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Written Statements

Volume 716: debated on Wednesday 27 January 2010

Written Statements

Wednesday 27 January 2010

Energy: Oil Fields

Statement

My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Alistair Darling) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Government recognise the importance of the UK oil and gas industry to our economy and the dependable foundation it provides for the UK’s energy security.

Whilst we are trying to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels we must and do recognise that this will be a long transition and our oil and gas reserves will continue to play a vital role in supplying our energy needs for many years to come.

We must ensure that the UK taxpayer receives a fair return from the extraction of our national resources. We are, however, committed to maximising the economic production of the UK’s reserves, for the fuel this delivers, for the contribution this makes to our economy, and for the jobs and skills the industry supports and develops.

For these reasons, today I am announcing secondary legislation that is to be laid before the House of Commons in due course and, subject to approval by the House, will support the development of remote gas fields in the West of Shetland region. The area to the West of the Shetland Islands is the last major area in the UK continental shelf to be developed and infrastructure is critical to fully unlocking the gas potential of the region. It is estimated that the area contains around 20 per cent of the UK’s remaining oil and gas reserves.

The legislation, if approved by the House, will extend the field allowance, announced in Budget 2009, to remote deep water gas fields, which are found in the West of Shetland area. The field allowance works by exempting an amount of income from the supplementary charge. All profits generated by qualifying fields are still subject to ring fence corporation tax.

The legislation is to be introduced by order and it is our intention that it will be effective from the day after the day on which it is made. Full details of this measure, including the proposed legislation, will be issued on HMRC’s website in due course when the legislation is laid before the House of Commons.

Equality

Statement

My right honourable friend the Minister for Women and Equality (Harriet Harman) has made the following Statement.

Today the Government have published their official response to the National Equality Panel’s report, An Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK. The National Equality Panel’s report, which has also been published today, and the full Government response document can be found online at www.equalities.gov.uk, and I have placed copies in the Library. Printed copies of the NEP report and the Government’s response are available upon request from the Government Equalities Office.

To build a modern, prosperous society, we have to tackle the barriers that unfairly hold people back and give everyone the opportunity to succeed.

Equality matters in the modern world:

for individuals, who are entitled to fairness and to have the opportunity to fulfil their potential and achieve their aspirations and not be held back;

for the economy, because the economy that will succeed in the future is one that draws on the talents of all; and,

for society, because an equal society is more cohesive and at ease with itself.

That is why I commissioned the National Equality Panel in 2008, chaired by Professor John Hills, to undertake an in-depth analysis of economic inequality in the UK today. The panel has examined how a range of factors—including gender, race, disability, social background and where you live—are associated with and influence how people fare at school and at work, their earnings, income and wealth.

The panel’s report sets out the scale of the challenges that will need to be addressed if we are to effectively tackle inequality in the UK. The National Equality Panel’s report confirms our strongly held view that public policy intervention can and does make a difference to economic inequalities.

We welcome the panel’s groundbreaking report. We have made progress over the past 13 years. Some of the widest gaps in outcomes between social groups have been reduced, and trends reversed in the last decade. For example the attainment gap between black and white pupils fell from 18 per cent in 1997 to 6 per cent in 2008. The pay gap between men and women has also narrowed. But we are also determined to build on this and achieve more to create a fairer and more prosperous society. It is unacceptable that social background and other factors make so big a difference to the ability of people to fulfil their aspirations and potential.

The Government will continue to make the choices that prioritise fairness and aspiration.

Equality Bill

Statement

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Government Equalities Office (Michael Jabez Foster) has made the following Statement.

The Equality Bill, currently before the House of Lords, will outlaw unjustifiable age discrimination against adults aged 18 or over in the provision of services and the exercise of public functions. It also includes powers to make exceptions from the ban, so that we can make clear the beneficial and justifiable age-based practices which will be allowed to continue.

On 29 June 2009, we issued the consultation document Equality Bill: Making it workEnding age discrimination in services and public functions inviting views on our developing policy for exceptions from the age discrimination ban and when the ban should be implemented. The consultation ended on 30 September 2009. Today we have issued Equality Bill: Making it workEnding age discrimination in services and public functions. A Policy Statement. This document summarises the consultation responses and sets out our plans for specific exceptions from the ban.

We want the legislation to have the same effects in health and social care as in other sectors, that is:

to eradicate harmful discrimination; and

to permit service providers to treat people of different ages differently where this is beneficial or justifiable or for good public policy reasons;

and to ensure that

when services deal with individuals, they focus on the individual, taking account of his or her age where it is appropriate to do so, and where this helps to offer a personalised service.

