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13 May 2009 : Column WS89

13 May 2009 : Column WS89

Written Statements

Wednesday 13 May 2009



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

Today my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is launching a consultation on the new code of practice for alcohol retailers that will ensure the responsible sale and supply of alcohol in order to tackle alcohol-related crime, disorder and nuisance. The code will consist of a series of mandatory and discretionary local conditions under the Licensing Act and requirements under the Food Safety Act, with statutory guidance to underpin its implementation. We are currently taking enabling powers for this code through the Policing and Crime Bill.

The consultation will run from today until 5August 2009. We want to hear views, experiences and evidence from members of the public, those who retail alcohol and represent the industry, licensing authorities and the police who have to enforce licensing policy, and health agencies which have to deal with the impact of alcohol-related harm.

The Home Secretary will report back later this year with the findings of this consultation and will then, at a later date, lay the secondary legislation to bring the code into force.

Copies of the consultation will be placed in the Vote Office and the House Library.

Armed Forces: Aircraft


The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My right honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Bob Ainsworth) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am able to inform the House today of the outcome of the Royal Air Force study that has been undertaken to consider the future basing requirements of the Joint Aircraft Recovery and Transportation Squadron (JARTS) units as part of our continuing commitment to ensuring that the best use is made of the defence estate.

The primary role of JARTS is to manage the recovery and transportation of both military and, in some instances, civilian aircraft. Currently, there is a team based at Vector Aerospace Fleetlands, in Gosport, which deals with helicopter recovery and transportation; and a team at MoD St Athan which deals with fixed wing aircraft. The study was undertaken to consider options to collocate the rotary and fixed wing elements, to identify the best value for money and most affordable basing options to meet the operational and training requirements of JARTS.

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Based on the recommendations of this work, I have decided that the rotary wing element, currently located at Vector Aerospace Fleetlands, and fixed wing element, currently located at MoD St Athan, will collocate at MoD Boscombe Down subject to trade union consultation. Not only does this option represent the best value for money and generate savings which cannot be achieved through the current dislocated nature of the organisation, it also offers operational benefits through simplified command and control processes and increased operational flexibility. Subject to the necessary infrastructure being in place, the collocation is due to be complete by late 2010. Service and civilian personnel will be briefed on the progress of the move.

Bail Accommodation and Support Service


The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My right honourable friend the Minister of State (David Hanson) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today announcing that the Government intend to re-tender the contract for the Bail Accommodation and Support Service.

The primary aim of the Bail Accommodation and Support Service is to provide accommodation and support services to enable the courts and prison governors to make greater use of conditional bail and early release on home detention curfew, in appropriate cases. The scheme allows defendants without an appropriate address, who would otherwise have been granted bail by the courts, to be bailed. It helps to ensure that prison is reserved for people who really need to be there, not people who the courts judge to be suitable for bail or who prison governors judge may be placed on home detention curfew.

The core requirement of the current BASS contract is to make suitable accommodation available at relatively short notice; to seek to ensure that service users comply with the conditions of their orders or licences; and, where necessary, to be able to deliver access to a range of accommodation and life skills support services.

The current contract commenced on 18 June 2007 for an initial period of three years:

to date over 3,300 people have been placed in the service; andon a daily basis there are over 400 service users managed within the scheme.

I welcome views on how we can further strengthen this service to improve compliance with orders and licences and reduce reoffending.

Building Regulations


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

I have today laid before the House regulations that amend Part G of the building regulations addressing sanitation, hot water safety and water efficiency.

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These amendments follow a wide reaching review of Part G of the building regulations and consultation on the detailed proposals in May last year and in the earlier consultation in December 2006 on the water efficiency for new buildings element.

The main changes are:

delivering on the commitment we made in July 2007 to introduce into the building regulations for the first time a water efficiency standard of 125 litres per person per day for new homes;introducing a requirement that baths in new homes are fitted with protective measures, such as a thermostatic mixing valve, to limit the temperature of the hot water, thereby helping to reduce the number of scalding injuries there are each year;introducing amendments to the existing provisions on hot water systems so that they apply to all such systems. The legislation and guidance also introduces additional controls to ensure hot water systems are able to resist the effects of temperature and pressure during normal operation and in the event of malfunction and are adequately supported; andamending the existing requirements on the provision of cold water to specify the delivery of wholesome water to key appliances and to clarify where grey water and harvested rainwater can be safely used.

Copies of the approved document have been placed in the House Library. This document will shortly be notified to the European Commission under the European standards directive and therefore remains in draft form until we have formal clearance.

In addition, we are also today publishing the Water Efficiency Calculator for New Dwellings that will be used to estimate water usage for the purposes of both Part G of the building regulations and for the Code for Sustainable Homes. I have also placed copies of this document in the House Library.

