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Written Statements

Volume 584: debated on Monday 7 July 2014

Written Statements

Monday 7 July 2014

Communities and Local Government

Social Tenants: Complaints Process

The Communities and Local Government Select Committee report into the regulation of social housing in England included a recommendation for the Government, working with the social housing sector, to make sure that tenants of social housing are aware of the correct process to make a complaint about their landlord. The Committee pointed out in its report that numerous complaints are misdirected to the Homes and Communities Agency and this can be frustrating for tenants as well as a waste of resources for the agency.

To respond to this recommendation, I am, today, writing to David Orr, the chief executive of the National Housing Federation, Grainia Long, the chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing, and the chairman of the Local Government Association to ask for their thoughts and ideas on how we can ensure that tenants are aware of the correct process when making a complaint and what work they have done, or are planning to do, with their members on this important subject.

My ministerial colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Stephen Williams), has been working with the national tenant organisations and others to promote the role that social tenants can play in helping to shape their housing services. He will be writing to landlords shortly to publicise our forthcoming guide “Tenants Leading Change”, which will explain the role that tenant panels can play. He will be asking landlords to promote and disseminate this to their tenants and reminding landlords of the need to make it clear how their tenants can raise a complaint.

In 2011, the Government made a change in the way social housing tenants could make a complaint against their landlords. For the first time MPs, councillors and designated tenant panels were given a formal, statutory role in the complaints process—local problems are best resolved locally by the people who live and work in those neighbourhoods. Whereas the vast majority of tenants have a good relationship with their landlords and never need to make a formal complaint about the service they receive, for those who do though it is important that they can raise that complaint with the right person and that it can be dealt with as quickly as possible.

The key stages in the complaint process are:

Step 1—In the first instance a tenant should make a formal complaint to their landlord.

Step 2If the complaint cannot be resolved, a tenant can contact a designated person that is either their MP, local councillor or designated tenant panel. The designated person can take up the case to resolve locally or, if necessary, refer the case to the housing ombudsman.

Step 3—If neither of the previous two steps have managed to resolve the complaint a tenant can contact the housing ombudsman directly.

The housing ombudsman’s website gives a clear and easy to understand explanation of the process and the Homes and Communities Agency’s online guidance explains its role and gives advice on where and how to make a complaint. The website also sets out how to make a complaint.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture and Fisheries Council

I represented the UK at the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 16 and 17 June. Alun Davies AM and Richard Lochhead MSP were also present for parts of the meeting.

Monday 16 June

Dairy sector

The Commission presented its report on the development of the market for dairy. This was followed by an exchange of views on the draft Council conclusions on the future of the dairy sector. The main point for discussion was the proposal, led by Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland and Denmark, to relax quotas for 2014-15. After a lengthy debate and failing to achieve a qualified majority in favour of changing the current quotas, the presidency concluded that the Council conclusions could not be adopted at this Council.

School Schemes

The Council noted the presidency’s progress report on the Commission’s legislative proposals for reform of the school milk and fruit schemes without discussion.

The implementation of the provisions concerning producer organisations, operational funds and operational programmes in the fruit and vegetables sector since the 2007 reform

The Council adopted conclusions on the Commission’s report on the operation of the fruit and vegetable producer organisation scheme, including a clear message on the need to cut red tape, simplify the rules and provide much needed legal certainty. The Commission made an accompanying statement committing to review the legislative framework for the fruit and vegetable sector by 31 December 2018.

CAP reform implementation

Ministers highlighted the common agriculture policy (CAP) implementation decisions they had taken and some of the accompanying challenges faced by national administrations and farmers. The UK paper requesting a pragmatic and sensible interpretation of the new CAP regulations, particularly with regard to the greening requirements, was referred to and supported by a range of other member states.

Informal Lunch—US Secretary of Agriculture

EU Ministers attended an informal lunch with US Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, to discuss progress on the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP).

Any other business

Country of origin labelling for meat

The Commission updated member states on its exchanges with the European Parliament (EP) following the latter’s request for more detailed labelling of the country of birth on fresh meat. All those who spoke stressed that the current rules had been carefully negotiated and could not now be changed.

Severe weather in Slovakia

Slovakia raised the impact of recent storms on its forests and suggested they would call on the EU solidarity fund.

Athens conference on scientific support to agriculture

The presidency reported on a recent conference in Athens on scientific support to agriculture.

