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Northern Ireland Patrol Vessels

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence previously announced to the House our intention to pay off the Northern Ireland Patrol Vessel (NIPV) Squadron by April 2007, 21 July 2004, Official Report,
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column 347. Further discussions have taken place with the Chief Constable and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. We have now decided that the vessels will be decommissioned in September 2005.

When the NIPV cease operations, the maritime security of Northern Ireland will be maintained under the same arrangements as the rest of the United Kingdom. While there will be no permanent assignments of Royal Navy vessels for Northern Ireland, the Chief Constable is satisfied that routine Royal Navy activities around the UK and specific intelligence led maritime operations will deliver an appropriate level of support to the police in countering terrorism.

Reservists (Financial Assistance)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ivor Caplin): I am pleased to be able to announce that new regulations governing the payment of financial assistance to reservists and their employers during mobilisation were laid before Parliament today and that subject to usual parliamentary scrutiny will then come into effect on 14 April 2005.

These changes represent a significant improvement in the assistance available to reservists and employers. They reaffirm our continuing commitment to the reserve forces, and reflect the value we place on them and their contribution to the United Kingdom's defence commitments.

These regulations have been prepared following a comprehensive consultation process, which I announced on 22 July 2004, Official Report, column 62WS. They replace the previous complex and intrusive scheme which only matched individuals' earnings up to a rank-related threshold or band, with a separate hardship award scheme for those whose earnings exceeded the band for their rank. Payments to employers under that scheme were limited and complex.

The full details of the scheme of both reservists and employers are available in the documents laid before the House.

I also propose that the financial limit shall be subject to annual review commencing in April 2006.


High Hedges

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Phil Hope): I am today announcing that we will be commencing the remainder of part 8 of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 in England on 1 June. From this date, local authorities will be able to deal with complaints about high hedges that are having an adverse effect on a neighbour's amenity.

Alongside the commencement order, we have laid regulations specifying the grounds on which appeals can be brought against local authority decisions under the legislation, and setting out how such appeals will be handled. The appeals procedure has been streamlined in the light of responses to the public consultation held last year.
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Consultation comments have also led us to decide that we should not exercise our power to set a ceiling on what local authorities can charge for dealing with high hedges complaints. Section 68 of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 specifies that any such fee must be paid by the complainant. As a result of our decision, local authorities in England will be free to decide whether, and at what level, it is appropriate to charge for this service, taking account of local circumstances and local taxpayers' wishes. Should they so wish, authorities may provide this service for free, or charge different amounts to different groups of people. This is in line with the Government's general policy of allowing such decisions to be made at the local level.

We have published a full Regulatory Impact Assessment on implementing the high hedges legislation. It includes an estimate of what it might cost a local authority, on average, to deal with a high hedge complaint. It also contains, as an Annex, a summary of the consultation responses.

To support local authorities as they prepare to take on this new responsibility, we will publish shortly detailed guidance on administering complaints and enforcing any action that hedge owners may be required to take to remedy the problems caused by the hedge. We also plan to hold, during May, regional workshops to provide training for local authority officers.

For the public, we are publishing two free explanatory leaflets. "Over the garden hedge" is a revision of the previous leaflet of this name and offers advice on how people can settle these disputes for themselves. Negotiation is a necessary precursor to submitting a formal complaint to a local authority. The authority can reject a complaint if they consider the complainant has not done everything they reasonably could to settle the matter themselves. The second leaflet "High hedges: complaining to the council" explains what complaints local authorities can consider and how they will deal with them.

Copies of the Regulatory Impact Assessment and both leaflets will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses and have been published on the website of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister at The guidance for local authorities "High hedges complaints: prevention and cure" will similarly be deposited in House Libraries and published on the web as soon as it is available.


Student Finance

The Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education (Dr. Kim Howells): The Regulatory Impact Assessment that was published alongside the Higher Education Act 2004 contained estimates of the fee income for the HE sector and the costs of student loans and grants. These estimates were based on two scenarios for the pattern of fee charging by higher education providers: 75 per cent. of students charged £3,000 and 25 per cent. charged £1,200; and 50 per cent. charging £3,000 and 50 per cent. charging £1,200. The figures below update that analysis on the basis of findings from the Office for Fair Access that 91 per cent. of higher education providers are likely to charge
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£3,000. The figures below also update the analysis to take account of the new £2,700 grant, replacing the previous £1,500 HE grant and £1,200 fee remission grant; they also update the analysis to put it all on a 2006–07 student number basis.

Fee Income and Student Support Forecasts
Table 1: Fee income for higher education providers

Fee Income from standard fee (based on 2006–07 standard fee of £1,200).£950 million
Additional income from variable fees (based on 91 per cent. of universities charging full £3,000 fee).£1,350 million
Total£2,300 million

Table 2: Cost of Student Support

New grant of £2,700£890 million
Maintenance Loans£740 million
Fee Loans£830 million

1. All costs are in steady state 2006–07 terms.
2. Fee loan forecasts are based on the assumption that 9 per cent. of students are charged £2,000 and 91 per cent. charged £3,000, so the average fee for new students will be £2,910. We are also assuming 80 per cent. take-up of fee deferral.
3. The maintenance loan forecasts assume 82 per cent. take up.
4. The forecasts are based on a RAB charge for maintenance loans of 29 per cent. and for fee loans of 42 per cent., under 3.5 per cent. discount rate.
5. Fee income forecasts have been rounded to the nearest £50 million. All other figures have been rounded to the nearest £10 million.
6. Forecasts are based on setting a grant threshold so that 30 per cent. of students receive the full grant.
7. The combined grant costs represent an extra £440 million over and above expenditure on the £1,200 fee remission grant as it would have been.
8. Adopting the £2,700 grant has the effect of moving costs from maintenance loans to fee loans, because the £1,200 fee remission grant would have substituted for fee loans whereas some of the £2,700 grant substitutes for maintenance loan. The level of the substitution rate will be set to ensure overall cost neutrality.


State Veterinary Service

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): With my colleagues in Scotland and Wales, I am delighted to announce that on 1 April 2005 the state veterinary service (SVS) will launch as an executive agency of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, retaining the title the state veterinary service.

The first chief executive will be Glenys Stacey who will take responsibility for a challenging programme of reforming the way that the services are delivered to its many stakeholders. The SVS has a long, commendable history of engagement with the farming and rural community. The agency will build on this as it enhances its operational and financial effectiveness and continuously improves on the vital role it plays in the fight against animal disease.
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The agency will work in close partnership with its policy customers in the Department and the devolved administrations; other delivery agents; and its customers in the rural and livestock community, to deliver services that maximise the use of modern information technology and ensure the optimum utilisation of its staff.

At the forefront of protection against animal-borne diseases and their potential impact on public health, the economy and the rural community, the agency will also be in the front line to deal with any outbreak.

The chief executive has been set some demanding key targets for the first year.

Copies have been placed in both Libraries of the House.

Copies of the agency's framework document and any subsequent amendments will also be placed in both Libraries of the House. Further copies and other information about the agency can be obtained from the chief executive.

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