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The incoming Slovenian presidency congratulated the Portuguese on its achievements, particularly on SISOne4All. It announced that under its presidency, it would continue to take forward work on Europol, PrĂ1/4m, the weapons directive, readmission agreements and CEAS. It also set out its future presidency programme and announced that its informal council would take place in January at Brdl Castle.

The presidency also announced that the EU could now support the European day against the death penalty as all reserves had been lifted. It would be celebrated on 10 October every year.

The presidency introduced the proposal to update the 2002 framework decision on combating terrorism to bring it in line with the Council of Europe convention. This was an important subject matter, and there was a delicate balance to be achieved to ensure that fundamental rights were protected while terrorism was effectively

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tackled. The Commission emphasised the importance of responding to terrorist use of the internet as a criminal matter not as freedom of expression. Most member states welcomed the proposed changes to the framework decision and the Commission's comments on the dividing line between freedom of expression and criminal acts.

The presidency presented achievements so far in work on e.Justice. The Commission will increase funding in 2008 and produce a communication in May/June setting up an overall e.Justice strategy.

The presidency confirmed agreement to the latest text on choice of law in contractual obligations (Rome I). The Government consider that the text now improves on the Rome convention and addresses earlier concerns about potential loss of legal and financial services to other jurisdictions. The UK will consult its stakeholders, as soon as possible, as to whether it should, now, opt in to the text.

The council conclusions on Eurojust were adopted without debate. Slovenia announced it would address the issues raised during its presidency. The Government support the conclusions but have made it clear previously that any future proposals should focus on ensuring that Eurojust fulfils its potential within its current powers.

A general approach was reached on mutual recognition of suspended sentences, alternative sanctions and conditional sentences. The Government considered that the text balanced the different interests of member states and respected the differences between legal systems, while remaining proportionate. Accordingly, the UK was able to support a general approach.

The presidency gave an update on the framework decision of the European supervision order and confirmed that it was finalising the draft text in co-operation with the Commission and the incoming presidencies on the basis of the mandate provided from the September JHA Council.

The presidency reported that the recent EU-Russia JHA Ministerial had gone well and included discussions on narcotics, particularly from Afghanistan, and the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding on financial crime.

The two common positions on the review mechanism and asset recovery in relation to the UN Convention Against Corruption were noted briefly by the presidency but no member state intervened.

The presidency noted the successful outcome of the diplomatic session on the Hague Convention on Maintenance and observed that this text was a good basis for work on the Community's draft regulation on the same topic.

The presidency announced the important outcomes achieved at the European-Mediterranean migration summit. The statement agreed at the summit was balanced and comprehensive and included various projects to be taken forward. The Commission had announced €5 million to finance the projects agreed.

During the Justice Ministers' lunch, the Commission reported on the first meeting of the Justice Future

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Group, on which common law countries are represented by the Attorney-General of Ireland. There was a general discussion.

One member state noted that consistency was needed between security needs and the Community work to set a standard for the ammonium nitrate content of fertiliser. The Commission agreed and said work would start in the new year.

Housing: Empty Properties

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

I have today published a summary of responses received in response to the Government’s stakeholder consultation document Modernising Empty Property Relief, and have placed a copy in the Libraries of both Houses.

The Government’s proposals for reforms to empty property relief were part of a package of measures introduced in the Budget to help incentivise the efficient use of land, to help increase the supply of commercial property and to reduce costs for businesses. The Government consider that the reforms provide a strong incentive for owners to reuse, relet or redevelop their empty shops, offices and factory buildings, and so improve access to property and reduce rents for businesses. The Rating (Empty Properties) Act 2007, which received Royal Assent on 19 July, gave effect to these reforms, and set a revised empty property rate of 100 per cent of the basic occupied rate.

Having considered the responses received to our consultation document, I can confirm that the Government will now take forward a number of additional measures.

The consultation document sought views on whether the existing permanent exemption from empty property rates available to listed buildings and those with a statutory protection should continue, or whether it should be varied. I have concluded that, on the available evidence, there can be a greater degree of work involved in bringing empty listed properties back into beneficial use compared to other properties and that the evidence supports such properties continuing to benefit from an exemption from empty property rates.

