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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence (Philip Hammond) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I am pleased to announce that I have reappointed Ms Judy McKnight CBE as a member of the Armed Forces' Pay Review Body for a second term for three years and six months, commencing September 2012. This reappointment was conducted in accordance with the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments' guidance on reappointments to public bodies.
On 31 July, I gave the Information Commissioner a certificate under Section 53(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 ("the Act"). The certificate relates to the Commissioner's Decision Notice dated 4 July 2012 (FS50417514). It is my view, as the accountable person for the purposes of Section 53 of the Act in this case, that there was no failure by the Cabinet Office to comply with Section 1(1)(b) of the Act by withholding information contained in the minutes of the Cabinet discussions on 13 and 17 March 2003 concerning the military invasion of Iraq.
I was required to reach a decision in this case during the summer recess as a result of the statutory deadlines set out in the Freedom of Information Act. A copy of the certificate was laid before each House of Parliament on 31 July. I am making this Statement to the House at the first available opportunity.
My decision to exercise the veto in this case was taken in accordance with the Act and the published Statement of Government Policy on the use of the executive override as it relates to information falling within the scope of Section 35(1) of the Act. In reaching my decision, I assessed the balance of the public interests in disclosure and non-disclosure of the extracts of the minutes and I considered whether this case met the criteria set out in that policy for determining whether or not this was an exceptional case.
It was my opinion as the "accountable person" in this case, as well as the collective view of the Cabinet, that (1) disclosure of this information would be damaging to the doctrine of collective Cabinet responsibility and detrimental to the effective operation of Cabinet
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This is the fifth time the veto power under Section 53 of the Freedom of Information Act has been exercised since the Act came into force in 2005, although this veto and another recent one (8 February 2012) followed previous vetoes by the last Government in respect of the same information. Since the Act came into force, central Government have released an enormous amount of information in response to FOI requests-including in July and October 2010 when the Government published Cabinet Office papers on the miners' strike and the minutes of the Cabinet discussion of the Westland affair.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Jonathan Djanogly) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
On 27 July, the Government published a consultation paper seeking views on our proposals to digitise the services provided by the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG). This consultation reinforces our commitment to implementing the "digital by default" approach in public services.
The OPG is currently undertaking a programme of reform that is designed to meet two key challenges. First, to reform its systems and processes in order to deal effectively and consistently with ever-increasing demand to register lasting powers of attorney-a trend that is set to continue with the country's ageing demographic. Secondly, to transform the way its services are delivered to the public in order to reduce bureaucracy, making its services to customers simpler, more efficient and more accessible. This will be achieved by making the majority of its services accessible online.Our consultation paper, therefore, seeks views on the following issues:the forms and application process for lasting powers of attorney;the language used to explain legal responsibilities;the role of certificate providers;the process for registering lasting powers of attorney;the role of named persons;how confirmation is given that a lasting power of attorney has been registered; the statutory waiting period for lasting powers of attorney;supervision of deputies;
Copies of the consultation paper are available in the Libraries of both Houses, as well as in the Vote Office and Printed Paper Office. Copies are also available on the internet at: www.justice.gov.uk.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): My right honourable friend the Minister for Employment (Chris Grayling) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The European Commission has presented a package of four draft Council Decisions amending the provisions for the co-ordination of social security systems with Albania, Montenegro, San Marino and Turkey. The content of the proposals relating to the first three countries is similar and is based on an earlier 2010 package of amendments to the agreements with the six countries of Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Israel. As with the 2010 package, the proposals are based on Article 79(2)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU), which enables the UK to decide whether to opt-in to such proposals. In line with our approach to the 2010 package, the Government have decided not to opt in to the proposals with Albania, Montenegro and San Marino.
The Government are committed to the free movement of workers within the European Union, and also to protecting the sustainability and affordability of our welfare systems. As such, the Government maintain the position that they do not wish to extend social security rights to third country nationals.
The proposal to amend the Association Agreement with Turkey is based on Article 48 TFEU, which governs social security co-ordination for migrant workers within the EU and which is subject to qualified majority voting. The UK has consistently contested proposals with an Article 48 legal base in relation to third countries agreements, maintaining that the correct legal base for such proposals is Article 79(2)(b) TFEU which allows the EU to adopt measures concerning the free movement rights of third country nationals.
The Turkey draft Decision follows on from similar measures based on Article 48 to amend social security provisions in the EU agreements with the EEA and Switzerland. Then, as now, we took the view that these proposals would have the effect of extending social security co-ordination rights to people moving between the EU and a third country and that the Article 48 legal base was inappropriate as it related only to free movement within the EU.
The UK is currently seeking to annul in the Court of Justice of the EU the Council Decisions based on Article 48 in the EEA and Switzerland cases. A ruling is not expected until late in 2013. In the mean time, the Government intend to maintain a consistent approach to the proposals on Turkey, in line with the action taken in the EEA and Switzerland cases. We will continue to press for the correct Title V legal base to be applied to the Turkey proposals, and should the draft Council Decision on Turkey be adopted on the basis of a qualified majority before the Court has ruled on the EEA and Switzerland cases, we will take appropriate action including a further legal challenge if appropriate.
The Government believe that a consistent approach is necessary in order to underline an important point of principle concerning the interpretation of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and to affirm the Government's commitment to protect our rights under the Treaty.
The Senior Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi): My right honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alistair Burt) has made the following ministerial Statement.
The conference followed six years of work in the UN to secure a legally binding treaty to regulate the international trade in conventional arms. The illegal, or poorly regulated, trade in conventional arms costs lives and blights futures. More than 740,000 men, women and children die each year as a result of armed violence.
The UK delegation was led by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and comprised representatives from the Ministry of Defence, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Department for International Development and a representative from the UK defence industry. The Minister of State, Department for International Development and I also travelled to New York during the negotiations to help sustain the momentum of the process. The UK delegation played a leading role in the negotiations, co-ordinating closely with civil society, and supported by Ministers and officials from across Whitehall and by the UK's extensive network of international posts. I pay tribute to all the individuals involved.
Four weeks of difficult and complex negotiations led to a robust and balanced treaty text which the United Kingdom and the vast majority of other states
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This is not an end to the arms trade treaty process. We are absolutely committed to securing a robust and effective treaty, and will continue to devote significant diplomatic efforts to this goal. We will continue our work on the basis of the draft treaty considered at the conference. The UN General Assembly will be the next opportunity for us to address the issue among the whole UN membership. While there is still work to be done, we remain optimistic that a meaningful and coherent ATT that will make a positive difference to millions of lives is in reach, and our goal will be its agreement during the next UN General Assembly session in 2012-13.
International connectivity is vital to support economic growth. This Government have made clear that their priority is returning this country to sustainable economic growth and our aviation networks and infrastructure have an important role to play.
The UK is an island nation dependent upon its transport links to the rest of the world for its prosperity. The aviation industry in the UK is extremely successful. It is a significant economic sector employing 220,000 directly and supporting many more indirectly and it contributes more than £16 billion of economic output. 35% of UK non-EU trade by value enters or leaves the country by aeroplane. Importantly the industry also provides this country with the global connections which our businesses need to sell their products abroad and which inward investors to the UK demand.
The Government recognise the importance of aviation to the UK. It is taking forward the Civil Aviation Bill to reform the economic regulation of airports to further the interests of passengers and create a better environment for investment. It is implementing the recommendations of the South East Airports Taskforce, including a trial of operational freedoms at Heathrow airport to improve reliability and reduce delay. In July the Government published a draft Aviation Policy Framework (APF) for consultation, a framework which will set the high-level policy parameters within which any new proposals for airport development may be considered. The final APF will be adopted by the end of March 2013. Alongside the draft APF the Government announced a number of short-term measures to deliver operational improvements and boost economic growth within existing airport capacity constraints including £500 million
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Today the UK is amongst the best connected countries in the world. Our airports, particularly those in the south-east, deliver direct flights to over 360 destinations, including those of greatest economic importance. London has more flights to more destinations than any other city in Europe, more flights to the important trading centres like New York, Hong Kong, and Singapore. The Government are determined to deliver a solution which will continue to provide that connectivity in the short, medium and longer term.
This is a very difficult debate, but the reality is that since the 1960s Britain has failed to keep pace with our international competitors in addressing long-term aviation capacity and connectivity needs. Germany, France and the Netherlands have all grown their capacity more extensively than the UK over the years, and so are better equipped, now and in the future, to connect with the fast-growing markets of emerging economies. The consequences are clear. Our largest airport and our only hub airport-Heathrow-is already operating at capacity. Gatwick, the world's busiest single-runway airport, will be full early in the next decade, while spare capacity at Stansted airport is forecast to run out in the early 2030s.
The Government believe that maintaining the UK's status as a leading global aviation hub is fundamental to our long-term international competitiveness. But the Government are also mindful of the need to take full account of the social, environmental and other impacts of any expansion in airport capacity.
