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Joint session of Development and Defence Ministers

Security and Development

Defence and Development Ministers met in joint session to discuss security and development. A number of partners intervened to emphasise the importance of security sector reform and of incorporating development issues into training for ESDP missions. Partners also stressed the importance of early progress on an action plan to take forward this agenda.

Conclusions were agreed underlining that development and security considerations should inform EU strategies and policies in order to contribute to the coherence of EU external action. Conclusions highlighted the interdependence of work on security and development, the key role of the UN and the need for a strategic approach, reflecting CFSP priorities in development planning and vice versa.

Development Ministers

Orientation debate on the effectiveness of EU external action

The annual orientation debate focused on the development consequences of the new joint strategy and action plan, aimed at providing a comprehensive framework for EU-Africa relations from 2008-10, following presentation of a presidency paper.

Towards an EU response to situations of fragility

World Bank president Robert Zoellick briefed Ministers on the bank’s approach to fragility and work on climate change. Member states agreed on the need for rapid work to improve co-ordination on the ground and enhance the synergy of EU development instruments.

Conclusions were agreed welcoming the Commission’s paper on fragility, endorsing the OECD Development Assistance Committee’s principles for good international engagement in fragile states and situations and calling for the comprehensive and forward-looking use of community and member state development instruments to address situations of fragility.

Policy coherence for development

Ministers discussed work on the policy coherence for development or beyond-aid agenda. Progress had been made, but a number of member states called for increased momentum. The Secretary of State for International Developmentcalled for greater effort on achieving the millennium development goals (MDGs), further progress on reform of the common agricultural policy, development-friendly trade rules and urgent action to tackle climate change.

Conclusions were agreed reporting on the role that EU policies other than development had in helping developing countries to achieve the MDGs. They welcome

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the introduction of mechanisms into EU policy formation designed to improve policy coherence for development, but note that work remained to be done.

Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs)

Commissioner for Trade, Peter Mandelson, briefed Ministers on progress in negotiations with the African, Caribbean and Pacific states affected by EPAs. The Secretary of State for International Development underlined the importance of agreement on EPAs being reached by the end of the year.

Conclusions were agreed underlining EU commitment to the negotiations, endorsing the Commission’s two-step approach, which aimed to achieve agreement on market access for goods by the end of the year, and calling for maximum WTO-compatible flexibility in negotiating the agreements, respecting the right of the negotiating states to determine the best policies for their development.

Advancing Agriculture in Africa

Ministers discussed the Commission’s communication on advancing agriculture in Africa.

Conclusions were agreed recognising the importance of broad-based sustainable agricultural growth for poverty reduction and food security, and in attaining the millennium development goals in Africa. They also welcome the decision by African heads of state to increase the share of national budgets allocated to agriculture and rural development.

Partnership with Cape Verde

Ministers welcomed Cape Verde’s prospective graduation from LDC status at the beginning of 2008.

AoB: Ratification of the Cotonou Partnership Agreement

Ministers updated the council on progress in ratifying the Cotonou partnership agreement. The UK has completed the ratification process.

Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Bridget Prentice) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Today the Government are announcing their timetable for the introduction during 2008 of the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007.

From autumn 2008 the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act will come into force. The Act enables courts to make orders to protect those at risk of forced marriage or any attempt to force a person into marriage or to protect a person who has been forced into a marriage. The approach taken gives the courts wide discretion to deal flexibly and sensitively with the circumstances of each individual case, employing civil remedies that will offer protection to victims without criminalising members of their family.

The new provisions take the form of a new Part 4A to the Family Law Act 1996, placing them firmly in the wider context of domestic violence and family proceedings generally. During the next year the Government will consult on how to ensure that the Act is implemented effectively.



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Health: Allergy

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Darzi of Denham): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Ann Keen) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Government’s response to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee report on allergy has been laid before Parliament (Cm 7255). It is available in the Library and on the department’s website atwww.dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics/ Publications/PublicationsPolicyAndGuidance/DH_080793.

Planning

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Hazel Blears) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

In the White Paper Planning for a Sustainable Future, published on 21 May 2007, we set out a wide-ranging package of proposals for reform of the planning system.

Planning is critical to protecting the countryside and our environment, building sustainable homes and communities, and supporting growth and prosperity. It also plays a vital role in ensuring individuals and local communities have a say in what gets built.

