The Paymaster General (Dawn Primarolo): In his report on the Review of HMRC Online Services, published at the Budget in March 2006, Lord Carter of Coles recommended that, for 2007-08 and subsequent returns, the income tax self assessment filing deadline should be brought forward from 31 January to 30 September for paper returns and to 30 November for returns filed over the internet. Lord Carter has since reviewed the responses to the Partial Regulatory Impact Assessment published with his report and has received further representations from tax practitioners. Having reviewed his earlier findings, he has now recommended that, for 2007-08 and subsequent returns, the filing period for paper returns should be reduced to seven monthsthe new deadline should be 31 Octoberand the filing period for online returns should remain at ten monthswith a deadline of 31 January. He has also suggested that HM Revenue and Customs officials should work with practitioners to explore how in future the practical difficulties in collecting data earlier might be overcome so that taxpayers can complete their returns sooner if they wish. The Government have accepted Lord Carters revised recommendation. This updating of the self assessment system takes account of both the views of tax professionals and the operational requirements of HM Revenue and Customs.
The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): I am today setting out further details of the Governments implementation strategy and dry run for Home Information Packs (HIPs).
(i) To provide home owners with important energy efficiency information about their homes to help them cut fuel bills and carbon emissions. This is vital as homes account for 27 per cent. of Britains carbon emissions. Energy Performance Certificates will provide clear information about the energy efficiency of homes and how that can be improved. The Energy Saving Trust estimate that following the advice in Energy Performance Certificates could save the average home owner up to £300 a year on their fuel bills The Government believe it is important to implement these as early as possible given the importance of reducing carbon emissions.
(ii) To benefit consumers by cutting waste and duplication, speeding up home sales and reducing the number of failed transactions, which at present cost consumers around £350 million a year in wasted costs.
(iii) To encourage and support long term transformation of the home buying and selling industry by introducing greater transparency and competition to drive down costs and incentivise better service and clearer redress for consumers.
There are three main components to Home Information Packs: searches and other legal documents; Energy Performance Certificates; and the home condition surveys that make up the other component of a fall Home Condition Report. It is essential that all aspects of Home Information Packs are properly tested before fall implementation. We need to be sure that consumers understand, value and can utilise the information that HIPs provide; that the assumed benefits will be realised; and that the different operating systems underpinning HIPs will work effectively.
As part of our ongoing programme of implementation, we have already successfully tested over 14,000 HIPs with searches, but largely without Home Condition Reports, in the dry run so far. Over the course of the summer we propose to undertake farther consumer research on Home Condition Reports; to study in greater detail the 250 HIPs that have been produced to date with some kind of survey; and to look to see what more we can learn from experience in other countries where HIPs have been introduced successfully or are currently being proposed. From the autumn the emphasis of our implementation programme will switch to the testing of Energy Performance Certificates and Home Condition Reports. Working with the industry and with consumers, we are proposing to support a series of area based trials and we will test proposals such as allowing sellers to start marketing their homes if they have already commissioned their HIP rather than having to wait up to 14 days. There will be independent assessment and monitoring of all aspects of the dry run.
As part of the development of the dry run we have engaged in detailed consultation with a wide range of stakeholders and have gathered substantial information on the progress of implementation so far. As a result, we have concluded that there would be significant risks and potential disadvantages to consumers from a mandatory big bang introduction of full Home Condition Reports on 1 June 2007. In particular:
Further testing is needed to ensure that Home Condition Reports deliver the assumed benefits for consumers and that the operating systems that support them work smoothly. Design work on the dry run has made it clear that this cannot be completed in time for the results to be taken into account in by 1 June.
A recent report from the Council of Mortgage Lenders identified the real possibility that some lenders might not be fully geared up to use HCRs until 2008-09. In particular the industrys plans for bringing in Automated Valuation Models means that many lenders will not have them in place by June 2007 and so will continue to seek separate mortgage valuation surveys where they could have relied on a Home Condition Report.
There are concerns about the number of inspectors that will be in place in time for June next year.
Moreover, because of our commitment to addressing climate change we do not want to jeopardise the successful introduction of Energy Performance Certificates at the earliest possible opportunity by pursuing the big bang mandatory introduction of full Home Condition Reports at the same time.
