The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): I chaired the Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 24 and 25 October for the agriculture items on the agenda. The Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), represented the United Kingdom and chaired the Council for the fisheries items. The Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight), represented the United Kingdom for fisheries items. Also in attendance was the Scottish Environment and Rural Affairs Minister, Ross Finnie.
The Council also reached unanimous political agreement on a draft regulation and set of negotiating directives on forest law, enforcement, governance and trade, which will allow the EU to prohibit the import of illegally logged timber from third countries that sign up to a partnership agreement with the EU.
The Council held an exchange of views on the preparation of the annual negotiations for the 2006 fisheries agreement between the Community and Norway in order to give the Commission a political mandate for conducting the negotiations. The debate focused on the issues of how many fish the EU and Norway can catch in each other's waters and possible future joint management of shared stocks.
Over lunch on Monday, Fisheries Ministers held a constructive discussion on improving Council working methods with regard to the annual agreement of total allowable catches and fishing quotas. A number of ideas were put forward by member states and the Commission will now work up proposals for presentation during 2006.
In the absence of a qualified majority in favour or against, the Council was unable to reach decisions on the Commission's proposal to prohibit a Greek ban on the marketing of genetically modified seed variety MON 810 and on Commission proposals for authorisations of the use of maize varieties GA21 and MON 863 in food. In the absence of Council decisions, therefore, the Commission is now free to implement its proposals under its own competence.
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The Council held a further discussion on Commission proposals to reform the EU sugar regime. Further high level discussions will take place to prepare the ground for trying to secure a deal at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 22 to 24 November.
The Council discussed the current round of WTO negotiations informally over lunch and, at the request of France, afterwards as a formal agenda item. The presidency concluded that the Council had reached a united position in support of the Commission's approach.
The Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection presented a report on the operation of Regulation 1774/02 setting out the use and disposal of animal by-products. He felt that generally the regulation had worked well and been satisfactorily applied in most member states, but he identified some areas of improvement for consideration.
He also gave an update on the recent cases of avian influenza in Europe and announced that the Commission would be tabling a proposal at Standing Committee on 25 October to ban the import of wild captive birds.
The Agriculture Commissioner presented her communication on simplification and better regulation for the common agriculture policy. It aims to improve clarity and reduce administrative burdens for farmers, leading to more effective implementation of the CAP. The plan proposed a process of consultation, culminating in a more detailed action plan next year. I welcomed the report and said that the presidency hoped to return to the issue at the December Council.
France drew the attention of the Council to its case that the term shallots should apply only to specimens grown from bulbs, rather than seeds. The issue is currently the subject of a legal dispute between France and the Netherlands. The Commission explained that it had been working with both countries to find a solution.
Greece supported by Spain, Italy, Cyprus and Slovenia, expressed concern at the Commission's intention to open import quotas for olive oil in response to a shortage in the EU. The Commission said it would take a decision after consulting its advisory committee.
In the margins of Council the Commission and I held trilateral discussions with Germany, Estonia, Ireland, Belgium, Finland, The Netherlands, Bulgaria, Romania, France, Italy, Malta and Luxembourg to discuss the Commission's sugar reform proposals.
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Ms Rosie Winterton):
The United Kingdom Presidency hosted an informal meeting of Health Ministers of the European Union on 20 and 21 October chaired by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.
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Ministers agreed to do more to co-ordinate our efforts at European level, and continue to work closely with the WHO, recognising that no country can solve these problems on its own. Commissioner Kyprianou also outlined plans for a preparedness exercise "Common Ground" next month which will be a simulation exercise focusing on communication between key players in the event of a pandemic flu outbreak.
On values and common principles in health care systems, Ministers discussed that although there is much diversity, there is much that unites the systems in terms of their underpinning values and common principles. Ministers agreed that there was a need to address the challenges that health systems face in terms of ageing society and rising costs, while maintaining these common values and principles. Ministers expressed interest in developing a statement on values and common principles. It also represented an excellent example of the EU delivering social justice in a globalised world, a theme that the Heads of Government would discuss at their informal meeting at the end of October.
On EU patient mobility, Ministers noted the co-operation that has existed for decades between our health systems, ensuring that workers, tourists and people who have retired to other member states can get access to care should they fall ill. However, there was also a need to clarify the rights and entitlements that patients should expect when they seek treatment in another EU member state. The choice that patients have was an important right but it must be managed in a structured way, taking account of the differences between national healthcare systems, so that both patients and member states are clear about entitlement.
Ministers considered that work in these areas could be looked at by the public health working group at a senior level, with the idea of a report back to Council at a future Health Council.
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): We welcomed this Office of Fair Trading report, which was published on 18 May 2005. The report, copies of which have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, made wide-ranging recommendations for both regulatory and non-regulatory solutions to problems identified with the care homes market. These have been broadly accepted by Government, devolved Administrations and regulators. The Government's action plan, which relates to England, has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. Responsibility for care services is devolved in other areas of the UK.
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