The Minister for Housing (Margaret Beckett): I am today announcing final allocations of the first round of £101 million of Housing Planning Delivery Grant (HPDG) for 2008-09. HPDG was established in 2007 to reward local authorities for improved delivery of housing and other planning outcomes as part of their strategic, place shaping role and to provide more support to communities and local councils who are actively seeking to deliver new homes. The grant replaces Planning Delivery Grant which has been paid since 2002-03. The housing element of the grant was developed following concerns from local authorities that housing growth was inadequately recognised by the local government finance system. HPDG is designed to strengthen the incentive for local authorities to respond to local housing pressures by returning the benefits of growth to communities and to incentivise efficient and effective planning procedures
The grant is performance-related. The £40 million housing element of the grant goes to all local authorities with net additional housing completions above 0.75 per cent. of their existing housing stock. The net additions are averaged over the previous three years. For each net addition above the threshold, the local authority receives one unit (£916) of housing grant. The amount per unit is calculated by the total amount of money for the year divided by the total number of units above the threshold.
Sufficient land for housing (40 per cent. of the planning element);
Core Strategies and Development Plan Documents allocating more than 2,000 dwellings (50 per cent.);
joint working on the production of development plan documents (6 per cent.) and;
a Strategic Housing Market Assessment (4 per cent.)
The announcement today includes the revised allocations of awards following the evaluation of the challenges to the provisional allocations which we published in July. The successful challenges resulted in an increase to the overall allocation which has been offset partially by redistribution of abatement. Downward adjustment of the provisional allocations for all authorities has therefore been kept to a minimum.
Grant allocations are not ring-fenced and authorities have discretion in the way they spend this money. However, to encourage investment for the future, 32.5 per cent. of
the total grant paid to any individual authority must be spent on capital. The remaining 67.5 per cent. can be spent by the local authority on resource or capital budgets. Payments to local authorities will be made on Tuesday, 11 November 2008.
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. John Hutton): My predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Des Browne), represented the UK at an informal meeting of EU Defence Ministers held on 1 and 2 October 2008, in Deauville, France. It provided an important opportunity for discussions on EU-led operations, a range of military capability issues and presidency initiatives for Europe and its citizens.
In the first session on operations, Javier Solana, the EU high representative for common foreign and security policy, briefed Ministers on the positive start to the EU monitoring mission in Georgia. On Chad, the French presidency sought greater clarity on which EU countries would remain militarily engaged for a post-March 2009 UN follow-on mission. On Bosnia-Herzegovina, Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe (DSACEUR), General Sir John McColl, briefed Ministers on options for drawing down the current 2,500-strong EU Operation Althea military force. It was agreed that further discussion on possible draw-down and civilianisation would be required at the next EU Defence Ministers discussion on 10 November. Responding to the growing menace of piracy in the seas off Somalia, Ministers discussed the prospects for an ESDP counter-piracy mission, noting the need for the EU to co-ordinate closely with other actors already in-theatre, notably NATO and combined joint taskforce 150.
In the two sessions on military capabilities, the French presidency outlined a number of bilateral and multilateral initiatives to improve European military capabilities, in partnership with the European Defence Agency. My right hon. Friend outlined progress on the UK-France helicopter initiative, and some additional funding contributions were announced by Luxembourg and Finland. The Secretary-General of NATO welcomed the initiative and stressed the need for complementarity with NATOs efforts to deliver more operational capability from the large number of European helicopters. Ministers debated the difficulty of generating sufficient forces and reserves for operations such as EUFOR Chad. My right hon. Friend maintained that the battlegroup concept remained valid, but that the UK was ready to engage in a debate about the usability of European forces. He also emphasised that that European defence budgets should be spent on improving capability, not on boosting staff numbers and budgets of Brussels institutions; a theme supported by others.
In the final session on Europe and its citizens, Ministers heard presidency proposals for exchanges between European military academies, improved EU co-ordination of non-combatant evacuation operations,
and the need for a stock-take on European maritime surveillance arrangements. Javier Solana briefed Ministers on his work to update the European Security Strategy, and expressed his confidence that a draft would be agreed in time for Decembers European Council.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Bill Rammell): Following the statement on civil nuclear co-operation with India on 6 September 2008 by the nuclear suppliers group (NSG) which provides an exception from the NSG guidelines for exports to civil nuclear facilities in India that are safeguarded by the IAEA, the UK Government have reviewed its policy towards nuclear-related exports to India. The details of the new policy position are as follows and will take effect immediately:
Since March 2002 UK policy has been to refuse all licence applications for trigger list items to India. That policy has changed and we will now consider on a case-by-case basis licence applications for peaceful use of all items on the NSG trigger list and NSG dual-use list when they are destined for IAEA safeguarded civil nuclear facilities in India. Applications will be considered against the NSG guidelines for nuclear transfers, in accordance with the NSG statement of 6 September 2008.
applications in respect of all items on the NSG trigger list and NSG dual-use list, when they are destined for unsafeguarded nuclear fuel cycle or nuclear explosive activities, or when there is an unacceptable risk of diversion to such activities.
We will also continue to consider on a case-by-case basis all applications to export other items assessed as licensable, including those assessed as licensable under the WMD end-use control, taking into account in particular:
the risk of use in, or diversion to, unsafeguarded nuclear fuel cycle or nuclear explosive activities, or acts of nuclear terrorism;
the risk of possible onward transfer of these items to other states for proliferation purposes, including the recipient states export control performance; and
the potential utility of the items concerned for, and contribution that they would make to, such activities.
We will continue to consider applications for exports that will contribute to the physical protection or security of military nuclear facilities or assets in India. Licences may be issued in exceptional cases, consistent with our obligations and commitments.