Successive Governments have sought to develop a credible long-term aviation policy to meet the international connectivity needs of the UK. In each case the policy has failed for want of trust in the process, consensus on the evidence upon which the policy was based and the difficulty of sustaining a challenging long-term policy through a change of Government. The country cannot afford for this failure to continue.
The Government have asked Sir Howard Davies to chair an independent commission tasked with identifying and recommending to the Government options for maintaining this country's status as an international hub for aviation.
The Government intend this independent commission to be part of a process that is fair and open and that takes account of the views of passengers and residents as well as the aviation industry, business, local and devolved government and environmental groups. We would like, if possible, to involve the opposition as part of our work alongside Sir Howard to finalise the arrangements for the commission. I will provide Parliament with further details on the full membership of the commission and the terms of reference for its work shortly.
Ireland completed the sixth quarterly review of its International Monetary Fund and European Union programme of financial assistance on 21 June 2012, following which the utilisation period for the fourth instalment of the UK bilateral loan began.
The Treasury will provide a further report to Parliament in relation to the bilateral loan as required under the Loans to Ireland Act 2010 as soon as is practicable following the next reporting period, which ends on 30 September 2012.
As my written Statement of 11 June outlined, agreement has been reached in principle on a new, lower interest rate on the bilateral loan to Ireland. This is subject to the loan agreement being revised to
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The Government believe that it is in our national interest that the Irish economy is successful and its banking system is stable. The Government continue to support Ireland's efforts to improve its economic situation.
This follows the announcement at Budget 2012 that the Government would introduce legislation in Finance Bill 2012 giving it the power to introduce targeted measures to support investment in brownfields. The Government also committed to engage further with industry on how any such allowance could be structured to unlock investment while protecting Exchequer revenues. This legislation was agreed by the House and was given Royal Assent on 17 July 2012.
This allowance will encourage companies to continue investing in vital North Sea infrastructure, and to get the most out of ageing assets. It comes on top of the ambitious package of measures that the Government have already announced this year to support investment in the UK continental shelf.
The allowance will shield a portion of income in fields with qualifying projects from the 32% supplementary charge rate, and will be available from the accounting period in which incremental production from the qualifying project is expected to start. A qualifying project will be an incremental project increasing expected production from an offshore oil or gas field as described in a revised consent for development which is authorised by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) on or after 7 September 2012, and has verified expected capital costs per tonne of incremental reserves in excess of £60. Where a project forms part of a larger development, all elements of the development must receive authorisation consent on the same day.
The field allowance for a qualifying project will be £50 per tonne of expected incremental reserves for projects with a verified expected capital cost per tonne of incremental reserves of £80 or greater, with a straight-line taper to no allowance at a capital cost of £60 per tonne, and no allowance for projects with capital costs below that level. The maximum allowance for which a single project can qualify will be £500 million for projects in fields paying petroleum revenue tax, and £250 million for other projects (i.e. maximum tax relief of £160 million and £80 million respectively at the current 32% supplementary charge rate).
The Government will keep under review the inclusion of projects involving enhanced oil recovery using carbon dioxide. However, such projects will not initially fall
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The Office for Budget Responsibility will publish the full scorecard costings of this measure over the forecast period at the time of its autumn forecast. Initial estimations are that the change will cost around £100 million a year in the forecast period.
As this is a new type of allowance, the Government will review its effectiveness in 2015 to ensure that the oil and gas fiscal regime continues to be structured in a way that stimulates investment while ensuring a fair return for the taxpayer.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): My right honourable friend theParliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Andrew Stunell) has made the following ministerial Statement.
I regret to inform the House that the answer I gave to parliamentary question 90451 from my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) on 24 January 2012, Official Report, column 135W, could be inadvertently misleading.
The housing health and safety rating system (HHSRS) allows local authorities to assess properties against 29 different hazards, including damp and mould growth. If following an inspection a property is found to contain a serious, "category 1", hazard, we would expect the local authority to take action in relation to the hazard. The assessment for whether damp is a hazard takes into account factors such as the state of repair of the dwelling, the extent of existing dampness and the effect it could have on mould growth, and the consequent potential for harm.
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord De Mauley): My right honourable friend the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice) has made the following ministerial Statement:
During the summer, the UK dairy industry suffered a major crisis caused by price cuts and I would like to update the House on events since then. Original price cuts were withdrawn, whilst processors, producers and retailers held discussions.
On Friday 31 August, industry leaders agreed a code of practice on contractual relationships in the dairy sector. This is a significant step forward. The code of practice is a robust and proactive basis for a more effective system of raw milk contracts that will provide greater certainty and clarity for all parties. It addresses issues of price, volume, timing of deliveries and duration, and it includes effective processes to analyse progress and review the impact of the code.
The Government will continue to work with industry to build on this progress. We will shortly consult on key elements of the European Commission's proposals for the European dairy sector (the EU "Milk Package"). We will seek views on whether it should be compulsory for dairy producers and processors to have a written contract. But at this stage the Government consider that the new code of practice should be given proper time to take effect and deliver change for the benefit of the industry as a whole.
The Government also recognise the value of farmers working together in producer organisations to improve their profitability through efficiency and competitiveness gains as well as increasing their negotiating power. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs recently announced that £5 million-worth of new funding will be made available for farmers to collaborate and to support business-led innovation. We will consult on the arrangements needed to implement dairy producer organisations and work with industry to encourage participation and secure the benefits of effective collaboration.
The UK is one of the largest milk producers in the world. Dairy is the UK's single largest sector of agriculture and its future prospects are positive. There is growing recognition that real changes are needed at all levels of the supply chain to drive greater confidence, innovation and investment and take advantage of the huge opportunities that exist-in domestic markets and abroad. Over the last few weeks, dairy farmers and buyers have faced up to some of the most challenging issues currently facing the UK dairy industry and taken steps to address the problems that are hindering its development.
There are potentially bright prospects for the UK dairy industry. Apart from Ireland, the UK has the best climate for growing grass in Europe and we should be producing more value-added products such as cheese, butter and yoghurt for the domestic dairy market. The UK currently has to import 50% of these products, which indicates that the sector is not yet reaching its full potential.
There are also major export opportunities with emerging markets such as China, whose growing middle classes are crying out for dairy products. Early in 2012 the Government published a food and farming exports action plan to encourage more food and drink companies to venture into overseas markets. This includes supporting and encouraging businesses at home and promoting British food abroad and opening up markets.
Securing a healthy future for the UK dairy industry is a real priority for the Government. We are confident about its longer-term prospects and the agreement of the industry code of practice is a genuine step forward which we support.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr Eric Pickles) has made the following ministerial Statement.
Our high streets are at the centre of our communities, hubs of local businesses and drivers of growth. The coalition Government are determined to support them and create the best possible conditions to allow businesses to thrive and communities to prosper.
On 20 July, my department published proposals to scrap restrictions that deter start-up businesses from using empty high-street shops. Removing these restrictions on a temporary basis for empty buildings would open up premises, which otherwise would make no contribution to the local economy. This will boost high street and local area regeneration helping encourage start-up businesses.
On 25 July, my department announced a further 15 Portas pilot areas, which will be given a share of a £1.5 million fund along with dedicated advice and free support from established businesses to bring their ideas about the development of their high streets to fruition. This takes the total number of Portas pilots to 27.
To ensure that no high street is left behind my department has also announced a £5.5 million package of support for 393 town teams to revitalise their high streets. All town teams from across the country will also be able to bid for a £1 million future high-street X-fund to reward the most effective and creative schemes to encourage people back to the town centres in 2013, and a £0.5 million fund to help access set-up loans for new business improvement districts. Applications opened on 30 August.
On 1 September, my department announced new planning rights that will allow more flats to be created above shops without the need for planning permission. The change further streamlines the planning system, making it easier, quicker and cheaper for people to create new homes in existing underused space. It has the potential to help increase the amount of affordable housing and ensures better use is made of existing developed land. Relaxing planning restrictions on creating flats above shops can also help increase the vitality of town centres by increasing footfall and providing a boost to high-street regeneration.
By promoting enterprise, investing in research, creating jobs and giving people more skills we are sending a powerful signal that Britain is a top choice for inward investment and bringing local growth.
On 24 July, my department announced £3.5 million of government investment for manufacturing innovation for the new High Speed Sustainable Manufacturing
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The creation of a UK-wide coastal communities fund was announced by the Government last year to provide grants to support the economic development of coastal communities and help pay for projects that can transform and diversify seaside economies. On 14 August my department announced six seaside towns in the first round of successful schemes in England that will receive grants of up to £2 million each to use on projects that create local jobs, support coastal tourism and development and boost the inshore fisheries industry.
