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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 13 September 2012


Guidelines for Prosecutors (Cases Affecting the Media)

The Attorney-General (Mr Dominic Grieve): The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has today published his final guidelines for prosecutors on assessing the public interest in cases affecting the media. The publication of the guidelines follows a public consultation on the interim guidelines which was launched on 18 April 2012, Official Report, column 21WS. The DPP undertook to produce the guidelines when he gave evidence on 8 February 2012 to the inquiry being conducted by Lord Justice Leveson into the culture, practices and ethics of the press.

The final guidelines are broadly the same as the interim guidelines but they have been amended in a number of sections to reflect views and comments received during the consultation process. The guidelines set out the additional considerations which are relevant when prosecutors assess whether a prosecution is required in accordance with the code for Crown prosecutors. Each case will be considered on its own facts and on its own merits before a decision is made whether to prosecute.

The DPP’s Principal Legal Advisor, Alison Levitt QC, has looked at all current prosecutions and is satisfied that they are consistent with the approach set out in the final guidelines. Copies of the guidelines and the summary of responses will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses of Parliament.


Small Charitable Donations Bill

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Sajid Javid): HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is publishing for consultation today draft regulations under the Small Charitable Donations Bill, together with a supporting technical note.

The draft regulations set out the legal framework needed for HMRC to administer the new gift aid small donations scheme and applies, with appropriate modifications, most of the legal framework under which gift aid is administered.

The draft regulations and the technical note can be found on the HMRC website at: http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/drafts/small-donations.htm.

The consultation will close on 5 December 2012.

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Business, Innovation and Skills

Estate Agents Act/Property Misdescriptions Act

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Jo Swinson): I am today publishing the Government’s response to consultations on amending the Estate Agents Act 1979 (EAA) and repealing the Property Misdescriptions Act 1991 (PMA). A limited deregulation of the EAA to take private sale intermediaries out of scope of the Act will provide clarity which the Government expect will also promote competition and potentially innovation, while retaining adequate consumer protection. Repeal of the PMA will remove duplication with the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs).

Amending the Estate Agents Act 1979

The amendment to the EAA arose from the disruptive business models theme of the red tape challenge process. It will end the perceived uncertainty, confirmed by the range of views in the consultation about the scope of the legislation, about whether the activities of intermediary businesses such as private sales portals fall within the strict legal definition of “estate agency work” in the EAA. Such portals provide a platform for private sellers to display property details, some provide information about the buying and selling process and some provide tools to allow the buyer to communicate with the seller.

The Government’s view is that some private sale portals may currently be in scope of the EAA, if they act on instructions of the prospective seller or buyer and provide a means for the prospective seller and buyer to make initial contact or to continue to communicate with one another. This is because although publishing advertisements and disseminating information is exempted from the scope of the EAA, facilitating such communication goes beyond this even though it may not amount to any of the services traditionally associated with estate agents.

Taking the consultation responses into account, the Government believe that a limited deregulation of the EAA would bring benefits to consumers and to the industry without reducing consumer protection. It should provide confidence to existing private sales intermediary businesses and potential new entrants, thereby stimulating competition and innovation leading to more consumer choice and better standards of service. The Government recognise that property sales are significant and occasional transactions for consumers with a risk of consumer detriment if businesses which influence or are directly involved transactions are not regulated. The Government believe that a limited amendment to legislation, combined with guidance, will provide clarity and draws the appropriate balance between the interests of businesses and consumers.

The Government have therefore decided to amend the EAA to take out of scope intermediaries such as private sale portals which merely enable private sellers to advertise their properties and provide a means for sellers and buyers to contact and communicate with one another. The Government recognise this is a limited amendment—many respondents have commented that the choice for consumers to sell property privately already exists—but the Government are concerned by the uncertainty and range of views as to the legal position of private sales portals that the responses demonstrated.

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This amendment will enable the intermediary to provide a means for the seller and prospective buyer to contact one another, for example online, a branded for sale board to the seller to assist this process, and to pass on to a buyer solely the information provided by the seller in their advertisement, by whatever channel of communication. If, however, the intermediary offers any personal advice to a seller or a buyer or other ancillary services such as preparing property particulars or photographs or an energy performance certificate, then the intermediary will be in scope of the EAA and bound by its obligations.

