The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Sarah McCarthy-Fry): Following the Supreme Court's decision in relation to the Government's asset-freezing powers, I announced the Treasury's intention to consider fast-track legislation to reinstate the asset-freezing regime.
It is our intention to introduce legislation that effectively reinstates the Terrorism (United Nations Measures) Order 2009, which the Government have in the past used in good faith. It is our belief that the fast-track legislation would be a proper response to the ongoing significant threat from international terrorism.
In order for the House to give adequate scrutiny to the proposed legislation, copies of the 2009 Order are available in the Vote Office and have been deposited in the Library. Copies of the legislation itself will be available immediately on the introduction of the Bill. Our ambition is to mirror the 2009 Order in the legislation we present to the House.
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.
Taken together, the Government believe that these measures will help maintain 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.
The Minister for the Cabinet Office and for the Olympics, and Paymaster General (Tessa Jowell): I am pleased to inform the House that the Government have now finalised terms for reform of the civil service compensation scheme and that we have agreed these terms with the FDA, Prospect, the GMB, Unite and the Prison Officers' Association.
First, we wish to be certain that the scheme represents value for money for the taxpayer and delivers the £500 million saving set out by the Prime Minister in his written ministerial statement of 31 March 2009.
Secondly, we need to ensure that the scheme both does not create perverse incentives through awarding excessively generous payments to some individuals on redundancy, and complies with age discrimination legislation by ensuring that the level of severance payments awarded is primarily linked to length of service, not to age.
Cabinet Office officials have held numerous meetings with the civil service unions since July 2008. We consulted fully on the provisional proposals that the Cabinet Office published in "Fairness For All" on 31 July 2009, receiving over 18,000 comments in response. I met with the civil service unions on 22 September as part of that process.
In our response to the consultation, on 4 December 2009 we modified our original proposals to reflect the comments we had received. There were two issues that came through particularly strongly in the responses to the consultation and in my meeting with the unions. These were, the need to ensure that the lowest paid workers with long service could still access up to three years' pay in compensation on redundancy, and the need to preserve the option of access to an unreduced pension on redundancy for those close to pension age.
I met with the unions again on 17 December to discuss our revised proposals. I asked Cabinet Office officials to have further meetings with the unions in order to see if it were possible to reach agreement within the parameters of the principles that have been established.
Following these discussions, I am pleased that we have reached agreement with five of the six main civil service unions on a modified set of proposals. Unite, the GMB, Prospect, the Prison Officers' Association, and the FDA have agreed that these terms represent a fair deal for their members. Together, these five unions represent a cross section of civil service staff across all grades, ages and professions. The sixth and largest union PCS has not agreed the terms, but its members, along with all other civil servants, will be subject to the settlement with the implementation of the amending order.
The new terms provide added protection, enabling the lowest paid to continue to receive a service-related redundancy payment of up to three years' pay, up to a maximum of £60,000. As in our earlier proposals, payments will be capped at a maximum of two years' pay for higher earners. The added protection for the lowest paid means that those earning under £20,000 will not be affected by the new cap limiting severance payments to two years' pay, while those earning between £20,000 and £30,000 will be eligible for severance payments of up to between two and three years' pay.
We have also agreed some further transitional protection for existing staff. If made compulsorily redundant, staff aged at least 50 as of 31 March 2010-and with a minimum of five years' service-will continue to receive existing compulsory retirement terms. This means they will continue to receive an early, enhanced pension based on their years of service as at 31 March 2010, thus providing a significant level of further protection, for those closest to retirement, from the position reached in December.
A relatively small number of civil servants, who joined the civil service before 1987, are currently eligible for a reserved right severance payment. Here, we have modified our earlier proposals so that if made compulsorily redundant, these staff would receive a severance payment based on their years of service as at 31 March 2010, with the cash value tapered to become equivalent in value to the new terms within 3 to 4 years.