National Emissions Ceiling Directive

Twelve member states supported Hungary’s request that Agriculture Ministers be involved in negotiations on the national emissions ceiling directive given the potential impact on agriculture of restrictions on ammonia and methane emissions.

Tuesday 17 June

Omnibus Regulation on the Implementation of the Landing Obligation

The Council discussed the latest position on the “Omnibus” regulation, which amends existing technical rules with a view to facilitating the introduction of the landing obligation from 1 January 2015. This will now go forward for discussion with the European Parliament, to reach an agreement by the end of the year, ahead of the first year of the landing obligation.

Implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy: Discard Plans

The Commission welcomed the progress made on the development of discard plans under the new regionalisation process, a new way of working that decentralises decision making and brings it closer to the fisheries affected. I intervened to reaffirm support for the introduction of the landing obligation and the regionalisation process, highlighting the work being done to tailor the first discard plans to the specific needs of the pelagic fisheries in each region.

Any other business

Management of CapelinTAC for 2014

The Commission reported they had now received an offer of capelin from Greenland and will bring forward an amendment to the total allowable catch (TAC) and quota regulation as soon as possible to provide a TAC for this stock.

Anti-microbial resistance in animal husbandry

Sweden, supported by Denmark, called on the Commission to provide an update to the 2011 action plan on the responsible use of anti-microbials in animal husbandry, claiming that antibiotic resistance contributes to approximately 25,000 deaths per year and €1.2 billion costs to health care services. Commissioner Borg stated that this is a high priority for the Commission. A five-year road map has been published and a full progress report will be published this year.

Animal, plant and control package: smarter rules for safer food

The presidency described progress made on the package of measures. The discussion focused in particular on import controls with divergent views among Ministers on the need for a risk-based “open” system or precautionary “closed” system. I was robust in calling for the outcome to be a genuine simplification with fewer powers delegated to the Commission and respect for subsidiarity in relation to fees and charging of businesses.

Plant Reproductive Material

I specifically supported the presidency paper and its pragmatic approach. Some Ministers took the opportunity to highlight particular changes they wanted to the Commission’s proposal.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

UK-Caribbean Ministerial Forum

I wish to update the House on the eighth biennial UK-Caribbean ministerial forum, which took place in London from 16 to 17 June 2014.

The forum brought together Foreign Ministers and representatives of the countries of the Caribbean community (CARICOM), the Dominican Republic and the CARICOM secretariat. The premiers of the UK’s Caribbean overseas territories of Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, and the Turks and Caicos Islands participated as observers. Together we committed to further strengthening the partnership between the UK and the Caribbean, and agreed on a plan of action to take forward co-operation on areas of joint interest.

The forum focused on promoting prosperity and economic resilience in both the Caribbean and the United Kingdom. It included sessions on economic development, energy, education and security, as well as discussions on foreign policy issues. In addition, and in recognition of the importance of the commercial relationship between the UK and the Caribbean, where our bilateral trade is already around £2 billion a year, delegates attended a UK-Caribbean trade and investment forum, a private sector event focused on boosting business-to-business links.

At the conclusion of the forum, Ministers agreed a communiqué summarising our discussions and setting out follow-up activity for the UK and Caribbean to pursue in partnership.

On energy, we agreed to work together to explore the potential of natural gas and renewable sources as an alternative to the current oil import dependence in the Caribbean, to work with the private sector to share experiences and technical expertise of smart grids and distribution systems, and to enhance dialogue on utility reform.

On education and skills, we agreed to build partnerships between UK and Caribbean educational institutions, to bring together young leaders from academia, business and civil society, and to work together to boost skills development programmes.

To enhance our mutual security, we discussed information and asset-sharing agreements, including sharing data on criminal activities, fingerprints and associated information, and financial and tax data. In addition, we shared views on building effective extradition systems to ensure that perpetrators of criminal activity cannot evade justice.

Representatives of the UK and the Caribbean also stated our shared commitment to promoting global sustainable development, and agreed to work together to secure a single compelling framework and a set of post-2015 goals centred on eradicating extreme poverty.

We also discussed current foreign policy challenges and reaffirmed our commitment to the peaceful resolution of conflict, consistent with the principles and purposes of the UN charter, including the right to self-determination for all peoples.

The UK-Caribbean ministerial forum is part of how we protect and promote our national interests, strengthen our economy and make the most of the opportunities of the 21st century. It represents an important element of UK-Caribbean relations. I will place in the Library of the House a copy of the agreed text of the communiqué from the UK-Caribbean ministerial forum.


