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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 16 December 2004


Public Bodies

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Mr. David Miliband): I have today published "Delivering Diversity in Public Appointments 2004", which explains what each central Government Department is doing to increase diversity on the boards of their public bodies.

The report contains action plans for each department as well as details of progress to date. It also includes targets to increase the proportion of appointments held by women, people from minority ethnic backgrounds and disabled people to be achieved by 2007.

The Government are keen to ensure that its commitments to public appointments are met. The first is that selection should be made on merit, using fair and open procedures that ensure the best available candidate is appointed to each post.

The second is a commitment to improving diversity in public appointments. There is real value in boards broadly reflecting the community they serve and I firmly believe that more diverse boards lead to more effective decision making.

Overall progress has been made in the representation of people from minority ethnic backgrounds and disabled people, however the overall figures for women have dropped slightly, thus emphasising the need to continue to promote our diversity objectives and continue our outreach work.

The report can be found on the Internet at www.publicappointments.gov.uk. Copies of the report have also been placed in the Libraries of the House.

Ministerial and Royal Air Travel

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Mr. David Miliband): I am today announcing a review of the current arrangements for the provision of air travel for the Royal Family, Government Ministers and accompanying senior officials, taking into account safety, reliability, security and value for money, and to make recommendations for improvement. The review will be headed by sir Peter Gershon and is expected to report in the second half of 2005.


Home Finance Schemes

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Stephen Timms): The Treasury has today published the Government's response to the consultation on the definition of home reversion type arrangements for inclusion in the scope of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, which closed on 28 September 2004.
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Copies are available in the vote Office and the Library of the House, and are accessible on the Treasury website at: www.hm-treasury.gov.uk.


Family Proceedings Cases

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. Christopher Leslie): I have today placed in the Libraries of both Houses a consultation paper on the disclosure of information in family proceedings cases involving children. The text is also available on the Department's website at: http://www.dca.gov.uk/consult/confr.htm


Export of Works of Art Committee

The Minister for the Arts (Estelle Morris): The fiftieth report of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art for 2003–04 will be published later today. The reviewing committee provides independent advice to the Secretary of State on whether cultural objects that are the subject of applications for export licences are of outstanding national importance. During the period covered by the report, following recommendations from the reviewing committee, temporary bars were placed on the export of nine items, including paintings, drawings, furniture, silverware and archives. Of these, seven items, valued at £6.8 million, were purchased and remain in the UK. The report contains the reviewing committee's comments on policy matters relating to the operation of the export control and the protection of cultural objects, and details of each case considered during the period 1 July 2003 to 30 April 2004.

Copies of the report will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The review will also be available on the DCMS website http://www.culture.gov.uk


Planning Inspectorate

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Keith Hill: The Government set out its programme for the reform of the planning system in England in "Sustainable Communities—Delivering Through Planning" (July 2002). The principal aims of the reform are to produce a faster, fairer system that allows for greater public involvement. The legislative changes required, including those for the reform of the development plan system, were enacted in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.

This is against a background of a continued rise in planning applications submitted to local authorities as a result of economic growth. As the number of planning applications has increased, so has the number of planning appeals submitted to the Planning Inspectorate—indeed the percentage rise in the number of appeals received is greater than the corresponding percentage increase in applications (because refusal rates are also rising). The number of appeals received by the Planning Inspectorate has increased by over 50 per cent. in the past three years.
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This increase coupled with the doubling of the number of Inspectors required to carry out inquiries into local plans this year has resulted in a deterioration in the Planning Inspectorate's overall performance in the amount of time take to determine planning appeals.

To restore performance, I have made available an extra £1 million this year to fund taking on additional Inspectors and providing them with the support they need. I am looking carefully at resource needs next year and will provide extra resources if necessary. The Inspectorate has formed a taskforce dedicated to clearing the backlog of appeals and is looking to see significant progress by next spring.

I want sustained improvement. The Inspectorate is committed to boosting productivity and delivering a more effective service to its customers. In order to achieve this, the Inspectorate has set up an independently chaired Productivity Board. The Inspectorate is also restructuring itself to give greater focus to operational delivery and improved services to its customers. The restructuring of the Inspectorate is expected to be completed in March 2005.

I also intend to extend the period for submitting planning appeals from three to six months, which will have the effect of reversing the change which was introduced in September last year. When these changes were introduced, it was anticipated that the reduction in the appeal period would give greater certainty to all parties as to whether or not an appeal was to be lodged. However, there has been widespread criticism that the period of three months is insufficient for negotiations between the prospective appellant and the LPA. There is a strong perception that the reduction in the appeal period has led to applicants submitting appeals without first making any attempt to negotiate an amended application with the LPA and that this may have contributed to the rise in appeal numbers. There is a strong lobby from the planning community and from developers alike that the period in which to appeal should be restored to 6 months in order to allow longer to negotiate following a refusal. I am persuaded by these arguments. The change will require an amendment to the Town and Country Planning (General Development Procedure) Order 1995 to reverse the effect of the Town and Country Planning (General Development Procedure) (England) (Amendment) Order 2003 (SI 2003 no. 2047). I propose to lay the necessary Order before the Christmas recess. It will come into effect from mid January.

This will restore the opportunity for local planning authorities and appellants to enter into post decision negotiations and thus avoid unnecessary appeals.

Given the current pressures on the Planning Inspectorate, I intend to delay the introduction of dual jurisdiction. The powers for this are contained in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act and will apply where an applicant appeals to the Secretary of State on the grounds that the LPA has not determined a planning application within the prescribed eight-week period. Under dual jurisdiction the LPA will have an additional period of time to issue its decision, even though an appeal has been lodged. While it is anticipated that this initiative will eventually lead to a reduction in the appeal workload, the time is not right to make this change with the present backlog of appeals.
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I am also taking the opportunity to extend the statutory period for local authorities to determine major applications from eight to thirteen weeks. The present arrangements allow for parties to appeal after eight weeks where the LPA has not issued a decision. This conflicts with the period of thirteen weeks which is given under best value targets to determine major applications. This change will bring greater clarity to the appeal system and give LPA's significantly longer to determine major applications. This should also help to reduce the number of appeals against major applications.

This package of measures will assist in tackling the backlog of appeals in the Planning Inspectorate and demonstrates the Government's commitment to providing a speedier, more responsive planning system which will support the right development in the right place and contribute to sustainable communities.

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