The Minister for Housing (Caroline Flint): The Housing and Regeneration Bill, currently before Parliament, establishes the Homes and Communities Agency, bringing together, for the first time, land and money to deliver decent, affordable housing and regenerate our communities by creating places where people choose to live. It will give local authorities a clear strategic partner to work with on housing and regeneration, and will enable better and more effective use of a range of assets, resources and funding streams to respond to the particular housing and regeneration problems in different communities.
Work to establish the agency is progressing well. Following his appointment as chief executive designate of the agency, Sir Bob Kerslake has appointed a full time set-up team comprising staff drawn from the Housing Corporation, English Partnerships and CLG. The team will lead the delivery of the detailed work necessary to bring the agency into being.
Reflecting the devolved arrangements that operate for the London Development Agency, and the Mayor of Londons responsibility to produce a housing strategy for the capital, my predecessor asked Sir Bob Kerslake, chief executive designate of the Homes and Communities Agency, to discuss how the HCA and the Mayors bodies could most effectively co-operate to meet Londons housing and regeneration needs. Following those discussions, I have agreed to their proposal that, once the agency is established, a sub-committee of the HCA board should be set up with specific responsibility for London. The board will be chaired by the Mayor, and the vice chair will be the chief executive of the HCA. The London boroughs will also be actively involved through participation on the sub-committee and involvement in the delivery of individual schemes on the ground. The sub-committee will be supported by a team comprising the London staff of the HCA and staff drawn from the London Development Agency. The team will be able to draw on the resources and assets of both the HCA and the LDA in meeting Londons housing and regeneration needs.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Iain Wright):
I am today announcing the final allocations of the second tranche of £90 million of planning delivery grant (PDG) for 2007-08. The grant is paid to local authorities to support improvement in the delivery of planning services. Over the period 2003-08 the Government will have
made available a total of £605 million through PDG which has played a significant part in raising the profile of planning, providing additional resources for both development management and plan-making, and incentivising improvement in performance against a background of a rapidly increasing number of planning applications.
The grant is performance-related. The aim is to enhance resources for the planning system in a way that drives performance improvement and ensures effective delivery of our objectives for sustainable communities.
Grant allocations are not ring-fenced and authorities have complete discretion in the way they spend this money. However, to encourage investment for the future, 25 per cent. of the total grant paid to any individual authority must be spent on capital. The remaining 75 per cent. can be spent by the local authority on resource or capital budgets.
The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): On 21 January 2008 I informed the House about the theft of laptop computers from Ministry of Defence vehicles and premises and announced that, following consultation with the Information Commissioner, I had invited Sir Edmund Burton to undertake a full investigation into the losses. In response to questions I gave an undertaking to the House to provide further details of the Burton Review, including reporting timescales, when they were available. I am now in a position to do so.
To establish the exact circumstances and events that led to the loss by MOD of personal data; to examine the adequacy of the steps taken to prevent any recurrence, and of MOD policy, practice and management arrangements in respect of the protection of personal data more generally; to make recommendations; and to report to MODs permanent secretary not later than 30 April 2008.
The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): The 2008 report of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body (AFPRB) has now been published. I wish to express my thanks to the chairman and members of the review body for their report. I am pleased to confirm that the AFPRB's recommendations are to be accepted in full, with implementation effective from 1 April 2008.
In line with the AFPRB recommendations, the basic military salary for officers and all other ranks will increase by 2.6 per cent. In addition, the AFPRB has recommended an increase to X-factor of 1 per cent. and a restructuring to increase the amount of X-factor paid to officers at Lieutenant-Colonel, Colonel and Brigadier (and equivalent) ranks.
The rates of specialist pay (including flying pay, submarine pay, diving pay and hydrographic pay) will also increase by 2.6 per cent. The Government have also accepted the AFPRBs recommendation to introduce additional targeted financial retention incentives for Nuclear Submarine Watchkeepers, Army Vehicle Mechanics, Royal Artillery, RAF Regiment Gunners and Firefighters and a new category of specialist pay for Explosive Ordnance Disposal personnel to tackle specific recruitment and retention issues.
