The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Paul Boateng): Following the announcement that the Budget will take place on 16 March, HM Treasury plans to publish the Public Expenditure Statistical Analyses 2005 on Thursday, 7 April 2005.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. David Lammy): The Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor has today set the following key performance targets for Her Majesty's Land Registry for 200506.
"I am pleased to announce today plans for the introduction of a national enforcement service to take forward my commitment to ensuring the fullest possible compliance with court orders. For too long enforcement of court orders has been patchy and flawed. We have made real improvements in enforcement. The payment rate of fines now at 80 per cent. compared with just over 50 per cent. two years ago. But there is more to be done. The time has come for the next stage of reform.
My proposals involve the introduction of a robust national framework to deliver a single consistent enforcement process for the whole of England and Wales, and to deal robustly with offenders who fail to attend court, default on fine payments and breach community penalty orders. The launch of the new unified Her Majesty's Court Service next month, will allow us to put in place a cross-criminal justice system enforcement team that is more distinct, professional and better skilled. The specific remit of the national enforcement service will be to bear down on the hard core of offenders who consistently attempt to flout their obligations to the courts. This does not mean a new agency or department, but a better, more collaborative approach to tackling enforcement, which builds on the lessons learned from national initiatives including the recent "Operation Payback". Enforcement staff in the magistrates courts together with the police, the national probation service and other criminal justice agencies will form the core of the service.
Improving sentence compliance is key to building public confidence in the criminal justice system and the national enforcement service will do just that. The national enforcement service framework will be tested first across a region from April 2006 with the aim of full national rollout in 200708".
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ivor Caplin): I am announcing today that the key targets that have been set for the chief executive of the Veterans Agency (VA) for the financial year 200506 are as follows:
To issue decisions on claims to war pensions in an average of no more than 59 working days. This is an improvement of four working days on the agency's 200405 target; and it represents a cumulative improvement of 41 per cent. against the agency's 200001 baseline level of 100 working days.
To issue decisions on war widows claims in an average of no more than 23 working days. This is an improvement of two working days on the agency's 200405 target; and it represents a cumulative improvement of 36 per cent. against the agency's 200001 baseline level of 36 working days.
To work with the Department for Constitutional Affairs Court Service to reduce the average time it takes an appeal to pass through the war pensions appeals process. By 31 March 2006 the average time should reduce to no more than 225 working days. This is an improvement of 15 working days on the agency's 200405 target; and it represents a cumulative improvement of 60 per cent. against its 200001 baseline level of 565 working days.
To use the agency output costing methodology developed in 200203 to help identify and generate such administrative efficiencies and other savings as will enable the agency to achieve a 3 per cent. reduction in 200506 against a comparable 200405 final out-turn figure.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Yvette Cooper):
Further to my statement of 24 February about Reading
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University's final report on the impact of the property industry's 2002 code of practice for commercial leases, I wish to announce our conclusions following the completion of the research and our own consultation exercise last year on upward only rent review clauses.
The Government continue to be concerned about flexibility in the commercial property market. The Reading report shows that the property market has become more flexible, notably with continuing trends towards shorter leases and break clauses, and I welcome these. However, there are still areas of inflexibility.
The Reading report indicates that the major problems are now inflexible assignment and subletting provisions in leases. These can make it difficult for tenants to dispose of properties they no longer need for their business. We intend to undertake a review of the law of assignment and subletting, with the aim of easing the position for tenants while not jeopardising property investment, including looking at legislative options.
We continue to have concerns about the prevalence of upward only rent review clauses in longer leases. The Reading report shows that their impact has been diminishing, as fewer leases contain any form of rent review provisions, and that tenants are currently more concerned about inflexible assignment and subletting provisions than they are about upward only rent reviews. We do however believe that further progress in this area is necessary to improve the flexibility of the market. We will therefore continue to monitor the situation and retain the option to legislate in future if necessary. But we do not propose to legislate against upward only rent review clauses at present.
The other major area of concern is the continuing lack of awareness of property issues among small businesses. The Reading report shows that many small businesses fail to obtain the best leasing terms available because they lack essential information about the leasing environment and the local market. There is a need for action by both the Government and the property industry.
We are asking the property industry to undertake a joint review of the code of practice, to carry out a renewed campaign to disseminate the code and provide an effective mechanism for dealing with complaints. We want to make sure that everyone negotiating a lease adopts the code.
We will be undertaking a further monitoring exercise over the next three years, and we will be looking for further movement on flexibility. We believe that achieving greater flexibility in the market is extremely important and that further market reform is essential.
We will shortly be making available on our website a summary of the responses to the consultation paper on upward only rent reviews. We will be placing copies of individual responses in the Library of the House while copies will also be available for public inspection in the ODPM Library.
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