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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 18 June 2009

Treasury

ECOFIN

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Alistair Darling): The Economic and Financial Affairs Council was held in Luxembourg on 9 June 2009. The following items were discussed:

Economic and financial development

a) Update on current situation

The Council took stock of the current economic and financial situation, based on an update from the Commission and the ECB. Ministers were also informed by the Commission of its intentions regarding budgetary surveillance procedures in the light of the latest fiscal notifications by the member states. The Government believe that continued communication between member states is key to ensuring a co-ordinated response to the crisis.

b) International accounting standards

The Council held an exchange of views with representatives from the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) regarding international standards used for the valuation of financial instruments. Ministers reiterated calls made at the informal ECOFIN in April for standard setters to work urgently to achieve clarity and consistency in the application of standards used for the valuation of assets in distressed and inactive markets. The Government welcome further actions announced by the IASB on 29 May, which demonstrate its commitment to respond to questions raised by the Commission and member states, and look forward to the EU advancing this work in the context of the G20 call to improve standards for valuation of financial instruments.

Preparation of the June European Council 18-19 June 2009

a) European supervisory framework

Ministers adopted Council conclusions on financial supervision and regulation to prepare the discussion at European Council. This follows the European Commission’s response to the De Larosière report. The Government are content with the final conclusions, which reflect the concerns expressed by the UK. The conclusions incorporate strong safeguards at the Government’s request, including the commitment that any new powers granted to existing or proposed bodies would not impinge in any way on member states’ fiscal responsibilities.

Following the discussion at European Council, the Commission will present all necessary proposals by early autumn 2009 at the latest, with the aim of having the new European financial supervision system, comprising both macro-prudential and micro-prudential components, fully in place in the course of 2010.


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b) Implementation of the European Economic Recovery Plan

The Council endorsed a report to the June European Council reviewing progress made on the European economic recovery plan (EERP). The UK is broadly content with the final document, which is a horizontal view of the structural and fiscal measures taken by member states following from the EERP.

c) Bank reform schemes

Following on from an interim oral report given to Ministers at the informal ECOFIN in April, Ministers agreed a report on the effectiveness of support schemes undertaken to ensure financial stability, including reporting of the UK’s own asset protection scheme and other measures. The Government believe the report provides a useful insight into the actions taken by member states to support the financial sector. The Council has asked the Economic and Financial Committee to further examine requirements for bank restructuring in return for state support and the pricing of state guarantees, and to report back to the Council in July.

d) International financing of climate change

ECOFIN adopted Council conclusions to inform discussions by heads in June, in preparation of the December Copenhagen conference on climate change. The UK supports the Council conclusions, which demonstrate the EU’s commitment to tackling this issue ahead of the finalisation of the EU negotiation regarding finance mechanisms, which is expected in October.

Taxation

a) Good governance in tax

Based on the Commission’s 28 April communication, ECOFIN adopted Council conclusions on further work relating to good governance in taxation. The conclusions encourage further work in relation to legislative proposals on the savings taxation directive, the administrative co-operation directive and the recovery directive, and urge the Commission to swiftly present the results of negotiations on an anti-fraud agreement with Liechtenstein. The UK is content with the conclusions, which represent a positive step forward on the three individual directives and on the wider good governance agenda, with its close links to the G20. The incoming Swedish presidency will report to the Council in the autumn on progress made.

Iranian Frozen Assets

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Ian Pearson): The Foreign Secretary has previously provided figures for the total frozen assets in the UK under the sanctions against Burma and Zimbabwe. An aggregate figure for frozen assets is given in relation to a sanctions regime in order to ensure that principles of data protection and confidentiality are observed and the amount relating to any one individual or entity is not identifiable.

Total assets frozen in the UK under the sanctions against Iran

The total assets frozen in the UK under the EU and UN sanctions against Iran are approximately £976,110,000. This figure is the total reported frozen assets at the time sanctions were imposed and has been converted to sterling from the currencies in which it was reported using the appropriate exchange rate for the day on which it was reported.


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Communities and Local Government

Planning

The Minister for Housing (John Healey): I am today publishing a consultation document entitled “Greater Flexibility for Planning Permissions”, which sets out proposals to provide greater flexibility for local authorities, to give developers more support and scope to keep investment and activity ongoing during the economic downturn. This paper outlines a number of measures which do not require primary legislation. I intend to implement them rapidly, mainly in the autumn.

The consultation paper has three elements:

Extension of the time limits for implementation of existing planning permissions—We propose to give local authorities the discretion to extend the time limits for commencement of major developments. This will allow extension of the typical three-year time limit for a further period, which in most cases would be another three years. We intend this as a temporary measure, which will apply to all permissions for major developments which are extant at the time it comes into force. The measure will therefore be in operation for approximately three years, depending on the length of time which each individual permission has left to run.

Minor material amendments to planning permissions—At present, when a developer wants to make a small, but material, change to a scheme that already has planning permission, it is often necessary to submit a further full planning application, which leads to considerable delay, cost and uncertainty for the applicant and additional work for the local planning authority. The consultation document seeks views on varying conditions to make the process more streamlined and also seeks initial views on more substantive changes which would require primary legislation. This element of the consultation document responds to a recommendation in the Killian Pretty review of planning applications.

Non-material amendments to planning permissions—The final part of the consultation document proposes changes to secondary legislation necessary to bring into effect a measure in the Planning Act 2008 which provides a simple and quick mechanism for making non-material amendments to planning permissions. Developers will not need to make a full planning application, but can instead apply simply to change one particular aspect of the permission.

