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In response to our invitation, we received 57 proposals for eco-towns. There has been a rigorous cross-Government assessment of these bids, particularly focusing on the existing transport infrastructure and local environment. We have also looked at the likely benefits to existing communities, the contribution the eco-town would make to local housing needs, and the likelihood of the proposal being successfully delivered.

We are today publishing a short-list of 15 locations which will go through to the next stage of consultation. These are:

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These potential locations have been published as part of a consultation document “Eco-towns—Living A Greener Future”, inviting views on both the broader objectives and benefits of eco-towns, and on those locations which we regard as the most promising.

We will also be looking at the proposed schemes from promoters and we expect each proposal to be further refined and improved over the coming months. We will be looking for clear evidence that each scheme:

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A panel of experts will advise and challenge those leading the proposals to improve the environmental credentials of each project. Government will also be providing support to the relevant local authorities, comparable to the support on offer to local authorities designated as growth points or growth areas. We will continue to work in partnership with local government and the LGA as we move forward.

This consultation is the first of four key stages in the planning process for eco-towns.

Our objective is for five eco-towns to be completed by 2016, and up to ten by 2020. We expect work to begin on some sites by 2010.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Draft Marine Bill

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): As the next major step in delivering the proposals set out in the Government’s Marine Bill White Paper—A Sea Change, a draft Marine Bill will be laid before Parliament today. Copies of the draft Bill will be available in the Vote Office.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

EU Foreign Ministers

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Jim Murphy): My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary represented the UK at the informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers (“Gymnich”) in Brdo, Slovenia on 28 and 29 March 2008.

The agenda items covered were as follows:

Middle East Peace Process

The Presidency and High-Representative Solana briefed Ministers on recent developments in the region. Ministers reiterated their commitment to the Annapolis process, and agreed that the EU, in its capacity as a member of the Quartet, should continue to focus on practical efforts to support the political process. The EU should focus particularly on continuing its work on Palestinian economic development and security sector reform, including capacity-building measures within the judiciary and police.

Ministers shared concern about Syria’s policies in the Middle East and concluded that the EU needed to speak with one voice to Syria. While Ministers recognised Syria’s importance in helping to resolve the conflict in the Middle East, my right hon. Friend the Foreign
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Secretary emphasised the need to send a clear message that Syria’s continued interference in Lebanon was unacceptable. He also called for the EU to do all it could to continue to support the Lebanese Government.


Ministers discussed how to take forward EU-Russia cooperation under the Medvedev administration. Ministers agreed that the relationship was strategically significant, not just in the context of economic sectors such as energy, but with regard to issues in the common European neighbourhood and promoting security and stability more broadly. The majority view was that swift progress on a mandate to open negotiations on a successor Partnership and Co-operation Agreement with Russia would therefore be useful in providing a framework for the relationship. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary underlined the importance of maintaining EU unity when dealing with Russia.

Western Balkans

In a joint session with colleagues from the Western Balkans countries, Ministers focused on the region’s prospects for joining the EU. The presidency’s subsequent statement, which the Government broadly support, emphasised that it was important for the Western Balkans countries to make rapid progress on political and economic reforms, reconciliation and protection of ethnic minorities; welcomed the Commission’s Communication on the Western Balkans; and called upon the EU to reaffirm its commitment to the success of enlargement within the region, so long as those countries aspiring to EU membership meet the established criteria.


Ministers stressed their strong concern over events in Tibet. They stated that the EU condemned all violence and called for it to cease, while asking that those arrested be treated in conformity with international standards; wished to uphold the transparency of information and free access by the press to Tibet. Ministers also noted the Dalai Lama’s recent public commitment to non-violence and to the autonomy not independence of Tibet; and called for substantive and constructive dialogue that addressed core issues such as preservation of the Tibetan language, culture and traditions. The Government supported this position.