Since 1997 we have made major improvements to town and country planning: more houses are being built, with better use of brownfield land; more development in town centres is helping to revitalise our towns and cities; planning decisions are being made more quickly; and we have made the system more efficient and customer focused. But significant problems remain. The planning system remains too complex, bureaucratic and inefficient. These problems are particularly acute for major infrastructure projects, which are subject to different planning regimes. Currently, a single project may require consent under numerous different regimes. Lack of clarity in national policy, poor preparation of specific project proposals, lengthy and adversarial inquiry processes and slow decision-making mean that some planning decisions have taken years.

These delays, combined with the lack of certainty in the system, can result in high costs for business and prolonged uncertainty and blight for communities, and pose a serious threat to UK competitiveness, growth and jobs. Moreover delays in the provision of essential infrastructure needed to ensure clean, secure energy and water supplies and decent transport have quality-of-life implications for everyone.

We need to ensure that the planning system enables us to meet the long-term challenges we face as a society:

to meet our climate change objectives by speeding up the shift to renewable and low-carbon energy, supporting the development of low-and zero-carbon

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homes and businesses; and ensuring development is resilient to the impacts of climate change;to achieve our target of 3 million new homes by 2020 so current and future generations have access to a decent home at a price they can afford; to enable us to meet the challenge of globalisation by being efficient and responsive to business needs; and supporting the development of vital infrastructure, such as ports, roads and airports, needed to ensure that the UK continues to attract investment and jobs; andto provide certainty for investment in new infrastructure such as power stations, gas storage facilities and electricity networks needed to ensure energy supplies are secure.

Our proposals for planning reform are a central part of the Government’s wider agenda for addressing these long-term challenges in a way which demonstrates our commitment to achieving a prosperous economy and high quality of life for all, while reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment.

The White Paper proposed that we should establish a new, single consent regime for nationally significant transport, energy, water and waste infrastructure projects under which:

the Government will set out in national policy statements the case for nationally significant infrastructure, integrating social, economic and environmental policies. These statements will be subject to thorough public consultation, appraisal of sustainability and parliamentary scrutiny;developers will be required to consult local communities and other key stakeholders as they prepare those projects and before they submit an application; anddecisions on applications will be made by the independent Infrastructure Planning Commission using streamlined inquiry procedures. Inquiries and decisions would be subject to statutory timetables.

Responses to the White Paper have indicated that there is clear agreement that the current system is not working effectively. Our proposals have been widely welcomed by business and many in the planning community and local government.

However a number of issues and concerns have been raised. Questions have arisen in particular about:

how we propose to take forward the proposals for national policy statements; the need to ensure sustainable development is central to the new regime; ensuring people can influence and participate in policy and decisions; and ensuring decisions are fair and accountable.

The proposal to produce national policy statements for major infrastructure sectors has been welcomed by the large majority of respondents to the White Paper. Over the forthcoming months, my colleagues the Secretaries of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, Transport, and Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will set out further details of

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how they propose to ensure national policy in their infrastructure sectors is clearly set out; a short summary of proposals is at Annexe A.

We acknowledge that it is essential to ensure that our objectives in relation to sustainable development are central to consideration of future infrastructure needs. The Bill will therefore include a duty on Ministers to ensure that national policy statements are drawn up with the objective of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development. We will also make it a requirement that all national policy statements should be subject to an appropriate appraisal of the sustainability of the policy they set out.

The Bill will also put effective public consultation and participation at the heart of all three key stages in the regime:

by creating a clear duty to ensure effective public consultation on national policy statements. We intend that this consultation should include positive and proactive means of engaging citizens and communities. Where national policy statements identify locations or potential locations for development, there will be a duty to consult in those locations; by placing clear legal obligations on developers to consult local communities before they submit a planning application, and ensure that this consultation is of high quality; and by making planning inquiries accessible and ensuring people’s rights to be heard are protected. In particular the Bill will make it clear that any person who registers an interest can give oral evidence at relevant stages of the inquiry.

In order to support more effective engagement with communities and hard-to-reach groups, we will be increasing the resources we provide to bodies that promote community engagement in planning. We also intend that local authorities should have an important role in ensuring the views of the communities they represent are fully reflected.

