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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Communities and Local Government

Planning Reform

The Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Greg Clark): I wish to update hon. Members on progress towards the reform of national planning policy.

The Localism Bill, which has completed its report stage in the House of Lords, makes a significant transfer of power over planning matters from central and regional government to local communities. To enable these powers to be used, national planning policy must be made more accessible; in the course of the last decade, national policy has grown to over 1,000 pages in volume—a significant barrier to the engagement of local residents and their community representatives.

Our reforms are intended to simplify the system, strengthen local participation and to help achieve sustainable development. The planning system has always enshrined the principle that the economic, environmental and social dimensions of sustainable development should be considered in a balanced way—and it will continue to do so.

In December 2010, my Department published a call for evidence and in July 2011 issued a draft new national planning policy framework. The 12-week consultation period on the draft framework closed on 17 October. We will now carefully consider all of the submissions that have been made.

I have asked the Communities and Local Government Select Committee to consider and make suggestions on the draft. We will also take fully into account the comments of hon. Members in a debate to be held in the House of Commons in Government time on 20 October, and in the House of Lords on 27 October, as well as the comments made in the debates during the proceedings on the Localism Bill.

Having fully considered the suggestions made, the Government will then publish the revised text taking into account representations that have been made and a summary of responses to the consultation. The Government are committed to the publication of this final version of the framework by 31 March 2012, but intend to do so well ahead of that time.

The framework aims to strengthen local decision making and reinforce the importance of local plans. We will therefore work closely with local authorities to ensure that appropriate transitional arrangements are in place before the new framework comes into force.

Energy and Climate Change

Fuel Poverty Interim Report

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Chris Huhne): In March 2011, I announced the appointment of Professor John Hills of the London

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School of Economics to lead an independent review of the fuel poverty definition and target. Professor Hills was asked to look at fuel poverty from first principles: considering the nature of the issues at the core of fuel poverty, including the extent to which fuel poverty is distinct from poverty, what the effects of fuel poverty are, and how best to measure it.

Since the review was launched. Professor Hills and his team have gathered, working closely with stakeholders, and analysed evidence, and I am pleased to draw it to the attention of both Houses that he will be publishing the independent review of fuel poverty interim report at 12.00 pm today on the Hills review website(1).

I am grateful for all the work Professor Hills and his team has done to put together this substantive interim report. My officials and I will review the report carefully: and, alongside other stakeholders, we will be discussing the questions raised with Professor Hills in greater detail over the coming months.

I would encourage my parliamentary colleagues and stakeholders to do the same, as Professor Hills and his team further develop their findings towards the publication of the final report, which I look forward to receiving in early 2012.

(1) http://www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/funding/fuel_ poverty/hills_review/hills_review.aspx


Cost Protection for Litigants (Environmental Judicial Review Cases)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Jonathan Djanogly): I am publishing the consultation paper “Cost Protection for Litigants in Environmental Judicial Review Cases” on 19 October 2011.

This is a formal consultation exercise undertaken by the Ministry of Justice to seek views on the Government’s proposals to codify the current case law on protective costs orders (PCOs) in relation to judicial review claims which fall under the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (the “Aarhus Convention”), including those covered by the Public Participation Directive (Directive 2003/35/EC) (the “PPD”). PCOs are orders developed by the courts which are designed to set a predetermined limit on a claimant’s exposure to a defendant’s costs.

The courts currently retain discretion on both the question of whether a PCO should be granted and the level at which it should be set. The Government have accepted for some time that it would be in the interests of applicants in environmental judicial review cases to provide greater clarity about the level of costs through a codification of the rules on PCOs which sets out the circumstances in which a PCO will be granted and the level at which it will be made.

The proposals in this consultation are designed to establish the basic principles for rules setting out the nature and content of a PCO in a “standard case” and how far, and in what circumstances, it will be possible to depart from the “standard case”.

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To keep the overall level of costs down it is also proposed that where a cap on the claimants’ exposure is granted there should also be a linked cap on the liability of the defendant for the claimants’ costs (known as a “cross-cap”).

Copies of the consultation paper are available online, at: www.justice.gov.uk.

The consultation period will be from 19 October 2011 until 18 January 2012 and I will make a further statement regarding the response shortly after the consultation period ends.

Cabinet Office

Cabinet Secretary's Report

The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron): I am placing in the Libraries of both Houses the report by the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O’Donnell, into allegations against my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox).

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My right hon. Friend resigned last week as Defence Secretary accepting that he had mistakenly allowed the distinction between personal interest and Government activities to become blurred.

I accepted my right hon. Friend’s resignation from Government and his reasons for resigning while making clear that as Defence Secretary he had implemented fundamental changes that will help to ensure that our armed forces are fully equipped to meet the challenges of the modern era. The report by the Cabinet Secretary confirms that my right hon. Friend did breach the ministerial code.

This Government have already introduced changes that significantly increase Government transparency including publishing lists of ministerial meetings with external organisations and all procurement over £500. The permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence has already accepted that there should have been much tighter procedures within the Department and is taking steps to strengthen them to ensure that the ministerial code is properly adhered to.

The Cabinet Secretary has recommended further strengthening of procedures across Government. I have accepted these recommendations and the Cabinet Secretary will write to permanent secretaries setting this out.