Many Section 106 agreements negotiated between councils and developers at the height of the housing boom have become unviable, stalling development to the detriment of regeneration and the prosperity of local communities who would benefit.
Stalled sites mean no new homes, no new jobs and no community benefits. On 13 August, my department announced that teams of expert intermediaries will be available to councils and developers, offering free-of-charge advice and support to prevent these agreements acting as a barrier to getting building under way.
In addition, my department launched a consultation that proposes giving developers the option to ask councils to renegotiate Section 106 obligations if they were agreed prior to April 2010. Currently these obligations cannot be renegotiated for five years once a council refuses a request for voluntary renegotiation by a developer. Opening up the renegotiation process further will provide another new opportunity to help get developments back on track, provide affordable housing and bring wider benefits for communities.
On 29 August, alongside the Department for Transport, Kent County Council and Dartford and Gravesham borough councils, my department announced a deal to unlock the development of 22,600 much needed homes in Eastern Quarry over the next 20 years, delivering as many as 60,000 jobs and bringing a brownfield site back into use. Builders could be on site as early as next summer with the first homes set to be completed by December 2013.
The design of an area has a significant and lasting impact on the quality of life for residents. This Government believe it is vital that local people have a say over how their communities look and feel.
On 22 August, my department, along with Sir Terence Conran, British designer and entrepreneur, announced a competition launching in the autumn, to give communities a chance to design their own neighbourhoods. Communities will be invited to submit their designs in front of an expert judging panel.
On 23 August, my department welcomed a report by Sir Adrian Montague recommending measures to boost professional investment in good-quality, privately rented homes to help meet the nation's housing demand.
In April, my department launched a reinvigorated right to buy offering eligible tenants discounts of up to £75,000 off the value of their home, accompanied by a new commitment to build replacement homes on a one-for-one basis. To assist tenants in their right to buy on 23 July, we launched a new website and dedicated call centre to provide more advice, information and support.
This Government are committed to turning around the lives of 120,000 troubled families. On 18 July, we published a report highlighting the real-life accounts of troubled families that underline our approach to tackling the root causes of the problems faced by these families and bring about real and lasting change.
6 August 2012 marked the anniversary of last year's riots. One year on coalition Ministers highlighted the ongoing work to restore communities. Millions of pounds have been made available to councils to quickly help reopen shops and rebuild affected neighbourhoods and we have ensured that the police continue to build positive relationships with those areas.
In February 2012, my department announced a £10 million investment in Youth United-a coalition of the major youth volunteering organisations. Over the next two and a half years over 2,500 volunteers will be recruited to run 400 youth groups in communities across the country. Six months on, my department has noted the quick and enthusiastic take-up and continues to encourage work to support young people who want to have a real stake in the future of their communities.
The expertise and excellence of the nation's voluntary and community sector supporting in the delivery of high-quality local services are valued by the local communities they serve. On 24 July, my department noted their huge contribution and wrote to councils to express gratitude for the positive way the majority are working with the sector and reminded local authorities of the ongoing need to ensure that the sector is not left behind when it comes to funding allocations.
The Olympics brought together communities in celebration and sense of pride and support behind Team Great Britain and indeed all other participants. This continues during the Paralympic Games. Over the recess period my department took an active role in supporting the Games raising the flag outside the department and through ministerial visits and attendance at the games.
On 28 August, my department announced that £1.3 million will be made available from the £8 million tenant empowerment programme, help to give more power to communities over their social homes including through helping tenants learn the skills they need to engage and negotiate confidently with their landlords; forming tenant panels to come together to demand the best value-for-money services; or even to take control of local services themselves if they feel that they could deliver more for less.
On 29 August, my department made available a £10 million fund to help councils ensure their communities are able to finalise neighbourhood plans for homes, businesses and facilities in their local area. Already
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On 22 August, my department published guidance that gives local people practical advice on new ways to get access to less conventional sources of land and green space to grow their own food to take greater control of their local area.
Revoking regional strategies outside of London formed part of the coalition agreement. The Localism Act 2011 provides for the abolition of regional strategies in a two-stage process. The first stage is to remove the regional planning framework and prevent further strategies from being created, and the second stage is to abolish the existing regional strategies by secondary legislation.
The strategic environmental assessment process is set out in an EU directive (directive 2001/42/EC). In March 2012, the European Court of Justice issued a significant ruling on the interpretation and application of the directive (Inter-Environnement Bruxelles ASBL and Others v Government of the Brussels-Capital Region). Following the decision of the European Court of Justice, in the light of planning policy and legislation that have been put in place since January 2012, in the light of the earlier consultation responses, and in order to be meticulous in observing the requirements of the directive, the Government are now updating the environmental reports and undertaking additional consultation.
On 25 July, we published the first of the updated environmental reports for consultation. In the coming weeks my department will publish updated environmental reports relating to the proposals on each of the other regional strategies, so that those proposals too can be the subject of additional consultation. A full Statement is published the House of Lords Official Report, 25 July 2012, column 66 WS.
Tackling the record deficit and ensuring that interest rates are kept down and mortgages are affordable remain top priorities of this Government. On 9 August, latest figures from the Council of Mortgage Lenders show that the number of homes taken into possession in quarter 2 2012 (April to June) had gone down by 11% on the previous quarter to 8,500. This is the lowest figure since the final quarter of 2010.
We have some of the strongest protections in the world to safeguard people from homelessness. No single voluntary service, government agency, council or government department can prevent homelessness alone, but by working together we can make a big impact.
On 16 August, my department published the Making Every Contact Count report giving councils, charities, health services and the police a blueprint to work together to ensure that families and vulnerable people at risk of homelessness are offered help early, no matter who they turn to first.
In addition, my department announced a further £3.5 million to 21 homelessness charities to support help and accommodation schemes for rough sleepers and extend the No Second Night Out initiative to eight more areas-Manchester, Plymouth, Great Yarmouth, north Devon, Taunton, Gloucestershire, Chichester and Worcestershire.
On 31 August, my department announced £160 million over the next two years in homelessness prevention grants-offering certainty that homelessness services will be funded to the end of this Parliament.
On 28 August, my department published new guidance for local authorities highlighting the range of legal powers they have to tackle unauthorised encampments and development. It is often thought that local authorities and other enforcement bodies have limited powers available to tackle illegal and unauthorised encampments and the nuisance that they can cause. In fact there are extensive powers, and timely action by local authorities can save time and money down the line before such encampments become established.
On 31 August, in partnership with the Home Office, my department launched new guidance to councils making clear the wide range of powers at their disposal to clamp down on rogue landlords. Thousands of unauthorised sheds and outbuildings are being rented out illegally to vulnerable migrants by landlords who charge them extortionate rents to live in cramped conditions. Councils in the worst affected areas have at their disposal £1.8 million of central funding to help tackle the problem of rogue landlords.
On 1 September, new laws came into effect in England and Wales to make squatting in residential buildings a criminal offence. My department has worked with the Ministry of Justice to highlight these new provisions. For too long, squatters have had the justice system on the run and have caused home owners untold misery in eviction, repair and clean-up costs. Hardworking home owners need and deserve a justice system where their rights come first-this new offence will ensure the police and other agencies can take quick and decisive action to deal with the misery of squatting.
The department continues in its drive for open and transparent government. Following the introduction of a new localist standards regime, councillors are now required to register certain pecuniary interests, including trade union dealings on a publicly available register. Deliberate failure to declare interests could result in a criminal conviction.
To help make sure the new approach is properly understood, on 1 August my department published a practical guide to implementing the new system and demonstrating how the new local standards strike a common-sense balance between electoral accountability and personal privacy. It clarifies specific issues like urgency of declarations; personal information safety; handling spouse or partner interests; and gold-plating.
The coalition Government's transparency code for councils has already seen all local authorities publish their spending over £500 online and open every aspect of business up to public scrutiny, including tenders, contracts, senior pay, councillor expenses and voluntary-sector funding. On 15 August, my department announced it is now publishing all of its spend data over £250, a new low threshold in central Government.
On 23 August, my department put forward new regulations before Parliament that will come into force on 10 September 2012 to extend the rights of people to attend all meetings of a council's executive, its committees and subcommittees. The changes will result in greater public scrutiny opening up councils to local online news outlets and disallowing councils from citing political advice as justification for closing a meeting to the public and press.
The coalition Government have worked with councils to freeze council tax for two years, cutting council tax in real terms. Since 2006 council benefit fraud and error have cost the taxpayer an estimated £1.1 billion-an average of around £3 million per council. On 28 August, I reminded councils of the urgent need to get to grips with council tax fraud to ensure they can fully support hard-working families and genuinely vulnerable people and deliver value for money to taxpayers.
Government reforms are localising council tax support, putting councils in charge of the discount and giving them a stronger incentive to support local firms, cut fraud and promote local enterprise. Councils will be expected to save over £400 million a year when they begin running local council tax support schemes next year. Councils will keep all savings they can make from reducing fraud and error.
