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7 Feb 2001 : Column WA107

Written Answers

Wednesday, 7th February 2001.

Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Review Group Report

Lord Peston asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they will publish their formal response to the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Review Group report.[HL643]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman): Copies of the formal government response have today been placed in the House of Commons Library. A copy of the government response is being sent to all those who responded to the report.

Merchant Shipping Act 1988

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

    Whether they will publish the documents relating to the history of the discussions leading up to the enactment of the Merchant Shipping Act 1988 and the making of regulations under it, given that the documents were disclosed for the purpose of the Factortame litigation in relation to the issue of liability for breaches of Community law and were referred to in the English courts' decisions.[HL503]

Baroness Hayman: Consideration of the noble Lord's request has raised a number of complex legal issues which we regret have taken a considerable amount of time to resolve. As soon as we have done so we will write to him and place a copy of the letter in the Libraries of the House.

Misuse of Drugs Act 1971: Response to Inquiry Report

Lord Stallard asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they will respond to the report on the Police Foundation inquiry into the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.[HL657]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): My honourable friend the Minister of State at the Home Office (Mr Charles Clarke) wrote to Viscountess Runciman, chairman of this inquiry, today enclosing a memorandum setting out the Government's response. He has written in similar terms to the Home Affairs Committee, which had also sought the Government's views on the report. A copy of the response has been placed in the Library. We understand that the Home Affairs Committee has decided to publish this response today as its second special report HC 226 and this is available on

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Traffic Signs Regulations: Bus Stop Clearway Orders

Lord Bradshaw asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When the amendments to the traffic signs regulations will be made, and the accompanying guidance published, in respect of the 24-hour bus stop clearway orders.[HL517]

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston): We expect to consult in the spring on draft revised traffic signs regulations. These will include detailed provisions to standardise and specify the significance of bus stop clearway signs and markings in national regulations, instead of allowing local variations in traffic regulation orders made by individual traffic authorities. Further progress will depend on the responses to consultation, but we hope to publish the revised regulations and guidance by the end of this year.

Home Condition Report Costs

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What would be the estimated cost savings for sellers of properties (a) in pounds per pack and (b) in total on an annual basis, if the compulsory home condition report were omitted from the proposed seller's pack.[HL518]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): We estimate that anything up to 2 million homes were marketed in England and Wales last year, and that a home condition report (HCR) will cost, on average, around £280. This would suggest the total cost of HCRs would be £560 million. But this does not represent a potential cost saving for sellers if HCRs were omitted from the pack because:

    Up to one third of transactions currently involve a condition survey, and in these cases the home condition report does not represent an additional cost to the transaction.

    It is not envisaged that seller's packs for first sales of new homes sold with a National House Builders Council or similar warranty will include a home condition report.

    We are working with lenders to ensure that the HCR can be relied on as part of the valuation process in as many cases as possible, which would reduce mortgage valuation fees.

    Most sellers are also buyers and will receive commensurate benefits from a condition report on the property they are buying.

    28 per cent of transactions currently fail after an offer has been accepted, and 43 per cent of these are due to problems revealed by a lender's valuation or survey report. Failed transactions cost consumers on average £1,000.

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    Cost implications of condition-related problems which currently cause delays in transactions: 12 per cent of all sellers report such problems between the lender's valuation inspection and exchange of contracts.

    Research by a major estate agency chain has shown that 18 per cent of buyers who relied on their mortgage lender's valuation and did not commission a survey faced unexpected repair bills within the first four months of moving into their new home. In 48 per cent of these cases, the repair bills amounted to £500 or more, and in 17 per cent of cases over £1,000.

    Cost implications for other transactions in chains. About 60 per cent of transactions involve a chain, and industry estimates suggest the average chain has four transactions. On this basis the effects of condition-related problems could be felt by over half of all transactions.

    These factors indicate that for a high proportion of sellers the omission of a home condition report from the seller's pack could result in net additional costs rather than savings.

A regulatory impact assessment was lodged in the House Library on introduction of the Homes Bill. This included a table showing illustrative costs under the present and seller's pack system.

Local Government Ethical Standards

Lord Peston asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress has been made in implementing the new ethical framework for local government established under the Local Government Act 2000.[HL644]

Lord Whitty: We have today appointed Tony Holland as the Chair of the new independent Standards Board for England.

We will tomorrow publish a consultation paper on the model code of conduct for members and a response to last year's consultation exercise on the general principles of conduct.

Copies of both documents will be placed in the Libraries of the House.

Redundancy Payments: Company Obligations

Lord Lipsey asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, as is alleged to have happened in the recent case of Express Digital Media, a company can avoid its contractual and statutory obligations to make redundancy payments by selling itself to another company.[HL509]

The Minister for Science, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): A company cannot avoid its contractual and statutory obligations to make redundancy payments to former employees by virtue of having been sold to another company.

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Employees' contractual and statutory entitlements are unaffected when a business is sold through a share transfer, as the identities and rights and obligations of the parties to the contract are unchanged. However, in the event of termination of employees' contracts by reason of an employer's insolvency, certain statutory entitlements may be paid from the National Insurance Fund.

Criminal Justice System: Annual Report

Lord Rea asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they intend to publish the Criminal Justice System annual report.[HL642]

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My right honourable friend the Home Secretary, my noble and learned friend the Attorney General and I have today published jointly an annual report for the criminal justice system in England and Wales for 1999-2000.

The Annual Report is a formal report back on the first Criminal Justice System Strategic and Business Plan, which was published in March 1999.

Copies of the report have been placed in the Library.

Overseas Territories: European Convention on Human Rights

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

    Further to the Written Answer by Baroness Scotland of Asthal on 16 January (WA 125), when they will be in a position to extend to the self-governing Overseas Territories Protocol 6 to the European Covention on Human Rights concerning the abolition of the death penalty.[HL526]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): The Government expect to be in a position to extend the Sixth Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights to the Overseas Territories when capital punishment has been abolished in Gibraltar for piracy and in the Turks and Caicos Islands for treason and piracy. The Government are pursuing this question with the authorities of those territories with a view to reaching conclusions as soon as possible.

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