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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 2 November 2004


Central Office of Information

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Ruth Kelly): The targets set for the Central Office of Information for the 2004–05 financial year are:


To break even on an accruals basis.


To achieve a unit cost reduction of 2.5 per cent.


For the customer satisfaction system:

To achieve a customer satisfaction score of 8.25 out of 10;

To achieve 96 per cent of customer satisfaction scores of six or higher;

To achieve a response rate of 62 per cent.


Planning Obligations

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Keith Hill): The system of planning obligations in England has been widely criticised for some time for its often opaque nature and its contribution to delays in the planning process. The Government are therefore publishing today a draft revised circular, aimed at improving the way in which planning obligations are negotiated under s106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (amended by the 1991 Act).

The draft revised circular on negotiated agreements, which will now be consulted on for three months, aims to contribute to the speeding up of the planning system and therefore the creation of sustainable communities.

The circular brings planning obligations into line with the new arrangements established by the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. Given the possibility of more major reforms to the system of planning obligations in the next few years, referred to in my statement of 17 June 2004, the circular seeks to minimise the additional administrative burdens placed on local planning authorities and developers, whilst seeking to streamline the system and promote best practice.

It seeks to ensure that affordable housing continues to be secured through s106 on a more consistent basis and in line with the direction of reform to Planning Policy Guidance Note 3 (Housing). ODPM consulted on proposed updates to PPG3 last year entitled "Influencing the Size, Type and Affordability of Housing", and "Supporting the Delivery of New Housing". Concerns have been expressed about the proposed policy update on housing mix in particular.
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The office continues to discuss these issues with stakeholders. The intention is to publish the PPG3 updates by the end of the year.

The draft circular has been produced following extensive discussions with stakeholders to seek their views on the difficulties experienced with the current system. In addition, the work of the Advisory Group on Planning Obligations has been useful in helping to formulate the proposals being published today.

Following public consultation, a final version of the circular will be issued in spring 2005, accompanied by good practice guidance, which is being prepared by Halcrow group.

In the meantime, the Government are continuing to consider Kate Barker's proposal for a planning-gain supplement, made in her final report of her "Review of Delivering Stability: Securing our Future Housing Needs", 17 March 2004. Depending on the outcome of further work over the next 12 months, further changes to the system of planning obligations may be required.


Winter Supplementary Estimates

The Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality (Alun Michael): We intend to make a full statement on the contents of our winter supplementary shortly.

Countryside and Rights of Way Act

The Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality (Alun Michael): Today I am launching two consultation papers dealing with proposals to implement the rights of way joint orders and rights of way registers provisions in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.

In the first consultation paper, I offer proposals for the contents of registers that Local Authorities are required to establish under various provisions in schedules 5 and 6 to the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. The registers, which will be available for public inspection, will help to better inform landowners, user groups and the general public about applications that could result in changes to the definitive map and statement—the local authority's legal record of rights of way. This is particularly important in the in the light of the 2026 cut off date for adding historic rights of way to the definitive map and statement.

The second consultation paper is concerned with the new rights of way joint orders procedure under schedule 5, paragraph 2 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.

This new procedure will enable public path orders and legal event modification orders (orders that enable the local authority to alter the definitive map and statement to record changes resulting from public path orders) to be combined where they are made by the same authority. Local authorities are at present required to make separate orders. This will ensure that the definitive map is updated continuously and reduce uncertainty about rights of way, which will benefit both land managers and the public.
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Copies of both of the consultation papers have been deposited in the House Library. The closing date for the consultations is 31 January 2005.


Guide to the European Union

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): On 1 November 2004, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office published a guide to the European Union (EU) which sets out how the EU works and explains the main points of the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe. The guide has been awarded the Plain Language Commission's clear English standard mark, which means it has passed rigorous checks of its clarity, grammar and layout. This guide will be available in all public libraries and on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website: www.europe.gov.uk. Members of the public can also request a hard copy of the guide. Copies have been placed in the Library of the House and are also available from the Vote Office.


Companies Registry

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Barry Gardiner): In accordance with Article 677 of the Companies (Northern Ireland) Order 1986, copies of the Companies Registry annual report 2002–03 have been placed today in the Libraries of both Houses.

Credit Unions

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Barry Gardiner): In accordance with article 81 of the Credit Unions (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 and section 100 of the Industrial and Provident Societies Act (Northern Ireland) 1969, copies of the Credit Unions Annual Report 2002 have been placed today in the Libraries of both Houses.
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Independent Monitoring Commission (Normalisation Report)

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Paul Murphy): On 20 July I published a report by the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) on the security normalisation activity undertaken in Northern Ireland. The Commissioners have written to me to advise me that they received, from the Ministry of Defence, revised figures for troop numbers in Northern Ireland for the period the report covers. I have been asked to publish the revised figures and have placed copies in the Library. It appears that the information originally in the report over-stated the numbers of troops based in Northern Ireland. I note that IMC have concluded that they would not have changed the conclusions in their report had they been in receipt of this information during the writing of the report.


Stakeholder Pensions

The Minister for Pensions (Malcolm Wicks): We are today publishing a consultation document on changes to the stakeholder pensions regulations.

The changes are part of the Government's wider strategy to introduce a suite of simple, low-cost, risk-controlled savings and investment products that can be sold through a new basic advice process.

The main change is that for people who do not want to choose how their pension savings are to be invested, we are going to require stakeholder pension schemes to provide lifestyling. "Lifestyling" means that at least five years before retirement, the members' pension savings will start to be moved into less volatile investments in order to reduce the risk of a sudden drop in value shortly before retirement.

We have already announced that the charge cap for the stakeholder pension is to increase. From April 2005, pension providers will be able to make an annual charge of 1.5 per cent. for the first ten years that the product is held and 1 per cent. thereafter. However, I am announcing today that charges will still be capped at 1 per cent. for existing members.

We aim to make and lay these regulations in early 2005, to come into force on 6 April 2005.