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The presidency updated Ministers on preparations for the international talks on Georgia, due to begin in Geneva on 15 October. The council also discussed preparations for the donors’ conference for Georgia on 22 October and agreed that the time was not right to resume talks with Russia on a new partnership and co-operation agreement. We support the council conclusions, which invited the parties to continue the implementation of their commitments under the 12 August and 8 September agreements. The conclusions also welcomed the extension of the mandate of the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia, confirmed EU willingness to play an active part in the Geneva talks and looked forward to the donors’ conference.

Ministers noted that heads of state and Government would return to these issues at the European Council.

Zimbabwe

Ministers agreed council conclusions, which the Government strongly support, condemning the announcement of ministerial portfolios over the weekend, encouraging Thabo Mbeki to work to make the power-sharing agreement of 15 September effective and confirming that the EU stood ready to consider additional measures if the impasse continued.



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Belarus/Moldova

Foreign Ministers discussed the situation following the 28 September parliamentary elections. The council adopted conclusions setting out the EU’s response to recent developments. They retained the existing assets freeze; dropped the ban on ministerial contacts, with the aim of encouraging further democratic progress; and renewed the visa ban for 12 months but suspended it for six months for all but those involved in the 1999-2000 disappearances and the president of the Central Electoral Commission. Without further progress on democratic government and human rights, the ban will be reimposed.

Ministers also adopted without discussion conclusions on Moldova, looking forward to negotiation of a new EU-Moldova agreement and further strengthening of the EU-Moldova relationship, including on visas and free trade. The conclusions also record the EU's desire to facilitate a resolution of the Transnistrian conflict.

Uzbekistan

The Government welcome the council conclusions, which lifted the EU’s visa ban on members of the Uzbek Government, following a 12-month suspension, in recognition of progress on human rights and democracy. But Ministers decided to retain the arms embargo for another year, and the conclusions look forward to further progress on human rights, democratisation and the rule of law.

Immigration: Points-based System

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My honourable friend the Minister of State for Borders and Immigration (Phil Woolas) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Throughout this year, the Government have been delivering the biggest shake-up of the immigration system for a generation. We are delivering a stronger border that maximises the use of new technology, a selective Australian-style points system to control migration and a clear expectation that newcomers earn the right to stay.

We have already made sweeping changes to our border protection, including checking fingerprints before we issue a visa, screening all travellers against watch-lists and introducing a single border force with police-like powers.

We are now going further. As the latest step in this reform programme, I am today laying the Immigration Rules that will:

implement one of the most important parts of the points-based system (PBS); simplify the route for business visitors; increase the minimum age for obtaining a marriage visa from 18 to 21; close the little-used immigration route for retired persons of independent means to new entrants; and support the roll out of identity cards for foreign nationals.

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The PBS is part of a robust system of controls that is designed to prevent illegal migration and to welcome only those people that the country needs. We introduced the highly skilled tier of the new system in between February and June.

I am now introducing the tier for skilled workers with a job offer, the youth mobility scheme, and the temporary workers route for people coming here for cultural, charitable, religious and similar reasons.

These changes will be complemented by new rules for business, entertainer and sports visitors, covering people who wish to come to the UK for short periods to conduct business, perform at a festival, or take part in a sporting event or tournament. These changes will simplify our existing provisions for business visitors, making it clear what they can and cannot do.

Separately, this statement of changes delivers our commitment to increase the minimum age for sponsorship of a spouse and for those coming to the UK on the basis of marriage from 18 to 21.

These rules also support the delivery of ID cards for foreign nationals, by allowing us to require migrants to supply photographs of a particular standard with their applications.

Finally, we are closing the retired persons of independent means route to new entrants, as announced in the Government’s response to the consultation The Path to Citizenship: Next Steps in Reforming the Immigration System. This takes forward our policy that newcomers should earn the right to stay here permanently.

Full details of the changes appear in the Explanatory Memorandum that I am laying with them today, but I will explain some of the key points here.

Points-Based Systemskilled workers

Tier 2 of the points-based system is for skilled workers who are coming to do a specific job. The job must be one that cannot be filled by a British worker or one from the European Economic Area. Tier 2 replaces the existing work permit system, including the provisions governing intra-company transfers and the employment of sports people, as well as the rules for ministers of religion.

The new rules will strengthen our control of the process.

All migrants will need a sponsor, who will need to have been licensed beforehand by the UK Border Agency. No one will get a licence unless we are satisfied that they are bona fide, honest and capable of complying with their duties, which include informing us if the migrant disappears, or does not turn up for the job.

In most cases, the sponsor will need to have advertised the job to UK workers before being able to bring in a migrant. This will not apply where the migrant is transferring from an overseas branch of the same company, or where the job is on the list of shortage occupations, that we will publish shortly. That list will be drawn up following the advice that the Government have received from the independent Migration Advisory Committee.

Unless the job is in a shortage occupation, migrants will need to score a minimum number of points for a combination of their qualifications and prospective

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earnings in the UK before they will be able to come here. We will be able to adjust the points threshold to ensure that only the migrants we need are able to come.

Finally, there will be an English language requirement for most migrants under tier 2, to help their integration into society.