In doing this, we will act in accordance with the relevant recommendations of the recent review Achieving age equality in health and social care.

we will create a specific exception to allow financial service providers to treat people of different ages differently, but only where this is proportionate to risks and costs. Prices can still be varied by age, where this genuinely reflects risk or costs and is not an arbitrary decision;

we will improve transparency by requiring financial service providers to publish aggregate data in respect of certain products that anyone can check;

we will improve access by requiring the providers of certain insurance products to operate a signposting and referrals system. Where this requirement applies and an insurer does not provide the service to a person because of their age, they will be required to refer the person to a supplier who can meet their needs or refer them to a dedicated signposting service;

alongside the provisions relating to healthcare and financial services, we will enable any service provider in the public or private sector to use age as a criterion to determine the eligibility for concessions or benefits, where the purpose of the concession is to benefit the age group to which it applies;

we will provide an exception from the ban on age-discrimination to allow specialist group holidays to continue to be provided for people in particular age groups, provided that the age range for the holiday is clearly stated in the promotional material.

if holiday accommodation providers still use age limits then they will need to be able to objectively justify them;

we will explore the issues further before deciding the way forward on vehicle hire where we had not proposed an exception for age limits given firms ability to vary premiums in line with costs relating to insurance premiums.

These exceptions will be set out in an order made under the power in clause 195 of the Bill. We intend to consult on the draft order in autumn 2010, giving people a further opportunity to comment before the exceptions are debated by both Houses of Parliament. We are placing copies of the document in the Libraries of both of the Houses. Copies will also be available on the Government Equalities Office website at www.equalities.gov.uk.

Libel

Statement

My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Jack Straw) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

In response to concerns about the possibility that our libel laws are having a chilling effect on freedom of expression, the Government have set up a working group to examine issues relating to the substantive law on libel.

The terms of reference of this group are “to consider whether the law of libel, including the law relating to libel tourism, in England and Wales needs reform, and if so to make recommendations as to solutions”. A list of members of the working group is attached.

The scope of the group's considerations will extend to all aspects of substantive libel law in England and Wales, but will exclude issues relating to costs in defamation proceedings, where work is already underway. The working group is intended to have an intensive, short term focus and has been requested to make recommendations by mid-March.

Working Group on Libel—List of Members

David Banks (media law consultant);

Sir Leszek Borysiewicz (chief executive of the Medical Research Council);

Tracey Brown (managing director, Sense About Science);

Desmond Browne QC (barrister, 5 Raymond Buildings);

Rod Christie-Miller (partner and chief executive at Schillings, solicitors);

Robin Esser (executive managing editor, Daily Mail);

Jo Glanville (editor, Index on Censorship);

Jonathan Heawood (director, English PEN);

Tony Jaffa (head of the media team at Foot Anstey, solicitors);

Sarah Jones (head of litigation and intellectual property, BBC);

Marcus Partington (chair of Media Lawyers Association, and legal director, Mirror Group Newspapers);

Gillian Phillips (director of editorial legal services, the Guardian);

Gavin Phillipson (professor at Durham Law School);

Mark Stephens (partner at Stephens Finer Innocent, solicitors);

Andrew Stephenson (partner at Carter Ruck, solicitors);

Paul Tweed (senior partner at Johnsons, solicitors); and

John Witherow (editor, Sunday Times).

The working group will be chaired by Rowena Collins-Rice, Director-General, Democracy, Constitution and Law and Chief Legal Officer at the Ministry of Justice.

National Victims' Service

Statement

My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On behalf of the Home Secretary, the Attorney-General and myself, I am today announcing details of the new National Victims’ Service as the next stage of reforms aimed at ensuring the justice system is firmly on the side of the law abiding citizen. Its aim will be to provide clear, universal entitlements to all victims of crime and to the most vulnerable.

The £8 million National Victims’ Service guarantees victims of crime and anti-social behaviour referred from the police more comprehensive and dedicated support. The service will be rolled out in two phases, beginning in March, helping families bereaved by murder or manslaughter, and will provide intensive support, care and attention, tailored to their individual needs, beyond the conclusion of any investigation or trial. Each person will be given a named, dedicated support worker, who will meet with them regularly to identify their needs and liaise with the authorities on their behalf. The individual may need immediate practical assistance—for example with security, or childcare, or making bill payments—and will be helped through all of this.

