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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 27 January 2010


Oil Field Allowance

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Alistair Darling): The Government recognise the importance of the UK oil and gas industry to our economy and the dependable foundation it provides for the UK's energy security.

While we are trying to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels we must and do recognise that this will be a long transition and our oil and gas reserves will continue to play a vital role in supplying our energy needs for many years to come.

We must ensure that the UK taxpayer receives a fair return from the extraction of our national resources. We are, however, committed to maximising the economic production of the UK's reserves, for the fuel this delivers, for the contribution this makes to our economy, and for the jobs and skills the industry supports and develops.

For these reasons, today I am announcing secondary legislation that is to be laid before the House of Commons in due course and, subject to approval by the House, will support the development of remote gas fields in the west of Shetland region. The area to the west of the Shetland islands is the last major area in the UK continental shelf to be developed and infrastructure is critical to fully unlocking the gas potential of the region. It is estimated that the area contains around 20 per cent. of the UK's remaining oil and gas reserves.

The legislation, if approved by the House, will extend the field allowance, announced in Budget 2009, to remote deep water gas fields, which are found in the west of Shetland area. The field allowance works by exempting an amount of income from the supplementary charge. All profits generated by qualifying fields are still subject to ring-fence corporation tax.

The legislation is to be introduced by Order and it is our intention that it will be effective from the day after the day on which it is made. Full details of this measure, including the proposed legislation, will be issued on HMRC's website in due course when the legislation is laid before the House of Commons.

Tax Information Exchange

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Stephen Timms): Tax Information Exchange Agreements were signed with Antigua and Barbuda, St. Christopher and Nevis, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines in London on 18 January 2010.

The text of each TIEA has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and made available on Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs website. The texts will be scheduled to draft Orders in Council and laid before the House of Commons in due course.

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Terrorist Asset Freezing

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Sarah McCarthy-Fry): The Supreme Court has today delivered its judgment in the case of HM Treasury v.Ahmed and Others. The case concerns the UK's implementation of United Nations obligations to freeze the assets of terrorists and those associated with al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

United Nations Security Council resolution 1267 in 1999 established a UN asset-freezing regime against Osama bin Laden and persons associated with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. UNSCR 1373 in 2001, adopted shortly after 9/11, requires states to take a range of measures to deal with terrorism, including freezing the assets of those involved in terrorism.

The UK has implemented these obligations through Orders in Council made under section 1 of the United Nations Act 1946. Section 1 of the UN Act authorises the Government to make an Order in Council to give effect to any decision of the UN Security Council where such provision appears to be

The Supreme Court has decided that the Terrorism (United Nations Measures) Order 2006 and the Al-Qaeda and Taliban (United Nations Measures) Order 2006 are beyond the scope of the power provided by section 1 of the UN Act 1946 and it has quashed both orders. The Court will consider tomorrow whether to stay the judgment for a period.

The Government made the Orders in Council in good faith based on their belief that section 1 of the United Nations Act was an appropriate legal vehicle and that it provided the most effective and timely way of implementing UN terrorist asset freezing obligations.

The Government are committed to maintaining an effective, proportionate and fair terrorist asset-freezing regime that meets our United Nations obligations, protects national security by disrupting flows of terrorist finance, and safeguards human rights.

In the light of the court's decision and the ongoing significant threat from international terrorism, the Government intend to bring forward fast-track primary legislation to restore the UK's terrorist asset-freezing regime. The Government also intend to bring forward affirmative procedure regulations under section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972 to ensure that enforcement provisions are in place to implement fully EC Regulation 881/2002 in respect of measures against al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Communities and Local Government

Houses in Multiple Occupation

The Minister for Housing (John Healey): Today I am announcing measures to give local authorities powers to manage better the quality and supply of private rented accommodation in their areas and to promote better balanced communities in local neighbourhoods. The private rented sector has an important, and growing, role in the housing market. This Government want to support the private sector. But, as well as a bigger
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sector, we want a better sector with standards that meet the needs of those who depend on private rented accommodation.

Local authorities need to be able to plan for the right housing mix and deal effectively with problems as they arise. Such problems can include antisocial behaviour, poorly maintained and dangerous properties, and pressures on community services.

The Government recognise the important contribution houses in multiple occupation make to the private rented sector. They provide housing to meet the needs of specific groups and households and make a contribution to the overall provision of affordable housing stock. However, localised problems caused by high concentrations of HMOs have been highlighted as concerns in some towns and cities across the country.

Following research to look at the issues we set out a number of options to deal with this problem in a public consultation paper, "Houses in multiple occupation and possible planning responses".

In the light of the responses to this consultation I have decided to amend the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987, as amended, to provide for a specific definition of an HMO. Planning permission will then be required, where a material change of use occurs, to change the use of a property from C3 dwelling house to an HMO.

At the same time as amending the Use Classes Order, I will amend the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995, as amended, to provide that a change from an HMO back to the C3 class dwelling house will not require planning permission.

The consultation responses and research work have indicated that good practice alone cannot solve the problems encountered in a number of communities. This measure is strongly supported by responses to the consultation and it will enable local planning authorities to identify new HMOs with more certainty and act in particular neighbourhoods where there is concern about the mix and balance of communities and concerns about standards of conversion and maintenance of properties, to improve community balance.

