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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 11 March 2009


Tax Information Exchange Agreement

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Stephen Timms): A new tax information exchange agreement with Jersey was signed on 10 March 2009, alongside an arrangement amending the 1952 arrangement with Jersey for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income.

Tax information exchange agreements play a vital role in HMRC’s drive against offshore avoidance and evasion. They enable HMRC to obtain information not previously available for the purpose of assessing the amount of UK tax due. Jersey’s decision is very welcome and a crucial step in the right direction. The Government are urging other countries who have not yet met international standards drawn by OECD to bring forward necessary reforms.

After signature, the text of the agreement and the arrangement were deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and made available on HM Revenue and Customs’ website. The texts will be scheduled to a draft Order in Council and laid before the House of Commons in due course.

Communities and Local Government

Planning Appeal Service

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Iain Wright): The Planning White Paper, “Planning for a Sustainable Future”, published in May 2007 with the accompanying consultation paper “Improving the Appeal Process in the Planning System”, signalled the Government’s intention to improve the planning appeals service to make it more proportionate, customer focused and efficient, while maintaining the principles of fairness, openness and impartiality. Measures to achieve this were included in the Planning Act 2008(1) and in regulations which are being laid before Parliament(2) today. This statement sets out the Government’s policies on how the new regime should operate.

Section 196 of the Planning Act 2008 amended the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to give the Secretary of State the power to determine the procedure by which appeals will be dealt with: on the basis of representations in writing, at a hearing or at a local inquiry. This power will commence in relation to planning and enforcement appeals on 6 April 2009. The principal parties to an appeal, being the appellant and the local
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planning authority, will have the opportunity to put forward their views on their preferred procedure. Final decisions will take account of any representations from these parties and will have reference to published criteria, which are approved by the Secretary of State and will be kept under review. The criteria are published on the Planning Inspectorate’s website. Appeals on householder applications that are deemed suitable for written representations will normally proceed through an expedited procedure, designed to give a decision within eight weeks. The aim in all cases is to use the most appropriate procedure consistent with the complexity of the case without any loss of quality in the decision making process.

The Government have asked the Advisory Panel on Standards (APOS) to continue to review the performance of the Planning Inspectorate. It will monitor the operation of the new regime and, in particular, will investigate any case of complaint about the application of criteria to the choice of appeal method. The Secretary of State will take account of advice from APOS when conducting an annual review of these criteria.

The Secretary of State’s ability to deliver timely and high quality decisions on planning and enforcement appeals will rely on all parties observing good practice. In anticipation of the possibility of appeal, local planning authorities should ensure that their reasons for a decision are clear, precise and comprehensive, especially when the decision taken by elected members differs from that recommended by their officers. When refusing an application, local planning authorities should consider carefully whether they have a sufficiently strong case, capable of being argued at appeal, on the basis of the material before them.

Appellants should also ensure that their grounds of appeal are clear, precise and comprehensive and relate to the scheme as refused at application stage, without substantial changes which could lead to any party being prejudiced. Applicants should not normally proceed to appeal unless all efforts to negotiate a solution with the local planning authority, including through amending their proposals, have been exhausted. They should be confident at the time of appeal that they have a clear case and do not need to commission further evidence.

Once an appeal is accepted and validated by the Planning Inspectorate, it is crucial that all parties adhere to the statutory deadlines at each stage. Parties should also maintain a regular and continuing dialogue to ensure that the issues can be clearly established between them, with no last minute surprises arising.

Following consultation, the costs awards circular “Costs awards in appeals and other planning proceedings” will shortly be reissued and will be available on the Communities and Local Government website. It is important that all parties use the costs regime properly to regulate the system and to ensure that all who use it do not act unreasonably and lead others to incur unnecessary expense. The Secretary of State will be able to award costs in all cases when requested to do so by one or more of the parties, including those dealt with through written representations. Each case will be assessed on its merits.

The Planning Inspectorate is issuing more detailed guidance on the conduct of the appeal process, to assist parties in appeal cases. This guidance is endorsed by the Secretary of State and will provide a reference point for planning inspectors when determining appeal cases.

