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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 25 July 2006

Communities and Local Government

Validation of Planning Applications

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Meg Munn): Today I have launched a consultation on the requirements for local authority validation of planning applications. This follows on from an earlier consultation on proposals for a standard application form.

The consultation proposes that there is a core and mandatory list of national requirements for applicants to comply with in submitting a planning application, which is to be supplemented by a list of local authority requirements. These local requirements must be consulted on by the local authority prior to being published on their website. The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) intends to publish guidance for local authorities on what the local lists should contain, and will also make clear that there are a number of national requirements on applicants to provide information on such areas as flooding, and land contamination. The proposals provide that where an application does not meet the published national requirements and locally consulted on requirements, the authority will not be required to validate it.

The consultation is linked with the development of the standard application form, and the proposals are intended to complement the streamlining and efficiency benefits that will result from there being a single national form.

The consultation period ends on 30 September 2006. Any proposed legislative changes would be brought in by April 2007, and local authorities would have to adopt these by July 2007, the date on which the standard application form would become mandatory.

The consultation paper has been published on the DCLG website at http://www.communities.gov.uk/index.asp?id=l017165 and a copy of the paper has been placed in the Library of the House.

Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): Today we have published a revised edition of the Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities. The revised code is issued jointly by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and the Secretaries of State for Health
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and for Education and Skills, and will replace the current guidance (issued in July 2002) with effect from 4 September.

The code provides clear statutory guidance on how local authorities should carry out their homelessness functions and will assist authorities in providing appropriate and effective responses to homelessness and potential homelessness. It also complements other forms of advice, guidance and best practice which have been produced to help local authorities strengthen the services they provide to help people avoid homelessness, wherever possible.

The revised code strengthens the guidance on dealing with vulnerable groups, including people fleeing violence and families with children. It also includes stronger guidance on preventing homelessness, on providing a wide range of housing options, and limiting the use of bed and breakfast accommodation.

Copies of the revised Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities are being made available in the Libraries of both Houses. Copies will also be available free of charge from the Department for Communities and Local Government and the guidance can also be accessed through the Department’s website at: http://www.communities.gov.uk/index.asp?id=1501614

Constitutional Affairs

Human Rights Act

The Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Ms Harriet Harman): My right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor made the following written ministerial statement:

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Draft Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill

The Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Ms Harriet Harman): My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Baroness Ashton) had made the following written ministerial statement:

I am pleased to announce today publication of the draft Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill. Copies of the draft Bill, explanatory notes and accompanying regulatory impact assessments are being placed in the Libraries of both Houses and on the DCA’s website.

The main effects of the Bill are to:

The Government intend to introduce the Bill as soon as parliamentary time allows.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Independent Monitor for Entry Clearance Refusals Without the Right of Appeal

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Margaret Beckett): I have today placed in the Library of the House copies of the annual report by Fiona Lindsley, the independent monitor for entry clearance refusals without the right of appeal.

Decisions taken in the calendar year 2004 were under review. Ms Lindsley’s report raises a number of interesting proposals as to how we may improve our entry clearance operation world-wide and we are committed to doing this.

I wish to express my thanks to Ms Lindsley for her hard work in completing this, her third and final report as independent monitor for entry clearance matters. Ms Lindsley’s contract as independent monitor has now ended and she has been succeeded by Mrs. Linda Costelloe Baker, whose first report covering decisions made during 2005 will be published later this year.

Hong Kong

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Ian McCartney): The latest report on the implementation of the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong was published today. Copies have been placed in the Library of the House.
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A copy of the report is also available on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website www.fco.gov.uk The report covers the period from 1 January to 30 June 2006. It includes a foreword by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. I commend the report to the House.

Cyprus: Export Licensing Policy

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): The Government have reviewed the application of our arms export licensing policy for Cyprus. We currently assess all export licence applications against the consolidated criteria as well as the policy restriction imposed in 1997 on exports to military forces on the island. We have determined that the consolidated criteria alone will be sufficient in assessing future export licence applications for Cyprus.

We will continue to scrutinise the export of military equipment to Cyprus with the same rigour, applying strict controls on a case-by-case basis with due regard to security on the island and stability in the region, and in accordance with the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions. We will no longer have regard to the EU common embargo list in assessing licence applications to Cyprus.

Leader of the House

Senior Salaries Review Body (SSRB)

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Jack Straw): In 1996 the independent Senior Salaries Review Body (SSRB) recommended that parliamentary pay, allowances and pensions should be reviewed every three years starting in 2000. In line with this recommendation, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, has written to John Baker, the Chairman of The Review Body, in the following terms:

Terms of the review

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The review will also take into account the recent appointment of the Lords Speaker.

Consultation with Members of Parliament

As previously outlined to the House following the last triennial review, the SSRB will be pro-active in seeking contributions from each Member of Parliament. The SSRB will write to Members of Parliament in due course.

Contacting the SSRB

Not withstanding this, Members who have views should submit their comments to the SSRB by early December 2006 at the following address:

Alan Dawson

Senior Salaries Review Body

The Office of Manpower Economics

6th Floor

Kingsgate House

66-74 Victoria Street

London, SW1E 6SW

Alternatively, those Members of Parliament who have comments can email the secretariat to the SSRB. Please contact: alan.dawson@dti.gsi.gov.uk

Northern Ireland

Causeway Project

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. David Hanson): The Government have received a report from the Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland, Mr. Kit Chivers. The report, “The Causeway Project: A Short Inspection”, has today been published.

The Government warmly welcome this report, and thank the chief inspector and his team for the evident care and reflection which has gone into producing this work. The criminal justice organisations are actively considering the report and have already taken some actions in line with the recommendations.

Copies of the chief inspector’s report have been placed in the Library.

Community-based Restorative Justice

The House will recall that in December 2005, I published for consultation draft guidelines setting out a
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proposed framework regulating the community-based restorative justice schemes that are currently operating in Northern Ireland.

That period of consultation afforded the opportunity for all interested parties to make their views known to Government and generated responses from 56 organisations and individuals across the statutory and voluntary sectors as well as from members of the public. The consultation revealed general support for restorative justice as a concept but highlighted serious concerns about the way in which some key aspects of schemes might operate. It was clear from the strong criticisms that the draft guidelines did not get it right and so today I am publishing a robust new protocol to address those concerns.

The Government have always been clear that where community-based restorative justice schemes operate they must be part of the criminal justice system and must not act, or be perceived to act, as an alternative to the existing policing structures. Society would not tolerate officially approved schemes becoming a tool for local paramilitary control and neither will the Government.

The regulation of community-based restorative justice in Northern Ireland was a key recommendation of the Criminal Justice Review which itself was central to the Good Friday Agreement.

I have today published that revised framework which I have renamed a “Protocol for Community-based Restorative Justice Schemes” to affirm its status, not simply as guidelines, but as a document which requires full compliance by all participants and which effectively sets a ‘gold standard’ for schemes. I have placed a copy of the protocol in the Library of the House.

The protocol contains a number of important changes which will, I believe, substantively address the four keys issues of concern raised by respondents during the consultation. Those concerns centred on: the ability for schemes to use third parties to distance themselves from direct engagement with the police; arrangements for determining the suitability of persons working in schemes; the need for a robust independent complaints mechanism; and the need to set demanding standards for schemes underpinned by an effective inspection regime.

As a consequence of those concerns I have:

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