Emotional support and expert assistance will also be offered where needed—counselling, for instance, or legal and financial advice. This support will not stop when the criminal justice process comes to a conclusion.

From 1 April we will begin to roll out the National Victims’ Service for all victims of crime across England and Wales.

The most vulnerable victims will be entitled to:

fast contact to establish their support needs, seven days a week;

a one-to-one caseworker responsible for pulling together public sector agencies and third sector providers to respond to their needs, across housing, health, employment, social services and other areas; and

quick referral to—and/or the commissioning of —specialist support from other agencies and third sector organisations when needed.

In addition, all victims of crime who are in need of specific assistance no matter where they live or what offence committed against them will receive a better service targeted to their needs. They will be entitled to:

immediate emotional support from a trained support worker;

an in-depth health check of their practical, emotional, health, security and housing needs;

an individually tailored support plan;

support not just 9 to 5, but seven days a week; and

tailored information about what is likely to happen in their case, and practical advice.

From July this year, all victims of crime who need it will also be entitled to a caseworker who will guide them through the criminal justice process and give them help and assistance as long as they need it.

This provision will be complementary to the work which the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) do already in support of victims and bereaved victims. Following the implementation of the 1999 Lawrence inquiry report, a comprehensive national system of police family liaison officers has been in place in homicide cases, which has proved very effective and helpful.

Prosecutors can also now speak to victims and witnesses directly, something unheard of and indeed once prohibited. The CPS has consolidated this by providing targeted support to the community through the introduction of community prosecutors.

The new National Victims’ Service is a key part of the Government’s wider strategy to protect core public services which the public depend on, while at the same time making them more personalised to meet individuals’ needs. Today’s announcement also builds on the wide range of measures the Government have introduced over the past 13 years for victims of crime, including a victims’ champion, victim personal statements, a victims’ advisory panel and the trebling of funding for victims’ services in the voluntary sector.

The establishment of the National Victims’ Service is another key milestone in rebalancing the criminal justice service. It will make sure that victims across England and Wales are given consistent personal support throughout the criminal justice process and beyond. If victims need help, we will continue to be there for them—for as long as they need it.

Copies of The National Victims Service: An initial response to the Victims Champion’s report document have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. Copies of the document will also be available on the Criminal Justice System website at www.cjsonline.gov.uk.

Planning

Statement

My right honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Planning (John Healey) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Today I am announcing measures to give local authorities powers to manage better the quality and supply of private rented accommodation in their areas and to promote better balanced communities in local neighbourhoods. The private rented sector has an important, and growing, role in the housing market. This Government want to support the private sector. But, as well as a bigger sector, we want a better sector with standards that meet the needs of those who depend on private rented accommodation.

Local authorities need to be able to plan for the right housing mix and deal effectively with problems as they arise. Such problems can include anti-social behaviour, poorly maintained and dangerous properties, and pressures on community services.

The Government recognise the important contribution houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) make to the private rented sector. They provide housing to meet the needs of specific groups and households and make a contribution to the overall provision of affordable housing stock. However, localised problems caused by high concentrations of HMOs have been highlighted as concerns in some towns and cities across the country

Following research to look at the issues we set out a number of options to deal with this problem in a public consultation paper, Houses in multiple occupation and possible planning responses.

In the light of the responses to this consultation I have decided to amend the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 (as amended) (the Use Classes Order) to provide for a specific definition of a HMO. Planning permission will then be required, where a material change of use occurs, to change the use of a property from C3 (dwelling house) to a HMO.

At the same time as amending the Use Classes Order, I will amend the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 (as amended) to provide that a change from a HMO back to the C3 class (dwelling house) will not require planning permission.

The consultation responses and research work have indicated that good practice alone cannot solve the problems encountered in a number of communities. This measure is strongly supported by responses to the consultation and it will enable local planning authorities to identify new HMOs with more certainty and act in particular neighbourhoods where there is concern about the mix and balance of communities and concerns about standards of conversion and maintenance of properties, to improve community balance.

I intend to introduce the necessary secondary legislation in time for it to come into force on 6 April 2010.

A summary of responses to the consultation, which includes a statement of the Government’s intention, is being published today.

I can also announce the publication today of a short consultation on potential changes to the consent regime for discretionary licensing schemes under the Housing Act 2004. The licensing provisions under the Housing Act 2004 represent another local power available to local authorities in tackling problems associated with HMOs and other privately rented accommodation. I propose the introduction of a general consent, enabling local authorities to introduce discretionary licensing schemes without seeking approval from my department. I believe it is right that these local decisions should be made by those who know their area best and who are directly accountable to local communities. The consultation will close on Friday 12 March, and any future general consent will come into effect from the common commencement date of 6 April 2010.