We also want to encourage the use of Local Development Orders. I can confirm that next week we will commence a provision from the Planning Act 2008 that will allow an LDO to be set up independent of the local development plan, and I am also removing the requirement for local authorities to obtain approval of an LDO from the Secretary of State.

I am also announcing today the availability of small- scale start-up funding for a first wave of at least 12 LDOs. The Planning Advisory Service is working with the Department considering applications, and I can report that we have now offered support to the first two LDO schemes.

Amendments to the Building Regulations

I am today also publishing a consultation on changes to Part L (Conservation of Fuel and Power) and Part F (Ventilation) to deliver the next step towards zero carbon
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buildings—a 25 per cent. improvement on current standards for homes and other buildings from October 2010.

The proposals in the consultation could deliver savings of 3.3 million tonnes of carbon per year in 2020.

The proposed changes mean that homes would have to be built with a suitable combination of better insulation and draught-proofing, better low-energy lighting and more efficient boilers. By requiring higher levels of energy efficiency in new homes residents will benefit from lower fuel bills—up to £100 lower per year than for homes built to the current standard.

In the consultation, we are also seeking views on whether we should require energy efficiency standards for conservatories. We know that conservatories are a relatively cost-effective way of increasing the living space of a home. However, they can significantly increase carbon emissions—a 20m(2) conservatory with poor energy efficiency standards added to a house built since 2002 and heated to the same temperature as that house would approximately double its carbon emissions. So we are asking whether we should expect people to spend an estimated additional £400 on a £10,000 new conservatory to improve its energy efficiency.

Later, we will be consulting more fully on how to take forward the ambition from the March 2008 Budget that all new non-domestic buildings should be zero carbon from 2019. In the meantime, as we said in the zero carbon consultation in December 2008, it is important to take early steps to start to further improve the energy performance of non-domestic buildings. So, today’s Part L consultation also sets outs proposals for a 25 per cent. improvement on current standards for new non-domestic buildings from October 2010.

Finally, the consultation sets out proposals to tighten the standards for some standard building systems and components, like boilers and windows, which make a significant difference to carbon emissions from new buildings and when these items are replaced in existing homes.

The consultation will close on 17 September 2009 and any changes to the regulations are due to be made by March 2010 to come into effect from October 2010.

Copies of the consultation documents will be placed in the Library of the House.

Defence

Armed Forces Recruits and Trainees

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Bill Rammell): Today I welcome publication of the first report by Ofsted on the quality of welfare and duty of care for recruits and trainees in the armed forces. Following up on the work previously undertaken by the Adult Learning Inspectorate, Ofsted has been engaged in inspecting the recruit journey from armed forces recruitment and careers offices through the selection process and into training.

Having implemented a number of policy and process changes designed to improve the training environment and the support provided to individuals and to reduce the risk to recruits and trainees, the armed forces are committed to a programme of continuous improvement which is supported by external inspection. This report, the first by Ofsted, draws on the evidence gathered by
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inspectors over a 15-month period of visits. It includes judgements on the provision of welfare and duty of care; on the capacity to improve; and on how well the armed forces are undertaking self-assessment activity. Self-assessment is a relatively new concept for much of the armed forces and, while the majority of units visited are progressing well, there remains more work to be done.

I am pleased that Ofsted concludes the overall effectiveness of the welfare and duty of care provision for recruits and trainees is ‘Satisfactory’. The report is largely positive and shows progress on a wide range of issues. Nevertheless, it is clear that there is further room for development in a number of areas in terms of the pace of improvement and the application of consistent practice. We should not be surprised that the pressures of conducting challenging and sustained operations at a level of intensity and commitment we have not experienced for some time are manifest in some of our training establishments. We are not complacent, however, and remain committed to continuing to improve the way in which our recruits are trained.

The initial training environment is dynamic and we must be sure that the impact of change is fully understood, which is why we will continue to place emphasis on self- assessment. Ofsted make a number of recommendations which, together with the findings from internal audit work, will feed into the overall continuous improvement programme.

I have today placed copies of the report: “The quality of welfare and duty of care for recruits and trainees in the Armed Forces”, in the Library of the House.

External inspection provides the armed forces with the opportunity to consider good practice from outside of the Ministry of Defence and I am grateful to the Chief Inspector Ofsted for this report and the contribution it makes to ensure that the care and welfare of recruits and trainees in the armed forces continues to improve.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Diplomatic Missions

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): The majority of diplomatic missions in the United Kingdom pay the national non-domestic rates requested from them. They are obliged to pay only 6 per cent. of the total national non-domestic rates value which represents payment for specific services such as street cleaning, lighting, maintenance and fire services. The total amount outstanding from all diplomatic missions is approximately £634,205. As at 6 May 2009, missions listed below owed over £10,000 in respect of NNDR.

Since a letter about outstanding NNDR bills was sent to missions on 25 March, £154,402 has been repaid. Many missions have cleared their bills and some others have entered into arrangements to pay by instalments.


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CountryAmount

Zimbabwe

£79,883.28

Bangladesh

£77,127.64

Côte d'lvoire

£72,095.74

Cameroon

£55,200.38

Tunisia

£22,648.39

Ukraine

£22,178.20

Equatorial Guinea

£12,290.37

Iraq

£12,537.13

Total

£353,961.13


Diplomatic Missions and International Organisations (Congestion Charge and Fines)

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): The number of outstanding fines incurred by the diplomatic missions in the United Kingdom for non-payment of the London congestion charge since its introduction in February 2003 until 18 February 2009 was £26,721,464. The table below shows the 53 diplomatic missions with outstanding fines totalling £100,000 or more.


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