13 May 2009 : Column 49WS

Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 13 May 2009


Double Taxation Convention (United Kingdom and Mexico)

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Stephen Timms): A new protocol to the Double Taxation Convention with Mexico was signed on 23 April 2009. The text of the protocol has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and made available on HM Revenue and Customs’ website. The text will be scheduled to a draft Order in Council and laid before the House of Commons in due course.

Communities and Local Government

Part G of the Building Regulations

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Iain Wright): I have today laid before the House regulations that amend Part G of the Building Regulations addressing sanitation, hot water safety and water efficiency.

These amendments follow a wide reaching review of Part G of the Building Regulations and consultation on the detailed proposals in May last year and in the earlier consultation in December 2006 on the water efficiency for new buildings element.

The main changes are:

Copies of the approved document have been placed in the Library of the House. This document will shortly be notified to the European Commission under the European standards directive and therefore remains in draft form until we have formal clearance.

In addition, we are also today publishing the “Water Efficiency Calculator for New Dwellings” that will be used to estimate water usage for the purposes of both
13 May 2009 : Column 50WS
Part G of the Building Regulations and for the code for sustainable homes. I have also placed copies of this document in the Library of the House.

The Department will also shortly be inviting bodies to apply for authorisation of competent person schemes to support the amended Part G and the new requirements on water efficiency. It is hoped that any such schemes would be authorised to begin operation on 1 October 2009 to coincide with the coming into effect of these regulations.


The Minister for Housing (Margaret Beckett): I have today published a consultation paper, “The Private Rented Sector: Professionalism and Quality”, which forms the Government response to the Rugg review of the private rented sector and can also confirm my intention to legislate at the earliest opportunity to improve notice for tenants when landlords are repossessed. These two initiatives together create a major new package of measures to strengthen consumer protections for tenants living in private rented accommodation. Copies have been placed in the Library of the House.

The Government value the private rented sector and recognise that it plays an important role in providing choice and flexibility at all levels across the housing market and so want to improve its quality, by increasing professionalism, driving out bad landlords, and strengthening protections for tenants affected by repossessions. Today’s response builds on the high level proposals in an independent review of the private rented sector by Julie Rugg and David Rhodes (October 2008).

Our proposals include a national register of landlords for England with a redress procedure for tenants; full regulation for private sector letting agents with an independent regulator to regulate all letting and managing agents; greater local authority support for good landlords and action against poor performing landlords; and encouragement to local authorities to create “local lettings agencies”.

The proposals also seek to identify ways in which those who regularly engage with the private rented sector can support landlords as they increase in professionalism and seek to improve their stock. This is also a way to attract new landlords and new funding into the sector. The measures we are developing with the Homes and Communities Agency build on this by seeking ways to encourage more institutional investment in private rented homes.

The consultation runs until 7 August 2009.

I am also announcing today my intention to legislate at the earliest opportunity to provide better protection for tenants in repossession cases.

At present, a gap in legal protections means that some tenants could be evicted at short notice if their landlord is repossessed—sometimes with less than two weeks to move their belongings and find somewhere new to live. I propose to extend this notice period to two months. These changes are part of a wider package of support the Government have put in place to support households at risk of repossession in the current economic climate.

13 May 2009 : Column 51WS

In the meantime, lenders and Government are working together to try to mitigate the impact on tenants whose landlords are in arrears including by promoting and sharing good practice between lenders through the Council of Mortgage Lenders. Very often tenants can be adversely affected because the borrower is in breach of the terms of his mortgage. Changes to the rules for informing tenants if their landlord is due to attend a court repossession hearing have already come into effect. We now want to ensure that in these cases where a landlord repossession takes place following the hearing, the tenant gets a two-month notice period.

Both these initiatives—our response to the Rugg review and the measures on repossessions—are positive, constructive steps we are taking to enhance and strengthen a key housing sector, and to provide a balanced range of protection to those who provide private rented accommodation and those millions of people who live in it.

Local Government

The Minister for Local Government (John Healey): On 26 March I made a statement to the House on council tax capping. In this, I set out the action that the Government proposed to take, under the Local Government Finance Act 1992, against two police authorities which had set excessive budget requirement and council tax increases in 2009-10 according to the principles that I announced, Official Report, columns 464-65. These were the police authorities of Derbyshire and Surrey. Both authorities were “designated” and the Government proposed maximum 2009-10 budget requirements for each authority.

Both authorities exercised their right to challenge these proposed maximum budget requirements and made written submissions in support of their cases. In addition, I and the Policing Minister, together met delegations from each authority to hear the cases in person.

I can now announce how my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government intends to proceed, having carefully considered these representations, and having taken into account all relevant information. In putting forward their challenges, neither authority has, in the Secretary of State’s view, presented strong arguments as to why an excessive increase was necessary, or demonstrated that the pressures identified acted disproportionately upon them to any significant extent compared to other authorities. We intend therefore to take action in both cases.

After careful consideration, the Secretary of State has decided to take the following action:

In the case of Surrey Police Authority, the House will recall that last year the authority was set a notional budget requirement in 2008-09 instead of being designated for in-year capping in that year. This allowed the authority to keep all of its excessive increase in 2008-09, avoided the need for it to rebill and gave it an opportunity to avoid setting an excessive increase in the current financial
13 May 2009 : Column 52WS
year, 2009-10. Surrey Police Authority has failed to take that opportunity. I am particularly mindful that I provided an assurance to the House during the capping debate on 9 July 2008 that the residents of all the authorities which were set notional budget requirements last year, including those in Surrey, would be protected against excessive increases in 2009-10. I consider that the Government must take meaningful action which makes good that commitment.

