The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gordon Brown): I will chair the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN) on 8 November 2005. The Paymaster General, right hon. Dawn Primarolo MP, will represent the UK. Items on the agenda are as follows:
EC Budget Roadmap: Roadmap to an integrated internal control framework; ECOFIN will discuss how to take forward the Commission's proposed roadmap towards a positive Statement of Assurance for the EC's annual budget.
Fiscal issues: VAT. ECOFIN will be updated on progress towards a "one stop scheme" designed to minimise compliance burdens on businesses, and will discuss reduced-rate proposals introduced by the Luxembourg Presidency.
Financial services: Cross-border consolidation in the EU financial sector. ECOFIN will note progress and agree conclusions on the supervisory approvals process for cross-border mergers and acquisitions in financial services.
The Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Ms Harriet Harman): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) has made the following written statement in the other place today:
Magistrates courts play an essential role in the justice system. Each and every day they sit, the courts help to make our communities safer and more secure. They deal with over 95 per cent. of all criminal cases. They respond quickly and effectively to childcare cases. And they help people resolve their disputes as fairly as possible.
But the courts have not always received the support that they deserve and I wanted to know what we, the Government, can do to make magistrates courts even more efficient and effective. This is why, last year, I launched the Supporting Magistrates to Provide Justice programme.
The programme has looked at how the Government can help make improvements to the way magistrates courts operate. To inform us, we asked the experts: magistrates, district judges, justices' clerks and other court staff. They responded in their thousands with a range of suggestions and ideas that I set out in a Response Paper that was laid before this House on 1 April 2005.
Helping to ensure magistrates are connected to their communities. Magistrates must be able to keep abreast of the changing issues facing their evolving and increasingly diverse communities. We will support magistrates in understanding the current priorities and concerns faced by the local people they serve.
Ensuring magistrates courts are respected and valued, with court orders obeyedcourts are respected when the services and facilities they provide meet the needs of those that use and rely on the court, particularly victims and witnesses. This Government are committed to improving court facilities, providing efficient court processes and giving magistrates the authority to ensure their orders are obeyed.
Making sure the magistrates courts are effective in dealing fairly and efficiently with the cases before them. Our courts have a very important role to play in the lives of every citizen. For the community to feel truly confident in the justice system and to genuinely respect the work of the magistrates courts, it is critical that the courts deliver effective court services.
Improving the recruitment and retention of magistrates. The benefit of a volunteer magistracy is that they are able to represent the views of their community while providing a highly professional approach to discharging their responsibilities. In order that the magistracy is able to continue this critical role we propose a series of reforms and new initiatives which will see the development of a re-invigorated magistracy, attractive to the next generation of civic minded citizens willing to commit a portion of their time to building safe and secure communities.
We will continue to look for further improvements so that our services are as efficient and effective as possible, making best use of the capacity of the courts, and of the talent and expertise of those working in them.
The Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Ms Harriet Harman): I intend to publish shortly a summary of the responses to the consultation paper "Burial Law and Policy in the 21st Century: The Need for a Sensitive and Sustainable Approach", which the Home Office issued last year. I am today placing pre-publication copies of that summary in the Libraries of both Houses.
We were grateful for the many detailed and thoughtful comments that were submitted. The responses indicated general support for modernisation of our burial laws, including more uniform legislation, the need to ensure adequate burial facilities, and the ability to make the best use of old burial grounds. Arrangements are now in hand to discuss with burial practitioners and others the practical details of the changes needed to give effect to law reform in this area. In doing so, we will consider sympathetically
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the case for enabling the re-use of old burial grounds, seeking a balance between the interests of relatives and descendants and the wider needs of the local community.
The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): We have today issued for consultation the drafts of the HRA subsidy and item 8 determinations for 200607, which set out proposed figures for subsidy allocations for individual housing authorities. Copies of the draft determinations and supporting material have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and will also be available on my office's website from 4.30pm this afternoon at the following location:
These allocations are based on the most up-to-date information available to us from authorities, and may change as that information is refined. Authorities have until 10am, 12 December to comment on the draft determinations, and 2 December to comment on the data.
In addition, the draft determinations propose to continue the reforms in the calculation and allocation of management and maintenance allowances, which began in last year's determination round. The proposals for the management and maintenance allowances in 200607 take account of better and more representative data.
Data for the maintenance formula have been expanded to take account of both criminal damage to dwellings and burglary, a decision taken after consultation with stakeholders. Most local authorities will gain from the changes proposed in the draft determinations, and some will benefit substantially.
We have carried out a three-year review of this policy which reported in 2004. We will introduce in full the recommendations made in this review in 200607, reinforcing the steps already taken to create a fair and transparent rent setting system in the social rented sector. In addition we will provide more protection for council tenants by capping at 5 per cent. the average cash increase in rents in any local authority for each of the next two years.
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