In addition, on 28 August, my department published a consultation document which seeks views on proposals to provide funding certainty for local precepting authorities (such as town and parish councils), as part of the process for localising support for council tax.
On 25 July, my department updated Parliament on the status of the legacy of FiReControl and the launch of a marketing campaign to ensure that the remaining FiReControl buildings are utilised to ensure value for taxpayers' money and achieve a localist approach to improvements in resilience. The full Statement can be found in the House of Lords Official Report, 25 July 2012, column 62WS.
I would like to update the House on the administrative savings being made by my department. Latest estimates suggest that the DCLG Group (i.e. the department and its agencies) is making a 44% real-terms saving against its running costs over this spending review period by 2014-15. This equates to savings of over £570 million by 2014-15, of which £420 million is from the closure of the government offices for the regions.
This £570 million figure is an increase from the previous estimates of a £390 million saving. These savings reflect the coalition Government's agenda of decentralisation, ending the micromanagement of local
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I would like to put on the record my thanks to Lord Lexden for undertaking an informal review of departmental correspondence, providing advice on how we can improve the quality and style of ministerial and official replies to correspondence.
The Written Answer given to the honourable Member for Birmingham Yardley (John Hemming) on 30 April 2012, Official Report, col. 1158W did not fully address the question that was asked. The honourable Member asked, pursuant to the answer of 25 April 2012, Official Report, column 920W, on "Family Courts: Expert Evidence", if the Secretary of State would bring forward proposals to allow non-legally qualified people who are not party to the proceeding to refer expert reports in family proceedings to regulators.
The Government have no plans to bring forward proposals of this kind. The Government do not consider it necessary, since it is already possible for someone who is not a party to the proceedings to refer an expert's report to regulators provided certain conditions are met.
The Family Procedure Rules 2010 permit a party to the proceedings, or that party's legal representative acting on the party's instructions, to communicate information to another person where necessary to enable the party to make and pursue a complaint against a person or body involved in the proceedings, which would include disclosing an expert's report to another person for the purpose of pursuing a complaint about that expert. That person is then permitted (with the party's permission) to disclose this information to another person (who may, for example, be the regulator) provided it is for the same purpose. Neither the person to whom the information is disclosed in the first instance, nor the person to whom it is subsequently disclosed, need be legally qualified. The relevant rules (FPR 12.75 (3) and 12.75 (1) (c)) are set out in Part 12 of the Family Procedure Rules.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Anne Milton), has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The Health and Social Care Act 2012 provides that, from 1 April 2013, responsibility for consultations on proposals on fluoridation will transfer from strategic health authorities to local authorities. The proposals could be for a new fluoridation scheme or the variation or termination of an existing fluoridation scheme. The consultation document sets out options for the making of water fluoridation regulations under the Act on the conduct of consultations, ascertaining public opinion and the decision-making process.
Our aim is to put in place a fair and practical way to amend powers for consideration of proposals on fluoridation schemes. The merits of fluoridation itself will be considered locally in accordance with the regulations. We welcome views and will use these views to inform our thinking on the regulations.
A copy of Healthy Lives, Healthy People: Consultation on the Arrangements for Consideration of Proposals on the Fluoridation of Drinking Water has been placed in the Library. Copies are available to honourable Members from the Vote Office and to noble Lords from the Printed Paper Office.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Philip Hammond): has made the following ministerial Statement.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) uses FATS to procure specialist technical support to its defence equipment programmes and it is also used on a limited basis by other government departments. Suppliers compete to become members of the framework; users then place specific tasks through the framework, as and when they arise, preferably by running further competitions between member suppliers. The first iteration of FATS was instituted in 2006.
The fourth iteration of the framework, FATS4, was competed and companies selected to be members, with the framework commencing on 26 April 2012. The framework is broken into two lots. Lot one covers general support relating to materials, electrical/mechanical, power plants, IT, health, medical and transport requirements. Lot two relates to safety and duty of care areas such as airworthiness management, safety management, maritime safety, and technical support to platforms and weapons.
Technical deficiencies have been discovered in the way that lot two of FATS4 was awarded. Errors have been found in the way the assessment of suppliers' technical capability, for lot two, was conducted and recorded. Some suppliers are therefore on the framework who should not have qualified and others, who should have qualified, were wrongly excluded from the process.
As a result, I have directed that the MoD and other government departments must stop using lot two with immediate effect. The current situation is not fair and equitable to suppliers who bid to be included on this framework and, given that the areas affected relate to duty of care and safety, no risk can be taken over supplier capability. Contracts already placed under lot two will remain in place as none has been placed with a supplier in respect of whom any irregularity has occurred. Lot one is unaffected and will continue in use.
Despite this setback, FATS continues to represent a useful and efficient route for procuring specialist technical services and a replacement framework to cover these requirements will be put in place, which we estimate will take around six months. During this time, the MoD and other customers will place their own contracts individually for their specific needs following normal procurement process. This process will be managed so that it does not cause any delay in delivering equipment to our Armed Forces. The renewed competition and interim arrangements mean that the effect on any one supplier's business is likely to be negligible.
The MoD has written to all affected suppliers to apologise for this failure of process and to inform them of the action being taken. I have asked the director commercial of the Department for Work and Pensions to conduct an external investigation to identify how and why this happened and to make recommendations as to how to prevent similar issues in the future. If evidence is brought to light that proper processes have not been followed, then disciplinary action will be taken as appropriate.
Senior Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague) has made the following ministerial Statement.
I am pleased to inform the House that the British Office in Hargeisa opened formally on 3 September, in line with my intent to establish a presence in Mogadishu and Hargeisa as soon as local conditions allow. This office enables officials to stay in Hargeisa for short periods to carry out diplomatic work in Somaliland. Because of the security situation, this office will not have any consular functions, and we have not changed our advice on travel to the region. Staff are already able to travel and stay in our office in Mogadishu, where work continues on plans to reopen the embassy as soon as local circumstances permit.
The new office in Hargeisa and future British embassy in Mogadishu are part of the expansion of Britain's diplomatic network that I announced to the House on 4 September, Official Report, col. 152. This involves the opening of up to 11 new embassies, up to eight new British consulates/British trade offices and the redeployment of around 300 extra staff in more than 20 countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department of Health (Anna Soubry MP), has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The House of Commons Health Select Committee published its report on education, training and workforce planning on 23 May 2012. We have today laid before Parliament the government response to the House of Commons Health Select Committee First Report of Session 21012-13: Education, Training and Workforce Planning (Cm 8435).
The committee welcomed the overall direction of the Government's reforms in this area, including the establishment of Health Education England and local education and training boards, though it called for more detail and clarity on particular aspects. The Government's response highlights a great deal of progress that has been made in establishing the new system of education and training since the publication of the committee's report.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): My honourable friend the Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr Norman Lamb), has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
Preventing Suicide in England: a Cross-Government Outcomes Strategy to Save Lives has been placed in the Library. Copies are available to honourable Members from the Vote Office and to noble Lords from the Printed Paper Office. The document is also available at www.dh.gov.uk/health/tag/suicide-prevention/
Over the last 10 years, good progress has been made in reducing the suicide rate in England. However, there were over 4,200 suicides in 2010. That is one person dying from suicide every two hours. When someone takes their own life, the effect on their family and friends is devastating. Many others involved in providing support and care will feel the impact.
There is no single approach to preventing suicide. Effective prevention needs a broad, co-ordinated, system-wide approach, with input from a wide range of organisations. An inclusive society that avoids marginalising individuals, and which supports people at times of crisis, will help to prevent suicides. Government and statutory services also have a role to play through building individual and community resilience, ensuring that vulnerable people in the care of health and social services and at risk of suicide are supported and kept safe, and ensuring that we intervene quickly when someone is in distress or crisis.
The strategy supports action by bringing together knowledge about groups at risk of suicide, applying evidence of what interventions are effective in preventing suicide and highlighting available resources to support action at local level. It therefore supports local decision-making, while recognising the autonomy of local organisations to decide what works in their area.
One of the main aspects of the strategy, and one of the most significant changes from the previous strategy, is the greater prominence of measures to support families-those who are worried that a loved one is at risk and those who are having to cope with the aftermath of a suicide.
In developing the strategy, the Government have built on the successes of the previous strategy, published in 2002. It has also been revised and strengthened following consultation on a draft strategy which ended in October 2011. I am grateful to the wide range of individuals and organisations that provided input to this work.
The strategy has been developed with the support of leading experts in the field of suicide prevention, including the members of the national suicide prevention strategy advisory group, under the chairmanship of Professor Louis Appleby CBE. I would like to thank all members of this group for sharing their knowledge and expertise. Their continued support and leadership is central to our efforts to prevent suicide in England.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr Eric Pickles) has made the following ministerial Statement.
