The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gordon Brown): At its meeting of 10 October 2006, the Economic and Financial Affairs Council was briefed on the interpretation and application of the price stability criterion in relation to enlargement of the euro area.
Council adopted an opinion on the updated Convergence Programme for Hungary and a recommendation under Article 104(7), and also received Commission Communications on Germany and the UK.
Council adopted Conclusions on working methods, financial stability arrangements, energy and innovation, taking into account discussions held at the informal ECOFIN Council meeting held in Helsinki.
ECOFIN adopted Conclusions to support the Commission's approach to measuring and reducing administrative burdens resulting from EU legislation and called for prompt action.
Council adopted Conclusions on a report regarding the design of national fiscal rules and institutions in EU member states.
ECOFIN held an exchange of views on a proposal for the renewal of the European Investment Bank's external lending mandates, and agreed to return to the issue in November.
Ministers held an exchange of views on the Commission's approach to improve the clearing and settlement of securities transactions in the EU.
Council adopted Conclusions on the creation of a single euro payments area initiative.
The Paymaster General represented the UK.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Meg Munn): I have today placed in the Library of the House copies of the report into the future of the National Interest Mapping Services Agreement (NIMSA) beyond 2006.
NIMSA was established to fund mapping services that are in the national interest, but would not otherwise be provided by the market as they are not economically viable. NIMSA services have been provided by Ordnance Survey.
As the agreement is due to expire, the Department for Communities and Local Government has given detailed consideration to the future of funding for mapping in the national interest. DCLG's decisions are presented in the report, which will be placed on the Department's website. While NIMSA will cease at the end of December 2006, DCLG will continue to support a national metadata service.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): I represented the United Kingdom at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting in Luxembourg on 24 and 25 October 2006. Ross Finnie, the Scottish Environment and Rural Affairs Minister, also attended.
The Council reached political agreement on a Council Regulation fixing cod recovery measures and a range of separate fishing quotas in the Baltic sea for 2007. The UK is not directly affected by this regulation, but it was important that it was approved promptly to avoid over-loading future Council agendas later in the year.
The Council held an exchange of views on the EC/Norway fisheries agreement for 2007 based on a presidency questionnaire. I stressed the importance of the agreement to UK interests and the need to strike an appropriate balance between conserving the fish stocks in question and providing sufficient fishing opportunities to ensure the long-term sustainability of our industry.
The Council also held an exchange of views on the Commission's communication on fishing opportunities for 2007 based on a presidency questionnaire. The communication sets out their ideas on catch limitations and related measures in advance of the scientific advice on which their proposals are ultimately based (which has since surfaced). I welcomed the Commission's communication as a significant step in taking forward their front-loading initiative, but identified a number of major concerns about particular elements of it. These included our opposition to the proposed 25 per cent. cut in North sea cod quota and to draconian cuts in fishing effort for 2007, on the basis that these would undermine the impending review of the cod recovery mechanism and harm the future competitiveness of the industry.
The presidency noted that there was in its opinion broad support in Council for a general approach on the proposed regulation on definition, description, presentation and labelling of spirit drinks, despite serious reservations by several member states and the Commission on the proposal. Along with a number of member states, I underlined our concerns about the legal aspects of the proposals on vodka, on which further work is needed.
The Council held its last discussion, on the Commission's communication on options for the reform of the wine sector in the EU. I stressed the need for a market-based, liberalising reform of the wine sector which puts the consumer first and aims to improve competitiveness. The presidency concluded
that all member states agreed to the need for reform to improve the international competitiveness of EU wine production, and that the Commission could now move ahead with preparing legislative proposals.
The Council also held a policy debate on the Commission's proposal for organic farming on the basis of a questionnaire drawn up by the presidency. The discussion focused on labelling requirements for organic produce. There were divergent views amongst member states on the use of EU logo and origin labelling for primary and processed products, and on the controls and labelling applicable for the proposed three categories of processed products containing organic ingredients.
Over lunch, on Tuesday, the Agriculture Ministers had a follow-up discussion on last month's Finnish presidency informal Council topic about the European model of agriculture and the future of EU agriculture policy.
A number of issues, as follows, were raised under any other business:
The Council took note without discussion of a written update from the Commission on the avian influenza situation.
The Council also took note of an update from the Commission on CAP simplification, and information from the presidency on the conference of directors of national paying agencies which was held in Rovaniemi, Finland.
