The Council held a debate on reports by the Commission and the European Central Bank on fulfilment by Slovenia and Lithuania of the Maastricht Treaty convergence criteria and their obligations regarding Economic and Monetary Union membership.
ECOFIN was briefed by the Commission on the EU's dialogue and co-operation with the United States on economic issues, in the run-up to the EU-US summit to be held in Vienna on 21 June. The Commission's briefing covered economic co-operation majoring on the financial markets regulatory dialogue. The UK welcomed the Commission's progress and pressed for greater detail on priority areas for progress next year, including moving into new sectors.
The Council agreed on renewal of value-added tax arrangements for e-commerce from 1 July until 31 December 2006 and to continue work on the other elements of the package of VAT measures with a view to reaching global agreement by the end of the year. The UK supported both these measures.
The Commission presented its communication on work undertaken by a technical working group examining company tax obstacles inhibiting the functioning of the internal market. ECOFIN held an exchange of views. No conclusions were drawn.
The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): Following the annual review, the Secretary of State will today lay regulations to update the home loss payment thresholds in section 30 of the Land Compensation Act 1973 (as amended). Home loss payments are paid at a rate of 10 per cent. of the market value to owner-occupiers who are displaced from their homes as a result of compulsory purchase or certain housing orders. These are subject to maximum and minimum payments. Tenants receive a flat rate equal to the minimum payment to owner-occupiers.
With effect from 1 September 2006 the maximum payment to owner-occupiers displaced from their home will be increased from £38,000 to £40,000 and the minimum payment will be increased from £3,800 to £4,000. The flat-rate will be increased from £3,800 to £4,000.
The period of two months between laying the regulations and commencement will give acquiring authorities reasonable notice to revise their budgets for compensation. This is similar to the notice period given in previous years for revisions to the home loss payments thresholds.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Vera Baird): My right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor has made the following written ministerial statement:
I have today laid before Parliament the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 (Supplementary Provisions) Order 2006 (the order) under section 143 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. The order relates to section 13A (section 13A) of the Local Land Charges Act 1975 (the 1975 Act).
Section 13A transfers the Lord Chancellors responsibility with the consent of HM Treasury under the 1975 Act for setting local land charges search fees, except fees for personal searches, to registering authorities (usually local authorities) in England.
Section 13A requires registering authorities to set fees for local land charge services. It also provides that before setting fees local authorities must have regard to such guidance as the Lord Chancellor may have issued.
Section 13A was inadvertently and prematurely brought into force by the Constitutional Reform Act (Commencement No 5) Order 2006 on 3 April 2006. The commencement of section 13A revoked the previous rules specifying fees under the 1975 Act without notice and before any guidance had been issued to registering authorities. This was a serious error for which I apologise to the House.
The order corrects this error. It provides that for the period 3 April 2006 until 1 April 2007 each registering authority will, in the exercise of its duty under section 13A, be treated as having specified the fees that were chargeable before 3 April. This period will allow sufficient time for the Department for Constitutional Affairs to prepare and consult on guidance to registering authorities on the exercise of their duty under section 13A and for those authorities to prepare properly for setting their own fees. The order does not invalidate any fees that may have been specified and collected by a registering authority under section 13A before 28 June 2006.
Today I have deposited copies of The Freedom of Information Act 2000 - Statistics on Implementation in Central Government January to March 2005 in the Libraries of both Houses.
This is the first quarterly bulletin produced by DCA monitoring of the performance of central Government and associated bodies under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Tom Watson): Key targets for the financial year 2006-07 for the following Ministry of Defence agencies and trading funds have been placed in the Library of the House.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): Today I am delighted to announce that the appointment of Anne Owers CBE as HM chief inspector of prisons has been extended until 31 March 2008. Ms Owers' expertise and knowledge will continue to play a key role in enabling the Prisons Inspectorate to deliver a credible and effective inspection programme for prisons, immigration removal centres and other establishments.