The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Ian Austin): I have deposited today, in the Library of the House, a copy of the annual report and accounts of the Housing Ombudsman Service (HOS) for the financial year 2008-2009.
The HOS is an executive non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Communities and Local Government to investigate complaints from Registered Social Landlord (RSL-a housing association registered with the Tenant Services Authority) tenants and prospective tenants who remain dissatisfied having completed the RSL's own complaints procedure. The scheme is an independent complaints resolution mechanism and is administered by a private, not for profit company, the Independent Housing Ombudsman Limited (IHOL).
The statistics reveal that in 2008-09 HOS accepted over 3,800 new complaints for investigation, an increase of 21 per cent. over the previous year. In addition to complaints, HOS also responded to over 2,800 enquiries. Greater efficiency in investigations has enabled HOS to meet or exceed performance targets and to invest more resources in improving customer care and dispute resolution in the early stages of the complaints process.
The council adopted conclusions on international biodiversity, focusing on EU priorities for forthcoming global discussions on the post-2010 biodiversity framework, which will lead to a new global target on biodiversity. Conclusions on the combination effects of chemicals, which highlighted the need for further work to assess the combination effects of individual chemicals, were also agreed.
The council adopted conclusions on the marine environment and the Baltic Sea strategy. These include an invitation to the Commission to develop legislative proposals to phase out and/or ban phosphates in detergents, starting with phosphates in laundry detergents for domestic use and, based on the evidence from a further impact assessment, beyond that.
Over lunch, Ministers discussed the outcome of the Copenhagen climate change conference. The outcome had not been what was hoped for, but progress was made, particularly on a temperature goal, financing and monitoring, reporting and verification; and I urged colleagues to maintain ambition and work towards a legally binding text. Environment Ministers will return to the issue at their informal meeting in Seville on 15-17 January.
The council held a policy debate on the proposed biocides regulation, during which the majority of member states supported the option of Community authorisation for certain biocides. I supported Community authorisation as a means of streamlining the system, and asked for careful definition of "low-risk" products; decisions on the use of certain biocides would still be needed in specific cases.
Under any other business, I raised the timber due diligence regulation, which is being handled by the Agriculture and Fisheries Council. I argued for the inclusion of a prohibition on the first placing of illegal timber on the Community market, and urged Environment Ministers to support strengthening the regulation in this way as it progresses through the legislative process. On biomass sustainability criteria, the UK supported the call from Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg for mandatory sustainability criteria. the presidency gave a progress report on the Commission proposal on CO2 emissions from vans. Spain introduced the work programme for its presidency.
Copies will be placed in the Library of the House and the Vote Office. A copy will also be available on the Foreign Compensation Commission's website at: http://foi.fco.gov.uk/en/access-information/Ndpbs/fcc.
The report provides an account of the commission's activities during the financial year 2008-09. The commission was not engaged in any active distribution programmes during the period in question and operates on a care and maintenance basis.
The purpose of this consultation was to seek views on the Government's proposal for the maximum civil monetary penalty that may be imposed by the Information Commissioner for serious contraventions of the data protection principles.
The consultation was launched on 9 November 2009 and closed on 21 December. At the same time, the Information Commissioner's office consulted on its draft guidance which explains the circumstances in which the Information Commissioner would consider it appropriate to issue a monetary penalty notice, and how he will determine the amount of a monetary penalty.
Of the 52 responses to the Government's consultation paper, 27 agreed that £500,000 was the correct maximum level, eight thought it should be higher, nine thought there should be a lower level and eight did not respond directly to the question but commented on other aspects of civil monetary penalties. The results show that a majority of respondents supported the Government's proposal to set the maximum penalty at £500,000.
Today I have laid regulations before Parliament to provide the necessary legal framework to bring the Information Commissioner's power to serve a monetary penalty notice into force. I am making one statutory instrument, subject to negative resolution, which sets the maximum penalty at £500,000 and the information that must be included in a notice of intent and a monetary penalty notice. I have also laid another order in draft, which, if approved by Parliament, will outline other matters in relation to civil monetary penalties, such as provisions for the cancellation and variation of notices, enforcement and appeals. This will be subject to affirmative resolution and will be debated in due course.
Copies of the response to the consultation will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses and on the Ministry of Justice website at: www.justice.gov.uk. Copies are also available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.
The Minister for Pensions and the Ageing Society (Angela Eagle): Today is a very important milestone for the delivery of workplace pension reform, including the setting up of NEST (National Employment Savings Trust), previously known as personal accounts. We are publishing the:
Government's response to the workplace pension reform "Completing the Picture" consultation;
Regulations that frame automatic enrolment, scheme quality, compliance and the other elements that combine to deliver workplace pension reform;
Regulations for NEST and establishing the corporation that will run the scheme, as well as winding up PADA in July 2010; and
Associated impact assessment.
We have worked closely with stakeholders, employers, industry, and others to get here, and the changes created by these regulations will allow millions of workers to save for a pension with a new mandatory minimum contribution from their employer, many for the first time.
A guiding principle has been to establish the minimum level of effective regulation to enable pension reform to succeed without placing unnecessary burdens on employers or the pensions industry. We listened to stakeholders and considered their responses to our consultations. We have made a number of changes, which we hope will be well received. These increase flexibility and reduce some of the process burdens without compromising our headline policy intentions or undermining protection for individuals.
The regulations include the changes to the implementation plan, announced in the pre-Budget report, which are designed to help small and start-up businesses adjust to the new arrangements for workplace pension saving. Auto-enrolment will begin as planned in October 2012 and the reforms will be fully implemented by October 2017.
We are currently recruiting the chair and members for NEST Corporation. We will establish the corporation this summer, as only the trustee can make certain key decisions necessary to complete the implementation of the scheme, for example, agreeing the statement of investment principles. As the policy and design of the scheme is established in regulations, we concluded PADA can be wound up at the same time, with the task of completing the operational implementation and the subsequent running of the scheme passed on to NEST Corporation.
These set out the practical arrangements employers must make to automatically enrol eligible jobholders into a pension scheme, including the arrangements an individual must make if they wish to opt out of pension saving and the minimum quality standards certain schemes must reach in order to be used by employers to automatically enrol jobholders.
Makes some minor modifications to existing pension legislation in relation to the scheme through the NEST consequential provisions order and the application of pension legislation to the NEST Corporation regulations, for instance, that the scheme will not have member-nominated trustees, as the members' panel will represent the views of scheme members.
Bans transfers of cash equivalent sums built up under other pension arrangements into and out of NEST, to
ensure the scheme complements those schemes already in the existing pensions market.
Available at: www.dwp.gov.uk/workplace-pension-reforms
arrangements for implementing the reforms;
elements of the employer duty requirements not covered in the consultation of March 2009;
the quality requirements for defined benefit (DB) and hybrid schemes, and transitional arrangements during implementation;
powers to enforce compliance with the requirements on employers.
The impact assessment builds on the analysis presented in the regulatory impact assessments that accompanied the Pensions Bill 2007 and draft regulations consultation in 2009. It presents the overall impact of the reform on employers, individuals, the pensions industry and the Government.