Youth Mobility Scheme

The youth mobility scheme replaces a number of routes for young people coming here to work temporarily, of which the biggest is the working holidaymaker scheme.

It will allow young citizens of, initially, four countries (Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand) to come to the UK and work for two years. All these countries have their own schemes that allow young Britons to spend time in their countries. Their nationals pose a minimal immigration risk, and they meet the UK Border Agency’s strict criteria for co-operating with us when we seek to return their citizens. If other countries meet our criteria and wish to join, they can be added at a later date.

Temporary Workers

The route for temporary workers, known as tier 5 (temporary workers) allows certain people to come here and work temporarily to meet cultural, charitable, religious or international objectives.

As with tier 2, all applicants will need a licensed sponsor. They will also need to fall into one of five subcategories, covering creative and sporting workers, charity workers, religious workers, people coming on government authorised exchange schemes and people coming here under various international treaties to which the UK is a party.

This is a temporary route. Therefore, anyone coming here under it will be restricted to either one or two years in the UK, depending on the subcategory under which they are coming. The only exception to this is for the private servants of diplomats, who will be allowed to stay for up to six years.

Fees

I have set the fee for tier 2 (skilled workers) at £205 for entry clearance and £400 for leave to remain. This is broadly in line with our previous fees before the PBS.

They are set above the cost of providing the service, to reflect the enhanced benefits and entitlements this route brings to applicants.

I have set the fee for tier 5 temporary workers and youth mobility at £99 for entry clearance. Leave to remain applications in tier 5 (temporary workers) will cost £100. Again, these fees are set broadly in line with our previous fees before the PBS. The lower fees for tier 5 fees are set below the cost of providing the service, to support wider government objectives to ensure we continue to attract migrants to the UK for cultural reasons.

Business, Sport, Entertainer and Special Visitors

To complement PBS, we are implementing the first part of our review of the visitor route. This is intended to remove the existing uncertainty about exactly what visitors coming to the UK on business can engage in without needing to apply under the PBS.



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The rules do this by providing for the UK Border Agency to produce a list of permitted activities which business visitors may do, thus facilitating business activity in the UK and avoiding abuse of the visitor route by people who are really coming here to work.

I am also taking this opportunity to bring the existing concessions covering sports people coming to take part in one-off events or tournaments, or entertainers coming, for example, to perform at festivals, into the Immigration Rules. This simplifies the system by creating a clear boundary between the activities that a visitor may undertake and those for which permission is needed under the PBS. I am also bringing together, under a special visitor category, currently separate rules that have been introduced for specific types of visitor.

Increase in the marriage visa age from 18 to 21

This change follows the consultation we launched in December 2007 on reform of the spouse visa system. We gave careful consideration to the consultation responses and the views expressed by the Home Affairs Select Committee in its report on domestic violence, forced marriage and honour based violence before setting out our conclusions in July this year, including the commitment to increase the minimum age.

The change reflects our firm conviction that no one should be pressurised into sponsoring a marriage visa and that those who wish to sponsor a marriage partner from overseas should be encouraged to establish an independent adult life here first and to see that as an important way of helping their partner to integrate.

We believe it is important to protect young people from being forced into relationships they do not want at a time in their lives when they could be establishing a degree of independence as an adult through further education or through work.

Biometrics and photographs

We are changing the rule relating to the quality of photographs required with applications. This is in line with the standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, and is necessary to allow the UK Border Agency to utilise facial recognition technology, to reduce the risk of identity fraud, to prevent immigration abuses and to improve the processing of applications.

Retired persons of independent means

We have made it clear that in the future there will be only three key routes to naturalisation as a British citizen: economic migrants, family members and refugees/those granted humanitarian protection. It is therefore important to pay close attention to all the different routes that have existed in the past and as part of the consultation The Path to Citizenship: Next Steps in Reforming the Immigration System, we asked whether the retired persons of independent means route should be abolished taking into account the requirements relating to entry under the route.

We recognise that those entering under the retired persons of independent means route are required to be self-sufficient. But, as was pointed out during the consultation, these people may not have enough disposable income to match the demands they may place on public services. In light of this, and the limited numbers applying under this route, we believe it is right no

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longer to permit entry as a retired person of independent means. We will therefore amend the Immigration Rules to this effect by deleting paragraphs 263 to 265.

Conclusion

These changes are the latest steps in the Government’s bold and far reaching reform of the immigration system, and will contribute to delivering the tough but humane immigration controls that the public demands.

Planning: Eco-towns

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

I am today announcing the second round of consultation on eco-towns, based on the draft planning policy statement on eco-towns, and the accompanying sustainability appraisal which has been carried out for the policy and the shortlisted eco-town locations.

Eco-towns have been developed in response to two major challenges—the threat of climate change and the national housing shortage. They will pioneer more sustainable living so that we can learn the lessons for future developments and help meet housing need in areas where this shortage is particularly acute.