Code of Practice: Mental Health Act 1983

We have today launched a consultation on proposed changes to the Code of Practice: Mental Health Act 1983. Following this consultation, we will lay before Parliament a revised code by the end of 2014. It is intended that this will become effective from 1 April 2015.

Since the code was last published in 2008, there have been substantial changes and updates in legislation, policy, case law, and professional practice. A revised code needs to reflect and embed developments since 2008 in areas including the use of restrictive interventions; use of police powers to detain people in places of safety; and the use of community treatment orders.

In publishing “Transforming care: A national response to Winterbourne View Hospital” and “Closing the Gap: Priorities for Essential Change in Mental Health” we committed to improving mental health services. “Closing the Gap” sets out 25 priority actions to improve the provision of mental health care, promote recovery and the experience of patients, their families and carers. “Transforming Care” also committed the Department of Health to review and consult on a revised code to address the need to improve the quality of care received by patients detained under the Mental Health Act 1983.

The code is an important lever for delivering these changes. Health care and social care professionals consult the code routinely to inform their practice, safeguard patients’ rights and ensure compliance with the law. The code is also used by patients who are detained or otherwise subject to the Act, and their families, carers and advocates.

We are committed to ensuring that high-quality care is always provided for patients detained and treated under the Act. Care should always promote recovery, be of the shortest duration, be the least restrictive option, keep the patient and other people safe, and ensure value for money for the taxpayer.

The consultation sets out proposed changes to the code but does not include any changes to either primary or secondary legislation. The draft code includes new chapters on: the care programme approach; equality, human rights and parity of esteem; mental capacity and deprivation of liberty; and victims.

The revised code will apply to the use of the Act in England.

Copies of “Stronger Code: Better Care—Consultation on proposed changes to the Code of Practice: Mental Health Act 1983” and “Mental Health Act 1983: Draft Code of Practice for Consultation” have been placed in the Library. Copies of the consultation documents are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office and to noble Lords from the Printed Paper Office.

Home Department

G6 (Barcelona)

The informal G6 group of Interior Ministers from the six largest European Union countries, plus representatives from the United States of America, the European Commission and Frontex, held its most recent meeting in Barcelona on 25 and 26 June 2014.

The summit was chaired by the Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz and I represented the United Kingdom. The other participating states were represented by Thomas De Maizière (Germany), Angelino Alfano (Italy), and Bernard Cazeneuve (France). Poland was represented at official level. James Cole (the Deputy US Attorney-General), Alejandro Mayorkas (US Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security), Cecilia Malmstrom (European Commissioner for Home Affairs) and Gil Arias (Executive Director of Frontex) attended as guests.

The first formal session (attended by the G6 members only) was an analysis of the evolution of G6. It was agreed to keep the G6 in its present shape and format.

The second formal session concerned the fight against jihadist terrorism and radicalisation with a focus on co-operation with northern Africa, the Sahel and middle eastern countries. Discussion centred on the problems caused by conflicts in these regions and the issues caused by foreign fighters travelling to join these conflicts then returning to EU member states. Delegates noted the evolution of the terrorist threat and how it had been shaped by these factors. The importance of information sharing and the role of the EU passenger name record (PNR) directive in this was agreed by all. I stressed the need for the wording of the draft directive to be robust and it was agreed that bilateral co-operation was essential in the interim.

The third formal session related to the fight against drug trafficking in the Atlantic. The presidency noted that while this was a problem for the western hemisphere generally, it was a particular concern for Spain. A number of delegates stressed the point that the use and classification of development funds must be considered to address these problems at their root. The US said they were working with a number of countries on this issue and were happy to continue to do so and to share the experience and knowledge they have. I raised the point that the money generated by the international drug trade helped to support terrorism and that practical co-operation to address this was therefore essential.

The discussion at the formal dinner on 25 June focused on the fight against irregular immigration in Europe. I stressed the need for action in the countries of origin and for member states to fulfil their responsibilities for effective asylum processing and border controls. Italy made the point that their Mare Nostrum programme could not remain in place indefinitely and gave their view that it should be replaced by a European equivalent. Concerns were voiced however that, while the programme had undoubted humanitarian benefits, it nevertheless acted as a pull factor for migrants to the region. Doubts were also expressed by some about the idea of Frontex undertaking a more operational role in the Mediterranean.