I have also concluded that companies in administration should benefit from a permanent exemption from empty property rates. This will bring them into line with companies that are in liquidation and individuals subject to bankruptcy proceedings. We are committed to the promotion of a rescue culture which provides opportunities for insolvent companies that have viable underlying businesses to be rescued wherever possible. A permanent exemption will remove any potential for decisions about whether to enter administration to be distorted by differences in rates liability.

I have considered carefully the responses to the consultation document about the potential risk of

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owners of empty property taking measures to avoid payment of rates on their property. The Rating (Empty Properties) Act 2007 gave the Secretary of State, and the Welsh Ministers, the power to make regulations to tackle any such activity. The consultation document set out a number of options as to how such regulations might be constructed if the Secretary of State were minded to make them.

There was a substantial body of comment about the proposed measures. I have concluded, on the basis of those responses, that the likely incidence of avoidance activity following the introduction of the reforms to empty property relief is low. It would be an extreme step for a property owner to go to the lengths of deliberately vandalising a potentially valuable asset so that it is beyond economic repair. This view was expressed by a number of respondents to the consultation document.

Having taken account of all the responses, I have concluded that the existing circumstances do not warrant the introduction of anti-avoidance regulations at this stage. However, I am clear that, if it appears that there is evidence of measures being taken by owners of empty property to avoid payment of empty property rates, the Government will not hesitate to use their powers. We will work with the Local Government Association, the Valuation Office Agency and the Institute of Revenues Rating and Valuation to monitor the impact of the reforms and assess whether regulations should be introduced in the future.

We are now working on drafting the relevant secondary legislation to give effect to our reforms on empty property relief. This includes introducing the new six-month exemption from empty property rates for vacant industrial and warehouse properties, as announced in the 2007 Budget. We intend to lay this secondary legislation before Parliament so that all aspects of our reforms to empty property relief can come into effect on 1 April 2008.

Ministry of Defence: Autumn Performance Report

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I have today placed in the Library of the House copies of the Ministry of Defence's autumn performance report. This shows that the Armed Forces, supported by their civilian colleagues, continue to achieve our highest priority: success on operations, particularly those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Pensions: Civil Service

Lord Davies of Oldham: My honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary at the Cabinet Office (Gillian Merron) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

In my Written Ministerial Statement of 26 July 2007, I referred to the actuarial review of employer contributions payable under the Principal Civil

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Service Pension Scheme (PCSPS). Hewitt, the PCSPS Scheme Actuary, has now completed its review.

The review concerns the level of contributions payable by employers who participate in the PCSPS. The review does not cover member contributions which are specified in the PCSPS rules.

The review recommends that employer contribution rates should fall from an estimated average of 19.4 per cent of employers' pay bills to an average of 18.9 per cent. This reduction will come into effect from April 2009.

Copies of Hewitt's report Review of the Accruing Superannuation Liability Charges (ASLCs) as at 31 March 2007 together with a supporting report entitled Analysis of Scheme Experience between 1 April 2003 and 31 March 2007 have been placed in the Library.

Pensions: Financial Assistance Scheme

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My right honourable friend The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Peter Hain) has made the following Statement.

The Prime Minister announced last week that the Government would make a statement on the review of pension scheme assets undertaken by Andrew Young. The Prime Minister said that as a result of the review the Government would be able to announce that assistance from the Financial Assistance Scheme (FAS) would be guaranteed to 90 per cent.

Andrew Young’s report is published today and I am very pleased that we are able to announce a settlement that helps the 130,000 people already eligible for FAS and an additional 11,000 people in some schemes with solvent employers. These have suffered losses, through no fault of their own, as a result of their pension schemes winding up underfunded between 1 January 1997 and 5 April 2005, before the introduction of the Pension Protection Fund.

In his interim report published in July, Andrew Young identified that there was approximately £1.7 billion in assets in affected pension schemes that had not been used for annuity purchase. He concluded that the current system of annuitisation was not the best use of these assets. He said alternative solutions could provide the basis for higher assistance for members.

The Government recognised in July that more needed to be done to help those who lost their pensions. Following the publication of Andrew Young’s interim report, we therefore committed to match the extra value identified by the review with the goal of moving towards 90 per cent assistance. We also introduced regulations to protect the £1.7 billion, placing a temporary halt on the purchase of annuities.