In April, we published a short-list of proposed locations, alongside a consultation document Living a Greener Future. A progress report was published in July, to set out our emerging thinking on eco-town standards. The documents being published today are the next stage of consultation in delivering eco-towns successfully. They include an updated programme of shortlisted locations and a summary of responses to the earlier consultation. Copies of these documents will be deposited in the Library of the House and made available on the department’s website at www.communities.gov.uk/ecotowns.

The sustainability appraisal indicates that there remain some important outstanding issues which need to be addressed before the draft PPS and list of locations can be finalised. Issues of sustainability, viability and deliverability remain. The eco-town requirements are challenging and I do not expect that all locations will be endorsed. I have no fixed view on the number of locations that will go forward from this process and the next stages in this ongoing assessment and consultation process will ensure that the necessary further work is completed before decisions are taken.

Draft Planning Policy Statement

The draft planning policy statement (PPS) sets out the standards for an eco-town and the planning policy context. The standards set out in this draft PPS are consistent with other relevant planning policies—including PPS1, PPS3 and PPS planning and climate change. However, given our higher expectations for eco-towns, it goes further and sets the highest ever environmental standards for new development, reflecting the aspirations we described in the consultation document Living a Greener Future.



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The standards set by the eco-towns PPS, on which we are now consulting are, as a package, considerably more stretching than existing standards for development. Eco-towns will be the UK’s first zero carbon towns: over a year the net carbon dioxide emissions from all energy use within the buildings (homes, commercial and public sector buildings) on the developments will be zero or below. Achieving zero carbon status across all the town's buildings, will represent a significantly tougher threshold than current national targets, pioneering the way for our policies that new homes in England should be zero carbon from 2016, and our ambition that new non-domestic buildings should be zero carbon from 2019. For homes the eco-towns standards go further, in requiring that they achieve carbon reductions (from space heating, hot water and fixed lighting) of at least 70 per cent relative to current building regulations. At least 40 per cent of the area of an eco-town will need to be green space—half of it publicly accessible, and there are ambitious targets on waste and water. These “hard” green targets are supported by targets designed to support and promote sustainable development and sustainable living more widely; for example, eco-towns will be unique in being built so that, except where there are natural barriers, no home will be further than 800m from a school for children aged under 11 and the design of the town will enable over half of all the trips originating in the town to be made without a car.

The draft PPS also sets out the planning process for eco-towns. Applications for eco-towns are to be considered in the same way as any other major development proposal. The development plan remains the starting point for the determination of these applications. However, where the plan is out of date then any application should be treated on its merits, taking in to account all material considerations which include the PPS.

Sustainability Appraisal and the Eco-towns programme

An eco-towns sustainability appraisal (SA) reportcovering the draft PPS, and the programme, including the proposed eco-town locations is also being published today. The SA report, which has been carried out by consultants Scott Wilson, identifies and evaluates the likely impact of the proposals on the local economy, community and environment and considers reasonable alternatives. It also suggests measures for improving the proposals. Taking account of the sustainability appraisal, and of the effect of promoters withdrawing their schemes from the programme, we will be consulting on the following 12 shortlisted locations in this next stage. They have been assessed in the sustainability appraisal in three bands:

A—locations that are generally suitable for an eco-town; B—locations that might be suitable subject to meeting specific planning and design objectives; andC—locations that are only likely to be suitable as an eco-town with substantial and exceptional innovation. A—Rackheath (Greater Norwich);B—Pennbury;B—Newton-Bingham (Rushcliffe);B—Middle Quinton;

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B—St Austell;B—Rossington;B—North East Elsenham;B—Marston Vale;B—Ford;B—Bordon-Whitehill;B—North West Bicester (alternative to Weston Otmoor);C—Weston Otmoor.

The shortlist includes two local authority schemes, proposed as reasonable alternatives in the course of the sustainability appraisal, at Rackheath (Norwich) and North West Bicester (Cherwell). In the case of the two areas of further review identified in April, in Leeds City Region we have agreed to pursue separately the local authorities’ proposal for an urban eco-community of similar scale which would pilot eco-town standards, while at Rushcliffe, the Newton/Bingham scheme has been included for consultation and assessment.

Communications

Public awareness and involvement is crucial to success in this programme. We want to make it as easy as possible for people to have their say in shaping these towns, particularly the first-time buyers, key workers and young families who will particularly benefit from the affordable housing. We have therefore set up a website at www.directgov.uk/ecotownshaveyoursay. This both explains the eco-town concept, and invites comments and ideas through the consultation process. We will also be holding a series of roadshows in public spaces such as shopping centres near to the proposed locations. These will be interactive exhibitions and will provide the chance for people to offer their comments and views.

Both the website and the roadshows will concentrate on explaining the national standards and policy. Local scheme promoters are responsible for carrying out full consultation on the individual schemes.

Corrections

The papers published today provide an updated list and description of sites. In this context I wish to correct errors made in the Written Ministerial Statement of 3 April 2008 (Official Report, cols. 70-72WS) made by my right honourable friend the Member for Don Valley. This stated that the majority of development planned for the proposed Curborough development (now withdrawn) would take place on brownfield land. This is incorrect—the majority of the site is on greenfield land. The Statement also incorrectly referred to the Weston-Otmoor site as brownfield when it is mainly greenfield. I apologise to the House for these errors.


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