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Written Answers

Thursday, 17th December 1998.

Access to Justice Bill and Human RightsAct 1998

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In relation to the statement made by the Lord Chancellor under Section 19 of the Human Rights Act 1998 that in his view the provisions of the Access to Justice Bill [H.L.] are compatible with Convention rights, what are the provisions in the Bill which secure the right of effective access to justice in the determination of an individual's civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge, in accordance with Article 6 of the Convention.[HL224]

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): The powers contained in Part 1 of the Bill, to provide help in civil and criminal matters, are more than sufficient to enable the Government to meet their obligations under Article 6 of the Convention, through the provision of legal and related services.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In relation to the statement made by the Lord Chancellor under Section 19 of the Human Rights Act 1998 that in his view the provision of the Access to Justice Bill [H.L.] are compatible with Convention rights, how the Bill will ensure that individuals claiming to be victims of breaches of the Convention rights are able to enjoy effective access to the courts and tribunal, in accordance with Article 6 of the Convention, without being deterred by the risk of having to pay the costs of defendant or respondent if their claims fail.[HL223]

The Lord Chancellor: As I told the noble and learned Lord in reply to his question of 10 November (Official Report, 10 November 1998; col. WA 70) the general position is that the courts have a wide discretion in respect of costs and can take into account their impact on a person's ability to bring proceedings. The Bill, in so far as it provides for publicly funded services, contains powers in Clause 11 for the Lord Chancellor to prescribe the circumstances (by regulations subject to the affirmative resolution procedure) in which the amount of any costs order made against a person receiving such services may be limited or enforced. It does not in any other way limit the normal judicial discretion in these matters.

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Channel Tunnel Rail Link: Compensation for Blight

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether decisions will be issued to applicants under the scheme of redress for extreme and exceptional hardship for those affected by blight from Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) route options between 1990 and 1994.[HL352]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): We have today announced that 28 applicants demonstrated that they suffered extreme and exceptional hardship as a result of past CTRL blight and will be receiving £10,000 each. This is an ex gratia scheme which is additional to normal compensation arrangements for those directly affected by the CTRL. The scheme originated from a finding of maladministration against the then Department of Transport by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration.

Airline Passengers: Violent and Disruptive Behaviour

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What consultations they have undertaken, and with what authorities, on the question of violent and disruptive behaviour by airline passengers; what conclusions were reached; and what steps are being taken to remedy the lack of reliable information on the size of this problem and the likely causes.[HL231]

Lord Whitty: My right honourable friend the Minister of Transport met representatives of the airline industry, the police and the Civil Aviation Authority on 25 November to discuss ways in which the problem of violent and disruptive behaviour by airline passengers can be addressed.

As a result of the meeting, a number of ideas and initiatives were identified. These initiatives included the setting up of a small working group, to be chaired by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, which would examine incident reporting and the commissioning of research into the causes of disruptive behaviour.

The Government will also promote international action to ensure that all states have the necessary legislation, as we already have in the UK, to take action against offenders when they arrive at their airports, regardless of the aircraft's country of registration. We will also consider amending the Air Navigation (No. 2) Order to prohibit passengers from interfering with crew members carrying out their duties.

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A.12: Hoardings

Lord Marlesford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    On what date and by whose authority the hedge on the verge of the A.12 trunk road on the Witham bypass was clipped back to a level to expose the hoardings erected on land owned by Braintree District Council: and whether they propose to require the removal of any such hoardings which contravene the advice in Planning Policy Guidance Note 19.[HL264]

Lord Whitty: The hedge is planted on land outside the highway boundary and is the responsibility of the land owner, Braintree District Council. The decisions to allow the hoardings which have been exposed by the hedge clipping were properly arrived at by the council, as the relevant planning authority, after it had taken account of all the material considerations, including the guidance in PPG19. The council will be reviewing the suitability of the hoardings when the advertisement control consents and licences expire early next year.

Development: Guidance to RDAs

Lord Hardy of Wath asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they propose to consult on the administrative guidance promised to regional development agencies on sustainable development and rural policy.[HL387]

Lord Whitty: We have recently consulted on draft statutory guidance for regional development agencies (RDAs) on the development of their regional strategies. In that guidance we have stressed that RDAs should take an integrated and sustainable approach to tackling economic issues across their regions, taking account of the particular features of their rural areas.

The guidance notes on sustainable development and rural policy that are being issued in draft today are intended to assist the RDAs on these matters. Copies are being sent to those national and regional organisations which have expressed an interest in these areas, and are also available on request from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. We are placing copies in the House Library.

The drafts build on informal soundings taken both within and outside government and will form part of a package of guidance to be available to the RDAs early in the new year.

MV "Derbyshire"

Lord Monkswell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have made a decision on the form and coverage of the reopened formal investigation into the loss of the MV "Derbyshire".[HL385]

Lord Whitty: Having considered the comments submitted following our announcement of 12 March (WA 87-88) that the formal investigation into the loss of the Derbyshire was to be reopened we have today

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ordered, under Section 269 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, that the whole of the case shall be reheard by Her Majesty's High Court of Justice. The preparation and presentation of the case, the identification of parties to the investigation and the statement of questions are now matters for my right honourable friend the Attorney-General. The conduct of the reopened investigation will be a matter for the judge appointed to undertake it.

We have also decided that the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) will support an application made to the judge at his preliminary hearing that the reasonable costs of a single legal term to represent the interests of the relatives on those lost with the ship at the reopened formal investigation should be met from public funds.

We have further decided that the DETR should make a contribution towards the legal costs of one team that may be incurred by the relatives in preparing for the preliminary hearing.

Rent Increases: Green Paper

Baroness Jeger asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What decision has been reached following the publication on 21 May of the Green Paper, Limiting Fair Rent Increases.[HL247]

Lord Whitty: Tenants have been facing exceptionally high fair rent increases, following recent court cases. We received more than 500 responses to the consultation paper we issued in the summer which proposed limiting fair rent increases by applying a formula linked to the retail prices index (RPI). There was overwhelming support for this from individual tenants and tenants' organisations. They considered our proposed limits were too high, however, and we have responded to this.

We propose, therefore, to go ahead and introduce new limits by making an order under Section 31 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985.

Rent officers and rent assessment committees will continue to determine fair rents as they do now. Where applications for re-registration are made to the rent officer after the order comes into effect, however, fair rent increases will be limited to RPI + 7.5 per cent. for the first re-registration (rather than RPI + 10 per cent. as originally proposed) and RPI + 5 per cent. for subsequent re-registrations. This will ease the anxiety faced now by thousands of tenants, many of whom are elderly or on fixed incomes. It will give them certainty that their rents cannot be increased by more than these limits.

If there is no existing fair rent registration for the property, these limits will not apply. Nor will they apply if the rent officer or rent assessment committee considers that repairs or improvements carried out by the landlord have changed the condition of the property or common parts so much that the new rent should be at least 15 per cent. more than the existing registered rent. We believe that, in these limited circumstances

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only, it is fair for landlords to charge the full fair rent increase.

The new limits will apply to private tenants and secure tenants of registered social landlords who have a fair rent registered under the Rent (Agriculture) Act 1976 or the Rent Act 1977. They will not apply to rent increases for assured or assured shorthold tenancies under the Housing Act 1988. We have no plans to change the legislative framework for these tenancies.

The order will be laid immediately after the parliamentary Recess and will come into force shortly afterwards. We will make a further announcement when the order is laid. We will issue a leaflet for landlords and tenants explaining in detail when the limits apply and how rent officers and rent assessment committees will calculate them, and details will appear on our internet site.

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