27 Feb 2008 : Column 77WS

27 Feb 2008 : Column 77WS

Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 27 February 2008

Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

Low-level Waste Repository (Drigg)

The Minister for Energy (Malcolm Wicks): I am announcing that I have, today, laid a departmental minute before the House regarding the granting of an indemnity related to nuclear occurrences forming part of new contracts for the LLWR at Drigg.

The NDA proposes to grant an indemnity against uninsurable claims from nuclear incidents that fall outside the regime offered by the Nuclear Installations Act 1965 and the Paris and Brussels conventions to the contractor (and limited specified affiliates) who will operate the LLWR site licence company. At present any such uninsurable claims are borne by the NDA. Given the low probability of a claim being brought the NDA has assessed that the benefits of engaging the contractor outweigh the small risk that the indemnity may be called.

A key element of the NDA’s strategy has been to use competition to improve the management and operation of its sites. The LLWR contracts will be the first to be awarded as a result of competition

Copies of the departmental minute relating to this indemnity have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and will be posted on the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform website at: www.berr.gov.uk.

Communities and Local Government

Code for Sustainable Homes

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Iain Wright): The Government are today confirming the timing of implementation of mandatory ratings against the code for sustainable homes (the code) for new homes in England. This will come into effect on 1 May 2008. All sellers of new homes that apply for building control approval for their development on or after this date will need to include in the home information pack either a code sustainability certificate (where the home has been designed and assessed against the code) or a nil-rated certificate (when a home has not been assessed against the code). We will shortly be laying regulations to bring this into effect. In all instances as a result of the mandatory rating policy the purchasers of new homes will be given clear information about the sustainability of their home and house builders will have a clear and consistent basis on which to compare and market their products.

27 Feb 2008 : Column 78WS

Communities and Local Government is also publishing an updated document explaining what the code is, how it works and what the main categories are within it. This can be found on the Communities and Local Government website at: www.communities.gov.uk/thecode. A copy will also been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The technical guidance which is used by industry to design and assess code homes is also available on the Communities and Local Government website. This is a “living document” that is updated—as necessary—at the beginning of April and October each year to take account of feedback from industry and in light of any changes in regulations.

The code was launched in December 2006 and came into effect in England on 10 April 2007 as a voluntary national sustainability standard, following extensive consultation with environmental groups and the home building and wider construction industries. It is a key part of our package of measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and tackle climate change. The code provides a framework for builders to go further and faster than building regulations, and mandatory ratings will provide a clear incentive for the house building industry to build more sustainable homes.

We are also seeking to establish the code in primary legislation through clauses in part 3 of the Housing and Regeneration Bill. This will enable the Department to set up the code on a similar basis to energy performance certificates including the ability to set up accreditation schemes, a register of certificates and to ensure that the sellers of all new homes, not just those that are marketed for sale, will be required to give buyers clear information about the sustainability of their new home. It will also ensure that those buyers who receive only interim—design stage—certificates before a sale is agreed will receive a final post-construction certificates once the home is finished.

The code complements the system of energy performance certificates for new homes, which will be introduced in April 2008 under the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD).

Home Department

Drugs Strategy

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): My right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Health, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families and I have today published the new 10-year drug strategy, “Drugs: Protecting Families and Communities”, which sets out the Government’s objectives to tackle the harms caused by illegal drug use and actions that the Government and partners will take in meeting those objectives.

The strategy builds upon the existing 10-year strategy, which was published in 1998 and updated in 2002. In the 10 years since that strategy was published, we have seen some real success: drug-related crime has been cut by around 20 per cent., overall drug use, including young people’s drug use, is at an 11-year low; an expanded treatment capacity has allowed us to exceed our target to double the number of users in
27 Feb 2008 : Column 79WS
treatment two years early—with over 195,000 users in treatment in 2006-07 compared to 85,000 in 1998; we have targeted those who commit crime to feed their addiction through compulsory drug testing on arrest; over 1,000 crack houses have been closed; and we have seized record amounts of drugs, disrupting and dismantling organised drug trafficking groups.

In common with the earlier strategy, the new strategy seeks to balance tough enforcement action to tackle dealers, reduce crime and antisocial behaviour and to reduce the supply of drugs, with interventions to prevent drug use, to educate and intervene early and to reduce the demand for illegal drugs. The overarching aims are to grip existing drug users more firmly in treatment, increase the number of drug users re-establishing their lives and reduce the number of new problem drug users. It is focused on the drugs which cause the greatest harm to communities.