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Culture, Media and Sport

Audiovisual Media Services Directive

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Andy Burnham): I am today setting out how the Government intend to proceed with implementation of the European Union Audiovisual Media Services (AVMS) Directive.

The AVMS Directive amends the Television Without Frontiers Directive and extends its scope to cover video-on-demand services. It enables us to permit product placement—if we choose to do so—in certain types of television programmes and subject to certain controls and safeguards. It gives the UK responsibility for regulating non-EU satellite channels which are uplinked to satellite from within our territory. It allows television broadcasters to take short extracts from other broadcasters’ exclusive coverage of events for the purpose of news reporting. Lastly, it makes changes to the amount and scheduling of advertising allowed in television broadcasting. The Directive must be implemented by 19 December 2009.

The Government consulted last year on implementation proposals for four main areas of the Directive: the definition of the services to be regulated; the regulatory arrangements for video-on-demand services; product placement; and the regulation of non-EU satellite channels. I shall address each of these issues in turn.

First, the Directive requires us to regulate the content of video-on-demand services—that is, mass media services whose principal purpose is to provide television programming to the public on demand. It calls for this to be done through co-regulatory arrangements in which the video-on-demand industry takes responsibility for ensuring content standards.

Ofcom will be given powers to regulate UK video-on-demand services so that Ofcom can then designate, and delegate powers to, an industry-led co-regulatory body to regulate programme content in these services.

These arrangements will ensure that UK video-on-demand services maintain, as a minimum, the standards and requirements set out in the Directive. All UK providers will need to notify the co-regulator that they are providing a video-on-demand service.

The Directive does not allow us to rely on self-regulation, but it is right that industry should be allowed and encouraged to set up and manage its own regulatory arrangements as far as possible, as it has done very effectively since 2003 through the self-regulatory body, the Association for Television On Demand. In the light
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of these decisions, the Government urge video-on-demand service providers to work together to finalise the details of the new co-regulatory arrangements.

The Directive’s definition of the on-demand services to be regulated will be transposed into UK legislation. The definition is narrow and covers only mass media services whose principal purpose is to provide television-like programming to users. The co-regulator will be able to issue guidance on the interpretation of the definition and on the services which fall within its scope. Those whose role is only to provide access to other providers’ video-on-demand services will not be responsible for the content of those services. However, the Government expect that access providers will want to ensure, as far as possible, that all video-on-demand services to which they provide access meet the minimum standards required for UK video-on-demand services.

The Government also expect that Ofcom will designate, and delegate powers to, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to regulate advertising in video-on-demand services. This will maintain the ASA’s role as a ‘one-stop shop’ for all complaints about advertising. The Directive’s definition of the advertising to be regulated will be transposed into UK legislation, and the ASA will be able to issue guidance on the interpretation of the definition and the advertising which falls within its scope. The Government expect that this will cover all advertising in video-on-demand services, both that which is included in programmes and that which accompanies them.

For both programme content and advertising, Ofcom will retain ‘backstop’ powers to deal with serious or repeated breaches of the standards and to intervene in the event of systemic failure.

Second, the Directive sets out new EU rules on product placement in television and video-on-demand. These require member states to prohibit product placement but allows them to make exceptions to permit it in certain types of programme, if they choose to do so.

Last year, when we launched the consultation, I indicated an initial preference to maintain the status quo on product placement in television programmes. I said, however, that the Government would listen to both sides of the argument. The Government have received many representations on the matter since then, and we have considered them carefully alongside existing research and evidence.

Programme makers, commercial broadcasters and advertisers have argued that product placement would give broadcasters a new source of revenue. Responses provided a range of assessments of the value of this revenue. Ofcom’s assessment in December 2005 of the revenue of product placement in the UK market was that most observers thought it might be worth around £25-35 million after five years. Respondents believed that the expected revenue would help maintain investment to ensure quality and diversity of programmes on British television. They also argued that rules ensuring that products are not unduly prominent in programmes would make sure that product placement did not detract from viewers’ enjoyment.

On the other hand, consumer and viewer groups argued that allowing product placement in television programmes would bring about a blurring of the distinction between advertising and editorial content in television
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programmes which would undermine the trust viewers have in the integrity of UK-made programming. It was also argued that allowing product placement would risk undermining the creative integrity of writers.

