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The Minister for Housing and Planning (Keith Hill): The Government are today publishing the summary responses on the key issues raised in our consultation on the implementation of HMO licensing. Copies of these responses have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. In addition, the Government are announcing the decisions we have made in respect of a number of issues which are necessary to achieve implementation in October 2005. An analysis of responses on the complete range of questions asked will be published in due course.
"Licensing in the Private Rented Sector: Consultation on the Implementation of HMO Licensing" sought to explain the Government's proposals for licensing in the private rented sector, as contained in the Housing Act 2004. It invited interested parties to comment on how these powers should be implemented, in particular through asking questions about the possible form that the necessary items of secondary legislation should take.
The consultation period ended in February and we have now analysed responses and reached decisions on these key issues so that we can start drafting the appropriate secondary legislation that will allow these important measures to be commenced by autumn this year. We are also keen that all relevant stakeholders are made aware of these decisions as early as possible to allow them to begin preparing for the introduction of licensing.
On most of these issues, the majority of respondents agreed with the proposals set out in the paper. Discussions have also been held between officials and stakeholders at a working group comprising representatives of local government, landlords and tenants.
The Government are introducing licensing as a measured response to the problems of the private rented sector. And in doing so we are keen to strike the right balance between setting clear national benchmarks and giving local authorities the discretion to respond to local housing market conditions. This is a difficult trade off and there is no single solution that applies in all cases. We propose a mixed solution as follows:
ii) we will define for these purposes, "storeys" as including basements and attics if they are occupied (including by a resident landlord) or have been converted for occupation or which are in use in connection with the occupation of the HMO. Commercial premises on the ground or any upper floor will also be included in the calculation of number of storeys, but not basements in purely commercial use. We will not specify when a mezzanine floor is to be included, as this will depend on a case by case basis the actual use of such a floor in the HMO e.g. whether or not it used for habitable purposes,
v) we will not specify a cap on licence fees at this stage, relying on CBPFA guidance on the treatment of costs and the audit process to ensure that fee levels remain proportionate. Discussion will begin shortly with the landlord associations and local government on ways in which license applications can be processed as quickly as possible, subject to important safeguards;
vii) we will set national minimum amenity standards that will enable authorities to ensure that HMOs are licensed for the requisite number of occupants. We will make a further statement in May which sets out the details of those standards.
viii) we will not set maximum national room sizes for HMOs as we believe the appropriate sizes will depend on the quantity and condition of the often diverse HMO stock in an authority's area as well as the pressure on the rented market.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): In order to ensure that we can provide hon. Members with a better service, both in London and when they travel overseas, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has set up a new database which will enable us to record the foreign affairs issues in which they are interested. We will keep solely factual information which is already in the public domain, for example details of the all party groups and assemblies of which hon. Members are a member, and of overseas and inward visits (eg Inter-Parliamentary Union and Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegations) in which they have taken part. This should enable us better to tailor information and assistance to hon. Members' needs.
Hon. Members who wish to register an interest in a particular country, region or foreign affairs topic, or to see a copy of their entry in the database, are invited to e-mail to PRDTEnquiries@fco.gov.uk
The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): At last November's EuroMed Foreign Ministerial in the Hague, EuroMed Foreign Ministers launched a review of the first 10 years of the Barcelona process and its future direction. A copy of the UK's national contribution to the Barcelona review has been placed in the Library of the House.
We believe that the review provides the opportunity to refocus the priorities of the Barcelona process and help ensure it delivers results that have a real positive impact for EU and Med Partner citizens. We want to see the review generate a real debate among all EuroMed Partners, and in their civil societies, of how to enhance the partnership. We believe that EuroMed should be guided by the principles of the EU's strategic partnership with the Mediterranean and Middle East and the European Neighbourhood Policy, but mostly by the desire of Mediterranean Partners for the EU's engagement and assistance in meeting the challenges of political, social and economic development.
Our national contribution proposes a strategic approach to achieving the vision set out in the 1995 Barcelona declaration. We want to focus EuroMed on achieving a limited number of 10 year targets on governance, education and economic reform. Improved education systems and more vigorous open market competitive economies are crucial to economic growth in EuroMed countries. Without these countries will not be able to take advantage of trade liberalisation and the creation of a EuroMed Free Trade Area by 2010. And improved governance based on democratic institutions,
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and civil society institutions especially for women and free media, will facilitate the achievement of these targets, as will focused and effective development assistance from the EU.
This is an ambitious agenda, but one whose success is critical to removing the barriers to development in the Middle East and North Africa and to enhancing the relationship between Europe and that region. The review will be negotiated amongst the 35 EuroMed Partners, all of whom will have their own aims and objectives. It will be submitted to Ministers at the EuroMed Foreign Ministerial in May and will constitute the main input to the EuroMed 10th anniversary event, which the UK will host jointly with Spain in November in Barcelona.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell): With the support of Her Majesty's Government, the United Nations Security Council on 29 March 2005 adopted resolution 1591, which extends the Darfur arms embargo to cover all parties to the N'djamena Ceasefire Agreement and any other belligerents in the states of North Darfur, South Darfur and West Darfur.
Resolution 1591 (2005) also imposes an assets freeze and a travel ban, with conditional exemptions, on individuals who impede the peace process, constitue a threat to stability in the Darfur region, commit violations of international humanitarian law or human rights law or other atrocities, violate the arms embargo or are responsible for offensive military overflights in an over the Darfur region. The measures are effective 30 days after the adoption of the resolution, unless the Security Council decides that the parties concerned have complied with their commitments in the peace process and demands made by the Council in this and previous resolutions. Resolution 1591 (2005) also established a UN sanctions committee and a panel of experts to monitor implementation and enforcement of the measures.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): I have written to ministerial colleagues providing guidance on the conduct of Government business during the election period. Guidance for civil servants on their conduct during this period has also been issued to Departments. The guidance comes into force with immediate effect.