The Government remain committed to the Independent Pay Review Body process. This award is consistent with achievement of the Governments 2 per cent. CPI inflation target which helps contribute to low and stable inflation, macroeconomic stability and economic growth.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): I am today publishing the Governments new water strategy Future Water, together with consultation documents on social and environmental guidance to Ofwat, on surface water drainage and on controls on phosphates in domestic laundry cleaning products. The consultations will close on 30 April 2008.
Securing and maintaining water supplies is vital to the prosperity of the country and to the health of people and the environment. In some areas, current supplies are already unsustainable and this situation was exacerbated by the drought in South East England between 2004 and 2006. These pressures are going to get worse as the climate changes, the economy grows, and population increases. Combined with the need to reduce CO2 emissions from the water industry and from our use of hot water in our homes, this means that we must find ways of improving efficiency, and of reducing demand and wastage.
1. buildings and appliances that use less water;
2. further reductions in leakage;
3. better information for consumers;
4. improved incentives through metering and block tariffs; and
5. new supply, including possible new reservoirs.
We will be commissioning an independent review to advise on the future of water charging and metering including whether there is a need to move beyond the current system in which companies in seriously water stressed areas can introduce mandatory metering where there is a clear case for doing so. The review will need to look at social, economic and environmental concerns. Any proposed change would need to include measures, such as tariffs, that help vulnerable customers.
As well as drinking water, we are concerned about the quality of our lakes, rivers and streams. These are affected by discharges from sewage treatment works, and by direct pollution, such as from agriculture. High quality water is important for habitats and ecosystems and is greatly valued for recreation and leisure.
Over the last two decades we have made great improvements to water quality in the environment. This has been achieved mainly through the tightening of controls on pollution from the end of pipes such as the discharge from sewage treatment works. We must now take action on a wider range of pollution including: tackling phosphate pollution of rivers and lakes by phasing out phosphates as an ingredient in laundry cleaning products by 2015; continuing to clean up the water that is discharged from sewage treatment works; and using river basin management plans under the water framework directive to tackle direct pollution of water from agriculture and water run off in urban areas. I am today publishing a consultation on controls on phosphates in domestic laundry cleaning products which will consider both voluntary and regulatory control options.
The drought was followed in 2007 by major flooding. While this may seem a different problem, science tells us that both droughts and floods will become more frequent with climate change. I announced on Monday the allocation of funding for flood management, and the outcomes we expect to see from this funding. The floods of 2007 have made us all aware of the need to tackle surface water drainage. A consultation on surface water drainage is being launched today on the recommendations from Sir Michael Pitts lessons learned report. The proposals include introducing surface water management plans to coordinate activity, and clarifying responsibilities for sustainable drainage systems, as well as reviewing the ability of new development to connect surface water automatically to the public sewer.
Alongside the strategy, I am today publishing draft statutory social and environmental guidance to the Water Services Regulation Authority (Ofwat) for consultation. In reflecting the policies set out in Future Water, it is one of the ways in which the strategy can begin to be implemented. Following the consultation it will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny as set out in the Water Industry Act 1991, as amended by the Water Act 2003.
Copies of Future WaterThe Governments Water Strategy for England and the consultation documents on social and environmental guidance to Ofwat; and surface water drainage have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The documents are also available on the website of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
The latest figures for 2006-07, now available at: http://www.civilservice.gov.uk/about/statistics/sickness.asp show that Departments need to continue their effort to address this. Copies are also available in the Library of the House.
Guidelines to departmentsto help boards assess their current procedures and systems on a comply or explain basis
Senior management master classesa series of events exploring management aspects of the health and wellbeing agenda for senior Civil Service management.