The approach we have taken, in nominating Derbyshire Police Authority and setting a notional budget requirement is equivalent to the action we took against Surrey Police Authority in 2008-09. It is intended to limit the authority’s scope for setting excessive increases in subsequent years. This will be achieved by measuring future budget requirement increases for capping purposes against its 2009-10 notional budget requirement. From the actions we have taken this year, the authority should be in no doubt that the Government will take firm action, should we need to do so next year, to ensure that council tax payers are provided with adequate protection.

My officials are writing to both authorities today to inform them of these decisions. Subject to approval of an order which we intend to lay before the House following the local and European elections in June, Surrey Police Authority will need to rebill its residents for a lower level of council tax. Derbyshire Police Authority, having been nominated in 2009-10 and set a notional budget requirement, has 21 days from receipt of the notification in which to challenge its proposed notional budget requirement.

Ideally the Government would not be taking capping action, but the Government consistently made it clear that we would act to protect council taxpayers from excessive increases. This is what we have done. I am nevertheless conscious of the fact that local government generally has done a great deal to ensure that they do not place unnecessary pressures on their council taxpayers. More than 99 per cent. of authorities did not set excessive increases—and the average Band D council tax increase in England for 2009-10 is 3 per cent. The average household council tax bill is almost £240 lower than the average Band D amount, and will increase by just 2.6 per cent.—the lowest such increase since council tax was introduced in 1993.

There is no excuse for excessive increases in council tax and authorities should remain in no doubt that the Government will not hesitate to use their capping powers to deal with excessive increases in future years, including requiring authorities to rebill residents if this proves necessary.


Joint Aircraft Recovery and Transportation Squadron Basing Study

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): I am able to inform the House today of the outcome of the Royal Air Force study that has been undertaken to consider the future basing requirements of the Joint Aircraft Recovery and Transportation Squadron (JARTS) units as part of our continuing commitment to ensuring that the best use is made of the Defence Estate.

13 May 2009 : Column 53WS

The primary role of JARTS is to manage the recovery and transportation of both military and, in some instances, civilian aircraft. Currently, there is a team based at Vector Aerospace Fleetlands, in Gosport, which deals with helicopter recovery and transportation; and a team at MOD St. Athan which deals with fixed wing aircraft. The study was undertaken to consider options to collocate the rotary and fixed wing elements, to identify the best value for money and most affordable basing options to meet the operational and training requirements of JARTS.

Based on the recommendations of this work, I have decided that the rotary wing element, currently located at Vector Aerospace Fleetlands, and fixed wing element, currently located at MOD St. Athan, will collocate at MOD Boscombe Down, subject to Trades Union consultation. Not only does this option represent the best value for money and generate savings which cannot be achieved through the current dislocated nature of the organisation, it also offers operational benefits through simplified command and control processes and increased operational flexibility. Subject to the necessary infrastructure being in place, the collocation is due to be complete by late 2010. Service and civilian personnel will be briefed on the progress of the move.

Home Department


The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Alan Campbell): Today my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is launching a consultation on the new code of practice for alcohol retailers that will ensure the responsible sale and supply of alcohol in order to tackle alcohol-related crime, disorder and nuisance. The code will consist of a series of mandatory and discretionary local conditions under the Licensing Act and requirements under the Food Safety Act, with statutory guidance to underpin its implementation. We are currently taking enabling powers for this code through the Policing and Crime Bill.

The consultation will run from today until the 5 August 2009. We want to hear views, experiences and evidence from members of the public, those who retail alcohol and represent the industry, licensing authorities and the police who have to enforce licensing policy, and health agencies who have to deal with the impact of alcohol-related harm.

The Home Secretary will report back later this year with the findings of this consultation and will then, at a later date, lay the secondary legislation to bring the code into force.

Copies of the consultation will be placed in the Vote Office and the House Library.

Serious Organised Crime Agency (Annual Report)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Alan Campbell): The annual report of the Serious Organised Crime Agency for 2008-09 is being published and laid before Parliament
13 May 2009 : Column 54WS
today. As required by the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, the report includes an assessment of the extent to which the annual plan for 2008-09 has been carried out.

Copies of the report will be available in the Vote Office.


Bail Accommodation and Support Service

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. David Hanson): I am today announcing that the Government intend to re-tender the contract for the bail accommodation and support service.

The primary aim of the bail accommodation and support service is to provide accommodation and support services to enable the courts and prison governors to make greater use of conditional bail and early release on home detention curfew, in appropriate cases. The scheme allows defendants without an appropriate address, who would otherwise have been granted bail by the courts, to be bailed. It helps to ensure that prison is reserved for people who really need to be there, not people who the courts judge to be suitable for bail or who prison governors judge may be placed on home detention curfew.

The core requirement of the current BASS contract is to make suitable accommodation available at relatively short notice; to seek to ensure that service users comply with the conditions of their orders or licences; and, where necessary, be able to deliver access to a range of accommodation and life skills support services.

The current contract commenced on 18 June 2007 for an initial period of three years and

I welcome views on how we can further strengthen this service to improve compliance with orders and licences and reduce re-offending.


Government Olympic Executive Quarterly Economic Report

The Minister for the Olympics (Tessa Jowell): Please find below details of the decisions taken at yesterday’s meeting of the Ministerial Funders’ Group, and of the Government Olympic Executive’s first Quarterly Economic Report, which is published today.

Funders Group Meeting12 May 2009

The Funders’ Group(1) met yesterday and agreed that a further £324 million of the Olympic public sector funding package would be invested in the Olympic Village.

Next Section Index Home Page