The coalition Government's number one priority is to get the economy growing. We must create the conditions that support local economic growth and remove barriers that stop local businesses creating jobs and getting Britain building again.
We are reforming the right to buy by significantly increasing the discounts available to tenants to buy their own home. We launched our NewBuy scheme allowing people access to mortgages with only a 5% deposit. And to unblock stalled sites with the capacity for up to 16,000 homes we launched the £570 million Get Britain Building fund. We also announced plans to dispose of public sector land with the capacity to deliver 100,000 homes, and invested £770 million in infrastructure for housing and growth through the Growing Places fund.
Housebuilding starts across England were 29% higher in 2011 compared to 2009. But there is far more to do to provide homes to meet Britain's demographic needs and to help generate local economic growth.
The rented sector already provides good-quality homes for many young people, professionals and families. But growth has been constrained by the lack of large-scale investment. We invited Sir Adrian Montague to report on the barriers to institutional investment and intend to take up Sir Adrian's key recommendation. Today I can announce that we will be investing £200 million in housing sites to ensure that the high-quality rented homes that are needed are available to institutional investors quickly. And we will be establishing a taskforce to bring together developers, management bodies and institutional investors to broker deals and deliver more rented homes.
The Government will also use their hard earned fiscal credibility to pass on lower costs of borrowing to support the long-term delivery of new rental homes. To give institutional investors the assurance they need to invest in this area we will be issuing a debt guarantee for up to £10 billion for this scheme and the affordable housing scheme set out below. Under the scheme, the Government will enable providers to raise debt with a government guarantee, where they commit to investing in additional new-build rented homes. From tomorrow, the Government will be inviting expressions of interest from companies wishing to benefit from the scheme. It is expected that housing associations, property management companies and developers will be among those to benefit.
The need for affordable housing remains high. We will therefore be extending the use of guarantees to cover borrowing needed to deliver more affordable homes. Building on the success of the Affordable Homes programme, the Government will invite bids to provide up to an additional 15,000 affordable homes through the use of loan guarantees, asset management flexibilities and capital funding. We also intend to extend our successful refurbishment programme to bring an additional 5,000 existing empty homes back into use. In total we will invest another £300 million.
Building on our existing schemes, we will continue to support housebuilding and to help people into home ownership through NewBuy-making it easier to access a mortgage with only a 5% deposit. We are working with the Home Builders Federation and the Council of Mortgage Lenders to increase take-up and grow the number of builders and lenders in the scheme. I welcome Monday's announcement that Aldermore has joined the scheme-taking the number of lenders up to six, over 70% of the market. Homebuilders and lenders will work together on a concerted marketing campaign over the autumn to raise consumer awareness and understanding of scheme.
We will also allocate an additional £280 million, with a matching contribution from housebuilders, to extend our very successful FirstBuy scheme to March 2014. This will allow up to 16,500 additional first-time buyers to purchase a home.
The need for new homes is acute, and supply remains constrained. There are many large housing schemes in areas of high housing demand that could provide real benefit to local communities once delivered. But large schemes are complicated and raise a wide range of complex issues that can be difficult to resolve.
Building on success in working with Kent local authorities and developers to unlock major housing opportunities at Eastern Quarry in the Ebbsfleet valley, the Government will work in partnership with local authorities, scheme promoters and communities to accelerate delivery of locally supported, major housing sites. These will be sites where there is local support for growth, strong demand for new homes, and good prospects for early delivery.
Off-site construction can create skilled jobs, improve the quality of homes and ultimately bring down costs. An industry-led group convened by the DCLG and BIS will look in detail at the barriers holding back the growth of this part of the sector and how increased use of such techniques can be incentivised. We will ask this advisory group of experts to prepare proposals by Budget 2013, with the aim of improving the efficiency of housing supply and unlocking high-value jobs in the UK.
Thanks to the Government's credible fiscal strategy, home owners are benefiting from historically low interest rates. However, the private sector needs to be able to access both finance and land to build the homes we need. The funding for lending scheme, run by the Bank of England with the approval of the Government, provides strong incentives for banks and building societies to boost lending, including mortgages and loans to businesses.
In response to emerging conclusions from a review chaired by Tony Pidgley, chairman of the Berkeley Group, the Government will accelerate the release of surplus public sector land by strengthening the role of Homes and Communities Agency outside London
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The national planning policy framework is a major step forward. It has been widely welcomed by business, and as a result of its positive influence we are already seeing accelerated plan-making and more positive decision-taking.
We are clear that local people-and local authorities-must be at the heart of planning. The last Government tried top-down imposition of growth and unequivocally failed. The imposition of regional strategies built nothing but resentment, with housebuilding falling to its lowest peacetime rate since the 1920s.
The Localism Act has put the power to plan back in the hands of communities, but with this power comes responsibility: a responsibility to meet their needs for development and growth, and to deal quickly and effectively with proposals that will deliver homes, jobs and facilities.
Given the importance of efficient and effective planning decisions for the economy we need to ensure that, where there are clear failures in performance, applicants are able to access a better service. We propose to legislate to allow applications to be decided by the Planning Inspectorate, if the local authority has a track record of consistently poor performance in the speed or quality of its decisions. Planning is a quasi-judicial process: justice delayed is justice denied. It is unfair to all parties for local planning authorities simply to fail to make timely decisions on a planning application-creating uncertainty both for applicants and local residents.
In support of this we will also require more transparent reporting of council performance on planning, and will be working with the Local Government Association to increase the use of planning performance agreements for major schemes-which commit both applicants and planning authorities to a clear timetable for determining proposals. In addition, we intend to give planning inspectors more power to initiate an award of costs in planning appeal proceedings, where it is clear that an application has not been handled as it should have been with due process.
Swift determination of appeals by the Planning Inspectorate is also of critical importance. We will consult shortly on options to speed up planning appeals-and for a new fast-track procedure for some small commercial appeals. I have also instructed the Planning
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I have also extended a measure that allows developers the chance to seek additional time to get their sites up and running before planning permission expires, for an additional year. This measure will cut the costs of getting developments back on track.
Getting the infrastructure projects that the country's economic success relies upon under way as swiftly as possible is also a top priority. The planning regime for major infrastructure which deals with many of these cases is bedding in well and is bringing benefits through its streamlined and more certain processes. We want to ensure that this planning regime rightly focuses on the most important schemes while also extending the benefits of it to other forms of development which are of national importance.
To achieve this we now intend to review the thresholds for some of the existing categories in the regime, and also to bring new categories of commercial and business development into the regime-making it possible for such schemes, where they are of sufficient significance, to be considered and determined at a national level. We will also work to extend the principle of a one-stop-shop for non-planning consents for major infrastructure, and amend the special parliamentary procedures which apply to major infrastructure to ensure they are fit for purpose.
It is vital that the affordable housing element of Section 106 agreements negotiated during different economic conditions is not allowed to undermine the viability of sites and prevent any construction of new housing. This results in no development, no regeneration and no community benefits at all when agreements are no longer economically viable.
The Government estimate that up to 75,000 new homes are currently stalled due to site viability. Section 106 is an important tool to provide affordable housing and we welcome the flexible approach that many councils have already taken to renegotiating these agreements where necessary. The Government are also acting to get developers and councils around the table through their new mediation scheme. However, given the current imperative for growth, we need to do more.
The Government will now introduce legislation, to be effective in early 2013, which will allow any developer of sites which are unviable because of the number of affordable homes, to appeal with immediate effect. The Planning Inspectorate will be instructed to assess how many affordable homes would need to be removed from the Section 106 agreement for the site to be viable in current economic conditions. The Planning Inspectorate would then, as necessary, set aside the existing Section 106 agreement for a three-year period, in favour of a new agreement with fewer affordable homes. We would encourage councils to take the opportunity before legislation comes into effect to seek negotiated solutions where possible.
There is concern that the array of local and national standards used in different parts of the country is complex and counterproductive, confusing local residents, councillors and developers. I am announcing today a fundamental and urgent review led by Government working with interested parties to rationalise these standards. This review will result in a clear plan of action by next spring, including legislative approaches if a significant rationalisation cannot be agreed.
We have previously made clear the importance we attach to delivering new large-scale settlements. The recovery criteria already includes large residential developments. To align this with the call-in process, I will also carefully consider the use of call-in for major new settlements with larger than local impacts.
To support locally led development, communities will share in benefits including the new homes bonus, community infrastructure levy contributions towards local infrastructure, and the financial benefits of business rates discounts and forthcoming business rates retention from April 2013.
The green belt is an important protection against urban sprawl, providing a "green lung" around towns and cities. The coalition agreement commits the Government to safeguarding green belt and other environmental designations, which they have been in the new national planning policy framework. The Localism Act allows for the abolition of Labour's regional spatial strategies which sought to bulldoze the green belt around 30 towns and cities across the country, subject to the strategic environmental assessment process, as outlined in my Statement of 3 September 2012, Official Report, column 5WS.