Businesses outside the scope of the EAA will also be out of scope of the PMA (although see below). The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs) apply to all businesses that deal with consumers. They could therefore be relevant where a private individual uses a private sales portal to advertise a property. The degree of due diligence that the CPRs require from such businesses is proportionate to the level of service offered.

The definition of “estate agency work” is also incorporated in other legislation. The Money Laundering Regulations 2007 require estate agents to guard against and report any suspicion of money laundering. The Terrorism Act 2000 and the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 incorporate the definition from the EAA in applying particular standards to “regulated sectors” which include estate agents. The limited amendment will also apply to these pieces of legislation.

The Government believe this limited amendment will strike the right balance between deregulating low risk services which do not actively involve the business in the property transaction and retaining the consumer protections of the EAA where agents act on behalf of a party to the transaction.

The next step will be for the proposed amendment to be subjected to parliamentary scrutiny and the Government intend to bring forward the amendment as soon as the parliamentary timetable allows.

Repealing the Property Misdescriptions Act 1991

The PMA makes it an offence to make false or misleading statements in the course of an estate agency or property development business about property offered for sale. The CPRs which came into force in 2008 implemented the EU unfair commercial practices directive in the UK. These regulations provide similar protections for consumers in a wider range of sectors and their introduction meant that consumers were protected by two broadly equivalent pieces of legislation.

The Government’s consultation elicited responses both for and against repeal. The Government understand the reasons why opponents to repeal of the PMA favour it over the CPRs. The PMA deals specifically with property and as such is easy to apply. The CPRs by contrast are not specific to the sector and, being principles-based, require traders to consider how they apply to their particular circumstances.

The Government remain of the view, however, that the CPRs provide broadly similar protection to the PMA. The queries and concerns raised are similar to those that were raised when the CPRs were first proposed and these fears do not seem to have materialised in other sectors. The Government believe this situation will continue so long as the PMA remains in place and

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that repealing the PMA would not significantly reduce levels of consumer protection. This is disputed by some stakeholders but not others and the Government do not find the arguments for a loss of consumer protection convincing.

The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills will therefore lay an order under the European Communities Act 1972 to repeal the PMA. The current intention is that this will come into force not before October 2013.

Revised guidance for businesses and consumers will be produced to cover these changes.

Home Department

Surveillance Cameras (Regulation)

The Minister of State, Home Department (Mr Jeremy Browne): I am today announcing arrangements for the implementation of provisions within the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 for the regulation of surveillance camera systems.

The Government support the use of surveillance cameras in tackling crime. It is committed to ensuring that any deployment in public places of surveillance cameras, including close circuit television (CCTV) and automatic number plate recognition (ANPR), is appropriate, proportionate, transparent and effective in meeting its stated purpose. This is why the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 now requires Government to put in place a regulatory framework for surveillance camera systems comprising a code of practice and a surveillance camera commissioner.

The code of practice will contain guidance for system operators. Relevant authorities specified in section 33(5) of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 have a duty to have regard to the code, and other system operators will be encouraged to adopt it on a voluntary basis. Preparatory work on the code of practice is under way, ensuring it is positioned appropriately alongside existing regulatory arrangements under the Data Protection Act 1990 and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. We anticipate a period of statutory consultation over the draft code of practice in the autumn of 2012 in advance of laying the draft before Parliament for approval. Subject to parliamentary approval, we aim to bring the code of practice into force from April 2013.

A key element of the effectiveness of surveillance camera systems is their ability to provide images and associated information of an evidential standard which supports both the investigation of crime and bringing perpetrators to justice. We are therefore continuing the arrangements that have seen the role of interim CCTV regulator combined with that of the forensic science regulator, and are appointing Mr Andrew Rennison who currently holds both these appointments as surveillance camera commissioner with immediate effect. This will enable him to build the necessary capacity to fulfil his statutory functions in full when the code of practice comes into force.