The department will also shortly be inviting bodies to apply for authorisation of competent person schemes to support the amended Part G and the new requirements on water efficiency. It is hoped that any such schemes would be authorised to begin operation on 1 October 2009 to coincide with the coming into effect of these regulations.

Council Tax


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

On 26 March I made a Statement to the House on council tax capping. In this, I set out the action that the Government proposed to take, under the Local Government Finance Act 1992, against two police authorities which had set excessive budget requirement and council tax increases in 2009-10 according to the principles that I announced (Official Report, cols. 464-65). These were the police authorities of Derbyshire and Surrey. Both authorities were designated and the

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Government proposed maximum 2009-10 budget requirements for each authority.

Both authorities exercised their right to challenge these proposed maximum budget requirements and made written submissions in support of their cases. In addition, I and the Policing Minister together met delegations from each authority to hear the cases in person.

I can now announce how my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government intends to proceed, having carefully considered these representations, and having taken into account all relevant information. In putting forward their challenges, neither authority has, in the Secretary of State’s view, presented strong arguments as to why an excessive increase was necessary, or demonstrated that the pressures identified acted disproportionately upon them to any significant extent compared to other authorities. We intend therefore to take action in both cases.

After careful consideration, the Secretary of State has decided to take the following action.

First, we will proceed with the designation of Surrey Police Authority in 2009-10 at the level of the original budget requirement cap (£197,206,000); and Secondly, we will cancel the designation of Derbyshire Police Authority and nominate it instead with a proposed notional budget requirement at the level of the original budget requirement cap (£163,511,000).

In the case of Surrey Police Authority, the House will recall that last year the authority was set a notional budget requirement in 2008-09 instead of being designated for in-year capping in that year. This allowed the authority to keep all its excessive increase in 2008-09, avoided the need for it to re-bill and gave it an opportunity to avoid setting an excessive increase in the current financial year, 2009-10. Surrey Police Authority has failed to take that opportunity. I am particularly mindful that I provided an assurance to the House during the capping debate on 9 July 2008 that the residents of all the authorities which were set notional budget requirements last year, including those in Surrey, would be protected against excessive increases in 2009-10. I consider that the Government must take meaningful action which makes good that commitment.

The approach we have taken in nominating Derbyshire Police Authority and setting a notional budget requirement is equivalent to the action we took against Surrey Police Authority in 2008-09. It is intended to limit the authority’s scope for setting excessive increases in subsequent years. This will be achieved by measuring future budget requirement increases for capping purposes against its 2009-10 notional budget requirement. From the actions we have taken this year, the authority should be in no doubt that the Government will take firm action, should we need to do so next year, to ensure that council tax payers are provided with adequate protection.

My officials are writing to both authorities today to inform them of these decisions. Subject to approval of an order which we intend to lay before the House following the local and European elections in June,

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Surrey Police Authority will need to re-bill its residents for a lower level of council tax. Derbyshire Police Authority, having been nominated in 2009-10 and set a notional budget requirement, has 21 days from receipt of the notification in which to challenge its proposed notional budget requirement.

Ideally the Government would not be taking capping action, but the Government consistently made clear that we would act to protect council tax payers from excessive increases. This is what we have done. I am nevertheless conscious of the fact that local government generally has done a great deal to ensure that it does not place unnecessary pressures on its council tax payers. More than 99 per cent of authorities did not set excessive increases—and the average band D council tax increase in England for 2009-10 is 3 per cent. The average household council tax bill is almost £240 lower than the average band D amount, and will increase by just 2.6 per cent—the lowest such increase since council tax was introduced in 1993.

There is no excuse for excessive increases in council tax and authorities should remain in no doubt that the Government will not hesitate to use their capping powers to deal with excessive increases in future years, including requiring authorities to re-bill residents if this proves necessary.

Disabled People: UN Convention


The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Jonathan Shaw) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am pleased to announce that the Government are taking the final steps towards ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and we aim to deposit our instrument of ratification with the United Nations on Monday 8 June. I will make a further announcement when this has been done.

The Government have given very careful consideration to the views that have been expressed in response to the Explanatory Memorandum which we laid before Parliament on 3 March setting out the basis on which we propose to ratify, including those of the Joint Committee on Human Rights in its report of 17 April. It remains our view that the handful of reservations and the interpretative declaration are required and we will now proceed to ratification on that basis.