Since July, Andrew Young has been considering how much additional value might be generated by alternative treatment of the assets. These are complex issues and I thank him for the clarity of the final conclusions in his report.

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He has concluded that, to provide a guaranteed benefit level, the best value will come from the Government absorbing all the residual assets in the schemes and then making the associated payments as they fall due1. He has also said that members of schemes wound up by solvent employers are in similar circumstances to those in schemes wound up by insolvent employers.

Since receiving a draft of the report 10 days ago, I have been working closely with the Chancellor to finalise the details of the Government response.

I can announce today the following extensions to the Financial Assistance Scheme:

All scheme members will be guaranteed 90 per cent of their accrued pension at the date of commencement of wind up, revalued to their retirement date2. This will be subject to a cap of £26,000, the value of which will be protected.Payment of assistance derived from post-1997 service will be increased in line with inflation (subject to the normal rules). Assistance will be paid from the scheme’s normal retirement age, subject to a lower age limit of 60. People who are unable to work due to ill health will also be able to apply for early access to their payments from the age of 60, subject to actuarial reduction.3Where their share of scheme funds allows, members will be able to commute some portion of their pension to a lump sum4.Assistance will be extended to members of schemes which wound up underfunded (after 1 January 1997 and before the employer was required to meet the full buy-out cost) where the employer is still solvent.

The final details of these proposals will be confirmed in the new year, when we will outline the legislation necessary to give effect to this package. We will do this as quickly as possible and call on all parties involved to work with the Government to ensure this commitment results in increased payments in the fastest possible time. Our priority will be to ensure that people who have already reached their scheme pension age receive payment at 90 per cent.

The additional costs of this package will be £935 million in net present value (NPV) terms. This will be on top of the £2.0 billon NPV we have already committed—£8.6 billion in cash terms. This will take the total commitment to £2.9 billion NPV, or £12.5 billion in cash terms.

This exceeds the Government’s commitment to match the additional value identified by Andrew Young.

The Government recognise the difficulties experienced by those who lost their pensions through no fault of their own. We believe that the revised scheme we have announced today represents a generous and appropriate final settlement.


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Pensions: Public Service

Lord Davies of Oldham: My right honourable friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Andy Burnham) has made the following Written Statement.

Legislation governing public service pensions requires public service pensions to be increased annually by the same percentage as additional pensions (state earnings related pension and state second pension). The Minister for Pensions Reform announced on 5 December 2007 (Official Report, col. 841) that benefits such as additional pensions will be increased by 3.9 per cent, in line with the annual increase in the retail prices index up to September 2007. Public service pensions will therefore be increased by 3.9 percent from 7 April 2008, except those which have been in payment for less than a year, which will receive a pro rata increase.

Planning: Policy Statements

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

I am today announcing publication of the new Planning Policy Statement (PPS): Planning and Climate Change and a consultation draft of the new PPS: Planning for Sustainable Economic Development. Copies will be placed in the Library of the House.

Our economy must be prepared to meet the challenges of increasing global competition, and to seize the opportunities presented by rapid technological change. In the planning White Paper, Planning for a Sustainable Future, we set out a vision of a planning system better able to support a dynamic economy. But this planning system must also respond to the urgent challenges presented by climate change.

Economic growth and higher environmental standards must go hand in hand. We want the planning system to do more to promote jobs and economic growth, but to do so in a way that is environmentally sustainable and helps cut carbon emissions. Equally we want to ensure that the programme to cut carbon emissions should also help support the jobs and homes we need for the future. Our reforms are designed to ensure that the planning system is flexible enough to support both, making a critical contribution to sustainable economic growth for the 21st century.

PPS Climate Change is being issued as a supplement to PPS1: Delivering Sustainable Development. This PPS is central to the entire series of planning policy

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statements. New requirements for local authorities will ensure that tackling climate change becomes a primary objective of the planning system, reflecting the emphasis in the White Paper. This will help to speed up the shift to renewable and low-carbon energy, supporting our ambitions on zero carbon development and helping shape places resilient to the impact of climate change.

First, this PPS confirms the central role of planning in helping to achieve zero carbon homes from 2016. We also believe we need to develop a similar approach for non-domestic buildings, and today we are publishing analysis from the UK Green Building Council, commissioned by the department to support significant cuts in carbon emissions from new non-domestic buildings.

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