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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 5 May 2009


Buying Solutions

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Angela Eagle): Buying Solutions has been set four performance targets for 2009-10. These are as follows:


The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Alistair Darling): The Economic and Financial Affairs Council will be held in Brussels on 5 May 2009. The following items are on the agenda:

Economic and financial situation

The European Commission forecasts to be published on 4 May will form the basis of an exchange of views between Ministers about the economic situation. The UK believes there is a continued need for member states to work together in ensuring a co-ordinated response to the crisis.

Proposal for a Regulation amending Regulation (EC) No 332/2002

Following on from the conclusions of the 19-20 March 2009 spring European Council, ECOFIN is expected to reach agreement on the Commission’s proposal to amend the regulation establishing a facility providing medium-term financial assistance for member states’ balances of payments, including a new lending ceiling of €50 billion for the EU balance of payments facility. The Government strongly support the principle of increased financial assistance from the EU for member states facing balance of payments difficulties.

Quality and sustainability of public finances

ECOFIN will be asked to adopt conclusions on the implementation of structural reforms to enhance the sustainability and quality of public finances, and endorse a report on age-related economic and budgetary projections for EU member states. The Government believe in the importance of sustainability and quality of public finances, particularly in the current juncture.

Five years after EU enlargement

Following on from discussions at the informal ECOFIN in April, Ministers will adopt a set of conclusions on the economic impacts of the 2004 wave of enlargement. The UK can support the conclusions, which set out the
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achievements and benefits of the 2004 enlargement, the importance of structural reforms and the need for resisting protectionist policies.

Dialogue with third countries

The Commission will update the Council on recent progress made on regulatory dialogues with third countries, in particular the United States, China, Japan and Russia. It will focus on reform of the regulation and supervision of the financial system, within the context of the G20.


a) Tobacco Directive

The Council will be asked to reach a political agreement on the tobacco directive, which will set out the structure and rates of excise duties applied on manufactured tobacco products.

b) Communication on promoting good governance in tax matters

Following on from the agreements at the G20 London summit on tax havens and OECD standards, the Commission will present a communication setting out aims for improving governance of taxation issues in the EU. The communication also highlights the EU’s work on improving tax transparency standards with third countries. The UK believes it is important to ensure that any new suggestions from the Commission complement the existing G20 work.

General budget of the European Union - preliminary draft budget 2010

The Commission will present the proposed EC Budget for 2010. This marks the beginning of the 2010 Annual Budget negotiations that will run until December. The UK supports a realistic budget which promotes sound financial management.


The presidency will give an update on the state of play on four financial services dossiers heading for first reading deals with the European Parliament: Solvency II, the e-money directive, the cross-border payments regulation and the regulation on credit rating agencies.

Communities and Local Government

Planning Casework Performance

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Sadiq Khan): The Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 requires the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to set and meet a timetable for the majority of planning cases which are to be decided by her (as opposed to being decided by a planning inspector) and to make a report to Parliament each year on performance. This is intended both to ensure that such cases are dealt with expeditiously and to enable the parties to any particular case to know when they can expect to receive a decision.

The Secretary of State has accordingly today laid before Parliament an Act Paper reporting on performance on all decisions made between 1 April 2008 and 31 March 2009 to which statutory timetables apply. Such timetables apply to decisions on called-in planning applications; planning appeals recovered for the Secretary of State’s decision; other cases “linked” to such decisions (including listed building consent and conservation area consent);
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and appeals against refusals of consent for works to trees covered by tree preservation orders. They do not apply to cases decided by inspectors (which includes all tree preservation order appeals lodged on or after 1 April 2008) or to cases decided by the Secretary of State jointly with a Minister of another Department.

During the period from 1 April 2008 to 31 March 2009, 73 (95 per cent.) of the 77 cases decided by the Secretary of State other than tree preservation order appeals were made within their statutory timetables, as were 415 out of 416 decisions (99.75 per cent.) of tree preservation order appeals.


The Minister for Housing (Margaret Beckett): I am today publishing a consultation on proposals for a new Planning Policy Statement 4: “Planning for Prosperous Economies” (PPS4). Copies of the consultation are being placed in the Library of the House.

The planning system is a key lever the Government have to contribute towards improving economic performance. The current uncertain economic times have highlighted the need for planning policies at the national, regional and local level to be flexible and responsive so that they support the economic aspirations of our communities, whether in cities, market towns or rural villages.

In light of this and in keeping with our commitment in our 2007 Planning White Paper and the recommendations of the Killian Pretty review, this comprehensive new draft statement brings together in one place all of the Government’s key planning policies relating to the economy and streamlines and simplifies policy to focus on what is important to allow the economy to grow in a sustainable manner.

The new PPS will, in its final form, replace Planning Policy Guidance Note 4: “Industrial, commercial development and small firms” (PPG4, 1992), Planning Policy Guidance Note 5: “Simplified Planning Zones” (PPG5, 1992), Planning Policy Statement 6: “Planning for town centres” (PPS6, 2005), Planning Policy Statement 7: “Sustainable development in rural areas” (PPS7) (in so far as it relates to economic development) and paragraphs 53, 54 and Annex D of Planning Policy Guidance Note 13: “Transport”.

