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Written Statements

Wednesday 12 December 2007

Automatic Teller Machine Charges

Lord Davies of Oldham: My honourable friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Kitty Ussher) has made the following Written Statement.

Following the March 2005 Treasury Committee report on ATM (automatic teller machine) charging, the Treasury invited the chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, the right honourable John McFall, to chair a working group on ATMs to take forward work on key issues. The working group, which included banks, independent ATM operators and consumer groups, published its report on 13 December 2006.

The working group announced an agreement to provide around 600 new free cash machines across 1,707 target low-income areas that it identified as lacking convenient access to these machines. To achieve this, a market-based financial incentive—known as a “financial inclusion premium”—was introduced, to encourage ATM operators to place or retain free ATMs in deprived areas with a low expected volume of transactions. The working group also agreed to implement improved transparency rules for charging cash machines.

The Government are pleased to report that, almost a year on from the publication of the working group’s report, the industry has made excellent progress towards its goals of placing around 600 non-charging machines in low-income areas across the UK, with more than 2 million individuals on low incomes standing to benefit.

As of 23 November 2007, sites for 543 of the 600 new ATMs required have been identified. Of these, 337 new free machines are already in use, with 63 per cent of these ATMs based in deprived areas and receiving the “financial inclusion premium”. Encouragingly, five of these new cash machines have proved so popular that their level of withdrawals means that they have now graduated from the “financial inclusion premium” scheme.

Banks, building societies and independent ATM operators have all contributed new free-to-use cash machines; independent ATM operators have provided or are in the process of supplying around 40 per cent of the confirmed new non-charging ATMs. The UK ATM network, LINK, is continuing to work with its member banks and ATM operators to identify suitable sites in the remaining target areas, and is engaging closely in this exercise with Members of Parliament, local authorities, consumer councils and landlords.

The benefits in terms of financial inclusion are clear. Data from LINK suggest that the new ATMs currently in operation or under contract will enable 1,190,474 residents in the target low-income areas to access cash more conveniently and manage their money more effectively.

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In terms of improved transparency, all operators of cash machines that charge users for withdrawals have met the end-June 2007 deadline to improve the on-screen standards of “at a glance” signage. This means that it is clear to a consumer when a charge is applied when withdrawing cash. Good progress is also being made by operators to enhance external signage by end-December 2007.

The Government are encouraged by the substantial progress achieved, and would like to take this opportunity to thank all of those involved in extending free access to cash to those who need it most.

Full details about progress made is available on the LINK internet website at _to_cash_progress/index.html.

Bereavement Damages

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Bridget Prentice) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

In their consultation paper on the law on damages which was published on 4 May 2007, the Government announced their intention to increase the level of bereavement damages awarded under Section 1A of the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 every three years for inflation in line with the retail prices index, rounded to the nearest £100, and that the first such increase would be made later in the year. Bereavement damages were last increased from £7,500 to £10,000 on 1 April 2002.

To give effect to this, my right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice has laid before Parliament an order increasing the level of bereavement damages awarded under Section 1A of the Fatal Accidents Act from £10,000 to £11,800. An order has also been laid under Article 3A(5) of the Fatal Accidents (Northern Ireland) Order 1977 to make the same increase in the level of the award in Northern Ireland. The orders will take effect from 1 January 2008, and the increased level of the award will apply to all causes of action which accrue on or after that date.

Community Sector: Grassroots Grants

Lord Davies of Oldham: My honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary at the Cabinet Office (Phil Hope) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Community Development Foundation will be the lead national partner for Grassroots Grants, the Government's programme to help develop and sustain the grant funding available to small community organisations in England.

The final report of the review of The Future Role of the Third Sector in Social and Economic Regeneration (Cm 7189) announced that, in addition to the £80 million we will be making available for small grants to the community sector over the CSR period,

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we would also make £50 million available in capital grants to local independent foundations to invest in endowment funds. These capital grants will generate income to support front-line organisations in the future and lever in additional money from the private sector on a matched basis. The allocation of £130 million underlines the high importance which the Government attach to this strategy.

This combined programme will be called Grassroots Grants. It will be targeted at improving the grant funding available to the smallest community organisations which play a vital role in building strong and active communities. It will be delivered locally by independent local funders with good knowledge of their local communities and the ability to reach out and engage both small community organisations and donors.