As has always been the case, councils can review local designations to promote growth. We encourage councils to use the flexibilities set out in the national planning policy framework to tailor the extent of green-belt land in their areas to reflect local circumstances. Where green belt is considered in reviewing or drawing up local plans, we will support councils to move quickly through the process by prioritising their local plan examinations. There is considerable previously developed land in many green-belt areas, which could be put to more productive use. We encourage councils to make best use of this land, while protecting the openness of the green belt in line with the requirements in the national planning policy framework.
As a nation, we have great pride in our homes, and I want to make it easier for families to undertake home improvements: not just to cut red tape and strengthen individual homeowners' rights, but also to help generate economic activity which will support small traders in particular.
I am announcing today a further package of simplification measures to remove red tape and ease the burden on local authorities. We will consult shortly on changes to increase existing permitted development
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We will introduce permitted development rights to enable change of use from commercial to residential purposes, while providing the opportunity for authorities to seek a local exemption where they believe there will be an adverse economic impact. This common-sense measure will help the regeneration of our towns and cities. Our high streets will benefit from a greater resident population, increasing footfall and supporting local shops.
This package of measures will ensure that the reforms which we have made to the planning system are implemented as effectively as possible, and that the planning system plays as full a role as possible in supporting local jobs and local firms.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague) has made the following ministerial Statement.
On 20 November 2010, the office of the Swedish Prosecutor-General issued a European arrest warrant for the arrest and extradition of Mr Assange, who is alleged to have committed serious sexual offences against two women during a visit to Sweden in August 2010.
On 24 February 2011, a district judge ruled that Mr Assange should be extradited to face proceedings in Sweden concerning allegations of sexual offences. Mr Assange appealed against the ruling, but on 2 November 2011 two judges at the High Court upheld the decision to extradite Mr Assange to Sweden. Mr Assange appealed again, but the Supreme Court ruled on 30 May 2012 that Mr Assange should be extradited to Sweden.
Following the ruling of the Supreme Court, Mr Assange was given two weeks to seek to reopen the appeal. On 14 June, the Supreme Court dismissed Mr Assange's bid to reopen his appeal, and conferred a two-week grace period before Her Majesty's Government could begin extradition proceedings.
Over this 15-month period, Mr Assange exercised fully his legal right to challenge the extradition procedure, with competent legal representation. Mr Assange took
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On 19 June Mr Assange entered the embassy of Ecuador from where he asked for the protection of the Government of Ecuador. The same day, the Government of Ecuador informed Her Majesty's Government by diplomatic note that it was considering Mr Assange's request.
Following this, I asked my officials to initiate a formal, regular, dialogue with the Government of Ecuador. This included seven formal discussions as well as many other conversations and written exchanges, in order to seek an acceptable resolution to this situation.
Throughout our exchanges, we have noted that the rights of diplomatic missions conferred by the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations come with responsibilities. Article 41 of the Vienna convention sets out the obligations of diplomatic missions to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving state-in this case the United Kingdom. These include the duty not to impede the due legal process of that state.
Furthermore, Her Majesty's Government have made it clear to Ecuador that we recognise that Ecuador and a number of countries in Latin America are party to the Caracas Convention on Diplomatic Asylum of 1954, and that that convention provides the right, between its state parties, to grant diplomatic asylum in certain circumstances. The United Kingdom is not party to that convention and there is no legal basis for the United Kingdom to meet the request of the Government of Ecuador to grant safe passage for Mr Assange out of the United Kingdom.
The Government of Ecuador have also sought guarantees regarding the possible onward extradition of Mr Assange to a third country, and have pointed to concerns about possible human rights implications if Mr Assange were to be extradited from the United Kingdom. In our discussions with Ecuador, we have been clear that the safeguards in place under the European Convention on Human Rights, international law, European Union law and United Kingdom law fully address the concerns raised by Mr Assange and by the Government of Ecuador.
The suggestion that there would be a risk of a breach of Mr Assange's human rights on extradition to Sweden is completely unfounded. An argument to this effect was comprehensively rejected by the courts in the United Kingdom. Both the United Kingdom and Sweden are signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights and the British Government have complete confidence in the independence and fairness of the Swedish judicial system. As we have discussed with the Government of Ecuador, the United Kingdom and Sweden robustly implement and adhere to the highest standards of human rights protection.
The suggestion that Mr Assange's human rights would be put at risk by the possibility of onward extradition from Sweden to a third country is also without foundation. Not only would Sweden-as a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights-be required to refuse extradition in circumstances which would breach his human rights, but the authorities in Sweden would also be legally obliged to seek the
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We have used our discussions with the Government of Ecuador to explain the issues in detail. In the context of widespread speculation that a decision to grant asylum by the Ecuadorean Government was imminent, and as part of these exchanges, on 15 August the British embassy in Quito shared with the Government of Ecuador an informal note, or aide-memoire, to set out key points of our position and ensure that the Ecuadorean authorities had a complete understanding of the full legal context. Ecuador reacted to this communication claiming that a reference to the UK's Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987 constituted a threat to its embassy in London. I have been consistently clear that we are not threatening the embassy of Ecuador and that we are absolutely committed to the principles of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and always act in accordance with it.
It is a matter of regret that instead of continuing our discussions, the Foreign Minister of Ecuador announced on 16 August that Ecuador had decided to grant diplomatic asylum to Mr Assange. This was confirmed to us in a diplomatic note of 16 August.
We wish to continue our dialogue with the Government of Ecuador. We believe that our two countries should be able to find a diplomatic solution. We have invited the Government of Ecuador to resume, as early as possible, the discussions we have held on this matter to date. I confirmed that in a meeting with Ecuador's Vice-President Moreno on 29 August in London, during his visit to the Paralympics.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department of Health (Dr Daniel Poulter) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The Government's consultation on the Next Steps for Nursery Milk is currently under way. We have received a large number of responses from a range of organisations including childcare settings, specialist milk suppliers, and milk industry.
Due to the summer break, we have been asked to provide extra time to schools and nurseries to respond to the consultation. The Government are therefore extending the consultation period for an extra six
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): My honourable friend the Minister for Pensions (Steve Webb MP) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
This is an annual exercise. The report sets out the context of this review, the evidence base and the proposed rates for 2013/14. We are seeking views both on the factors that should inform next year's thresholds and the proposed rates. We would welcome responses in particular that tell us more about the tax relief method that schemes are currently using.
The consultation paper will be available later today on the department's website: http://dwp.gov.uk/consultations/2012/ and I will also place a copy in the House Library.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): Disability living allowance (DLA) is being replaced by a new benefit called personal independence payment (PIP) for people aged 16 to 64 from April 2013.
This announcement concluded a commercial process that began earlier this year. On 30 April the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) announced the 10 organisations which had been awarded a place on the framework to deliver health and disability assessments. This framework is made up of four regional lots plus a national lot, lot 5.
On 2 May the DWP invited the organisations in lots 1 to 4 to tender to deliver the PIP assessment service on behalf of the DWP and the Northern Ireland Social Security Agency. The competition selected the following bidders for each of the three regional lots:
On 27 March 2012, I issued a Written Statement to the House concerning remuneration and conditions of service in the police. Within that Statement I explained that I would put forward a proposal on long-term reform of police pensions to the Police Negotiating Board, which I did on the same day. In common with changes which have been developed across public service pension schemes, my proposal reflected the principles for reform established last year by the report of the Independent Public Service Pensions Commission, led by Lord Hutton.
