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Written Statements

Tuesday 18 July 2006

Armed Forces: Nimrod MRA4

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Drayson): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I can announce that the contract for full production of 12 Nimrod MRA4 aircraft has been placed with BAE Systems. This is the culmination of many years of hard work by BAE Systems and its supply chain and builds upon the considerable investment already made by the Ministry of Defence and BAE Systems. Nimrod MRA4 has had a troubled and well publicised history of time delays and cost overruns. The contract restructuring introduced since early 2003 has been successful in stabilising costs and with three aircraft participating in the flight trials programme, the design has now reached a level of maturity which permits a commitment to full production.

The greater transparency offered by the revised contracting arrangements and the development of an effective partnering relationship between MoD and BAE Systems and its supply chain have been essential to restoring confidence in the programme. These are key elements of the Defence Industrial Strategy (DIS) and progress on Nimrod MRA4 demonstrates the benefits that will accrue to MoD and industry as these and other features of the DIS are put into effect across the defence industrial base.

The programme will provide the RAF with a maritime patrol aircraft capability second to none. Nimrod MRA4 will offer greater capability and improved availability when compared with the current MR2 maritime patrol aircraft which it replaces.

This contract will secure some 1,000 jobs at BAE Systems sites in the north-west of England, including around 700 at the Woodford site where the aircraft is manufactured. A further 300 or so jobs associated with production will also be secured at other BAE Systems’ sites.

Debt Relief

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

In my Written Statement of 5 July, I said that 20 heavily indebted poor countries had had 100 per cent of their debts to the IMF cancelled in January 2006, and another, Cameroon, since. I wish to clarify that in January the IMF cancelled 100 per cent of the debt stock held by 19 countries (including 17 HIPCs, 13 of which were African) and has cancelled 100 per cent of the debt stock of two other HIPCs—Cameroon and Mauritania—since. Twenty-one countries have now therefore received 100 per cent debt stock cancellation at the IMF.

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Housing: Home Information Packs

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Planning has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today setting out further details of the Government’s implementation strategy and dry run for home information packs (HIPs).

The aims of the HIPs programme

The aims of the Government’s reforms to the home buying and selling process are threefold:

To provide home owners with important energy efficiency information about their homes to help them cut fuel bills and carbon emissions. This is vital as homes account for 27 per cent of Britain’s carbon emissions. Energy performance certificates will provide clear information about the energy efficiency of homes and how that can be improved. The Energy Saving Trust estimates that following the advice in energy performance certificates could save the average home owner up to £300 a year on their fuel bills. The Government believe it is important to implement these as early as possible given the importance of reducing carbon emissions.To benefit consumers by cutting waste and duplication, speeding up home sales and reducing the number of failed transactions, which at present cost consumers around £350 million a year in wasted costs.To encourage and support long-term transformation of the home buying and selling industry by introducing greater transparency and competition to drive down costs and incentivise better service and clearer redress for consumers.


There are three main components to home information packs: searches and other legal documents; energy performance certificates; and the home condition surveys that make up the other component of a full home condition report. It is essential that all aspects of home information packs are properly tested before full implementation. We need to be sure that consumers understand, value and can utilise the information that HIPs provide; that the assumed benefits will be realised; and that the different operating systems underpinning HIPs will work effectively.

As part of our ongoing programme of implementation, we have already successfully tested more than 14,000 HIPs with searches, but largely without home condition reports, in the dry run so far. Over the course of the summer we propose to undertake further consumer research on home condition reports; to study in greater detail the 250 HIPs that have been produced to date with some kind of survey; and to look to see what more we can learn from experience in other countries where HIPs have been introduced successfully or are currently being proposed. From the autumn the emphasis of our implementation programme will switch to the testing of energy performance certificates and home condition reports. Working with the industry and with consumers, we are proposing to support a series of

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area-based trials and we will test proposals such as allowing sellers to start marketing their homes if they have already commissioned their HIP rather than having to wait up to 14 days. There will be independent assessment and monitoring of all aspects of the dry run.