The formal lunch on 26 June was an opportunity to discuss relations between the EU and the US. The conversation was positive and members agreed the need for the EU and US to co-operate closely in operational joint initiatives. Specific measures such as the PNR agreement, the agreement on processing and transfer of financial data messaging relating to the terrorist finance tracking programme (TFTP), and the Europol-US agreement were seen to be helpful tools to strengthen operational co-operation in common fields of interest.

The next G6 meeting will take place in France but the date has not yet been confirmed.


Door to Door Action Plan and Cycle-Rail Integration

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Transport, Baroness Kramer, has made the following ministerial statement:

I am today publishing a Door to Door Action Plan following on from the Door to Door Strategy which the Department for Transport published in March 2013. The strategy sets out the Government’s plan to make it easier and more convenient for people to use greener transport modes for their everyday journeys by ensuring they are better connected. This is the second progress report. The first Door to Door Action Plan was published in December 2013. This further update identifies progress towards making this a reality. By considering the whole journey and improving integration between the different transport modes, people will have more choice to use public transport and leave the car at home.

As part of delivering this strategy, I am making an additional £15 million capital funding available in 2015-16 for improving the integration between rail and cycle journeys. This extends the £14.5 million programme of improvements already delivered by the Government which have been the major enabler in doubling the number of cycle parking spaces at stations during the term of this Government. A further announcement will be made on projects to be taken forward once a robust bidding process has been completed.

This action plan identifies the work we have done in the last 14 months to improve integration between sustainable transport modes. It also ensures that people recognise that this area of work remains a priority for government. It focuses on the four core areas featured in the strategy:

accurate, accessible and reliable information about different transport options for their journey;

convenient and affordable tickets, for an entire journey;

regular and straightforward connections at all stages of the journey and between different modes of transport;

safe and comfortable transport facilities.

Examples include the £70 million ITSO on Prestige (IoP) project that has upgraded London’s Oyster system to also accept ITSO smart ticketing and bank issued contactless payment cards. This is now bearing fruit: Southern Railway launched smart card ticketing into London in December 2013 and will be followed by c2c and South West Trains later this year.

The Department has reached agreement with TFL and the train operators who currently accept Oyster to allow passengers to use their contactless payment cards as an alternative later this year.

In addition, the Department has made available an additional £100 million funding to extend the Access for All programme from 2015 until 2019 and deliver improvements at 42 more stations. Also, continuing with the successful relaunch of the franchising programme we now require a franchise operator to consider improvements to the door-to-door journey experience for its customers, in line with our Door to Door Strategy.

I will be placing a copy of the update to the Door to Door Action Plan in the Libraries of both Houses. It will also be published on the Department’s website at

High Speed Rail in the North

Improvements to transport connectivity between the northern cities, including through HS2, through east-west high-speed rail links and road improvements, would be a key driver in realising the potential for the cities of the north to become a “Northern Powerhouse” for the UK’s economy. HS2 is a vital part of our plans to deliver significant transport infrastructure that will not only maximise benefits across the UK, in terms of journey times and connectivity, but will help balance the UK’s economy, drive regional regeneration, support job creation and deliver substantial economic growth.

We are firmly and fully committed to our plans for a high-speed rail network connecting Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds as part of our plans for HS2 phase 2, on which we consulted earlier this year.

In his report, “HS2 Plus”, Sir David Higgins set out his recommendations that the Government should undertake further work on bringing the benefits to the north sooner, improving city centre to city centre and east-west connectivity and enhancing integration with our existing network.

In response to his report five cities—Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield—are already engaged in a programme of work looking at northern connectivity. I am looking forward to seeing the outputs from this work. I am also very grateful for the responses to the HS2 phase 2 consultation, which we will report on in the autumn.

The Government have now asked Sir David to produce ambitious proposals for connecting the great northern cities. This work will look at how to bring the benefits of high-speed rail to the north more quickly, as well as initial proposals for faster east-west connections—including options on route, time scales and cost—by the time of the autumn statement later this year.

In completing this work Sir David will discuss emerging issues with leaders from the midlands and the north, and will work with Network Rail to ensure this is part of a comprehensive plan for the entire railway network in the north of the country, as well as liaising with the Highways Agency to ensure it is fully integrated with the strategic long-term plans for the national road network, currently being developed. Separately we are continuing to work on improved rail links to Scotland.

HS2 is a key part of this Government’s growth strategy and I am keen to maximise its benefits as we look to deliver economic growth in the north and across the country more generally.