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The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister will publish for public consultation on 30 November a paper discussing secondary legislation to implement tenancy deposit protection for tenants.
During the passage of the Bill which became the Housing Act 2004 the Government introduced tenancy deposit protection provisions to safeguard deposits paid by tenants in relation to assured shorthold tenancies.
Copies of the paper are being sent to a wide range of interested parties including local authorities, tenant representative groups, landlord and letting agent associations, and others with an interest in this issue. The closing date for responses is 1 February 2006.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Jim Fitzpatrick): The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has today announced additional investment of the order of £125 million, under the private finance initiative, for three projects proposed by fire and rescue service authorities.
These PFI projects will help fire and rescue authorities to rebuild, refurbish and relocate new community fire stations allowing them to save more lives through improved response times and by providing fire safety advice to the communities which will help to reduce the number of accidental fire deaths in the home.
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The Minister of Communities and Local Government (Mr. David Miliband): The Government are today publishing a consultation paper on proposals for additional powers and responsibilities for the Greater London Authoritythe Mayor of London and the London Assembly.
We believe the time is now right to look at giving the Mayor a greater say in the planning and delivery of London's strategic services while preserving the appropriate balance of power between the Mayor, Assembly and boroughs. We are opening the door to significant decentralisation of powers from Whitehall, while ensuring the GLA remains a focused and strategic authority. We believe the GLA has proven its worth, and that the time is right to shift power from Whitehall to London. How far will depend on the response to the consultation.
The Government's consultation paper outlines a number of proposals for additional powers for the Mayor across a range of policy areas, including housing, learning and skills, planning and waste management and waste planning. It also explores options for additional powers for the London Assembly and changes in appointments to the boards of the four functional bodies in the GLA Group.
We look forward to hearing the views of Londoners and those with an interest in London during the consultation period, which will run until 22 February. After considering all the responses to this consultation exercise, the Government will announce a final package of proposals in spring 2006.
The Minister for Europe (Mr. Douglas Alexander): The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) was held on 2122 November in Brussels. My right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary, the Defence Secretary, and the International Development Secretary chaired the Council as presidency. I also represented the UK on certain agenda items.
The Council approved the final Requirements Catalogue 05, which identifies the EU's military capability requirements and puts renewed emphasis on rapidly deployable, sustainable and interoperable armed forces. The catalogue was validated using computer-assisted operational analysis provided by NATO. Two further battlegroups were announced (Greece-Romania-Bulgaria-Cyprus and a Czech-Slovak group), which ensured the roster was filled to the end of 2008. Progress on capability development initiatives including battlegroups, the European Gendarmerie Force and the maritime dimension was welcomed. Council Conclusions were agreed.
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The work of the UK presidency in improving civil-military co-ordination, notably on comprehensive planning and security sector reform, was widely welcomed as a step towards bringing all the EU's instruments into a more effective holistic response. The Commission also supported this approach. Ministers agreed that this work should be applied to comprehensive reviews of the EU's engagement in Bosnia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan and Aceh. The Council also discussed the importance of EU support to building African peacekeeping capacity, and the EU's ability to respond rapidly to disasters.
The Council welcomed the report by the Head of the Agency and agreed guidelines for the Agency's work in 2006. Ministers exchanged views on the finalisation of Administrative Arrangements between the Agency and Norway and Turkey. The presidency undertook to consult with those countries and return to the issue at the next opportunity.
The Council reviewed the EU military and police missions in Bosnia and agreed Conclusions. It agreed that a continuing EU military presence was essential, with force levels broadly unchanged for the coming year. It established a follow-on police mission refocused to support police reform and the fight against organised crime, and agreed to strengthen the EU Special Representative's role in co-ordinating EU instruments. On the tenth anniversary of the initialling of the Dayton Agreement, Ministers welcomed the progress made by Bosnia and authorised the Commission to open negotiations on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement.
The presidency introduced this item and highlighted that it remained committed to reaching a deal in December. The presidency highlighted the need to make progress in three main areas: (i) the structure of EU spending; (ii) modernising the budget, including a timetable for review; and (iii) resources. Significant changes would be needed to the proposals made n June by the Luxembourg presidency. The presidency highlighted plans for a ministerial conclave on 7 December, ahead of which the presidency would table comprehensive proposals.
The Commission set out the latest developments in the Doha Round. On process, the Commission commented that they will continue to ensure transparency with Member States and would consult the Council fully at Hong Kong. short conclusions were agreed.
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The presidency and High Representative Solana welcomed the agreement on the EU mission to monitor the Palestinian operation of the Rafah crossing point on the Gaza-Egypt border. The parties' acceptance of an international role was significant. Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner highlighted that Commission capacity building programmes would work hand-in-glove with the ESDP monitors. In preparation for the 25 January Palestine Legislative Council (PLC) elections, Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner said an Election Observation Mission would deploy in mid-December and would consist of 172 observers. Monitors would strictly limit their contacts to issues related to the observation of the elections. The presidency underlined the importance of the EU maintaining its position that observers should not enter into dialogue with Hamas until they renounced violence and recognised Israel. Council Conclusions were agreed.