High impact interventionsa series of good practice case studies from both the public and private sectors on how to achieve a healthy work place has been identified.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Meg Hillier): Due to an administrative error the text of my written ministerial statement of the 4 February on the Justice and Home Affairs Informal Council was not issued in its entirety. The full statement is as follows:
The Justice and Home Affairs Informal Council was held on 25 and 26 January 2008 in Ljubljana. My right hon. and noble friend the Attorney-General, the Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) and I attended on behalf of the United Kingdom. Since it was an informal Council, no formal decisions were taken. The following main issues were discussed:
The first Home Affairs session opened with a report from the presidency on the work of the Future Group on EU Home Affairs. Those not on the group were invited to give their views. All supported the work underway, stressing the need to prioritise data-sharing, both within the EU and co-operation with third countries. In relation to other subject areas, there were suggestions that work might look at the further harmonisation of rules to manage the Schengen area, tighter border controls, measures to bring terrorists to justice and the strengthening of action in the area of civil protection and disaster response. Several delegations also raised the need to ensure that the work of the Home Affairs Group and that of the Justice Future Group were linked more closely. The new European Parliaments civil liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) President, Gérard Deprez, gave a general introduction to the approach of LIBE, stressing their concern for privacy and individual rights.
The presidency concluded that interoperability of databases and the needs of law enforcement should drive future EU policy
on data sharing, coupled with thorough data protection. On migration, an integrated approach to management was needed based on Frontex (the EUs border agency), operating across land and sea borders. Links with external policy should be stronger, as should data-sharing, and work with and in third countries. In all these areas the EU should analyse what it already had, and then look at the next steps. The presidency noted that a final report should be prepared under the incoming French presidency, with a view to contributing to the successor to the Hague JHA work programme.
The second session discussed practical cooperation in the field of asylum, with the presidency stressing the need for joint practical projects and asking for views on a European Support Office (ESO) which would oversee all forms of co-operation between member states on the Common European Asylum System. The UK welcomed practical co-operation based on an assesment of why people moved. The Commission said that its proposals on the second stage of the Common European Asylum System were due in July and work on an ESO should start with a feasibility study. All member states agreed that practical co-operation should be strengthened, and that there was a need for more uniform country of origin information. All member states also supported the ESO, but views differed as to its role and staffing. The presidency concluded that work to unify the interpretation of existing instruments, common training, and shared interpretation pool should continue. There was wide support for an ESO, but further work was needed on its tasks and financing. The presidency looked forward to the Commissions ESO study. The Council would be invited to agree conclusions on this at a future session.
The home affairs session closed the official programme with a working lunch, during which Ministers considered the timetable for the implementation of the second generation of the Schengen Information System (SIS II). The Commission and presidency argued that member states had to set and commit to a real timetable for SIS II. More time for testing was needed, but a formal decision had to be taken at the February JHA Council. Ministers agreed with a presidency proposal to remodel the oversight of the SIS II project on similar grounds to that used for SISOne4all, setting up a ministerial level steering group of various member states.
Ministers also had an exchange of views on the Commissions proposal on the use of the passenger name records (PNR) for law enforcement purposes. The Commission stressed the need to prevent terrorism, but protect the privacy and rights of honest travellers. At the presidencys request, the Government presented the UKs experience of using PNR data, with concrete examples of its use, proportionality, and success, with the conclusion that it should be used to detect all forms of crime. While generally favouring the proposal, member states noted that it raised difficult technical and substantive issues, including concerns about data protection. The presidency concluded that there was general support for the proposal, subject to further work on the scope and to ensure data protection.
Over lunch on the second day, Justice Ministers discussed the report on the Justice Future Group. There was no clear conclusion on whether to merge the Home Affairs and Justice Future Groups, though the presidency encouraged Ministers to co-ordinate better with their Home Affairs colleagues.
After lunch, Justice Ministers discussed whether the e-justice portal should be opened to the public and if so how it should be co-ordinated and whether data should remain decentralised. My hon. Friend, the Under Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Maria Eagle) said that the portal should be opened up, but that issues around data protection and charges for access, if any, had to be carefully considered in each pilot.
The next Justice session focused on the presidencys paper (co-sponsored by the UK) on Trials in Absentia. The paper was unanimously welcomed as a step forward for EU criminal procedural rights. My right hon. and noble friend the Attorney-General congratulated the presidency on its achievement. The presidency aim to conclude agreement by the end of June.
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