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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 1 December 2004


Iraq (Multinational Division (South-East))

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): As part of the routine management of UK forces in the multinational division (south-east) (MND(SE)) in Iraq, we intend to conduct a roulement of forces involving the replacement of 40 Commando Royal Marines with the 2nd Battalion the Princess of Wales' Royal Regiment.

The Secretary of State for Defence announced on 17 June 2004, Official Report, column 48, that 40 Commando would deploy to MND(SE) during June and July, both to provide support to Iraqi security forces and to provide the capacity for some other tasks, including the protection of essential infrastructure. The General Officer comanding MND(SE) has concluded that there will be a continuing requirement for these tasks beyond elections in Iraq planned for 30 January. Based on this advice, we have decided that 2nd Battalion the Princess of Wales' Royal Regiment should replace 40 Commando when their six month deployment in Iraq comes to an end in January 2005.

Since 1 November, 2nd Battalion the Princess of Wales' Royal Regiment has been acting as the very high readiness reserve (VHRR), at 10 days' readiness to deploy to Iraq. In January the responsibility for VHRR will pass from 2 Princess of Wales' Royal Regiment to the 1st Battalion the Royal Scots.

The roulement is currently planned to take place from early January 2005, with handover to 2nd Battalion the Princess of Wales' Royal Regiment complete by mid- January. We expect that the number of armed forces personnel in theatre will remain broadly the same as a result of these changes, with the other major UK units currently in Iraq unchanged. These units are as follows:

I would emphasise that these are routine adjustments to UK forces in MND(SE). We continue to consider, with our partners in the multinational force, the levels and dispositions of forces required in Iraq in the months ahead, to support the sovereign Interim Government of Iraq through the process leading to the election of an Iraqi Transitional Government and assembly in January 2005 and full constitutional elections in December 2005. If we judge that further changes to the UK military contribution in Iraq would be appropriate
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to support this process, we will of course inform the House at the earliest opportunity. At present, however, no such decision has been made.


Business Rates Revaluation

The Minister for Local and Regional Government (Mr. Nick Raynsford): This statement provides the final details relating to the business rates revaluation that will take effect from 1 April 2005. It confirms the results of the consultations on proposals announced in my written statement of 21 July, Official Report, columns 30–33WS, gives details of the transitional relief scheme and sets out the final small business rate relief scheme. In addition it includes the provisional non-domestic rating multipliers for 2005–06 and adjustments to the thresholds for various reliefs.

The Local Government Act 2003 requires the 2005 revaluation to be accompanied by a transition scheme to lessen the effects of sudden and significant rises in rates bills. The legislation provides that the scheme must be self-financing, so that the costs do not fall on other taxpayers. In July we announced the proposal for a four-year self-financing transitional scheme with the costs of phasing in increases met by phasing down the reductions in liability for others. The scheme seeks to provide an appropriate balance between protecting those who have larger increases in rates bills and allowing those who enjoy a fall in bills to receive the full benefit as quickly as possible.

We consulted on this proposal over the summer and most respondents felt that the proposed scheme struck the right balance. The Valuation Office Agency published the draft rating lists on 1 October and the updated valuations in the draft list have resulted in the transition scheme costing less than we initially estimated. We therefore have been able to reduce the impact of the scheme on those ratepayers that are paying for it.

As a result the caps for properties experiencing increases will be 12.5 per cent., 17.5 per cent., 20 per cent. and 25 per cent. for the four years, and for small properties 5 per cent., 7.5 per cent., 10 per cent. and 15 per cent. Large properties experiencing reductions in rate bills will be capped at the rates of 12.5 per cent., 12.5 per cent., 14 per cent. and 25 per cent. For small properties, the rates are 30 per cent., 30 per cent., 35 per cent. and 60 per cent. These downward caps are significantly more generous than the consultation levels or than any previous transitional scheme. They mean that those expecting decreases in their rates bills will benefit more quickly than under earlier schemes. Also, the effect of the separate capping levels means that small businesses will only be required to make a very small contribution to the scheme.

Government recognises that the current system of business rates places a disproportionate burden on small businesses. The scheme we consulted on over the summer proposed that rate relief should be available at
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50 per cent. for single properties with a rateable value up to £5,000, with relief declining in percentage terms on a sliding scale with no relief at a rateable value of £10,000. In addition we proposed a buffer zone so that eligible business properties with rateable values between £10,000 and £15,000 would not have to contribute towards the relief. The scheme is designed to be funded through a supplement on the rates bills of larger businesses.

The feedback from the consultation suggested that the eligibility criteria should be extended, that the buffer zones for London should be amended and various technical changes made to the draft regulations. We will now introduce a scheme where the ratepayer will be eligible for the relief if all their main properties fall within the appropriate threshold, and the other properties are under a rateable value of £2,200. The relief will apply to the main property only. This extends the relief to more ratepayers while not increasing the financial burden on large ratepayers or introducing complex administrative arrangements. In addition we will raise the threshold for the buffer zone in London to £21,500.

In line with the Local Government Act 2003, from 1 April 2005, there will be two multipliers, the small business non-domestic rating multiplier, which is applicable to those that qualify for the small business relief or in the buffer zone, and the non-domestic rating multiplier which includes the supplement to pay for small business relief. The small business non-domestic rating multiplier for 2005–06 is 41.5p per pound of rateable value, and the non-domestic rating multiplier is 42.2p. This means that those paying for the relief will see a 1.6 per cent. increase in rates bills as a result.

In addition we will adjust the thresholds for a variety of rate reliefs in line with the general increase in rateable values. The relief for rural single petrol stations and pubs will increase from £9,000 to £10,500, for other rural single enterprises from £6,000 to £7,000 with discretionary relief from £12,000 to £14,000. Relief for stud farms will increase from £3,000 to £3,500, former agricultural premises from £6,000 to £7,000 and small unoccupied property from £1,900 to £2,200.

Regional Spatial Strategy

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Keith Hill): My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister is publishing today the revised regional spatial strategy for Yorkshire and the Humber to replace RPG12 which was published in 2001.

The revised strategy follows the selective review or RPG12 carried out by the Yorkshire and Humber assembly in 2003, the public examination held in February 2004, and consultation on proposed changes July-September 2004. In response to the proposed changes, around 250 comments were received from 56 people and organisations. Nearly half of the comments were expressions of support.

The revised strategy makes significant improvements and changes to the 2001 version in the following areas:


RSS now sets out a list of transport investment and management priorities that will help achieve the overall spatial strategy, create sustainable communities and deliver economic growth.
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RSS contains public transport accessibility criteria and a strategic transport demand management strategy. These should help ensue that new developments are located where they minimise the need to travel by car and that best use is made of the transport networks in the region.

Climate change

RSS now sets out a clear target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the region. It also contains policies to both help achieve this target and to help different parts of the region adapt to the effects of climate change.

Flood risk

RSS provides a clear framework for local authorities and the Environment Agency to address development and flood risk in an integrated, consistent and sustainable manner across the region.

Renewable energy

RSS now sets out targets for developments needed in different parts of the region in order to significantly increase the amount of renewable energy that can be generated.

Waste management

RSS now sets out targets for the amounts of municipal waste to be recycled/composted in different parts of the region and initial guidance on the numbers and locations of different types of waste management facilities that are likely to be needed up to 2016.

Revised RSS will be sent to the Yorkshire and Humber assembly, all of the region's MPs, MEPs and local authorities, and all those that attended the public examination in February 2004. It is available on the Government Office for Yorkshire and The Humber website www.goyh.gov.uk/rpg/.

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