The strategy places a new focus on protecting families and on strengthening communities and, to support this new focus, is arranged around four strategic themes:

While the strategy will cover a 10-year period to 2018, its delivery will be underpinned by a series of three-year action plans, which will run concurrently with the spending review cycles. The first such action plan, for the period 2008-11 has been published alongside the strategy.

In reaching decisions that inform the actions the Government will take to tackle drug-related harm, we have taken into account responses to the public and stakeholder consultation conducted between July and October last year. Over a thousand written responses were received and interviews were conducted with a wide range of consultees. A report of the consultation and summary of responses is also published today.

Key actions that are featured in the new strategy include:

27 Feb 2008 : Column 80WS

Through this new drug strategy, and the work that will flow from it, we will continue to send a clear message that drug use is unacceptable; that we are on the side of communities; that we demand respect for the law and will not tolerate illegal or antisocial behaviour; but that we will provide help for those who are trying to turn their lives around, to get off drugs and into work, to ensure drug problems are not handed on to the next generation; and that we expect drug users themselves to take responsibility, and will help them to do so.

Copies of the strategy, its supporting action plan and of the consultation report are available in the House Library and on the Home Office website at: www. drugs.homeoffice.gov.uk.

Justice and Home Affairs Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Meg Hillier): The Justice and Home Affairs Council will be held on 28 February 2008 in Brussels. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, the Solicitor-General of Scotland Frank Mulholland and I will attend on behalf of the United Kingdom. As the provisional agenda stands, the following items will be discussed:

The Council will start with a discussion of the draft Europol Council decision, with the presidency aiming to gain consensus on a number of fundamental issues surrounding the funding of Europol and the application of privileges and immunities to Europol staff that are crucial to being able to adopt the Council decision by June. The Government have concerns with the proposal to grant privileges and immunities to Europol working in joint investigation teams and are working to resolve this.

There will follow a discussion on common standards and procedures for returning illegally staying third-country nationals. The UK has not opted-in to this instrument.

We expect that the presidency will give a state of play report on the proposal for a directive on the protection of the environment through criminal law and the Commission to set out their plans concerning the proposal for a directive on ship-source pollution.

There will be an update from the presidency on the ratification of EU-US agreements on extradition and mutual legal assistance. These measures were signed in 2003 but have yet to enter into force pending the completion of implementation measures in member states, including in the UK.

There will be a discussion of the draft framework decision on combating terrorism in relation to scope and proportionality. The Government are broadly happy with the instrument as it stands, however it has not yet cleared parliamentary scrutiny.

27 Feb 2008 : Column 81WS

At the Mixed Committee with Norway, Iceland and Switzerland, the Commission will present a revised timetable for implementation of the second generation of the Schengen Information System (SIS). This follows the discussion at the informal JHA Council in January, where Ministers discussed the fact that more time for testing was needed. The Government are keen to ensure that the Commission timetable is robust and evidence-based.

This will be followed by a meeting of the Council in Mixed Committee with Liechtenstein, where the group will discuss the amendment of the rules of procedure of the Committee established between the European Union, the European Community and the Swiss Confederation concerning the latter’s association in the implementation, application and development of the Schengen Acquis. An amendment to the rules of procedure is required to enable the Principality of Liechtenstein to also participate in the Mixed Committee following signature of the protocol concerning Liechtenstein’s accession to the Schengen area.

Over lunch Ministers will discuss the Visa Waiver Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). In 2007, the US authorities proposed amendments to the criteria for the US Visa Waiver Program; the UK has participated in the program since its inception in 1986.
27 Feb 2008 : Column 82WS
The UK has a very significant interest in the proposed amendments because of the large amount of tourist and business traffic between the UK and the USA. The UK recognises and supports the need to improve the security of travel, but any amendments to the Visa Waiver Program should be managed to ensure as little impact on legitimate travel between the UK and the USA as possible. Candidate countries for the Visa Waiver Program have received a draft MOU from the US authorities that must be agreed and signed before they may join. Identical draft MOUs have been sent to other EU member states that currently participate in the program and we are studying this document carefully. All existing members (including the UK) will be asked to sign the MOU in order to continue to participate in the Visa Waiver Program.

Also over lunch, Interior Ministers will discuss SIS II, the High Level Contact Group with the US on data protection and sharing and relations with the European Parliament.

Justice Ministers will discuss the Commission’s intention to create a forum for discussing EU justice policies and practice, for a first exchange of views. It is expected that they will also discuss the financing of E-justice projects and the need to give formal agreement to certain measures before the coming into force of the new treaty.

    Index Home Page