We believe that progressive market-led take-up of full HCRs could strongly benefit consumers. Bearing in mind our commitment to the early introduction of Energy Performance Certificates, combining an Energy Performance Certificate and a full Home Condition Report at the same time is likely to offer significant additional benefits to buyers and sellers. In particular, sellers offering full Home Condition Reports should be more likely to benefit from swifter sales and suffer fewer transaction failures, as accepted offers are much less likely to be re-opened as a result of new information coming to light. In addition, once Automated Valuation Models are in place, Home Condition Reports should mean buyers get cheaper and swifter valuations and mortgage offers. We therefore believe that there will be a significant incentive for consumers to top up their HIPs voluntarily to include full Home Condition Reports and that this is a product that the market can and should deliver.
HIPs will be introduced with searches and other key documents from 1 June 2007.
Energy Performance Certificates will be included in HIPs on a mandatory basis from 1 June 2007.
We will work with the industry to facilitate market-led take-up of full HCRs. As part of this approach, we will explore with the sector a wide range of options to enable a successful and innovative market for HCRs, including options for supporting the provision of necessary systems, effective demonstration projects for HCRs, and will consider the case for pump-priming funding. This market-led approach has the added benefit of giving industry more flexibility to innovate and adapt to consumer preferences.
This means that the remaining aspects of Home Condition Reports will not be made mandatory from June next year, but HCRs will be authorised documents that sellers will be able to include in their packs
Mandatory HCRs will remain on the table if the industry fails to make a success of the roll out of HCRs
As part of the next phase of reform of we will also be setting out our plans for an ombudsman scheme for estate agents to strengthen consumer protection as well as further proposals to review competition and transparency in the industry to the benefit of consumers.
We believe that these arrangements will ensure that Home Information Packs are implemented in a way that maximises benefits for consumers and the environment and successfully enables the long term transformation of the home buying and selling market.
The Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Ms Harriet Harman): My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State has made the following written ministerial statement:
The Department for Constitutional Affairs has yesterday published a consultation paper seeking views on new rules of court for the new Court of Protection established under the Mental Capacity Act 2005. The Department is seeking views on the draft rules included in the consultation paper. Copies will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
The Department is also publishing the Government response to the consultation on Lasting Powers of Attorney today. The consultation ended on 14 April 2006 and 118 responses were received. The consultation response provides a summary of responses and the next steps in light of the consultation.
The Mental Capacity Act 2005 establishes a new specialist court, to be known as the Court of Protection, with a new jurisdiction to deal with decision-making for adults who lack capacity. This court will have important structural differences from the current Court of Protection. The new court will be able to make decisions both, as the current court can, about property and affairs (the term used in the Act to describe the financial decision-making jurisdiction) and also about personal welfare matters including health care. The new Court of Protection will begin operating from April 2007.
The Act also allows people to plan ahead for a time when they may lack capacity by appointing an attorney to make decisions about both their property and affairs and personal welfare.
The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): I can announce that the contract for foil production of 12 Nimrod MRA4 aircraft has been placed with BAE Systems. This is the culmination of many years of hard work by BAE Systems and its supply chain, and builds upon the considerable investment already made by the Ministry of Defence and BAE Systems. Nimrod MRA4 has had a troubled and well publicised history of time delays and cost overruns. The contract restructuring introduced since early 2003 has been successful in stabilising costs and with three aircraft participating in the flight trials programme, the design has now reached a level of maturity which permits a commitment to foil production.
The greater transparency offered by the revised contracting arrangements and the development of an effective partnering relationship between MOD and BAE Systems and its supply chain have been essential to restoring confidence in the programme. These are key elements of the Defence Industrial Strategy (DIS) and progress on Nimrod MRA4 demonstrates the benefits that will accrue to MOD and industry as these and other features of the DIS are put into effect across the defence industrial base.
The programme will provide the RAF with a maritime patrol aircraft capability second to none. Nimrod MRA4 will offer greater capability and improved availability when compared with the current MR2 maritime patrol aircraft which it replaces.
This contract will secure some 1,000 jobs at BAE Systems sites in the north-west of England, including around 700 at the Woodford site where the aircraft is manufactured. A further 300 or so jobs associated with production will also be secured at other BAE Systems sites.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Tom Watson): It is normal practice for Ministry of Defence to publish before the summer recess a report giving a detailed account of the low flying training that has taken place in the UK Low Flying System for the previous training year April 2005 to March 2006.
