There are three substantive items on the Council agenda: a policy debate on the key issues surrounding the third internal energy market package; approval of draft conclusions on the Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET-Plan) before adoption at the European spring Council; and a policy debate on the climate change and energy legislative package.
The item on the internal energy market will focus on the Commissions third package of proposed legislation to improve the functioning of the internal market in electricity and gas. This comprises proposals to amend the existing directives on common rules for the internal electricity and natural gas markets and the existing regulations on conditions for access to gas and electricity networks. These include proposals to strengthen the powers and independence of national regulators and increase market transparency. There is also a proposal to establish an agency to facilitate the co-operation between national energy regulators. The debate at the Council is likely to focus on ownership unbundling and the proposed agency. The UK has welcomed the Commissions proposals as crucial for creating a properly functioning EU energy market but will be pressing for a stronger regulatory agency.
On the SET-Plan, Ministers will be asked to approve draft conclusions for use at the spring Council, where the SET-Plan will be formally adopted. The UK welcomes the plan, which should provide a useful basis for the development of new energy technology. The UK is content with the draft conclusions.
The Council will hold a policy debate on the climate change and energy package, particularly on the draft directive on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources. The presidency has proposed questions to focus the debate on aspects of the renewable energy proposal, including sustainability criteria for biofuels, providing stability for investments, and the transfer of guarantees of origin.
There will be an AOB agenda item on international energy relations, where the Commission are expected to report on Euro-Med co-operation, the MoU with Turkmenistan, G8 co-operation on energy efficiency, the energy community treaty and security of supply.
The Minister for Housing (Caroline Flint): Today the Government have launched Lifetime Homes, Lifetime Neighbourhoods: A National Strategy for Housing an Ageing Society. This strategy addresses the challenge of ageing, and what it means for housing and planning in England.
In our Green Paper Homes for the Future, we announced our vision for housing and an ambition to build 3 million more homes by 2020. In Lifetime Homes, Lifetime Neighbourhoods we outline how this housing programme will respond to one of the great challenges for housing in the 21st Century, an ageing population.
In Lifetime Homes, Lifetime Neighbourhoods the Government set out the need for planning for ageing, with a commitment to build all public housing to lifetime homes standards by 2011 and a new aspiration to build all homes to lifetime homes standards by 2013. It sets out a new vision for lifetime neighbourhoods and how this will be tested.
The strategy sets out the need for increased investment in repairs and adaptations services and improved housing advice and information, supported by an additional £35 million over two years from 2009-11.
Lifetime Homes, Lifetime Neighbourhoods also outlines our programme of investment and reform of the Governments disabled facilities grant programme, which currently helps nearly 35,000 live independently in their homes through the provision of major home adaptations. The work for which a disabled facilities grant may be made is wide ranging, providing for access to the property and access to the basic facilities within a home, such as walk-in showers and stair lifts.
Disabled facilities grants are predominantly received by older people and so are integral to this strategy. Our proposals for the modernisation and improvement of this important grant represent our response to the recommendations of the Bristol report published in 2005.
In response to rising demand we have already announced an increase in the disabled facilities grant which will take the national budget to £146 million in England for 2008-09. And today we are announcing the individual allocations for local authorities.
There will be further increases for the next two years which will bring the disabled facilities budget up to £166 million by 2010. This represents a significant investment by the Government in this important policy and will enable even more people to benefit from the programme. Changes being made to the programme include raising the limit on disabled facilities grant to £30,000.
Other changes to the means test will speed up the process and bring extra help for people working but on a low income. Changes to the rules of the scheme will also simplify and speed up the process of providing adaptations.
The full list of changes to the disabled facilities grant programme can viewed on the following link: http://www.communities.gov.uk/housing/housing managementcare/housingadaptations/
The strategy also makes it clear that housing plays a critical part in staying well and independent in later life. Lifetime Homes, Lifetime Neighbourhoods seeks to strengthen the links between housing and health. Key principles are to ensure the services for older people are joined up and personal to them. Lifetime Homes, Lifetime Neighbourhoods also sets out a new vision for specialised housing for older people with growing dependency supported by new investment of £80 million in extra care housing from the Department of Health.
The Government are also announcing today £190 million of funding for successful bids from the fifth housing private finance initiative (PFI) bidding round for schemes to deliver additional social rented housing.
Kent and Cheshire county councils and Stoke-on-Trent city council have been invited to work with Communities and Local Government to develop their proposals for schemes to deliver new extra care and supported housing. These new homes will include a range of assistive technology and allow for future adaptations enabling the elderly and the vulnerable to live independent lives and be part of their local communities.
This announcement follows a review of the capital build costs of delivering new build social rented housing through PFI, which demonstrates that the capital build costs for PFI procured units can be comparable with those for schemes funded through the Housing Corporations social housing grant. Communities and Local Government will work with the new schemes to take forward the next stage of the review to examine other costs associated with housing PFI projects.
Lifetime Homes, Lifetime Neighbourhoods and the programme of change outlined above, sets a radical vision to turn the challenges of ageing into opportunities, to improve the lives of older people now and for future generations.
The publications Lifetime Homes, Lifetime Neighbourhoods: A National Housing Strategy for an Ageing Society, Disabled Facilities GrantThe Package of Change to Modernise the Programme and Disabled Facilities Grant 2008-09 Local Authority funding allocations are all available in the Libraries of both Houses.
The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Liam Byrne):
The 2007 UK Borders Act gave the Government powers to issue identity cards to foreign nationals subject
to immigration control. These new cards will confirm both a persons immigration status and their entitlement to work and access to public funds in the United Kingdom.
We are today publishing on a Draft Code of Practice, as required under the UK Borders Act 2007, before we seek the approval of both Houses of Parliament. The Draft Code of Practice covers the operation of the civil penalty regime and the other sanctions. Hard copies of the documents are available in the Houses of Parliament. In addition, copies of the Draft Code or Practice were placed in the Libraries of both Houses. Alternatively, copies of the documents can be downloaded from the Border and Immigration Agency website at: www.bia.homeoffice.gov.uk
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Maria Eagle): In December last year I updated Parliament on the Governments review of the forum for preventing deaths in custody as one aspect of its continued commitment to bring about real changes and improvements to reduce deaths of people being held in our custodial care (Official Report, 13 December 2007, col. 65WS). The review was being conducted by Robert Fulton, a former Home Office director. I am pleased to inform the House that Ministers have now received his report and I am making it available today.
Mr Fulton has recommended significant changes to the existing arrangements. An advisory panel on deaths in custody, formed of experts in the subject matter from outside Government Departments and operational services, would become the principal source of advice to a ministerial board on deaths in custody. The advisory panel would be supported by a broadly based practitioner and stakeholder group comparable to the existing forum. The board, replacing the ministerial round table on suicide, would bring together decision makers responsible for deaths in custody issues in the Ministry of Justice, Home Office and Department of Health.
The Government welcome this report and will be giving it careful consideration, taking into account the views of forum and round table members and others in and out of Parliament with an interest in death in custody issues. In making final decisions, Ministers will be considering such factors as the likelihood of the proposed structural changes delivering effective reductions in deaths in custody and cost.
Copies of the review of the forum for preventing deaths in custody have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office. Copies are also available on the internet at www.preventingcustodydeaths.org.uk.