At the heart of our policy is the requirement that development plans need to have clear, proactive, proportionate and flexible policies aimed at supporting the start up and growth of businesses, attracting inward investment and increasing employment, particularly in deprived areas. It emphasises that we need also to protect existing investment in our cities and towns by safeguarding the town centres which are the bedrock of our economic future. Our urban centres are not only the engine of the country’s economy—and through their urban renaissance policy this Government have strengthened the future of many such centres after years of decline—but are also the hub of community life, helping to stitch together communities through cultural, leisure, social and educational facilities.

The policy statement continues to put town centres first by ensuring that development continues to take place in town centres and promotes their vitality, viability and character. As previously consulted on in draft PPS6, we have removed the “need test” for proposals
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outside town centres but retained the “sequential test” which requires developers to justify why they cannot build in the centre before they seek to build out of town and strengthened the “impact test” to focus on the potential economic, social and environmental effects of development.

The revised policy also implements a number of recommendations arising from the review by the hon. Member for Truro and St.Austell (Matthew Taylor) of rural housing and economic development. The Government agree with his key finding that we need a more subtle appreciation of what makes rural communities sustainable, and that rural communities, as much as urban areas, need to plan for change in the face of new economic, environmental and demographic pressures. In bringing together our policies on economic development in town and country into one policy statement we are emphasising in the rural context what is taken for granted in urban contexts: that economic sustainability is a prerequisite for social and environmental sustainability.

Similarly, we are responding to the thrust of the recommendations made in the advice provided to the Prime Minister by Stuart Burgess, the Rural Advocate. We see both the Rural Advocate’s report and the Taylor review as important elements of a growing consensus which recognises the economic opportunities offered by rural areas and the contribution they make to the economy at large.

The draft statement does not include any specific proposals for a ‘competition test’ that was recommended by the Competition Commission. In June 2008, Tesco PLC challenged the Commission’s recommendation in the Competition Appeal Tribunal. In March 2009, the application by Tesco was allowed and the recommendation quashed. The Tribunal unanimously concluded that the Commission, in its report, had failed properly to consider certain matters which were relevant to its recommendation that the competition test be imposed as part of a package of remedies to address the adverse effect on competition identified by the Commission. The Government will await the Competition Commission’s reconsideration of the issue before deciding how to proceed.

The proposed changes I am setting out today will play a part in facilitating sustainable economic growth in urban and rural areas and ensuring our town centres thrive for years to come. The consultation closes on 28 July 2009.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

General Affairs and External Relations Council

The Minister for Europe (Caroline Flint): My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary represented the UK at the General Affairs and External Relations Council in Luxembourg.

The agenda items covered were as follows:

General Affairs

Full details of A points adopted at the General Affairs Council can be found at:

http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms data/docs/pressdata/en/gena/107418.pdf

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The Council took stock of the progress of accession negotiations with Croatia, focusing on the bilateral territorial dispute between Croatia and Slovenia, with the latter blocking the nine chapters ready for opening or closing. Commissioner Rehn briefed on his efforts to find a solution and set out a compromise proposal, which received widespread support.

The presidency called on both sides in the border dispute to show political will and a constructive approach in finding a compromise. They stressed the urgency of the issue and hoped that both sides would be able to respond to the Commission’s latest proposal by early May. The Government endorse the presidency’s approach and support the efforts of Commissioner Rehn to facilitate a mutually acceptable solution to the territorial dispute so that accession negotiations can move forward.

Employment and Energy Summits

The presidency briefed on the preparations for the 7 May Employment summit and the Southern Corridor summit on 8 May. The aim of the former summit, which the Government support, is to equip the EU’s labour markets for future economic recovery.

The Southern Corridor summit will follow up the spring European Council’s call for diversification of sources and routes of energy supplies demonstrating the EU’s strong political support for the development of the Southern Corridor through concrete actions. It will give a strong message that the EU and Southern Corridor partner countries are prepared to enhance their relations, particularly in the energy and transport fields. The Government strongly welcome the summit and the draft joint declaration.

External Relations

The full text of Council conclusions (including A points) can be accessed at: http://www.consilium. europa.eu/uedocs/cmsdata/docs/pressdata/en/gena/107419.pdf

Eastern Partnership Summit

The presidency requested high-level representation at the summit, arguing that recent political difficulties in Moldova, Ukraine and elsewhere showed that these countries needed greater EU attention.

European Neighbourhood Policy

Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner presented the 23 April Commission Communication on the implementation of ENP in 2008, and the accompanying set of ENP country progress reports. There was no discussion.


The presidency announced the adoption of the EU’s common position renewing restrictive measures for a further 12 months, which the Government strongly support.

EU Foreign Ministers also adopted conclusions, which the Government also welcome, expressing concern about the human rights situation; underlining the EU’s commitment to promoting political, social and economic reform in Burma-Myanmar; and urging the Government of Burma-Myanmar to engage meaningfully with the UN Secretary General’s good offices mission.

Sri Lanka

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