In the preparation of the report for this year an error in the method of attribution of hours from night areas into day areas has been discovered which also affects information reported in prior years. This has delayed analysis of data and production of the 2005-06 report.
The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): I would like to confirm the details of the force package that we currently plan to deploy to Iraq at the next routine roulement of UK forces in November 2006.
The lead UK formation, currently 20 Armoured Brigade, will be replaced by 19 Light Brigade, which will take over command of UK forces in early November. In addition to 19 Light Brigades Headquarters and Signals Squadron, the other major units currently in Iraq will be replaced as follows:
Members of the reserve forces will continue to deploy to Iraq as part of this force package, and we shall shortly start to serve approximately 600 call-out notices in order to fill some 500 posts. On completion of their mobilisation procedures, the reservists will undertake a period of training and integration into their respective receiving units. For the majority their deployment to theatre will also commence in November and most will serve there for six to seven months, although some may have shorter tours. The reservists will perform a wide range of activities including force protection duties, logistics, medical support and individual reinforcements to units. In addition, we expect some 20 members of the sponsored reserves to be in theatre at any one time.
I emphasise that the force package we deploy in October/November will depend on the conditions on the ground, in particular the security situation in the south and progress on handover of security responsibility to the Iraqi civil authorities over the months to come. I very much hope that positive progress in these areas will enable adjustments to the force package we deploy, and we will continue to keep UK force levels in Iraq under review. I will, of course, aim to inform Parliament of any changes to these plans at the earliest opportunity.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Barry Gardiner): In July 2005 DEFRA asked the Countryside Agency, working with English Nature and the Rural Development Service, to advise the Government on ways to improve access to the English coast. We asked for that advice to be provided by the end of July 2006 in advance of the publication of a consultation document in October this year.
I have now decided that in view of Natural England assuming responsibility from the Countryside Agency in this area in October this year, Natural England should take forward the work which the Countryside Agency, English Nature and the Rural Development Service have carried out on coastal access. I am today announcing that I have asked the Natural England board to come forward with its recommendations on coastal access to the Government before the end of December this year. In line with these changes I am proposing that the public consultation should now be issued in early 2007.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Ivan Lewis): We acknowledge that there are pressures with regard to the waiting times for audiology services. Considerable progress has been made in improving the provision of audiology services although we accept that there is still some way to go.
Between 2000-05, this Government invested £125 million in the Modernising Hearing Aids Service programme (MHAS), which was managed by the Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID), on behalf of the Department of Health. The outcomes of the programme have been significant and have ensured that by 2005 all NHS hearing aid services met the Government target of routinely fitting modern digital hearing aids.
Working with RNID, we have ensured that high quality digital hearing aids are now available throughout the NHS with an estimated 750,000 people fitted with digital hearing aids by the NHS;
the current public private partnership (PPP) is also proving very successful; by February 2006 approximately 68,600 patients had been fitted with a hearing aid. NHS trusts benefit from the increased capacity, competitive pricing and quality of service provision available through PPP;
RNID and NHS Purchasing and Supplies Agency (PASA) working together have negotiated a reduction in the cost to the NHS of digital hearing aids;
a new degree has been developed to help address the national shortage of audiologists;
Hearing Direct has been set up: 12 sites run by NHS Direct which provide follow-up care and advice for selected hearing aid users (may be suitable for one third of all NHS patients);
since January 2006 we have been collecting waiting time and activity data for 15 diagnostic tests and procedures, including pure tone audiometry. These data have been shared with the NHS, for performance management purposes since 2 June 2006. These data were published on 12 July 2006;
A key area of challenge to delivering the 18-week waiting target outlined in section 2 of the publication Tackling hospital waiting: the 18 week patient pathwayAn implementation framework was audiology. Work is underway at official level to scope a national action plan for audiology, to be published in due course. The intention is to develop and take the work forward in partnership with stakeholders. This will involve working with eight physiological measurement sites to test ideas and to improve access to physiological measurement diagnostic services including audiology. These sites will be critical to inform the action plan and its eventual implementation.
The Governments investment, through the work of MHAS, has improved outcomes for patients. Medical Research Council research shows that patients have reported a 40 per cent. increase in benefit with the new service.
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