Roll out

It is also important that reforms are introduced on a timetable and as part of a programme that maximises the benefits for consumers and the environment. As part of the development of the dry run, we have engaged in detailed consultation with a wide range of stakeholders and have gathered substantial information on the progress of implementation so far. As a result, we have concluded that there would be significant risks and potential disadvantages to consumers from a mandatory “big bang” introduction of full home condition reports on 1 June 2007. In particular:

Further testing is needed to ensure that home condition reports deliver the assumed benefits for consumers and that the operating systems that support them work smoothly. Design work on the dry run has made it clear that this cannot be completed in time for the results to be taken into account by 1 June.A recent report from the Council of Mortgage Lenders identified the real possibility that some lenders might not be fully geared up to use HCRs until 2008-09. In particular the industry’s plans for bringing in automated valuation models means that many lenders will not have them in place by June 2007 and so will continue to seek separate mortgage valuation surveys where they could have relied on a home condition report.There are concerns about the number of inspectors that will be in place in time for June next year.

Moreover, because of our commitment to addressing climate change we do not want to jeopardise the successful introduction of energy performance certificates at the earliest possible opportunity by pursuing the “big bang” mandatory introduction of full home condition reports at the same time.

We believe that progressive market-led take-up of full HCRs could strongly benefit consumers. Bearing in mind our commitment to the early introduction of energy performance certificates, combining an energy performance certificate and a full home condition report at the same time is likely to offer significant additional benefits to buyers and sellers. In particular, sellers offering full home condition reports should be more likely to benefit from swifter sales and suffer fewer transaction failures, as accepted offers are much less likely to be re-opened as a result of new information coming to light. In addition, once automated valuation models are in place, home condition reports should mean buyers get cheaper and swifter valuations and mortgage offers. We therefore believe that there will be a significant incentive for consumers to top up their HIPs voluntarily to include full home condition reports and that this is a product that the market can and should deliver.

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Therefore we have concluded that:

HIPs will be introduced with searches and other key documents from 1 June 2007.Energy performance certificates will be included in HIPs on a mandatory basis from 1 June 2007.We will work with the industry to facilitate market-led take-up of full HCRs. As part of this approach, we will explore with the sector a wide range of options to enable a successful and innovative market for HCRs, including options for supporting the provision of necessary systems, effective demonstration projects for HCRs, and will consider the case for pump-priming funding. This market-led approach has the added benefit of giving industry more flexibility to innovate and adapt to consumer preferences. This means that the remaining aspects of home condition reports will not be made mandatory from June next year, but HCRs will be authorised documents that sellers will be able to include in their packs.Mandatory HCRs will remain on the table if the industry fails to make a success of the roll out of HCRs.

As part of the next phase of reform we will also be setting out our plans for an ombudsman scheme for estate agents to strengthen consumer protection as well as further proposals to review competition and transparency in the industry to the benefit of consumers.

We believe that these arrangements will ensure that home information packs are implemented in a way that maximises benefits for consumers and the environment and successfully enables the long-term transformation of the home buying and selling market.

Immigration: National Insurance Numbers

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (James Plaskitt) has made the following Statement.

I announced on 5 June that the DWP would introduce a “right to work” condition into Jobcentre Plus’s national insurance numbers allocation and decision-making process for employment-related applications from July. I can confirm that appropriate administrative arrangements are now in place making it a condition for the allocation of a NINO that there is a right to work. To further support this change, I intend to bring forward amendments to Regulation 9 of the Social Security (Crediting and Treatment of Contributions and National Insurance Numbers) Regulations 2001 to make explicit the evidence which must be produced to demonstrate that the “right to work” condition has been satisfied.

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Iraq: Roulement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Drayson): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I would like to confirm the details of the force package that we currently plan to deploy to Iraq at the next routine roulement of UK forces in November 2006.

