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Baroness Noakes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the regulations. The Minister is new to our proceedings today, but it is the fourth item of different business for the noble Lord, Lord Newby, and I; she must forgive us if we sparkle less than usual.
I am very pleased that we do not have the same rules in this House as in the other place. When the Minister in the other place went to deal with the order in the Standing Committee, she was deemed to be a non-person for some reason peculiar to the rules of that House. She
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was allowed to speak but all formal business was introduced by her Whip. As we know, the Minister could never be a non-person in your Lordships' House.
The regulations are sensible. We note in particular that the Council on Tribunals and the Social Security Advisory Committee have indicated that they are content with them and they seem to us to be entirely on the right lines.
I have one small question for the Minister. A regulatory impact assessment has not been produced because there is no impact on business. But it is noted in the context of both the orders that more appeals are likely to be made and to be successful. What estimate have the Government made of the additional cost which would arise from the orders? I have not seen that calculated anywhere.
Lord Newby: My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for introducing these orders so briefly. The practice in this House of reading out long speeches to an audience of two or three, when they have already been made in another place and we have read them, is one which the Minister has very wisely avoided in this case. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said that she was sparkling less brightly than normal, but I have stopped sparkling altogether this afternoon. I agree with her that the regulations are entirely benign, and we therefore support them.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I can give the noble Baroness the stats for appeals not proceeding to hearing and reinstatement. Normally, there are something like 10,000 withdrawals, 35,000 strike-outs and 9,000 reinstatements. What I do not have before me, which I would have to check, is whether we have any expectation or forecasts of additional costs. The reason why we have not is that by far the biggest array of benefit claimssomething like two-thirds of themrelate to disability benefits, which are not affected by these measures. That figure results from the difficulties with a subjective judgment with regard to DLA.
We expect the number of appeals based on defective information to be very rare indeed, because the obvious thing to do is to put it right, if the claimant wished to pursue his appeal, having remembered that he had forgotten to notify the authorities that he had a bit of capital or some extra overtime money that might affect his entitlement to housing benefit. So we do not expect the costs to be very great.
I cannot answer the one question that the noble Baroness asked me, but that is partly because we are geared up for being able to handle the work fairly effectively. What happens now, basically, is that most of the appeals that are struck out follow effectively an abandonment, when we do not expect people to pursue the matter. They may have changed address or decided it is not worth it, for example. We expect very little extra business; what we are doing is clarifying the legal and statutory basis of the appeal system, rather than expecting a large swathe of new appeals.
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The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Gould of Potternewton): My Lords, I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Act:
House adjourned at twenty-three minutes past five o'clock.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): Members will wish to be aware of the publication on 16 December of the second annual report by the Government of the United Kingdom's contribution to the global partnership against the spread of weapons and materials of mass destruction. The second report details the progress made in the past 12 months in destroying and securing the former Soviet Union's legacies of WMD and associated materials and infrastructure.
The UK pledged 750 million dollars to the Global Partnership at the Kananaskis G8 Summit in 2002. Since then the FCO, DTI, and MoD in close co-operation with the Russian Federation, other countries of the former Soviet Union, central and eastern Europe and other funding partners, have developed a wide portfolio of programmes and made considerable progress on implementing projects on the ground which help to tackle these issues. In 2005, the UK in its capacity as G8 president intends to take forward the work of the global partnership under the theme of "Pledges to Progress", focusing on effective project implementation.
The international community faces immense challenges in tackling the legacy of cold war weapons of mass destruction left in the former Soviet Union. The cold war WMD programmes in the FSU have created a significant non-proliferation and environmental threat to us all. This work represents the UK's largest non-proliferation programme and, as the report indicates, we have made significant progress over the last 12 months in collaboration both with other donor nations and our partners in the FSU.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: As part of the Spending Review 2004, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Jack Straw) agreed with my right honourable friend the Chief Secretary (Mr Paul Boateng), to undertake a review of the effectiveness of our public diplomacy work. Lord Carter of Coles has agreed to lead this review.He will be supported by a small team based within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and an advisory panel of experts. The review is due to start
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immediately and Lord Carter of Coles will report his findings by summer 2005. The terms of reference are as follows:
The review team will undertake a short consultation exercise. If noble Lords would like to feed in comments they should send them to the public diplomacy review team, Room WH552, FCO, King Charles Street, London SW1A 2AH.