I intend to introduce the necessary secondary legislation in time for it to come into force on 6 April 2010.

A summary of responses to the consultation, which includes a statement of the Government's intention, is being published today.

I can also announce the publication today of a short consultation on potential changes to the consent regime for discretionary licensing schemes under the Housing Act 2004. The licensing provisions under the Housing Act 2004 represent another local power available to local authorities in tackling problems associated with HMOs and other privately rented accommodation. I propose the introduction of a general consent, enabling local authorities to introduce discretionary licensing schemes without seeking approval from my Department. I believe it is right that these local decisions should be made by those who know their area best and who are directly accountable to local communities. The consultation will close on Friday 12 March, and any future general consent will come into effect from the common commencement date of 6 April 2010.

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I am publishing today also the second part of research undertaken by the Building Research Establishment for the Department in 2008 into the implementation of HMO licensing following the 2004 Housing Act. This shows emerging evidence of improvements to the condition and management of properties as a direct result of HMO licensing, although it also indicates that local authorities have still to complete the task of licensing all HMOs subject to mandatory licensing. I am therefore reviewing the support available to local authorities in relation to regulation of the private rented sector, including publishing draft guidance on licensing provisions, and will put in place any changes before the commencement of the new powers I am announcing today. This work is part of our programme of reform and support for the private rented sector. We consulted last summer on a comprehensive package of proposals aimed at improving quality and professionalism in the sector and ensuring the best possible deal for tenants.

The proposed national register for landlords is a key element of the measures that we plan. By allowing local authorities to pinpoint private rented housing, the national register will give important support to local authorities seeking to use existing powers, including licensing, in a strategic and proportionate way.

The national register will also provide a mechanism by which landlords and tenants can be kept properly informed of their rights and responsibilities and by which tenants will, for the first time, be able perform basic checks on potential landlords. More broadly, I want to ensure that all tenants have easy access to clear advice, and know where to turn when things go wrong.

I will be making a more detailed announcement on these and other proposals for the private rented sector shortly, including a summary of responses to our summer 2009 consultation following the Rugg review.

I am placing copies of the consultation document for discretionary licensing schemes, the HMO summary of consultation responses, the BRE report and the draft guidance in the Library of the House.


National Victims' Service

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): On behalf of the Home Secretary, the Attorney-General and myself, I am announcing today details of the new national victims' service as the next stage of reforms aimed at ensuring the justice system is firmly on the side of the law-abiding citizen. Its aim will be to provide clear, universal entitlements to all victims of crime and to the most vulnerable.

The £8 million national victims' service guarantees victims of crime and antisocial behaviour, referred from the police, more comprehensive and dedicated support. The service will be rolled out in two phases, beginning in March, helping families bereaved by murder or manslaughter and providing intensive support, care and attention, tailored to their individual needs, beyond the conclusion of any investigation or trial. Each person will be given a named, dedicated support worker who will meet with them regularly to identify their needs and
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liaise with the authorities on their behalf. The individual may need immediate practical assistance-for example with security, or childcare, or making bill payments-and will be helped through all of this.

Emotional support and expert assistance will also be offered where needed-counselling, for instance, or legal and financial advice. This support will not stop when the criminal justice process comes to a conclusion.

From 1 April we will begin to roll out the national victims' service for all victims of crime across England and Wales.

The most vulnerable victims will be entitled to:

In addition, all victims of crime who are in need of specific assistance, no matter where they live or what offence has been committed against them, will receive a better service targeted to their needs. They will be entitled to:

From July this year, all victims of crime who need it will also be entitled to a caseworker who will guide them through the criminal justice process and give them help and assistance as long as they need it.

This provision will be complementary to the work which the police and Crown Prosecution Service do already in support of victims and bereaved victims. Following the implementation of the 1999 Lawrence inquiry report, a comprehensive national system of police family liaison officers has been in place in homicide cases, which has proved very effective and helpful.

Prosecutors also now can speak to victims and witnesses directly, something unheard of and indeed once prohibited. The CPS has consolidated this by providing targeted support to the community through the introduction of community prosecutors.

The new national victims' service is a key part of the Government's wider strategy to protect core public services which the public depend on, while at the same time making them more personalised to meet individuals' needs. Today's announcement also builds on the wide range of measures the Government have introduced over the past 13 years for victims of crime, including a victims' champion, victim personal statements, a victims' advisory panel and the trebling of funding for victims' services in the voluntary sector.

The establishment of the national victims' service is another key milestone in rebalancing the criminal justice service. It will make sure that victims across England and Wales are given consistent personal support throughout the criminal justice process and beyond. If victims need help, we will continue to be there for them, for as long as they need it.

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Copies of "The National Victims Service: An initial response to the Victims' Champion's report" have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. Copies of the document will also be available on the criminal justice system website at: www.cjsonline.gov.uk.

Working Group on Libel

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): In response to concerns about the possibility that our libel laws are having a chilling effect on freedom of expression, the Government have set up a working group to examine issues relating to the substantive law on libel.

The terms of reference of this group are-

A list of members of the working group is attached.

The scope of the group's considerations will extend to all aspects of substantive libel law in England and Wales, but will exclude issues relating to costs in defamation proceedings, where work is already under way. The working group is intended to have an intensive, short-term focus and has been requested to make recommendations by mid-March.

Working Group on Libel List of Members

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