Finally, the Bill will strengthen accountability and ensure decision-making is fair and transparent:

Government Ministers will be clearly accountable for setting overall policy. There will be a clear distinction between responsibility for setting policy, and responsibility for the quasi-judicial decisions;Parliament will have a stronger role in scrutinising national policy; the Infrastructure Planning Commission will be required to take decisions within a clear framework of legal duties set by Parliament and policy set by Government. It will also be subject to requirements designed to ensure full accountability to Ministers, Parliament and the public.

To provide the stronger role for Parliament, we encourage the House to establish a new Select Committee with the main purpose of holding inquiries into draft national policy statements in parallel with public consultation. We suggest that this committee should be comprised of members from the existing Select Committees on Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, on Transport and on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.



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We will consider the committee's reports together with responses to public consultation and revise draft national policy statements where appropriate, before designating them. In addition, if the committee has recommended that a national policy statement raises issues which should be debated by Parliament as a whole, we will make available time in each House for a debate before we designate it.

This model—in which decisions are taken independently, on an objective basis, by a body with no role in promoting particular policy outcomes—offers clear benefits in terms of increased transparency and certainty to both applicants and the public.

We have noted concerns that the White Paper may have defined too narrowly the matters the IPC may take into account in reaching decisions. We are clear that the national policy statement should be the primary policy consideration for the commission. However, we agree that the commission must be able in taking decisions to have discretion to take account of all information specific to the case before it which it considers relevant and important to its decision, including all such local impacts. The Bill will make it clear that this is the case.

We have also concluded that there may be some very exceptional circumstances in which it would not be appropriate to leave final decisions to the commission. These circumstances would arise where new issues or evidence are raised relevant to an application before the commission which are so significant that the Government consider they may justify a change of national policy. Where this was the case, the relevant Secretary of State could direct the commission to suspend consideration of the application until he or she had reviewed the national policy statement. However, where there is an application before the IPC which needs to be determined urgently in the national interest, the Bill will enable the Secretary of State to direct the IPC to produce a recommendation with the final decision to be taken by the Minister. We would expect such cases to be very rare so the Bill will therefore set out clearly the conditions that will apply to the exercise of this power.

Overall, we believe that our proposals for major infrastructure will reduce the average time taken for large applications by a half. By doing so, they will save between £3.8 billion and £4.8 billion in costs up to 2030. And they will do this while extending our commitment to ensure sustainable development is at the heart of planning, strengthening opportunities for public consultation and engagement, and improving accountability.

In addition to our proposals for reform of major infrastructure, the Bill will include a number of significant measures aimed at ensuring that the town and country planning better supports housing growth and climate change, and is more streamlined and efficient.

The Bill will implement our proposals to introduce a new charge, entitled the community infrastructure levy, to enable local authorities to secure a bigger contribution from developers towards the costs of infrastructure. We are pleased that our proposals have been widely welcomed by developers and local government. We will publish further details of the proposals on my department's website.



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Local plans have a key part to play in enabling local authorities to set a clear strategic vision for their communities. The Bill will therefore include a number of provisions to make plan-making simpler and more flexible, which will be supported by a revised planning policy statement. It will also include a new duty on local authorities to take action on climate change through local plans. This duty will be underpinned by a new planning policy statement on climate change which we will publish before the end of the year.

Finally, the Bill will include provisions to reduce the number of planning applications, speed up appeals and simplify the tree preservation order system. It will include provisions which would enable local member review bodies to determine appeals.

These provisions in the Bill will be supported by a range of measures to make it easier for homeowners to extend their homes and to install microgeneration technology, to introduce new planning performance agreements which will ensure large applications are dealt with effectively, and to allow an increase in fees for planning applications in order to enable local authorities to improve the quality of service they provide. We also intend to consult on a new planning policy statement on economic development before the end of the year.

Further details of these and other reforms are set out in the Government’s summary of responses to the White Paper consultation, published today, which has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, and to the related consultations which will be published shortly.

The Planning Bill will play a key part in delivering on this Government’s long-term vision for Britain. Alongside legislation on housing and regeneration, climate change, energy and local transport, this Bill will help to deliver our objectives in relation to housing, climate change, energy security, transport provision, and prosperity and quality of life for all. The Planning Bill will do this by ensuring that we have an efficient planning system which produces fair and transparent outcomes on decisions which are vital both to the local communities they most affect, and to the long- term challenges facing us as a nation.

Annexe on National Policy Statements

Energy


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