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Written Ministerial Statements

Friday 25 January 2013

Communities and Local Government

Planning and Schools

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr Eric Pickles): The Government are committed to supporting the development of state-funded schools and their delivery through the planning system. As part of our reforms we want to ensure that the planning system supports our priority to ensure that every child has the opportunity to benefit from a good education. To make this a reality the Government are increasing choice and opportunity in state-funded education and raising educational standards. The planning system has an important role in ensuring this ambition becomes a reality.

The Government want to enable new schools to open, good schools to expand and all schools in the state-funded sector to adapt and improve their facilities. Creating free schools remains one of the Government’s flagship policies, enabling parents, teachers, charities and faith organisations to use their new freedoms to establish state-funded schools. This will make a real difference in their community by transforming children’s lives and helping them to reach their full potential.

It remains the Government’s view that the creation and development of state-funded schools is strongly in the national interest and that planning decision makers can and should support that objective, in a manner consistent with their statutory obligations. Experience to date has demonstrated that with the assistance of the Education Funding Agency new state-funded schools, and free schools in particular, have been successful in identifying sites that have gone on to secure planning permission.

It is vital that a new state-funded school can plan with confidence to be able to open at the start of the academic year. Where planning permission is sought it should be determined within the prescribed time frame. However, this expectation has not always been the case and schools have not been able to open on the sites intended.

In announcing the outcome of my October 2010 consultation, “Planning for schools development”, I committed to continue to explore whether there was further scope and need for the planning system to do more in the future to support state-funded schools. Therefore, I have decided to bring forward new permitted development rights for change of use to a new state-funded school. It is my intention to include within the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 (as amended):

A permitted development right to allow for the temporary change of use to a new state-funded school from any other use class along with minor associated physical development. This will be for a single year which would cover the first academic year. It will provide certainty that a school opening

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will not be delayed by an outstanding planning application, but will not replace the need to secure planning permission for the use beyond that first year.

A permitted development right to allow change of use to a new state-funded school from offices (B1); hotels (C1); residential institutions (C2); secure residential institutions (C2A); and assembly and leisure (D2). Any subsequent change from a new state-funded school to other uses in non-residential institution class (D1) will not be permitted. These changes will be subject to a prior approval process to mitigate any adverse transport and noise impacts.

I will be working with the Secretary of State for Education to ensure that those schools that become eligible to use these new rights are only those which have his support in their efforts to bring forward new state-funded schools. These changes are in addition to those announced in my written ministerial statement to the House on 24 January, Official Report, column 16WS, and will be introduced as soon as possible.

Health

Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and Human Tissue Authority

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Anna Soubry): The Department of Health is today publishing its response to its “Consultation on proposals to transfer functions from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and the Human Tissue Authority”.

In “Liberating the NHS: Report of the arm’s-length bodies review” (2010) the Department set out its proposals for reducing bureaucracy and increasing efficiencies. This included proposals to transfer all functions from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) and the Human Tissue Authority (HTA) with a view to abolishing the two organisations by 2015. The public consultation set out options for taking this work forward and ran between June and September 2012.

The Department has welcomed the responses it has received to this important consultation. The responses have come from a range of representative bodies, leading organisations and individuals and we are grateful for the time and effort respondents have put into this. The Department recognises that the majority of respondents do not favour a transfer of functions to the Care Quality Commission and the Health Research Authority and has listened to the strong message about the risk of losing specialist expertise if functions were to be transferred. We have therefore concluded not to transfer the functions at this time.

The Department has also given very careful consideration to the clear message from the consultation of the need for a review of the way in which the HFEA and HTA undertake their functions. I have therefore commissioned an independent review to start immediately. This review will look at:

the scope to streamline the way in which the two bodies undertake their regulatory and statutory functions, including through joint working, sharing resources and information and working more closely with other health sector regulators;

the scope to reduce and rationalise the burden of inspection, information collection and process of research approvals that falls on the regulated sector, without compromising the safeguards in the respective Acts; and

the scope for shared authority membership and leadership, and of a merger of the two bodies.

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It will report to me and the Minister for the Cabinet Office by April 2013.

As a result of our decision, we do not intend to proceed with the policy facilitated by clause 75 of the “Draft Care and Support Bill”, (Cm 8386), which would amend the Public Bodies Act to allow for abolition of the HFEA and HTA.

A copy of the “Government response to the consultation on proposals to transfer functions from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and the Human Tissue Authority” has been placed in the Library. Copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office and to noble Lords from the Printed Paper Office.

Home Department

Solidarity and Management of Migration Flows Funds

The Minister for Immigration (Mr Mark Harper): The UK has opted in to the European Commission’s proposal to increase the co-financing rate for the Solidarity and Management of Migration Flows Funds, commonly known as the SOLID funds.