The Minister for Housing (John Healey): I am today publishing a policy statement, "The Private Rented Sector: Professionalism and Quality: consultation responses and next steps". This sets out a summary of responses to our consultation document, "The Private Rented Sector: Professionalism and Quality-the Government response to the Rugg Review", published on 13 May 2009, Official Report, column 50WS and reported to the House by the then Minister for Housing, my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Margaret Beckett). The document that I am publishing today sets out Government's plans following the responses to that consultation. Copies have been placed in the Library of the House.
The Government want to see a private rented sector which offers high-quality accommodation, and in which tenants can make choices based on clear information about their options, their rights, and their responsibilities. We also want to ensure tenants know where to turn if things go wrong. At the same time, Government want to increase professionalism in the private rented sector-supporting good landlords and agents, while driving out the worst practices of the sector that fail tenants and damage its reputation.
Alongside our longer-term plans for legislation to improve standards, today's document sets out our proposals to provide better help and support to tenants now. This includes a commitment to set up, by the summer of this year, a dedicated helpline for private sector tenants working with voluntary sector agencies, and an online consumer feedback website working with consumer focus.
Our consultation document, published in May 2008, set out a range of proposals to support a higher-quality, more professional sector, while minimising the regulatory burden on good landlords and agents. The proposals included a national register of landlords for England; full regulation for private sector letting and managing agents; and encouragement to local authorities to create "local lettings agencies".
Consultation responses were strongly supportive of the proposals, although there were some concerns about specific details, and about implementation. Alongside the formal consultation, Government worked with a wide range of organisations on the development of detailed policy to underpin the proposals.
Our statement today reflects those consultation responses and the contribution of these work groups. It confirms the issues on which our intentions are now firm, as well as the detailed issues on which there is further work to do with interested stakeholders. In particular the statement includes commitments to:
Establish a national register of landlords, to protect tenants and support local authority enforcement activity. We will carry out further detailed work with stakeholders to assess whether the register could also be used (either from the outset, or in the future) to apply registration conditions on persistently poor landlords.
Introduce full regulation of letting and managing agents. We will carry out further detailed work with stakeholders on the exact form of regulation, and whether it is led by an independent regulator, or by industry bodies.
Require all tenancies to take the form of a written agreement.
Increase the limit for assured shorthold tenancies from £25,000 a year to £100,000. This will reduce the number of tenants (up to 150,000 at present) who do not currently have the protection of an assured shorthold tenancy, and associated protections-such as the requirement to protect a tenant's deposit.
These measures are complemented by the Government consultation, published by the Treasury-"Investing in the UK Private Rented Sector"-also published today, which considers whether there are any substantive barriers to investment in the sector by individuals and institutions. Taken together, steps to raise quality and identify any barriers to investment should reinforce each other and create a better private rented sector that can become the tenure of choice for a wider range of people.
The UK is committed to a massive expansion of renewable energy and a thriving, bioenergy industry is key to our goals. Indeed, bioenergy could supply up to half of our renewable energy needs by 2020-for heat, electricity and transport. Used wisely, energy from biomass will reduce CO2 emissions, make our energy supplies more secure, and create new industries and green jobs.
Biomass offers wider gains too. Over the next decade it can replace petrochemicals as the source of chemicals and other high-value products, as well as energy. Increasingly, the fuel for the new bio-economy will be waste materials, including municipal waste diverted from landfill.
Biomass supplies will need to increase significantly to deliver the step change we want and in the short-term at least we will be reliant on imports. It is essential that those supplies are sustainable. The Government are determined to ensure that biomass, whether imported or produced in the UK:
delivers real and substantive CO2 savings;
uses land responsibly avoiding damaging land use change; and
does not undermine global food supplies or inflate prices.
We are working hard for global sustainability standards on this basis; and we will ensure that these principles are applied to biomass used to generate energy in the UK. We will implement the sustainability criteria set within the renewable energy directive
for biofuels and bioliquids and are pushing for early resolution within the EU of how to deal with indirect land use change effects.
With sensible, robust controls in place, the UK has a lot to gain from biomass energy. I am informed by industry that they expect to be able to deliver 5GW of dedicated biomass, energy from waste, gasification and anaerobic digestion projects over the next few years-some £13 billion worth of investment. And industry wish to ensure that developers have a stable regime in which to invest.