The term of appointment has been synchronised with that of the forensic science regulator and will run until 10 February 2014. An open competition will be held in due course to fill both posts from that date.

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The functions of the commissioner are set out in section 34(2) of the Protection of Freedoms Act. In advance of the code of practice being brought into force the commissioner has been tasked with: delivering a three-year business plan setting out how these functions will be fulfilled; reaching an agreement over the operation of gateways with both the Information Commissioner and the chief surveillance commissioner who also have regulatory responsibilities relating to surveillance cameras, and then making that agreement publicly available; and, establishing an advisory council with a suitable range of skills and experience to support him in his work.

The Home Office is making a small team of civil servants available to support the commissioner in carrying out his functions, along with accommodation within its offices at 2 Marsham Street, London, SWIP 4DF.

The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 provides for an incremental approach to regulation which will secure continued public confidence in the use of surveillance cameras in what is a complex area of practice. It gives the commissioner no powers of enforcement or inspection, nor any powers for the investigation of complaints. The commissioner is, however, charged with reviewing the operation of the code of practice and providing advice, including advice to Government on its effectiveness and on any changes which may be necessary. The commissioner is, therefore, empowered to make independent and transparent recommendations to Government on the development of the regulatory framework.

The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 also requires in section 35 that the commissioner publishes a report about the exercise of his functions on an annual basis and presents a copy to the Home Secretary, which must then be laid before Parliament.

Through these arrangements, we intend to ensure that surveillance camera systems continue to be an important tool available to communities to help tackle crime and prevent terrorism while balancing public safety objectives with the individual’s right to privacy.

Schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act (Public Consultation)

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): I am today launching a public consultation inviting views on potential changes to the counter-terrorism border security powers contained in schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000.

Individuals who engage in terror-related activity travel across borders to plan, finance, train for and commit attacks. Examining people at ports and airports is necessary to protect public safety and an essential part of our border security arrangements. However, the operation of these powers must not erode the freedoms which terrorists seek to undermine.

We would welcome a wide response to the consultation to support us in ensuring the changes address these principles, particularly from those who may be affected by the use of these important powers. A copy of the consultation document has been placed in the House Library and is available on the Home Office website at:


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Boundary Commission for Wales (Appointment of Deputy Chairman)

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Grayling): I should like to inform the House that I have made the following appointment under schedule 1 to the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986:

The honourable Mr Justice Wyn Williams appointed as Deputy Chairman of the Boundary Commission for Wales effective until 30 September 2015.

Leader of the House


The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr Andrew Lansley): Since my predecessor launched the Government’s e-petitions site in July 2011, the site has received more than 6.4 million signatures, shared across more than 16,000 petitions. A total of 11 e-petitions have passed the 100,000 signature threshold, making them eligible for debate. All 11 of these have been debated, or in the case of the west coast main line e-petition have been scheduled for debate in the new Monday afternoon allocation in Westminster Hall.

e-petitions have been an important part of increasing public understanding of Parliament. To improve engagement with petitioners, I am today announcing a new threshold of 10,000 signatures to trigger written Government responses to e-petitions, in addition to the existing threshold of 100,000 signatures that makes e-petitions eligible for debate.

Once an e-petition has passed 10,000 signatures, Departments will provide a response that will appear on the website and be e-mailed to all signatories who opted in to receive updates on that petition. Responses will include a statement of the Government’s policy on the issue, and details of any relevant parliamentary processes that are ongoing.

All e-petitions currently open for signature on the site, which have more than 10,000 signatures, will receive a response from Departments; we expect most of these to be published before the House returns from the conference recess. Responses to e-petitions that subsequently pass the 10,000 signature threshold will be published on a rolling basis on the relevant page of http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk.


Bus Subsidy System (Reform)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Norman Baker): In March, the Government published “Green Light for Better Buses”, in which we set out our plans for improving local bus subsidy arrangements and regulations in England outside London. We undertook to consult on these proposals and I can inform the House that the consultation has been launched today and will last for eight weeks. Copies of the consultation document are available in the House Library.