The lead UK formation, currently 20 Armoured Brigade, will be replaced by 19 Light Brigade, which will take over command of UK forces in early November. In addition to 19 Light Brigade's Headquarters and Signals squadron, the other major units currently in Iraq will be replaced as follows.

Unit deploying for Operation TELIC 9

Unit currently in theatre (Operation TELIC)

HQ 19 Light Brigade

HQ 20 Armoured Brigade

1 x squadron from 2nd Royal Tank Regiment

The Queen's Royal Hussars

The Queen's Royal Lancers

1st The Queens’s Dragoon Guards

1st Battalion The King's Regiment

1st Battalion The Light Infantry

1st Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment

1st Battalion The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment

1st Battalion The Royal Green Jackets

1st Battalion The Devonshire and Dorset Light Infantry

1st Battalion The Staffordshire Regiment

2nd Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment

1 x company from the Joint CBRN Regiment and 1 x company from The Black Watch 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland

1 x company from the 51st Highland, 7th Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland (Territorial Army)

1 x company from each of The King's and Cheshire Regiment (Territorial Army) and The Lancastrian and Cumbrian Volunteers (Territorial Army)

40th Regiment Royal Artillery

26th Regiment Royal Artillery

2 x companies of the 2nd Battalion The Light Infantry (to deploy in September)

1st Battalion The Grenadier Guards (to return in September)

38 Engineer Regiment

35 Engineer Regiment

19 Lt Bde Combat Service Support Battalion

1 Logistics Corps

Following the completion of the roulement in November, the total number of UK troops in Iraq will be broadly the same as currently deployed, approximately 7,100 service men and women.

Members of the Reserve Forces will continue to deploy to Iraq as part of this force package, and we shall shortly start to serve approximately 600 call-out notices in order to fill some 500 posts. On completion of their mobilisation procedures, the reservists will undertake a period of training and integration into their respective receiving units. For the majority, their deployment to theatre will also commence in November and most will serve there for six to seven months, although some may have shorter tours. The reservists will perform a wide range of activities including force protection duties, logistics, medical support and individual

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reinforcements to units. In addition, we expect some 20 members of the Sponsored Reserves to be in theatre at any one time.

I emphasise that the force package we deploy in October/November will depend on the conditions on the ground, in particular the security situation in the south and progress on handover of security responsibility to the Iraqi civil authorities over the months to come. I very much hope that positive progress in these areas will enable adjustments to the force package we deploy, and we will continue to keep UK force levels in Iraq under review. I will, of course, aim to inform Parliament of any changes to these plans at the earliest opportunity.

Law Officers' Department: Annual Reports

The Attorney-General (Lord Goldsmith): The annual reports of HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate, Revenue and Customs Prosecution Service, the Serious Fraud Office, Treasury Solicitor and the Crown Prosecution Service have today been published and laid before Parliament. Copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Military Low-flying Aircraft

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Drayson): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Tom Watson) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

It is normal practice for the Ministry of Defence to publish before the Summer Recess a report giving a detailed account of the low-flying training that has taken place in the UK low-flying system for the previous training year April 2005 to March 2006.

In the preparation of the report for this year, an error in the method of attribution of hours from night areas into day areas has been discovered which also affects information reported in prior years. This has delayed the analysis of data and production of the 2005-06 report.

The corrected prior-year figures will be shown in the 2005-06 report, and copies will be placed in the Library of the House.

NHS: Audiology

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Ivan Lewis) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

We acknowledge that there are pressures with regard to the waiting times for audiology services. Considerable progress has been made in improving the provision of audiology services although we accept that there is still some way to go.

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Between 2000-05 this Government invested £125 million in the Modernising Hearing Aids Service programme (MHAS), which was managed by the Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID), on behalf of the Department of Health. The outcomes of the programme have been significant and have ensured that by 2005 all NHS hearing aid services met the Government target of routinely fitting modem digital hearing aids.

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