The proposal will increase the co-financing rates of the SOLID funds for EU member states benefiting from certain financial support mechanisms, thus reducing the amount of funding that those member states need to find before undertaking programmes, which in turn will improve their utilisation of the funds. The member states that will benefit from a higher co-financing rate are Hungary, Romania, Latvia, Portugal, Greece and Ireland. Other member states that receive assistance from the relevant financial support mechanisms up to the end of the 2013 annual programme period would also benefit. Member states enjoying the reduced co- financing rate would be better positioned to improve capacity in the area of asylum, which should help mitigate secondary pressures on the UK.

Practical co-operation and solidarity in support of well-managed migration is a powerful tool for securing British objectives in the wider EU sphere. This proposal is cost-neutral to the UK and will not result in additional UK budget commitments. It provides an opportunity to achieve British objectives while not undermining the primary responsibility of affected member states to address weaknesses in their asylum and migration systems.

The Government will continue to consider the application of the UK’s right to opt in to forthcoming EU legislation in the area of justice and home affairs on a case-by-case basis, with a view to maximising our country’s security, protecting Britain’s civil liberties, and enhancing our ability to control immigration.

Justice

Transforming Bailiff Action

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mrs Helen Grant): The Government are today publishing their response to the “Transforming bailiff action” consultation paper. This is the next step in delivering the Government’s commitment to provide more protection against aggressive bailiffs in England and Wales.

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Bailiffs are necessary for both the economy and the justice system, carrying out a difficult role in challenging circumstances. While the majority operate in a responsible and proportionate manner, a significant few use unsafe, unsound and unfair methods of collection, casting a shadow over the reputations of respectable bailiffs. The Government remain clear that subjecting debtors— who are already in distressing situations—to such intimidating behaviour is completely unacceptable. At the same time we are also clear that legitimate creditors should be able to collect the money that is owed to them in a fair and responsible manner. The measures set out in the Government’s consultation response strike this balance between the rights of debtors and the rights of creditors.

We will sweep away the antiquated and confusing laws which can thwart effective and proportionate enforcement, introducing in their place new laws which are fit for today’s society. We will provide clarity over the powers of bailiffs and introduce a clear, fair, charging regime which will tackle the root causes of aggressive bailiff action.

Bailiffs will be banned from entering debtor’s homes late at night without first seeking permission from the court or when only children are present, and new safeguards will prevent them from using force against people who owe money. The enforcement process and procedure will be defined clearly in legislation setting out how bailiffs can enter a property, what goods can and cannot be seized for sale, and crucially, what costs a bailiff can charge. These changes will be set against effective and targeted regulation which will ensure that bailiffs are fit to carry out this work by introducing a mandatory training scheme, competence requirements and certification for all bailiffs.

These much-needed reforms will ensure that individuals, businesses and bailiffs will all benefit from our changes and we will work to implement these swiftly.

Copies of “Transforming bailiff action: How we will provide more protection against aggressive bailiffs and encourage more flexibility in bailiff collections. The Government Response” have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.

Transport

Blue Badge Scheme

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Norman Baker): I am today publishing my Department’s consultation report on personal independence payment and eligibility for a blue badge. I have decided that the blue badge scheme in future will be as similar to the current scheme as possible.

The Government has recently announced important reforms to the welfare system. Personal independence payment (PIP) will begin to be introduced for people who are aged 16 to 64 from 8 April 2013. From October 2013 onwards, PIP will begin to replace disability living allowance (DLA) for existing DLA recipients aged between 16 and 64.

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As around a third of all blue badges are currently issued to people who receive the higher rate of the mobility component of disability living allowance, my Department consulted between July and October 2012 on the options, in England, for dealing with the impact of the welfare changes.

The Government remains committed to ensuring that the blue badge scheme continues to be focused on those people who will benefit most from the parking concessions that it offers, and that it is sustainable in the future.

Therefore, having carefully considered the responses to the consultation, I have decided that, when DLA is replaced by PIP, there should still be a legislative link that means those people who score eight points or more in the “moving around” activity of PIP will be automatically eligible for a blue badge. This activity assesses a person’s physical ability to get around and a score of eight points or more will be awarded to people who are either unable

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to walk or who cannot walk further than approximately 50 metres. This means that future eligibility for a blue badge will be as similar to the current eligibility criteria for the scheme as possible.

The relevant legislation will be changed in the near future. Any consequential changes to the blue badge scheme will be phased in, in line with the welfare changes. They will affect existing badge holders when a current badge expires and they apply for a new one. If an individual does not automatically qualify for a badge by virtue of a PIP award, they will be able to apply directly to their local authority to see whether they qualify under any of the other criteria.

These changes will not affect people under the age of 16 or over the age of 64.

A copy of the consultation response document has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, and will also be available on the GOV.UK website.