The Community Development Foundation, as lead national partner, will be responsible for running a selection process to identify and appoint the local funders. It will also manage the programme once the local funders have been appointed. CDF has considerable understanding of the community sector in England and experience of managing grant programmes. The appointment is being made under a framework agreement for the provision of grant administration services which the Government have with CDF and other service providers.

CDF will open the application process to select local funders in January and applications will be invited by April. Appointments of local funders will be made in June. Full details of the application process and the programme will be announced in January.

Crime: Offensive Weapons

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Crime Reduction (Vernon Coaker) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Home Office has today published a summary of responses to the consultation paper, Banning Offensive Weapons, which sought views on further measures to restrict the supply of weapons which are being used in violent crime.

The Government's primary concern is public safety and Ministers have concluded from the consultation that banning the sale, hire and import of samurai swords is necessary to better protect local communities, and will make an important contribution to our wider strategy to tackle violent crime.

The Government will now proceed with seeking to add samurai swords to the Criminal Justice Act (Offensive Weapons) Order 1988 through the appropriate parliamentary procedures.

In reaching a conclusion to proceed with banning these weapons we have taken into account both responses to the consultation paper and the views expressed in a larger amount of correspondence which we have received since we first raised the possibility of amending the offensive weapons order. We will seek to protect the legitimate use of samurai swords by certain groups through enforceable exemptions and defences.

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Copies of the consultation document are available in the House Library and on the Home Office website at

EU: General Affairs and External Relations Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for International Development (Baroness Vadera): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Gareth Thomas) has made the following Statement.

I represented the UK for the session on economic partnership agreements (EPAs) at the General Affairs and External Relations Council in Brussels on 10 December 2007. The Foreign Secretary attended all other sessions for the UK.

Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson and Development Commissioner Louis Michel represented the European Commission and gave an update on negotiations and proposed that the council approve Regulation 2007 0205/ACC. The Commission confirmed that to date 17 countries had signed a goods-only economic partnership agreement and reported that there is a good possibility that Ghana, Cameroon, Gabon, Namibia and the Caribbean will sign agreements in the coming week. The Commission believed that the recent progress was due to its flexibility and generosity and the approaching external deadline of 31 December 2006 when the Cotonou agreement, which governs current trade relations between the ACP and EU, will expire.

Our objective at the council was to continue to maximise the development benefits of EPAs, in particular to protect the duty- and quota-free access from 1 January and the liberalised rules of origin offer from amendment, while also ensuring that no ACP country has worse market access from 1 January. The UK made the first intervention and called on the council and Commission to ensure that poor countries do not face tariff increases as of 1 January 2007. The UK also urged negotiations to continue over the coming days and for further discussions to take place at a council meeting next week. We also welcomed President Barroso’s recent commitment to review progress on EPAs in the new year and the Commission’s unwillingness to adversely amend the duty-free and quota-free access and rules of origin offers.

This stance was supported by the Netherlands which also argued for a debate at future councils before the end of the year. Ireland took a similar view. However, a series of other member states noted their support for immediate approval of the regulation as of 10 December. The presidency concluded therefore that the council adopted the regulation on EPAs, which formalises the market access offer of 100 per cent duty-free and quota-free market access to the EU with improved rules of origin for African, Caribbean and Pacific countries that have signed WTO-compatible agreements.

The UK, along with the Netherlands, Denmark and Ireland, therefore made a declaration setting out our continued concern for non-LDCs which have not yet initialled an agreement and urged the Commission

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to show maximum flexibility over the coming days in order to secure agreement with the remaining non-LDCs in particular.

The Commission stated it would continue negotiations with other countries and that those ACP countries which sign agreements before the end of 2007 would also benefit from this improved access to the EU from 1 January. The Commission will report back to the General Affairs and External Relations Council in January 2008.


The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Maria Eagle) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today announcing the next stage in the review of the law of homicide.

In July 2005, the Law Commission was asked by the Government to review the law of murder in England and Wales. In December 2006, it published its report, Murder, Manslaughter and Infanticide, with wide-ranging recommendations for changes to the law. That report was intended as the first stage in the review of the law, with the Government undertaking the second stage.

