The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Alistair Darling): The Economic and Financial Affairs Council will be held on 10 July in Brussels. The items on the agenda are as follows:
The Portuguese Presidency will present its work programme for the next six months. They are likely to concentrate on an economic policy oriented towards growth and stability, in particular the Quality of Public Finances, the Lisbon Strategy, and the strict application of the Stability and Growth Pact and the enlargement of the Euro area. They also intend to focus on better regulation, completing the internal market, and approval of the 2008 EU Budget.
Implementation of the Stability and Growth Pact
Ministers will discuss the Stability Programme for Austria and the Convergence Programme for the Czech Republic. All other member states were discussed at ECOFIN in February and March, but the process for these two countries was delayed because of changes in Government. Excessive Deficit Procedures against the Czech Republic and Hungary will also be discussed. The UK supports a prudent interpretation of the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) which takes into account the level of debt, the influence of the cycle and the level of public investment, and ensures that any recommendations reflect each member state's economic position.
Ministers will adopt legal acts allowing Cyprus and Malta to join the euro on 1 January 2008. Heads of State and Government at the European Council considered a letter from ECOFIN and agreed with the Finance Ministers' recommendation that both countries should be allowed to adopt the euro.
Ministers will hold an exchange of views on the Commission Report, which is an annual publication and was accompanied by a Commission Communication outlining proposals to improve the functioning of the SGP. The Report focuses on ways to keep up the momentum of fiscal adjustment so as to make rapid progress towards the achievement of sustainable fiscal positions.
Relations with Third Countries
There will be a debriefing by the Presidency and the Commission on the EU-US Summit 30th April 2007, and an exchange of views on economic, financial and regulatory aspects of dialogues with other third countries.
International Accounting Standards Board: governance and financing
Ministers will be asked to agree Council Conclusions, which acknowledge the steps taken by the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) and its associated bodies to improve governance and also make a number of suggestions to improve further both IASB governance and funding regime going forward.
Global Navigation Satellite System (GALILEO)
There will be an exchange of views on the financing of the Galileo project. UK will continue to push for full clarity on costs and a solution that avoids any re-opening or revision of the financial perspective.
The Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (John Healey): I am today publishing a consultation on detailed aspects of reforms to the current system of relief from business rates for owners of empty properties.
The modernisation of empty property relief is a key element of a broad package of measures which promote the efficient use of land and property, announced in the 2007 Budget. The Rating (Empty Properties) Bill, which received its Third Reading in the House of Lords on 3 July and now awaits Royal Assent, will provide a stronger incentive for owners to bring empty shops, offices, factories and warehouses back into usehelping to revitalise town centres, reduce rents for businesses and bring forward new opportunities for commercial and housing development on brownfield sites.
The consultation paper published today seeks views on detailed aspects of the reforms to empty property relief, to be achieved through secondary legislation. In particular, it invites views on potential changes to a small number of the current exemptions from empty property rates; and on new measures to prevent the avoidance of empty property rates, which the Government propose to bring in under a power provided in Schedule 1 of the Rating (Empty Properties) Bill.
The response to the consultation, which closes on 1 October 2007, will inform the secondary legislation required to give effect to the reforms which, as announced in the 2007 Budget, will be brought into force on 1 April 2008, subject to Parliamentary consent.
Copies of the consultation document have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): I should like to inform the House that I have, under Schedule 1 to the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986, reappointed the honourable Mr. Justice Sullivan as Deputy Chairman of the Boundary Commission for England, to hold office until 31 March 2010.