected by them as possible.

First, following consultation I am proposing to change the rules about how certain by-laws are made, so that councils and their communities will be able to address local issues through by-laws without needing permission from Whitehall. I intend to seek the approval of each House to the necessary regulations under the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007. I am also proposing that councils should be able to enforce certain by-laws through fixed penalty notices, and I intend to make and lay before the House the necessary regulation to provide for this.

A copy of the summary document and government response, Communities in Control: Real People, Real Power, has been placed in the Library of the House.

As part of the same concerted drive, I also intend that my department will publish a consultation on proposals to either repeal or dramatically streamline more than half of the consent regimes my department is responsible for—relating to, for example, housing and land use, which currently require councils to seek government approval before acting.

Following the 2006 report Consent RegimesReducing Unnecessary Bureaucracy, which sets out the Government's intention to reduce the red tape and improve the local authority consent regime system, Communities and Local Government has undertaken two reviews to ensure the consent regimes it is responsible for are kept to a necessary minimum. The most recent review identified over half which, subject to consultation, could be either repealed or streamlined. The Government will retain powers where they consider that it will benefit local government and citizens to retain national oversight.

Debt Management Schemes

Statement

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Bridget Prentice) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On 18 September the Ministry of Justice published a consultation paper entitled Debt Management SchemesDelivering Effective and Balanced Solutions for Debtors and Creditors. I have today deposited copies of the consultation paper, impact assessment and annexes in the Libraries of both Houses, in the Vote Office, the Printed Paper Office and on the internet at www. justice.gov.uk.

This consultation focuses on establishing whether there is a need to develop current debt management schemes (DMS).

The following options are currently available to support people with debt problems:

county court administration orders (for those with unsecured debts below £5,000), bankruptcy, individual voluntary arrangements (IVAs), time orders (for debts regulated by the Consumer Credit Act), the debt relief order (for those with unsecured debts below £15,000, disposable income below £50 p.m. and assets of less than £300) and non-court based debt management/repayment plans operated by both the commercial and not-for-profit sectors.

Additionally other initiatives have been introduced to provide further assistance including:

the new practice direction covering pre-action creditor behaviour (developed by the Civil Justice Council), introduced on 6 April, requires all business creditors to provide consumers with information about how to contact them to assist direct negotiation, details of free advice providers and a requirement to allow time for advice to be given where this is the chosen course; and

the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has reached agreement with the credit card and debt collection sectors that those facing payment problems will be offered a minimum 30-day breathing space to make progress in getting their affairs in order once they have engaged with a debt advice agency.

Officials at the Ministry of Justice have worked closely with officials at the Insolvency Service and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to ensure that the consultation paper addresses the feedback that has been received from various stakeholders following the publication of the consumer White Paper, and from other government departments. The paper puts forward a number of options and explains the advantages and disadvantages to debtors, creditors and debt management scheme providers of each of these options. This will enable stakeholders to make a fully informed decision about which option would both deliver a speedy resolution to a broad range of debt problems experienced by a wide range of people and allow creditors to recover their debts wherever possible.

In considering whether action is required, the Government will be guided by the following objectives:

helping people who could, but are struggling to, repay their debts;

ensuring that fees charged by debt management schemes providers are reasonable and consistent;

ending the practice of some creditors adding interest to debts included in a repayment plan;

preserving the best features of the current debt management industry;

ensuring that needs of debtors, creditors and providers are correctly balanced; and

ensuring that debtors are aware of the range of options available to them and are advised on the most appropriate and sustainable solution(s) for their circumstances.

The intention is to ensure that

Debtors

will receive advice about all the options available to them;

they will know how much needs to be repaid because creditor interest and charges would be stopped;

will know roughly how long this will take—but this may vary due to changes of circumstances;

the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 allows for the possible composition of debts. The consultation paper asks questions about whether this is needed;

will be protected from enforcement—without permission of the court;

will not be forced to realise assets; and

will not be harassed by creditors.

Creditors

may have their debts paid in full—possibly minus operators’ charges;

will not need to chase debts;

will have information presented to them in a common format; and

will be confident that they are receiving the maximum possible monthly instalment.

If the consultation results in the introduction of a code of best practice or the approved DMS, it could be possible to introduce these as early as 2010, depending on parliamentary time. This would deliver early support for debtors.

Prisons

Statement

My honourable friend the Minister of State for Justice (Maria Eagle) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On 27 April, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice made a Statement on prisons and probation, in which he announced plans to build five new 1,500-place prisons. The Secretary of State for Justice announced the preferred location for the first two sites: one on the site of the former Runwell Secure Psychiatric Hospital in Essex and one at Beam Park West, Dagenham.

I am pleased to announce today that we are starting a fresh search for sites on which to build new 1,500-place prisons. This search will be more open and transparent than previous searches and we will be asking local authorities, landowners and other interested parties to identify potential sites. We will look across the country for sites to serve areas with greatest demand for prison places. The search will be focused on London, the north-west, north Wales, and West Yorkshire. Finding the most appropriate place for a new prison is of paramount importance. They should be located in those areas where there is the greatest need, areas where the greater number of prisoners come from.

This will allow us to keep prisoners closer to their home areas and will help ensure that important family and other links can be maintained, which helps prisoner rehabilitation. As part of this search, we will announce our interest in an identified site and will consult with all interested parties.

Crime has fallen by more than a third since 1997, with 70 per cent more violent and dangerous offenders locked up, and for longer. We have already created 25,000 additional prison places in the past 12 years and we are committed to providing sufficient prison places to hold serious and persistent offenders, who rightly should be behind bars.

These new prisons will allow us to modernise the estate by closing down older, inefficient and worn-out places. They will help protect the public and make communities safer by providing regimes to punish and reform offenders.

Once a prison is established in an area, almost without exception the local community becomes very supportive of it. A prison is a source of secure, well paid employment and a focus for much volunteering. The research evidence which shows that prisons have no adverse effect on house prices or crime rates is then borne out by experience. But proposals for new prisons can at first be controversial, which is why this new site search will be more open and transparent than previous searches, and we will publish a shortlist of potential sites.

Once a site is identified, consultation with local MPs, local authorities and residents will be undertaken in order to achieve the most open and transparent process possible. Once consultation has concluded, we will seek to acquire that site with an appropriate planning consent.