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Written Ministerial Statements

Friday 12 March 2010

Communities and Local Government

Zero Carbon and Healthier Buildings

The Minister for Housing (John Healey): I have today laid before the House regulations that make amendments to parts L, F and J of the Building Regulations (conservation of fuel and power, means of ventilation and combustion appliances and fuel storage systems respectively). These amendments are scheduled to come into force on 1 October 2010 thereby allowing industry six months to prepare.

These amendments follow last year's formal consultations on our proposals and statutory consultation with the Building Regulations Advisory Committee.

Part L of the Building Regulations set building standards that are important in delivering our zero carbon policies and will help to further reduce national energy demand, to meet our emission reduction targets in line with the Climate Change Act and to lower people's fuel bills. We want energy efficient buildings, but we also want them to be healthy places to live and work in, which is why we are changing parts F and J of the Building Regulations at the same time.

The part L changes I am confirming today, maintain the momentum towards zero carbon, delivering a 25 per cent. improvement relative to current standards for every new home and 25 per cent. improvement overall for new non-domestic buildings. These part L changes also set out improved standards of energy efficiency when people elect to carry out work on existing homes and other properties such as replacing their windows or boilers with more efficient ones.

The changes to ventilation provisions in part F are necessary to maintain good indoor air quality in new homes that will tend to become more airtight because of the strengthened part L standards. The part F changes also introduce new requirements and guidance for installation and commissioning of ventilation systems. Similarly, changes to part J are required to ensure that combustion appliances can continue to function safely in more airtight homes. In addition, the part J changes also remove technical disincentives to the wider use of biomass heating systems and introduce a provision for carbon monoxide alarms to be installed with all solid fuel appliances.

The impact assessments supporting these amendments will be published on 16 March. We are making these changes based on sound evidence and where we have judged them to be necessary in order to minimise disruption and additional regulatory burden.

Revisions to the relevant supporting technical guidance (Approved Documents and Compliance Guides) will be made available later this month, together with a summary of responses of the recent consultations on parts L, F and J.

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This statutory instrument also makes changes to the Building Regulations Competent Persons Schemes and minor technical amendments to part G of the Building Regulations. The part G and Competent Person Scheme amendments will take effect on 6 April 2010 and Approved Document G will be published later today and copies placed in the Library of the House.


Chemical Weapons Convention

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Bill Rammell): The UK's chemical protection programme is designed to protect against the use of chemical weapons. Such a programme is permitted by the chemical weapons convention, with which the United Kingdom is fully compliant. Under the terms of the convention, we are required to provide information annually to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). In accordance with the Government's commitment to openness, I am placing in the Library of the House a copy of the summary that has been provided to the organisation outlining the UK's chemical protection programme in 2009.

International Development

Nutrition Strategy

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Michael Foster): I have today placed in the Library of the House the Department for International Development's new strategy, entitled "The Neglected Crisis of Undernutrition: DFID's Strategy". An electronic version of the strategy is also available on the DFID website at: www.dfid.gov.uk/nutritionstrategy">http://www.dfid.gov.uk/nutritionstrategy">www.dfid.gov.uk/nutritionstrategy

"The Neglected Crisis of Undernutrition: DFID's Strategy" sets out DFID's strategy to tackle undernutrition. It presents a brief overview of the situation and its implications for DFID's role and priorities in nutrition over the coming years.

Northern Ireland

Robert Hamill Inquiry

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Shaun Woodward): I have today laid before the House an interim report of the Robert Hamill Inquiry.

Work and Pensions

Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council

The Minister for Pensions and the Ageing Society (Angela Eagle): The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council was held on 8 March 2010 in Brussels. I represented the United Kingdom.

The main item on the agenda was a policy debate about the Commission Communication on EU2020 strategy. Member states agreed that EPSCO has an important role to play in defining the strategy, and welcomed the greater emphasis on youth employment,
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equality and green jobs. They also supported the employment rate goal but are cautious about the Commission's proposed poverty reduction target. For the UK, I intervened to advocate the link between economic and social goals but cautioned against simplistic, overarching quantitative targets alone and stressed that targets should be meaningful and driven from the national level.

Council conclusions on the eradication of violence against women were adopted, after which the presidency opened a policy debate on the topic. Many delegations supported further EU work in this area while others noted that any actions should be carefully considered and analysed first. For the UK, I intervened to stress the importance of combating negative stereotypes that perpetuate the problem of violence against women. I also outlined recent action the UK had taken in this area, including the Domestic Violence Crime and Victims Act, the 2009 strategy to end violence against women and girls, the creation of special courts, and further investment for the national helpline for victims of domestic violence.

A delegation of Ministers for Research presented conclusions on European researchers' mobility and careers adopted by the Competitiveness Council on 2 March 2010. EPSCO Ministers expressed concern that the EU did not attract sufficient numbers of researchers and risked losing talent. The Commission will consider this issue and present concrete proposals offering pragmatic solutions.

The Council reached political agreement, without debate, on a Proposal for a Council Directive to implement a social partners' framework agreement aimed at protecting hospital and healthcare workers at risk of injury and infection from medical "sharps" (including needlesticks, scalpels and suture equipment).

The Council adopted the Joint Employment Report 2009-10, and also the Joint Report on Social Protection and Social Inclusion 2010. There were presentations from the Commission on the latest report on equality between women and men and also information from the presidency on preparation of the Tripartite Social Summit due to take place before the spring European Council.

Under any other business, the Chairs of the Employment Committee and the Social Protection Committee gave
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an oral presentation on their 2010 work programmes, and the Council noted reports from the presidency of conferences it had hosted.

At the Ministers' lunch, there was a discussion on youth employment. The Commission expressed concern at the impact of the recession, which had had a particularly serious effect on youth employment. Member states agreed unanimously that this issue must take priority and many highlighted measures they were already taking in response to the problem. This included incentives for businesses to recruit young people, vocational training and work experience opportunities.

Contracting-out for Defined Contribution Pension Schemes

The Minister for Pensions and the Ageing Society (Angela Eagle): I wish to announce to the House that I intend for contracting-out for defined contribution pension schemes to be abolished from 6 April 2012.

The Pensions Commission recommended abolition of contracting-out on a defined contribution (personal or occupational) basis, as part of a programme of pension reforms.

Abolition is a simplification measure: contracting-out for defined contribution schemes is a complex issue and it has become increasingly difficult to determine that a scheme member would be better off by contracting-out of the additional state pension.

Section 15 of the Pensions Act 2007 provides for the abolition of contracting-out from defined contribution pension schemes and, during its passage through Parliament, our stated objective was to abolish to this time scale.

It is important to give pension schemes due notice and the pensions industry will welcome this certainty over the abolition date.

My officials will continue to work to implement the changes in line with the above announcement in liaison with HM Revenue and Customs, the pensions industry and relevant public bodies such as the Financial Services Authority and the Pensions Advisory Service.

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