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9 Jan 2014 : Column 17WS

Written Statements

Thursday 9 January 2014

Communities and Local Government

Building Regulations Advisory Committee

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Stephen Williams): I am today pleased to announce the publication of the triennial review of the Building Regulations Advisory Committee. Triennial reviews are part of the Government’s commitment to ensuring that all non-departmental public bodies continue to have regular challenge on their remit and governance arrangements. A copy of this report will be placed in the Library of the House.

The review concluded that there was an ongoing need for the committee’s function to support the Government’s agenda and priorities for changes to building regulations both regulatory and increasingly deregulatory. Although a number of other possible models were considered for delivering this function, its current form as an advisory non-departmental public body was felt to be the most appropriate and represent good value for money while meeting the principles of effective corporate governance.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Commons Act 2006

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Dan Rogerson): I am pleased to announce the next stage in the implementation of part 1 of the Commons Act 2006, under which the registers of both common land and town and village greens can be amended.

Part 1 will be fully implemented in the counties of Cumbria and North Yorkshire. These counties have been chosen because they have the highest hectarage of common land and are among the most agriculturally active counties in England, in terms of commoning.

Many properties were wrongly registered when the registers were compiled in the late 1960s under the Commons Registration Act 1965 and commons registration authorities have not had the power to amend them. The result is that those properties have been adversely affected for over 40 years. This has had a knock-on effect on the owners’ ability to sell those properties. I wish to enable this situation to be resolved so I intend to implement section 19(2)(a) and paragraphs 6 to 9 of schedule 2 to the Act throughout England.

Section 19(2)(a) allows for the correction of mistakes made by commons registration authorities when recording entries in the registers. Paragraphs 6-9 of schedule 2 allow for the deregistration of land that was wrongly registered as common land or town or village green.

The question of further implementation of part 1 in England will be considered again as soon as resources permit, which I expect to be within the life of the next Parliament at the earliest.

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Single Payment Scheme

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice): I announced the Rural Payments Agency’s performance in making single payment scheme (SPS) payments on 4 December 2013, Official Report, column 52WS.

The agency’s commitment in its business plan 2013-14, was to pay 86% of payments by value and 93% of customers by number by 31 December 2013.

The first target was exceeded on the first banking day—2 December—when 89.3% of the estimated fund value was paid out. The second target was achieved within the first week of December, three weeks ahead of schedule.

By 31 December, 99,200 customers—95.9% of those eligible for a SPS payment—had received a share of £1.581 billion or 95% of the total estimated fund value.

In a critical and challenging period, the RPA continues to build on the huge progress made over recent years to support farmers and food producers and boost rural economies.

Woodland Planting

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Owen Paterson): Today I am announcing that I intend to maintain levels of woodland planting that we fund in England through pillar 2 of the common agricultural policy, rural development, in 2014-15.

Following negotiation of the EU rules governing the transition from the old to the new common agriculture policy and clarification from the European Commission of their impact, we can now approve new applications for tree planting grants in 2014.

We will therefore continue processing existing applications for woodland planting grants made by 31 December 2013. If this fails to deliver a level of funded planting in line with the overall annual rate under the existing rural development programme we will look at inviting further applications later in 2014 before the new programme comes into effect.

We also intend as part of the new rural development programme to offer tree-planting grants in 2015 in advance of new environmental land management agreements coming into effect in January 2016. We will work with interested parties on what this could involve before we submit the programme to the Commission for approval.

The total Government investment in creating and managing woodland under the rural development programme in 2014-15 will amount to £30 million. This consists of £6 million on new planting and £24 million on woodland management, including maintaining more recent woodland planting. This will fund the creation of 2,000 hectares of woodland, equivalent to about 4 million trees, and the protection or improvement of 200,000 hectares of existing woodland. It will help with extending woodland cover to 12% of the country by 2060.

I remain committed to protecting, improving and expanding England’s woodland assets as set out in the Government forestry and woodlands policy statement of January 2013.

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Work and Pensions

Health and Safety Executive (Triennial Review)

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Mike Penning): On 25 April 2013, the Minister for employment, my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey), made a written statement to Parliament announcing the triennial review of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and that Martin Temple, chair of the EEF, would lead that review. I am pleased to announce the conclusion of the review and publication of Mr Temple’s report later today.

HSE is an Executive non-departmental public body (NDPB). It is the national, independent regulator for work-related safety and health. Its mission is the prevention of death, injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work activities.

The review has concluded that the functions performed by HSE are still required and that it should be retained as a NDPB. Mr Temple has recommended that HSE build on its well-deserved international reputation and make more progress to grow its commercial income.

I welcome these recommendations, but want to go further to introduce reforms of HSE to ensure that it delivers value for money to the taxpayer, while ensuring safety for the nation. There is considerable potential for HSE to become more commercial in outlook and in delivery—increasing the pace of the work already started within the organisation.

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Therefore, I have asked HSE to begin work immediately to examine commercial models for HSE in collaboration with HMT and the Cabinet Office, and to review the HSE board to ensure it has the right skills to oversee future efficiencies and commercial income-generating options. Some of the other recommendations require further consideration and therefore the Government will respond more fully later this year.

I will place a copy of the report of the triennial review of HSE in the House Library later today.

Pension NDPBs (Triennial Review)

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Steve Webb): Today I am publishing the outcome of the review of the Pensions Regulator, the Pensions Advisory Service, the pensions ombudsman and the pension protection fund ombudsman. I am pleased to announce that the Government support the continuation of these non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) in their current form. The Department for Work and Pensions has completed a robust examination of the NDPB’s functions, delivery arrangements and governance structures. The review was carried out in line with the Cabinet Office’s key principles for reviews of NDPBs. The Government are satisfied that the organisations continue to be fit for purpose and are delivering what they were set up to do effectively—this is essential in order to maintain consumer’s confidence in pensions. I will place a copy of the review report in the House Libraries.