A number of member states asked for amendments to the Commission's draft guidelines on agricultural state aids.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (David Miliband): I and the Minister with responsibility for local environment, marine and animal welfare, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), represented the UK at the Environment Council in Luxembourg on 23 October.
The Council adopted a political agreement on the proposed Directive on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe, based closely on the general approach agreed at the June Council. The Directive, the first legal measure to be brought forward under the Commission's Air Thematic Strategy of September 2005, consolidates and simplifies current EU ambient air quality legislation, retaining existing standards for pollutants in air, but gives member states several new flexibilities to help them comply with the legislation. The UK supported the political agreement as it represents a balanced compromise. Although the UK would have liked a binding exposure reduction target for fine particles, we are satisfied that the political agreement would result in a net improvement in public health protection.
Council Conclusions were agreed on Climate Change ahead of this year's COP/MOP in Nairobi in November. The Conclusions have a strong focus on development issues, and particularly highlight the importance to Developing Countries of the Adaptation Fund, and the potential of a global carbon market to leverage funding for technology transfer.
They emphasise the key role that the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) has to play in creating a price for carbon, as well as the potential of a range of new technologies (including carbon capture and storage) to reduce CO2 emissions both within and outside the EU. The UK supported the Conclusions. Climate Change was also discussed over lunch by Ministers who were joined by the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Yvo de Boer.
The Council failed to agree unanimously Conclusions on the preparations of the Eighth Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention on the control of trans-boundary hazardous wastes and their disposal. These were adopted as Presidency Conclusions instead. The UK supported the Presidency Conclusions, in particular the inclusion of strong language on ship dismantling. The new convention being negotiated under the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is unlikely to enter into force for several years and interim measures are needed to improve environmental conditions .at current ship dismantling facilities.
Council Conclusions were agreed on the Thematic Strategy on the sustainable use of natural resources. The UK supports the Thematic Strategy as a first-step towards decoupling economic growth from the environmental impacts of resource use. The UK supported the Council Conclusions and is particularly pleased to see strong links being made to the Commission's proposed EU sustainable consumption and production (SCP) Action Plan, which we believe will be an important means of advancing this agenda.
The Council held a policy debate on the Thematic Strategy for the protection of the marine environment and the proposed Marine Strategy Directive. Member states were asked to consider whether the Strategy and Directive are adequate, whether an explicit definition of Good Environmental Status (GES) is required in the Directive and how to balance and strengthen national measures and regional co-operation. The UK intervened to support an ambitious but realistic definition of GES in the Directive and to highlight the need for cost-benefit analysis as GES is developed. The UK also proposed that the Directive be strengthened so that there is a requirement for appropriate decisions or actions to be taken, within the framework of the Common Fisheries Policy, where fishing is preventing a member state from achieving GES.
Under Any Other Business, member states raised the First European Congress on Conservation Biology, a ban on mercury exports from the EU, forest fires, invasive alien species, import of unauthorised GMOs into the EU and the investigation concerning the tanker Probo Koala. In addition, the resumption of commercial whaling by Iceland was discussed. The UK condemned the decision by Iceland and urged other member states to voice their concerns.
The Presidency and the Commission updated Ministers on EU/Third Country meetings with: the EU/Russia Partnership Council on Environment; Korea; China; ASEM; and India.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Margaret Beckett): The National Technical Assistance Centre (NTAC) was formally transferred from the Home Office to Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in April 2006. As the Minister responsible for GCHQ, I now have ministerial oversight of its activities.
There have been no changes to NTAC's remit, mandate or customer base.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Joan Ryan): In accordance with section 20(5) of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, I have placed the Committee's annual report for 2005 in the Library today. Among other things the report includes: the advice offered by the Committee on project licence applications that were referred to the Committee for advice; the work carried out by the Committee's sub-committees; the completion of the Committee's review, commissioned by the Home Office, of the annual statistical report on the use of animals in scientific procedures; and the Committee's work on the retrospective assessment of suffering and severity.
The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Jack Straw): Before the summer recess the House agreed a motion that introduced, for the first time ever, an experimental period during September, in which a limited number of named-day Parliamentary questions could be tabled and answered. I am grateful to the House authorities, particularly the Table Office, for their co-operation in the successful introduction of this process.
In excess of 100 Members made use of this new process, tabling 733 questions. The table below gives details of all the questions tabled, shown by date tabled and relevant Department.
|Department||Tabled Sept 4||Tabled Sept 6||Tabled Sept 11||Total tabled|
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