My officials have been engaged in detailed and constructive discussions with representatives of the Police Negotiating Board since 27 March, and I have received a number of written representations from the organisations represented. Having considered the outcome of those discussions, and the representations made during this period of consultation, I am announcing today my decision for the reform design framework for police pensions. This framework sets out the Government's final position on the main elements of police pension reform and will form the basis for discussions on points of further detail in moving to implement these changes.
f. average member contributions of 13.7% from April 2015. As announced by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury on 20 December 2011, the Government will review the impact of the 2012-13 contribution changes, including the effect of membership opt-outs, before taking final decisions on how future increases will be delivered in 2013-14 and 2014-15, and in the
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g. flexible retirement from the scheme's minimum pension age of 55, built around the scheme's normal pension age of 60-for all active members aged 55 or more at retirement, 2015 scheme benefits taken before normal pension age will be actuarially reduced with reference to the 2015 scheme's normal pension age, rather than the deferred pension age (ie state pension age). Those members' benefits will continue to be paid after age 60 at that actuarially reduced level;
h. the normal pension age of 60 will be subject to regular review, which will also consider the linked early retirement facility described at (g). These reviews will consider the increasing state pension age and any changes to it, alongside evidence from interested parties, including staff associations and employers. It will consider if the normal pension age of 60 remains relevant, taking account of the economical, efficient and effective management of the police service, the changing profile of the workforce and the occupational demands of, and fitness standards for, police officer roles;
b. full recognition of a member's expectation to double accrual for service accrued under the Police Pension Scheme 1987 ("the 1987 scheme"), so that a member's full continuous pensionable service upon retirement will be used to calculate an averaged accrual rate to be applied to service accrued under the 1987 scheme;
c. members of the 1987 scheme to be able to access their 1987 scheme benefits when they retire at that scheme's ordinary pension age (ie, from 30 years' pensionable service; age 50 with 25 or more years' pensionable service; or the member's voluntary retirement age), subject to abatement rules for that scheme. Pensionable service for the purpose of calculating the ordinary pension age will include any continuous pensionable service accrued under both the 1987 scheme and the 2015 scheme;
a. all active 2006 scheme members who, as of 1 April 2012, have 10 years or less to their current normal pension age (ie, age 55) will see no change in when they can retire, nor any decrease in the amount of pension they receive at their current normal pension age. This protection will be achieved by the member remaining in their current scheme until they retire;
b. all active 1987 scheme members who, as of 1 April 2012, have 10 years or less to age 55 or have 10 years or less to age 48 and are 10 years or less from a maximum unreduced pension will see no change in when they can retire, nor any decrease in the amount of pension they receive at their current normal pension age. This protection will be achieved by those members remaining in their current scheme until they retire;
c. there will be a further period of tapered protection for up to four years for scheme members. Members who are within four years of qualifying for transitional protection, as of 1 April 2012, will have limited protection so that on average for every month closer to qualifying for transitional protection they gain about 53 days of protection. The period of protected service for any member under these tapering arrangements will have finished by 31 March 2022. At the end of the protected period, they will be transferred into the new pension scheme arrangements. Further details on how the tapered protection will apply are set out in the reform design framework.
As set out in the reform design framework, there will be further discussion on specific areas of detail, responding in part to issues raised during consultation with the Police Negotiating Board. In particular there will be further consideration of equalities issues that have been identified, or any which may be identified during further discussion, as well as arrangements to ensure compatibility between the new scheme design and recognised existing or future schemes for police officers exiting the service before normal pension age.
I believe this represents a fair outcome, reflecting the range of issues raised during consultation on my original proposal. This will continue to offer valuable pension arrangements for police officers which will be affordable and sustainable in the future.
The Government Actuary's Department has confirmed that this design does not exceed the cost ceiling set by the Government in my proposal of 27 March. Copies of the reform design framework and the Government Actuary's Department verification report have been placed in the Library of both Houses.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Taylor of Holbeach): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Theresa May MP) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
In accordance with Sections 14(3), 14(4) and 14(5) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, David Anderson QC prepared a report on the operation of the Act in 2011, which I laid before the House on 26 March 2012.
I am grateful to David Anderson QC for the final report on that Act, and the control order regime it provided for. Following consultation within my department and with other relevant agencies, I am today laying before the House my response to David Anderson QC's recommendations.
Now that the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 has been repealed, David Anderson QC has agreed to perform the role of independent reviewer of the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011.
On 15 August 2012 the Department for Transport announced to the London Stock Exchange that it intended to award the intercity West Coast franchise to First West Coast Limited, a subsidiary of First Group.
Bids were received from Abellio InterCity West Coast Limited-NV Nederlandse Spoorwegen, First West Coast Limited-FirstGroup plc, Keolis/SNCF West Coast Limited-Keolis SA and SNCF, Virgin Trains Limited-Virgin Group Holdings Limited.
The new franchise is planned to begin operation on Sunday 9 December 2012. The franchise will operate for a core term of 13 years and 4 months, with an option to be extended to operate for up to 15 years. The winning bid from First West Coast Limited provides for a premium of £5.5 billion NPV over the core franchise term.
The West Coast Main Line is one of the most important intercity rail passenger routes in the country and it is also a valuable public asset. Over the last decade and more, taxpayers have invested £9 billion to
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The First West Coast bid provides: more trains on the route, with 12,000 extra seats per day provided by 11 new 6 carriage electric trains from December 2016 (in addition to the 106 extra Pendolino carriages currently being introduced); refurbishing the existing Pendolino and Voyager train fleets, more capacity on services between Birmingham and Scotland, and faster journey times between London Euston and Glasgow; new services to Blackpool, Bolton and Shrewsbury, subject to approval of the ORR; lower Standard Anytime fares over the first two years; £22 million in station improvements; Oyster-style smart ticketing; and, for the first time in an intercity franchise, better customer satisfaction as measured by the National Passenger Survey.
When a new franchise begins, employees of the current franchise operator, including drivers, guards and back office staff will be transferred to the new operator, protected by TUPE regulations. All of the rolling stock used by the incumbent operator will also transfer across.
As a result of a legal challenge, which the government intends to defend robustly, we have not yet signed the contract with First West Coast, and consequently the competition remains live. I cannot give the full commercial details of the winning bid, or indeed of the other bids. Nor is it usual or appropriate-once litigation proceedings have commenced-for the Government to comment on the detail of that, other than to say that our legal advisers are fully engaged in addressing and responding to those proceedings.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Lord Marland): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Vince Cable) has made the following ministerial Statement:
In October 2011, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) launched a consultation on giving more small companies and subsidiaries the ability to make a commercial decision about whether or not to have an audit. It also proposed allowing companies more flexibility to change their accounting framework.
The response to the consultation has helped the department to refine the proposals. In particular the proposals have been amended to make it easier for
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These changes will allow 120,000 additional companies to be exempt from audit and 67,000 dormant companies to be exempt from the need to prepare and file annual accounts. There will also be increased flexibility for companies to change their accounting framework, which will enable them to take advantage of appropriately reduced disclosures.
We seek to achieve our ambition of making the UK one of the best places in Europe to start, finance and grow a business, in part through reducing the regulatory burden on UK businesses. Thus we welcome the broad support received for the overall principle of reducing audit requirements for unlisted companies and the support for proposals which promote flexibility and prevent UK businesses from being at a disadvantage to their European competitors.
BIS is today publishing a response to the consultation, which sets out the Government's intention to introduce legislative changes to enable companies to take advantage of these changes. The proposals are deregulatory and reduce costs for business of at least £100 million per year, and possibly much more.
The consultation response, and the final stage impact assessments are available on the BIS website at www.bis.gov.uk/consultations.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Lord Marland): My honourable friend the Minister of State for Business and Enterprise (Michael Fallon) has today made the following Statement.
The regional growth fund (RGF) is helping to rebalance the economy by helping those areas and communities that are currently dependent on the public sector. The fund is unlocking private sector investment in the local economy, creating jobs and making Britain open for business.
The RGF is delivering jobs and having a positive impact on businesses: work to finalise contracts for rounds 1 and 2 is nearly complete and preparations are on track to announce round 3 awards in the autumn.
Progress is good on rounds 1 and 2 with over half the bidders (127) contracted and able to draw down funding and a further 51 completing their due diligence reports. So far, agreed offers have unlocked almost 198,352 jobs.
There is now a firm and agreed position with nine in 10 bidders; they are signing up to agreed terms or withdrawing and allowing the reallocation of the fund or, in cases such as Lotus, agreeing a delay.
Currently 149 projects and programmes have started, unlocking almost £4.8 billion of private investment into our economy. Several companies were content to start work before receiving any funds; agreeing terms has given them the confidence to get going and start work.
The number of withdrawn projects and programmes has increased to 24 (10%). For a fund of this size this number is fairly low: withdrawals also point to the robustness of the process-something the NAO has been positive about. See annexe A for the full list.
The reasons for withdrawals vary from global market conditions; realisation from their own due diligence that the project could not be supported; to changes in senior management requiring a new strategy.
All RGF projects and programmes are being monitored; this will continue for years to come, in order to understand the impact of the RGF and continue to protect taxpayers' interests. Monitoring will include an annual review of progress that will be reported to Parliament at the end of each financial year, beginning in the spring of 2013.
The round 3 contracting process will be quicker and lessons learned from the previous rounds will be implemented. The contracting process should take no longer than six months to complete from when Ministers allocate support for the bid to the signing of final offer letters.
Assessment of the 278 shortlisted bids continues and is on track for final announcements this autumn. Lord Heseltine's panel will meet this month to agree recommendations, and Ministers will meet in October to make final decisions.
Following my visit to the Kivus region of the Democratic Republic of Congo in July I delayed the disbursement of general budget support (GBS) to Rwanda because of concerns about the impact of the conflict on civilians in the region and reports of Rwandan involvement in the M23 mutiny. At this time I sought assurances from President Kagame that Rwanda was adhering to the strict partnership principles around GBS which I strengthened in the summer of 2011.