With regard to education, an interpretative declaration will be entered to make clear that the UK general education system includes both mainstream and special schools, thereby clarifying how the UK Government interpret the convention. A reservation will be entered to allow for circumstances where disabled children’s needs may be best met through specialist provision, which may be some way from their home, and which means that they will need to be educated outside their local community. This also maintains parental choice

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for schools outside the local community. The purpose of the interpretative declaration and reservation is to maintain the present policy and legislative position in respect of inclusive education.

On freedom of movement, a general reservation will be entered in order to retain the right to apply Immigration Rules and to retain the right to introduce wider health screening for applicants entering or seeking to remain in the UK, particularly in the event of a global health emergency, if this is considered necessary to protect public health.

A reservation will be entered in respect of service in the Armed Forces to preserve the position already reflected in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 as amended (DDA). Service in the Armed Forces is exempt from the employment provisions of the DDA. This approach is entirely consistent with EU Council directive 2000/78/EC establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation. Service in any of the naval, military or air forces of the Crown are excluded from the DDA’s employment provisions to preserve their combat effectiveness. The Government decided to exclude members of the Armed Forces in the DDA because Armed Forces personnel need to be combat effective in order to meet a world-wide liability to deploy, and to ensure that military health and fitness remain matters for Ministry of Defence Ministers based on military advice, not for the courts.

The Explanatory Memorandum of 3 March explained that the UK’s reservation in respect of service in the Armed Forces and a complementary one proposed by the European Commission in respect of its proposals for European Community conclusion (ie, ratification) would be the subject of discussion. Following (and reflecting) discussion with the European Commission, the terms that will be entered are:

“The United Kingdom accepts the provisions of the Convention, subject to the understanding that none of its obligations relating to equal treatment in employment and occupation, shall apply to the admission into or service in any of the naval, military or air forces of the Crown”.

This is a slight change in wording—but the substance and rationale for the reservation have not changed.

A reservation will be entered in respect of Article 12.4, which concerns safeguards for the exercise of substituted decision-making and includes a requirement for regular review by a competent, independent and impartial authority or judicial body. There is currently no review system for Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) appointees—ie, people who are appointed to claim and collect benefits on behalf of another person due to that person’s lack of physical or mental capacity. Those appointee arrangements are not at present subject to the safeguard of regular review, as the Government believe this article requires. The DWP is therefore actively working towards a proportionate system of review to address this issue.

Ratification of the convention is our immediate objective, and represents the end of a detailed process. But equally importantly it marks a beginning, and enables the start of the process of implementing this important convention within the UK.

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Ratification of the convention is further demonstration of our commitment to equality of human rights for disabled people, and our determination to achieve equality by 2025.

Housing: Rented 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 (Margaret Beckett)has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I have today published a consultation paper, The Private Rented Sector: Professionalism and Quality, which forms the government response to the Rugg review of the private rented sector and can also confirm my intention to legislate at the earliest opportunity to improve notice for tenants when landlords are repossessed. These two initiatives together create a major new package of measures to strengthen consumer protections for tenants living in private rented accommodation. Copies have been placed in the Library of the House.

The Government value the private rented sector and recognise that it plays an important role in providing choice and flexibility at all levels across the housing market and so want to improve its quality, by increasing professionalism, driving out bad landlords, and strengthening protections for tenants affected by repossessions. Today’s response builds on the high-level proposals in an independent review of the private rented sector by Julie Rugg and David Rhodes (October 2008).

Our proposals include a national register of landlords for England with a redress procedure for tenants; full regulation for private sector letting agents with an independent regulator to regulate all letting and managing agents; greater local authority support for good landlords and action against poor performing landlords; and encouragement to local authorities to create local lettings agencies.

The proposals also seek to identify ways in which those who regularly engage with the private rented sector can support landlords as they increase in professionalism and seek to improve their stock. This is also a way to attract new landlords and new funding into the sector. The measures we are developing with the Homes and Communities Agency build on this by seeking ways to encourage more institutional investment in private rented homes.

The consultation runs until 7 August 2009.

I am also announcing today my intention to legislate at the earliest opportunity to provide better protection for tenants in repossession cases.

At present, a gap in legal protections means that some tenants could be evicted at short notice if their landlord is repossessed—sometimes with less than two weeks to move their belongings and find somewhere new to live. I propose to extend this notice period to two months. These changes are part of a wider package of support the Government have put in place to support households at risk of repossession in the current economic climate.

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In the mean time, lenders and government are working together to try to mitigate the impact on tenants whose landlords are in arrears including by promoting and sharing good practice between lenders through the Council of Mortgage Lenders. Very often tenants can be adversely affected because the borrower is in breach of the terms of his mortgage. Changes to the rules for informing tenants if their landlord is due to attend a court repossession hearing have already come into effect. We now want to ensure that in these cases where a landlord repossession takes place following the hearing, the tenant gets a two-month notice period.

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