It is that second stage which begins today. The Government have considered the Law Commission’s recommendations carefully and have decided to proceed on a step-by-step basis, looking first at the recommendations for:

reformed partial defences to murder of diminished responsibility and provocation (including the use of excessive force in self-defence);reformed offences of complicity in relation to homicide; and improved procedures for dealing with infanticide.

The Government believe it is right to deal with these crucial elements of the existing law before moving on to consider the wider structural proposals from the Law Commission.

We want the review to be open and transparent. Over the next few months we will be talking to key stakeholders, both inside and outside the criminal justice system, to seek their views on the Law Commission’s recommendations in these areas. We will publish draft clauses for consultation next summer prior to introducing any necessary legislation.

Housing: Affordable Homes

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

This Government are strongly committed to ensuring that social housing meets the needs of all tenants. The John Hills review found that while investment in social housing had delivered real improvements, tenants living in social housing still faced significant social and

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economic challenges. As part of the work to improve social housing, we are setting out a series of further steps in five key areas. These are part of an ongoing programme of work to improve social housing to make it fairer, more effective, and more personal.

Increasing supply and investment in bricks and mortar

Our first priority, as set out in the Green Paper, is to increase the supply of housing. By 2010, we will be building 70,000 social homes a year. To increase the supply of social housing over the next three years, we are today confirming allocations totalling £8.4 billion to be shared across the regions. We will be allocating £8.4 billion across the regions over the next three years. Every single region is getting at least a 5 per cent increase every year over the next three years—with areas of greatest need receiving far more than that. The Housing Corporation and, later, the Homes and Communities Agency will be tasked with spending this money most effectively.

We will also be investing £2.4 billion in the ALMO programme over the next three years. We expect that this will bring a further 150,000 homes up to standard. A further four ALMOs are joining the programme today, from Charnwood, North East Derbyshire, Stevenage and Redbridge. A further £200 million will support ALMOs already on the programme which have yet to pass their inspections. We are continuing to assess the remaining round 6 funding bids and will allocate further programme places to ALMOs as individual funding allocations are finalised.

We will also be writing to all stock-owning authorities announcing the 2008 housing transfer programme. This will enable local authorities and their tenants, if they wish, the opportunity to transfer ownership of their stock to a housing association to bring in private sector funding needed for further improvements in housing, to build on the decent homes investment that has taken place, and for estate transformation schemes.

Finally, almost £2 billion from the regional housing pot will fund improvements to local authority-owned and private sector stock.

Modernising institutional structures

The Housing and Regeneration Bill is creating a new regulatory framework, responding directly to Martin Cave’s recommendation that tenants should have a greater say over where they live and how their homes are managed.

This new framework will reward performance and innovation, giving greater freedom to good housing associations. The new regulator will have a range of powers to intervene where tenants’ needs are not being met.

Initially, the regulator will only have the power to regulate registered social landlords. But in response to demand across the sector, we are committed to extending this new framework to local authorities as rapidly as possible. So I have asked Professor Ian Cole of Sheffield University to work with all key stakeholders in establishing the detail of how this will work in practice, and align with the new performance framework for local government.

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We will also be conducting a review of the housing revenue account subsidy (HRAS) system. I have provided a separate Written Statement to the House on this review.

Improving housing services, mobility and choice

We know that the most successful local authorities offer their tenants not only a housing service, but housing options—a service which is more responsive to individual need and to changes in individual circumstances. We also know that the system is not meeting the needs of too many groups at the moment—often due to a lack of mobility in the system. So I am setting out a package of measures to promote greater mobility for social housing tenants.

We will be investing £1.8 million which will deliver 18 new choice-based lettings schemes offering people the chance to move across different local authorities. A further £2 million investment in the next two years will enable all local authorities to be part of such a scheme by 2010.

We know that a major consequence of this lack of mobility is overcrowding—a problem which blights the lives of thousands of families. As set out in the Children’s Plan yesterday, we are committed to updating the standard by which we assess overcrowding. And we are today publishing an action plan to achieve that ambition, which has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. Initial funding of £15 million will tackle severe overcrowding across 38 pathfinders, including all London boroughs and five other hot spots—Birmingham, Bradford, Leicester, Liverpool and Manchester. We estimate that these local authorities cover more than half of overcrowded households in the country. This work will help identify costs and the time needed before we roll this approach out across the country.

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