The Government set out their programme for the reform of the planning system in England in Sustainable Communities: Delivering through Planning (July 2002). The principle aims of reform are to produce a faster, fairer system that allows for greater public involvement. The legislative changes required, including those for the reform the development plan system, were enacted in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.
This is against a background of a continued rise in planning applications submitted to local authorities as a result of economic growth. As the number of planning applications has increased, so has the number of planning appeals submitted to the Planning Inspectorateindeed, the percentage rise in the number of appeals received is greater than the corresponding percentage increase in applications (because refusal rates are also rising). The number of appeals received by the Planning Inspectorate has increased by over 50 per cent in the past three years. This increase coupled with the doubling of the number of inspectors required to carry out inquiries into local plans this year has resulted in a deterioration in the Planning Inspectorate's overall performance in the amount of time taken to determine planning appeals.
To restore performance, I have made available an extra £l million this year to fund taking on additional inspectors and providing them with the support they need. I am looking carefully at resource needs next year and will provide extra resources if necessary. The
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inspectorate has formed a task force dedicated to clearing the backlog of appeals and is looking to see significant progress by next spring.
I want sustained improvement. The inspectorate is committed to boosting productivity and delivering a more effective service to its customers. In order to achieve this, the inspectorate has set up an independently chaired Productivity Board. The inspectorate is also restructuring itself to give greater focus to operational delivery and improved services to its customers. The restructuring of the inspectorate is expected to be completed in March 2005.
I also intend to extend the period for submitting planning appeals from three to six months, which will have the effect of reversing the change which was introduced in September last year. When these changes were introduced, it was anticipated that the reduction in the appeal period would give greater certainty to all parties as to whether or not an appeal was to be lodged. However, there has been widespread criticism that the period of three months is insufficient for negotiations between the prospective appellant and the LPA. There is a strong perception that the reduction in the appeal period has led to applicants submitting appeals without first making any attempt to negotiate an amended application with the LPA and that this may have contributed to the rise in appeal numbers. There is a strong lobby from the planning community and from developers alike that the period in which to appeal should be restored to six months in order to allow longer to negotiate following a refusal. I am persuaded by these arguments. The change will require an amendment to the Town and Country Planning (General Development Procedure) Order 1995 to reverse the effect of the Town and Country Planning (General Development Procedure) (England) (Amendment) Order 2003 (SI 2003/2047). I propose to lay the necessary order before the Christmas Recess. It will come into effect from mid-January.
Given the current pressures on the Planning Inspectorate, I intend to delay the introduction of dual jurisdiction. The powers for this are contained in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act and will apply where an applicant appeals to the Secretary of State on the grounds that the LPA has not determined a planning application within the prescribed eight-week period. Under dual jurisdiction the LPA will have an additional period of time to issue its decision, even though an appeal has been lodged. While it is anticipated that this initiative will eventually lead to a reduction in the appeal workload, the time is not right to make this change with the present backlog of appeals.
I am also taking the opportunity to extend the statutory period for local authorities to determine major applications from eight to 13 weeks. The present arrangements allow for parties to appeal after eight weeks where the LPA has not issued a decision. This conflicts with the period of 13 weeks which is given under best value targets to determine major applications. This
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change will bring greater clarity to the appeal system and give LPAs significantly longer to determine major applications. This should also help to reduce the number of appeals against major applications.
This package of measures will assist in tackling the backlog of appeals in the Planning Inspectorate and demonstrates the Government's commitment to providing a speedier, more responsive planning system which will support the right development in the right place and contribute to sustainable communities.
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