To help achieve this, I propose to look again at one aspect of support for biomass electricity under the renewables obligation. With most technologies our policy is not, as a rule, to change the level of renewables obligation certificate (ROC) support once a generating station is accredited by Ofgem-that is, support is "grandfathered". This is not currently the case for biomass. I am aware our current policy not to grandfather the support given for biomass electricity under the renewables obligation has caused significant investment concerns within the industry. We made the decision not to grandfather biomass in 2008 due to the fact that unlike other technologies supported by the renewables obligation, biomass electricity generation faces ongoing fuel costs which are subject to market fluctuation in an immature market. We recognised the need for flexibility to consider the impact on biomass prices when setting the banding levels, and that led to increased support for all biomass generators, not just new entrants, on the introduction of banding as a result. In fact, we doubled support for AD and dedicated biomass with (CHP).
The feed-in-tariffs for small-scale electricity, announced on 1 February, include tariffs for anaerobic digestion of 11.5 p per kw/h up to 500kW and 9 p per kw/h between 500kW and 5MW. These tariffs are grandfathered, index-linked and will be available to generators accrediting at least until 2013. From 1 April this year, AD generators who need the security of a fixed rate for electricity they generate, will be able to choose to join the feed-in-tariff scheme rather than the renewables obligation. Given the risk that investment will not come forward, DECC will review the policy on grandfathering and prepare a statement before the end of March. This review will also consider what action the UK can take to introduce sustainability standards, following publication of the European Commission's report on biomass expected this February.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Huw Irranca-Davies): The "UK Marine Science Strategy" has been published today by the Marine Science Co-ordination Committee. The strategy is the first of its kind for the UK and will help shape, support, co-ordinate and enable the delivery of world class marine science for the UK. Copies of the strategy will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Bridget Prentice): My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Lord Bach, has made the following written ministerial statement:
Between 16 July and 8 October 2009 the Ministry of Justice consulted on changes to legal aid funding rules. "Legal Aid: Refocusing on Priority Cases" set out a range of proposals to tighten the civil and criminal legal aid funding rules to target resources more effectively.
On 14 December the Department published its response on the proposal to remove advice to prisoners on treatment matters from the scope of criminal legal aid. In that response we set out that we would retain funding for serious treatment issues, but that this would be subject to approval from the Legal Services Commission on a case-by-case basis.
Today, the Department has published its response on the civil legal aid proposals set out in "Legal Aid: Refocusing on Priority Cases". Having taken into account the strong representations we received from interested parties, we will no longer be proceeding with some of the changes proposed, and others have been modified in response to stakeholder concerns. We intend to make a number of changes to civil legal aid to:
Improve the way that cases involving human rights or public interest are handled by transferring cases that depend on these issues to receive funding to a new committee for advice on their merits. This will help to ensure that legal aid is awarded to meritorious cases.
Ensure that cases granted legal aid on the basis that the proceedings will bring benefits to others have a realistic prospect of delivering such wider benefits.
Detect fraudulent legal aid applications earlier, by checking with the unfunded opponent to ensure that the applicant is financially eligible for legal aid, with safeguards for domestic violence or urgent cases.
Tighten the funding rules for granting legal aid for judicial review cases to ensure that funding is directed towards meritorious cases.
Restrict funding for low-value damages claims brought as part of a multi-party action. This will help to ensure that limited resources are available for higher-value cases, or cases brought by individuals.
Tighten access to civil legal aid in England and Wales for those who do not reside in the UK or associated territories, with safeguards for important human rights cases. Non-residents who are present will still have access to funding for asylum, immigration, domestic violence, child protection, mental health or capacity detention, and emergency housing cases.
Ensure that where legal aid funds a community action, the legal aid contribution mirrors the proportion of the affected population who are actually eligible for legal aid.
We intend to implement these changes in April, following Parliamentary consideration of the changes to the funding code and regulations. I have placed a copy of the consultation response in the Libraries of both Houses.
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