Others were concerned that product placement could weaken the effectiveness of our restrictions on the promotion to children of foods high in fat, salt or sugar.

The Government recognise the legitimate points made in these submissions and the strength of feeling on both sides of this issue.

On balance, and mindful of the need to maintain public trust in television broadcasters and British television’s reputation for high standards, the Government have concluded that no conclusive evidence has been put forward that the economic benefit of introducing product placement is sufficient to outweigh the detrimental impact it would have on the quality and standards of British television and viewers’ trust in it.

Therefore, the Government have decided to maintain the status quo so that product placement will continue to be prohibited in television programmes made by and for UK television broadcasters.

The Government recognise that these are challenging times for broadcasters and are prepared to look at new evidence as it emerges and to consider first other avenues to assist broadcasters. Through a separate process arising from the AVMS Directive, Ofcom is currently reviewing the rules on the quantity and distribution of television advertising. This review will consider the different regimes which currently apply for public service broadcasters (PSBs) and non-PSBs. Ofcom’s conclusions will be announced after Easter.

We will review the position on television product placement in 2011-12, taking into account the conclusions reached by Ofcom on the quantity and distribution of television advertising, changes in viewing habits, and any new evidence about the impact and potential benefits of product placement.

Product placement is currently allowed in programmes made by and for UK video-on-demand services. Maintaining the status quo means that this will continue, subject to the limitations and safeguards imposed by the Directive and the co-regulator.

Product placement will also continue to be permitted in films, and in television programmes acquired from outside the UK, subject to the limitations and safeguards imposed by the Directive. Prop placement will continue to be permitted in all television and video-on-demand programmes, subject to the requirements of the Directive and to guidance from Ofcom and the video-on-demand co-regulatory body.

Finally, the Directive requires member states to ensure that non-EU satellite TV channels which are uplinked from their territory and can be received within the community meet minimum EU standards. A channel is uplinked from a member state if that country hosts the ground station from which the television signal is sent up to the satellite for broadcast.

As a result, non-EU satellite television channels which are uplinked from within the UK and which are not already within the jurisdiction of another member state of the EU or European economic area will be required to have a broadcasting licence issued by Ofcom. This will ensure that Ofcom can take appropriate action
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against them if they breach the standards set out in the Directive. Providers of uplink services will be required to stop uplinking a channel if they are informed by Ofcom that the channel does not have a licence or that it is in breach of the licence conditions, but they will not be required to check that a channel has a licence before agreeing to uplink it, or to monitor broadcasts themselves.

The Government are working closely with Ofcom and with the broadcasting and video-on-demand industries to establish the new regulatory arrangements.

The Government are onsidering separately the implementation of the short reports provisions of the Directive.

Later this year, the Government will lay before Parliament an Order under Section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972 to implement the new arrangements in UK law.


Organ Donation and Transplantation

The Secretary of State for Health (Alan Johnson): Organ donation is one of medicine’s great success stories, transforming thousands of people’s lives each year. However, around 8,000 people in the United Kingdom are currently waiting for an organ transplant and each year approximately 1,000 people die or are taken off the national list before a suitable organ becomes available. We want to enable as many UK nationals as possible to have a life saving or life enhancing organ transplant. That is why we accepted the Organ Donation taskforce recommendations last year and why we are investing significantly in the donation infrastructure.

We are aware that some people resident in other countries within the European Union needing transplants are being referred to the UK. This has led to accusations of priority being given to non-UK patients. We want to optimise the availability of organs for transplant for NHS patients and ensure public confidence in the fairness and transparency of the organ allocation system in the UK. We have therefore asked Elisabeth Buggins, the chair of the former Organ Donation Taskforce, to examine policy and practice within the framework of European law on the use of organs from UK deceased donors in respect of the referral, acceptance and transplantation of non-UK EU residents including the different funding arrangements and to report her findings to the Department by June 2009.


Mental Capacity Act 2005

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Bridget Prentice): The Ministry of Justice has today published the Government response to the consultation on “Reviewing the Mental Capacity Act 2005 - Forms, Supervision and Fees”. Copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and are available on the Ministry of Justice website at: http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications/consultations-with-response.htm

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