I am also publishing today the second part of research undertaken by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) for the department in 2008 into the implementation of HMO licensing following the 2004 Housing Act. This shows emerging evidence of improvements to the condition and management of properties as a direct result of HMO licensing, although it also indicates that local authorities have still to complete the task of licensing all HMOs subject to mandatory licensing. I am therefore reviewing the support available to local authorities in relation to regulation of the private rented sector, including publishing draft guidance on licensing provisions, and will put in place any changes before the commencement of the new powers I am announcing today. This work is part of our programme of reform and support for the private rented sector. We consulted last summer on a comprehensive package of proposals aimed at improving quality and professionalism in the sector and ensuring the best possible deal for tenants.

The proposed national register for landlords is a key element of the measures that we plan. By allowing local authorities to pinpoint private rented housing, the national register will give important support to local authorities seeking to use existing powers, including licensing, in a strategic and proportionate way.

The national register will also provide a mechanism by which landlords and tenants can be kept properly informed of their rights and responsibilities and by which tenants will, for the first time, be able to perform basic checks on potential landlords. More broadly, I want to ensure that all tenants have easy access to clear advice, and know where to turn when things go wrong.

I will be making a more detailed announcement on these and other proposals for the private rented sector shortly, including a summary of responses to our summer 2009 consultation following the Rugg review.

I am placing a copy of the consultation document for discretionary licensing schemes, the HMO summary of consultation responses, the BRE report and the draft guidance in the Library of the House.

Questions for Written Answer: Correction

Statement

An error has been identified in part of the Written Answer I gave to the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, at Official Report, 5 October 2009, col. WA 472. The first paragraph should have been as follows:

As of 9 September 2009, 1,225 prisoners who were serving an indeterminate sentence for public protection in custody were recorded as having a tariff of two years or less and were past tariff. This was from a population of 1,955 IPP prisoners past tariff. This figure excludes those who have been released and who were subsequently recalled following the revocation of their IPP licences. The average amount of time this group has been held in prison beyond the expiry of their tariff is 486 days.

Taxation: Information Exchange Agreements

Statement

My right honourable friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Stephen Timms) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Tax information exchange agreements (TIEAs) were signed with Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Christopher and Nevis, Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in London on 18 January 2010.

The text of each TIEA has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and made available on HM Revenue and Customs' website. The texts will be scheduled to draft Orders in Council and laid before the House of Commons in due course.

Terrorism: Finance

Statement

My honourable friend, the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Sarah McCarthy-Fry), has today made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Supreme Court has today delivered its judgment in the case of HM Treasury v Ahmed and Others. The case concerns the UK’s implementation of United Nations obligations to freeze the assets of terrorists and those associated with Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

UNSCR 1267 (1999) established a UN asset freezing regime against Osama bin Laden and persons associated with Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. UNSCR 1373 (2001), adopted shortly after 9/11, requires states to take a range of measures to deal with terrorism, including freezing the assets of those involved in terrorism.

The UK has implemented these obligations through Orders in Council made under Section 1 of the United Nations Act 1946. Section 1 of the UN Act authorises the Government to make an Order in Council to give effect to any decision of the UN Security Council where such provision appears to be “necessary or expedient for enabling those measures to be effectively applied”.

The Supreme Court has decided that the Terrorism (United Nations Measures) Order 2006 and the Al-Qaeda and Taliban (United Nations Measures) Order 2006 are beyond the scope of the power provided by Section 1 of the UN Act 1946 and it has quashed both Orders. The court will consider tomorrow whether to stay the judgment for a period.

The Government made the Orders in Council in good faith based on their belief that Section 1 of the United Nations Act was an appropriate legal vehicle and that it provided the most effective and timely way of implementing UN terrorist asset freezing obligations.

The Government are committed to maintaining an effective, proportionate and fair terrorist asset freezing regime that meets our United Nations obligations, protects national security by disrupting flows of terrorist finance, and safeguards human rights.

In light of the court’s decision and the ongoing significant threat from international terrorism, the Government intend to bring forward fast-track primary legislation to restore the UK’s terrorist asset freezing regime. The Government also intend to bring forward affirmative procedure regulations under Section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972 to ensure that enforcement provisions are in place to implement fully EC Regulation 881/2002 in respect of measures against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.