The Foreign Secretary briefed on his recent visit to Iraq (1011 November), highlighting that steady progress was being made. The Foreign Secretary emphasised the importance of the December elections, where the Iraqis were keen for international observers. The Council agreed that mounting a full EU Election Observation Mission (EOM) would not be possible in the time available, but would explore what additional assistance it could provide in support of the 15 December elections. The Council also agreed that the EU should be considering now how to prepare for closer relations with the new government next year. The presidency thanked the Commission for their work on the opening of a Commission Delegation in Baghdad. Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner said they were currently looking for a Head of Mission and, in addition, would shortly be submitting a draft negotiating mandate to Member States for a Trade and Co-operation Agreement with Iraq by the end of the year.
The presidency updated the Council on the 18 November International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Report. High Representative Solana highlighted the need to work closely with Mr El-Baradei and for the international community to stay firm and united. The presidency agreed that the issue remained difficult but it was important the European side actively supported a diplomatic solution.
The Council agreed council conclusions on migration in external relations and underlined their significance. The presidency noted the close interest taken by Heads of Government at Hampton Court on this issue. The Commission stressed the importance of better co-coordination of work between Justice and Home Affairs, External Relations and Development and of increasing partnership with countries of origin and transit on migration issues. They particularly highlighted the need to improve engagement with sub-Saharan countries and to reinforce dialogue with Neighbouring countries. The Commission also hoped that the reform of the financial instruments would enable them to respond more quickly and effectively to urgent migration related situations.
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The Council agreed conclusions on the Commission Communication on the EU-Africa Strategy: Towards a Euro-African Pact to Accelerate Africa's Development. The Communication will form an integral part of the overall EU Strategy for Africa, which should be discussed and agreed by Foreign Ministers at the December GAERC and endorsed at the December European Council.
During separate exchanges of views in preparation for the EU-Africa Strategy, Foreign and Development ministers identified the following priorities for the strategy: African ownership; mechanisms to monitor implementation of the strategy; increasing support for peace and security, including through a long term commitment to the EU's African Peace Facility; good governance; trade and regional integration; establishing an EU-Africa infrastructure facility; meeting aid volume commitments and providing more assistance for health, education and the fight against AIDS; migration; environment; human rights; and Economic Partnership Agreements.
Sweden requested the presidency update Member States on plans for the Cyprus Aid regulation. The presidency highlighted the urgency of agreeing the Regulation and invited officials to take forward work before the next GAERC.
At the request of Bulgaria, who highlighted that the Libyan court of appeal was allowing a new hearing on the case of the Bulgarian and Palestinian medical staff at the end of January. This might herald a positive evolution. The Bulgaria Foreign Minister thanked the presidency, the Commission and the Member States for their efforts. The presidency offered continuing support to resolve this issue.
At the request of the Netherlands, who highlighted the serious situation in the border region between these two countries and stressed the need for the EU to work closely with the UN. The presidency agreed to discuss this issue further at the December GAERC.
The Council and Commission agreed "The European Consensus on Development". This will be a Joint Declaration between the Council, European Commission and European Parliament. It is divided into two parts: the first sets out common objectives and principles to guide the EU and its 25 Member States in development, focused on poverty eradication and partner country ownership; and the second sets out the revised EC Development Policy which clarifies the Community's role and added value and ensures that priority attention be given to least developed and low income countries in resource allocation; and development shall be taken into account in other policies that affect developing countries. The European Parliament is expected to formally adopt the Declaration in December.
The Council held its sixth annual "Orientation Debate" on improving the effectiveness of EU external action based on a presidency discussion paper. The Council adopted Conclusions which highlight the significant progress made by the Commission over the past five years and the concrete measures needed over the next year to improve the quality of aid and aid delivery at EU and Community levels, including: more joint multi-annual programming; lead donor arrangements at field-level; and more predictable long term funding.
The Council discussed the package of aid for trade measures proposed by the presidency, for agreement ahead of the WTO Ministerial in Hong Kong on 1318 December. The Council welcomed the Commission's commitment at the G8 Summit in Gleneagles to increase aid for trade to 1 billion Euros annually and agreed to aim to adopt Conclusions at the 12 December GAERC, which express its collective intention to increase aid for trade within rising aid volumes.
At the request of Denmark, the Council discussed the provision of aid to the victims of the recent earthquake in Pakistan. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development reported back on the Reconstruction Conference held in Islamabad on 19 November at which he represented the presidency. The Council also discussed wider reform of the international humanitarian system.
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