Intercultural Dialogue

Ministers discussed the release of “Fitna”, a controversial short film on Islam, by the Dutch MP Geert Wilders. They reaffirmed that the right of freedom of expression was a basic value of the EU but stressed the importance of respect for others’ religious beliefs.


Pharmacy Services

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Dawn Primarolo): We are today laying before Parliament the Government’s White Paper, “Pharmacy in England—Building on Strengths, Delivering the Future” (Cm 7341). This fulfils an undertaking I gave to the House on 24 July 2007. It also meets the commitment the Government gave in paragraph 4.47 of “Our Health, Our Care, Our Say” to develop pharmaceutical contractual arrangements in line with the wider ambitions of that White Paper.

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This White Paper sets out our future proposals for developing pharmaceutical services. It demonstrates the Government’s continued commitment to pharmacy, its place in the NHS and its role as a leading clinical profession in delivering better access to high quality services to patients and consumers.

It sets out how pharmacists will work to complement general practitioners in promoting health, preventing sickness and providing care that is more personal and responsive to individual needs. Pharmacists already play a vital role for local communities in dispensing medicines, and providing services such as supporting people who want to give up smoking. This extended role will see more pharmacists being able to prescribe for and deal with minor ailments on the national health service, as well as supporting those with long-term conditions and preventing illnesses through additional screening and advice.

This will enable pharmacies, many of which already open out of hours to provide increased access to the right medicines and the right care, in the right way—more personal and more responsive to individual needs.

Under the new proposals, pharmacies will:

To support this important programme of work, the Department will appoint two new pharmacist clinical directors later this year who will champion change in hospitals and in the community.

The White Paper also provides the Government’s response to a review of national health services pharmaceutical contractual arrangements led by Anne Galbraith, former Chair of the Prescription Pricing Authority. Her report, “Review of NHS pharmaceutical contractual arrangements”, which was completed last year, has been placed in the Library and copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office. I am most grateful to Mrs Galbraith for the speed and efficiency in which she completed her report and her insights, which have helped shape our thinking as set out in this White Paper.

We have also taken account of the work of the All Party Pharmacy Group, which published its report “The Future of Pharmacy” in June last year.

The Government have concluded that a number of structural changes are needed—in terms of reforms which will enable appropriate action to be taken in the small minority of cases where performance is not meeting
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accepted standards and to shift funding arrangements so that rewards are based on the quality, not the quantity, of the services provided.

We set out proposals to reform 100-hour a week pharmacies. We want the NHS to have adequate levers which ensure such pharmacies better meet local needs.

The White Paper also considers the position of dispensing doctors and appliance contractors—with proposals to allow dispensing doctors to sell over-the-counter medicines and for appliance contractors to meet professional and high quality standards.

We will proceed quickly with the next stages to support implementation of the actions set out here. We are holding a series of events around the country beginning on 1 May 2008, to hear views from the public, from the NHS and from the professions. We will then consult fully later this summer on some of the key proposals for structural reform needed. That consultation will take full account of the final “NHS Next Stage Review” report to be published in due course.

Home Department

UK Border Agency

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): In a statement to Parliament on the 14 November 2007, Official Report, column 667, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced a wide range of measures to counter terrorism, increase the resilience of communities to resist extremism and to strengthen our borders. The statement announced the decision to establish a UK Border Agency, a global organisation that will improve the UK’s security through stronger border protection while welcoming legitimate travellers and trade.

The new UK Border Agency is today established as a shadow agency of the Home Office. The agency’s purpose and objectives are set out in its first business plan which I am laying in the House today. That purpose is clear: it is to secure our border and control migration for the benefit of our country; protecting our borders and national interests; preventing border tax fraud, smuggling and immigration crime; and implementing decisions quickly and fairly.

The UK Border Agency will unite the work of the Border and Immigration Agency, Customs detection work at the border from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and UKVisas from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), to create an organisation with a budget of over £2 billion, 25,000 staff, and operating in local communities, at our borders, and across 135 countries worldwide. The agency will deploy unprecedented power in pursuit of its goals.

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