Rwanda has engaged constructively with the peace process initiated through the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region and there is a continuing ceasefire in the Kivus. Given this progress and recognising that the Government of Rwanda has continued to demonstrate its strong commitment to reducing poverty and improving its financial management, Britain will partially restore its general budget support to Rwanda. We will now disburse half (£8 million) of the delayed GBS tranche and will reprogramme the remaining £8 million. This decision reflects our responsibility to protect the poor, but also caution as concerns remain over Rwanda's involvement with the M23 rebels. The reallocated money will be directly channelled to programmes for education and food security, to ensure that the poorest people in Rwanda are not hurt by this change. It will put over 60,000 more Rwandan children into primary school, half of whom will be girls, and increase production of key food security crops by an estimated 5,130 metric tonnes.
There are still concerns that Rwanda could do more to meet our joint partnership principles in full. This is the first of two budget support payments scheduled for the financial year 2012-13. The next disbursement is due in December 2012. A decision on that disbursement will be made in due course. The UK will continue to closely monitor the Government of Rwanda's role in bringing about peace in the eastern DRC region.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Hill of Oareford): My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Children and Families (Sarah Teather MP) has made the following ministerial Statement:
The proposals to reform provision for children and young people with special educational needs were first set out in the special educational needs and disability Green Paper Support and Aspiration, published in March 2011, and the subsequent Next Steps document published in May this year. The reforms are being tested in 20 pathfinder areas, covering 31 local authorities and their health partners.
Previously further education colleges had not been subject to SEN duties. The provisions relating to academies reflect the requirements currently in the majority of funding agreements signed since the introduction of the Academies Act 2010. Placing these requirements on the face of the legislation will give greater clarity to academies, parents and young people and will ensure further education colleges face the same requirements for the first time. The draft provisions would ensure that parents, young people and children are on the same footing whether they attend (or wish to attend) a maintained school, an academy, or a further education or sixth form college.
With the Ministry of Justice, we are also publishing a number of draft clauses relating to family justice and will make a further statement after the close of the current consultation on co-operative parenting.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Taylor of Holbeach): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Theresa May MP) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
Section 19(1) of the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011 (the Act) requires the Secretary of State to report to Parliament as soon as reasonably practicable after the end of every relevant three-month period on the exercise of her TPIM powers under the Act during that period.
During the reporting period: no TPIM notices were imposed; no TPIM notices were extended; no TPIM notices were revoked; and no TPIM notices were revived. A TPIM Review Group (TRG) keeps every TPIM notice under regular and formal review. The TPIM Review Group met twice during this reporting period.
Section 16 of the 2011 Act provides rights of appeal against decisions by the Secretary of State in relation to decisions taken under the Act. No appeals were lodged under Section 16 during the reporting period.
Three judgments have been handed down by the High Court in relation to the review of TPIM notices under Section 9 of the Act. In Secretary of State for the Home Department v BF  EWHC 1718 (admin), handed down on 25 June 2012, the High Court upheld the TPIM notice imposed on BF. On 6 July 2012, in Secretary of State for the Home Department v AM  EWHC 1854 (admin), the High Court upheld the TPIM notice imposed on AM and the renewal of the control order which preceded it, with a minor amendment to one measure. AM has applied to the Court of Appeal for permission to appeal this judgment. On 19 July 2012, in Secretary of State for the Home Department v AY  EWHC 2054 (admin), the High Court upheld the TPIM notice and dismissed the appeal against the renewal of the control order which preceded it. Most full judgments are available at http://www.bailii.org/.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Jonathan Djanogly), has made the following ministerial Statement:
On 1 August 2012 the Ministry of Justice, the Scottish Government and the Department of Justice, Northern Ireland, jointly published a consultation paper, Damages Act 1996: The Discount Rate-How Should it be Set? (CP12/2012).
The paper seeks views on how the Lord Chancellor in relation to England and Wales, Scottish Ministers in relation to Scotland and the Department of Justice
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The prescribed rate is taken into account by the court in determining the return to be expected from the investment of a sum awarded as damages for future pecuniary loss in actions for personal injury. This rate of return is referred to as "the discount rate" and is currently 2.5%.
The consultation period is 12 weeks from and including 1 August. Copies of the consultation paper have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The document is also available online at www.justice.gov.uk/consultations.
Independently of this consultation and the review of the amount of the prescribed discount rate of which it forms part, the Ministry of Justice intends to issue a consultation paper in the autumn of 2012 to review the present legal basis for the setting of the rate in England and Wales. The consultation will seek views on whether the restrictions on the factors that can be taken into account in prescribing a rate under Section 1 of the Damages Act 1996 are still appropriate.
On 24 September 2012 the Government will commence powers under Sections 12 and 50 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 to enable for the first time deaths of service personnel killed abroad to be investigated in Scotland under the Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths Inquiry (Scotland) Act 1976 where appropriate
His Honour Judge Peter Thornton QC, who has today assumed the role of Chief Coroner of England and Wales will be able to recommend that investigations be transferred from England and Wales in appropriate circumstances, for example where the deceased's family is based in Scotland.
The provisions aim to reduce the additional distress that can be caused by ensuring that bereaved service families from Scotland do not have to travel long distances to England or Wales to attend an inquest.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever): My honourable friend the Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology (Philip Dunne) made the following Written Ministerial Statement on 10 September:
The three Invincible Class aircraft carriers-HMS "Invincible" (in service July 1980), HMS "Ark Royal" (in service November 1985) and HMS "Illustrious" (in service June 1982)-served this country with great distinction having played key roles in conflicts in the Falkland Islands, Iraq and Bosnia. The last of these, HMS "Illustrious", is due to retire from the Royal Navy in 2014.
After that date and in recognition of the service given by these ships in protecting the UK over the last 30 years, it is our preference to see HMS Illustrious preserved intact as a lasting tribute to the Service personnel who served on all three of the carriers.
In early 2014 we intend to hold an Industry Day to launch a competition for the innovative re-use of the ship to which interested parties will be encouraged to attend. We will invite a range of organisations, including private sector companies, charities and trusts to put forward viable proposals to ensure that HMS Illustrious remains intact and available for future private use while still offering taxpayers value for money.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever): My right honourable friend the Minister for the Armed Forces (Andrew Robathan) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement:
On 16 February 2012, an order was made under Section 56(1A) of the Reserve Forces Act 1996 to enable 2,100 reservists to be brought into permanent service as part of defence's contribution to the safety and security of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
On 7 August 2012, authority was granted to raise the number of reservists to 2,300. In total 2,258 reservists were brought into permanent service. Some provided specialist capabilities and expertise to defence's support to the police and other civil and Olympic authorities, while the majority formed part of the support to Olympic venue security operations; a substantive contribution to what has widely been acknowledged as a successful and positive opportunity to interact with the British public and advertise the nation's strengths to overseas observers. The order ceases to have effect on 20 September 2012.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): I wish to clarify an answer I gave on 23 July when Grand Committee was considering the Assets of Community Value Regulations.
The Assets of Community Value Regulations which will introduce the Community Right to Bid create rights for two different categories of local groups. First, local voluntary or community bodies (which are broadly defined) will be able to nominate assets to be listed. However, only those local groups which meet the strict requirements to be a community interest group will have the right to trigger the full moratorium period of six months after the owner has notified an intention to make a relevant disposal. Community interest groups also count as voluntary or community bodies, so can nominate land for listing.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, asked whether unincorporated community groups can bid for assets. In reply I said that the only people who can make a bid or take the process forward are the community interest groups, because they are properly formed and incorporated. While it is true that these groups may make a bid, this answer inadvertently gave a too limited impression of the benefit of the policy, because in fact any person or group is entitled to make a bid to purchase a building or land which is listed as asset of community value. However, only a community interest group may trigger the full six-month moratorium period.
The Community Right to Bid in England brings together provisions in Chapter 3 Part 5 of the Localism Act 2011 and the Assets of Community Value (England) Regulations 2012. In light of the fact that this is a new scheme it is important that there is clarity on what rights and responsibilities this scheme confers on owners of listed assets, local authorities and the voluntary and community sector.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Lord Marland): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Dr Vince Cable) has today made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
On Thursday 6 September 2012 I laid a Written Statement before the House about the publication that day of the Government's response to the October 2011 consultation on Audit Exemptions and Change of Accounting Framework.
That Statement included an explanation that the legislative changes to enable companies to take advantage of the new and increased audit exemptions would come into force from 1 October 2012, to be available for accounting years beginning on or after that date.
Regulations have now been made introducing those legislative changes. However, in fact the exemptions will be available for accounting years ending on or after 1 October 2012. The regulations are the Companies and Limited Liability Partnerships (Accounts and Audit Exemptions and Change of Accounting Framework) Regulations 2012 (SI 2012 No. 2301).
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