We will continue to encourage contacts between UK nuclear scientists, academics and those working in or with the UK nuclear industry with their Indian counterparts, except where we consider that such contacts might be of assistance to the weapons-related aspects of its nuclear programme. Where such contacts involve the transfer of technology which require export licences we will continue to consider applications for such licences on a case-by-case basis, in accordance with the provisions of UK export control legislation.
The Minister for Europe (Caroline Flint): The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 10 and 11 November in Brussels. My right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and the Minister for International Defence and Security, Baroness Taylor, and my hon. Friend the Minister of State for International Development and I will represent the UK.
The Council will discuss the presidencys draft agenda for the December European Council. This agenda is likely to be dominated once again by the EUs response to the next stage of the economic downturn and the financial crisis, including the need for reform of international financial institutions. We also expect the agenda to feature the 2020 climate change and energy package; and the next stage on the Lisbon treaty ratification process. We also anticipate a discussion on the European Security and Defence Policy, including on an updated European Security Strategy; and on a range of external relations items including Russia/Georgia.
The Government support the presidencys priorities for the December European Council. We remain fully committed to reaching an agreement on the 2020 climate change package by the end of 2008. We expect substantive discussions on the way forward for Ireland and an agreement on a 2009 roadmap for treaty ratification.
Ministers will assess progress made in developing the EUs ability to deploy high-quality civilians in crisis management operations. The ministerial declaration will set out areas for future work, and agree that Ministers reassess progress annually. The Government welcome this opportunity to underline the importance we attach to further improving the EUs ability to stabilise countries emerging from conflict.
The Council will discuss the recent violence in the DRC, its security and humanitarian implications and the EUs role in resolving the crisis. The Government recognise the extent and gravity of the suffering in the region and have increased the UKs aid contribution to the DRC. We expect the Council conclusions to underline the EUs concern at the displacement caused by the resumption of fighting and the unacceptable human rights abuses continuing in the region. They will also reiterate the need to maintain efforts towards a political solution through the Goma and Nairobi processes. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made clear in his written statement to the House of Commons on 4 November, Official Report, column 17WS these processes remain a viable approach to resolving the issues underlying the violence in DRC.
Ministers will consider the EUs role in supporting the work of the African Union and the newly appointed UN special envoy on Eastern DRC. The support of the international community is vital to developing co-operation between the Governments of DRC and Rwanda. The question of military support from the EU to the region will also be under discussion. The UN already has the worlds largest peace keeping force deployed in DRC, and our view is that military support to the political processes must come through an enhanced UN response. But it is right that EU Foreign Ministers should consider contingency preparations.
We expect conclusions to deplore the lack of progress towards democracy; underline the EUs strong support for the UN Secretary-Generals efforts to break the political deadlock in the country; and welcome the strong and unified call for progress from leaders at the Asia-Europe meeting in Beijing on 25 October. We expect no discussion.
We expect the discussion to focus on the resumption of negotiations on a new partnership agreement with Russia, which were postponed by the 1 September extraordinary European Council. As EU member states agreed at the October GAERC and European Council, this decision will be informed by the audit of EU-Russia relations and Russias engagement in the process of talks in Geneva to find a settlement for the situation in Georgia.
Discussion is likely to focus on the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), including the recent lack of reform progress and increased nationalist rhetoric. The Government believe that the situation in BiH is of serious concern and merits increased EU focus and attention, including fully supporting High Representative/EU Special Representative Miroslav Lajcak and considering how the EUs presence and efforts in BiH can be strengthened. The Government believe closure of the Office of the High Representative should remain dependent on BiHs leaders fulfilling the agreed conditions and that decisions on the EUs military presence in BiH (EUFOR) should only be taken once there is clarity on the future of the international presence in Bosnia.
Ministers are likely to discuss the security situation and, more widely, increasing the EUs impact in Afghanistan. EU member states and the European Commission are major donors and troop contributors, but collectively have the potential to make more of a difference. Improving the co-ordination of the EUs efforts in Afghanistan, particularly the relationship between the EU special representative, the European Commission and the EU Police Reform Mission (EUPOL), will enable the EU to better assist the Government of Afghanistan in rebuilding the country, and addressing the underlying causes of insecurity.
The Director of the European Defence Agency (EDA) will report to Defence Ministers on the agencys activities in 2008, and the proposed 2009 Budget. Ministers will also discuss capabilities projects such as the proposed European air transport fleet and Europe defence research and technology strategy.
Following their attendance at the biannual EDA steering board, Ministers will discuss the French presidencys proposals for improving European military capabilities. We welcome this focus on encouraging Europeans to develop more effective military and civilian capabilities and deploy them in multilateral operations, whether for the EU, NATO or UN. The UK has worked closely with France on a number of bilateral initiatives, and we expect to sign a declaration of intent with EU partners on the European Carrier Group Interoperability Initiative. We continue to scrutinise carefully presidency proposals on wider capability initiatives, space security policy and the usability of multinational forces.
Ministers will also discuss presidency plans for a military Erasmus voluntary exchange scheme for young European military officers among EU member states. The UK will not benefit directly from the scheme and so will not participate or contribute to the costs, but is happy to let partners proceed on this basis.
Ministers will focus on the ongoing ESDP Mission in Chad/Central African Republic (EUFOR Chad/CAR) and the planned ESDP counter-piracy mission off the coast of Somalia. On EUFOR Chad, Ministers will discuss the progress of arrangements for handing over to the UN when the ESDP mandate expires in March 2009. On the proposed ESDP counter-piracy missions, Ministers will discuss the ongoing preparations for the planned December 2008 launch of Operation Atalanta in December 2008 and the need to secure the necessary legal powers and force generation.
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