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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 7 April 2010

Treasury

Tax Information Exchange (Dominica and Grenada)

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Stephen Timms): Tax Information Exchange Agreements (TIEAS) were signed with the Commonwealth of Dominica and with Grenada in London on 31 March 2010.

The text of each TIEA has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and made available on HM Revenue and Customs' website. Each text will be scheduled to a draft Order in Council and laid before the House of Commons in due course.

Defence

Armed Forces Equipment

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): Further to my announcements on 22, 25 and 29 March, I can advise the House that the Ministry of Defence has signed a £690 million engine support contract with Rolls-Royce for 15 years to see Royal Air Force Tornado aircraft through to their out-of-service date in 2025.

In my statement of 15 December 2009, Official Report, column 801, I set out our intention to review the fast jet fleet mix in the course of the forthcoming strategic defence review. I can assure the House that this support contract provides sufficient flexibility for changes in future aircraft numbers, and will deliver excellent value for money for defence. It is expected that this new contract will deliver savings in the order of £180 million over the next 15 years.

The RB199 Operational Contract for Engine Transformation 2 covers repair, maintenance, provision of spares and technical support, and builds on the current Rolls-Royce support contract.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture and Fisheries Council

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): The Minister with responsibility for food, farming and environment, my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick), and the Minister with responsibility for marine and natural environment, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), represented the United Kingdom at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels on 29 March.

The presidency tabled presidency conclusions on the food supply chain in Europe, acknowledging that the distance between member states on issues related to
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the CAP and competition rules, and the treatment of producer organisations, was unbridgeable. The four dissenting member states-UK, Sweden, Denmark and Czech Republic-all confirmed their opposition to Council conclusions, but noted that there was much common ground on wider aspects of the text.

France recorded a number of observations underpinning the presidency text, while other member states took the floor to support the presidency and to press issues. Commissioner Ciolos, endorsing the presidency text, noted the need for proposals to deal with medium and long-term issues related to the food supply chain, including competition policy. The presidency recorded that while much of the text had been agreed unanimously, unamended presidency conclusions would be adopted with the support of a majority of member states.

Following discussion on the reform of market management measures for the post-2013 CAP at the February Council, the presidency adopted presidency conclusions, branded informally "trio conclusions" on behalf of the present and incoming Belgian and Hungarian presidencies. The conclusions recorded the prevailing view among Ministers that the current CAP market orientation was sufficient, and that the existing market management regime should be retained as a safety net.

Commissioner Ciolos observed that the conclusions were merely the beginning of a debate on the future of market management, which would inform the wider debate on CAP reform post-2013. The presidency stated that its conclusions were supported by the majority, and that there would be an opportunity for further discussion of CAP reform at the informal Council on 1 June.

Commissioner Ciolos then presented the latest iteration of its quarterly dairy market report, and noted the recovery in the sector since 2008.

Next, the presidency facilitated a discussion on the relationship between Europe 2020 and the CAP, providing Ministers with a questionnaire which solicited their views on the CAP's contribution to Europe 2020 objectives. They also noted that the European Council had adopted a specific conclusion in respect of the relationship between Europe 2020 and the CAP, observing that the CAP "will need" to support Europe 2020.

The Commission noted that Europe 2020 was not intended to undermine existing EU policies. The CAP would continue, subject to reform, and in conformity with the provisions of the Lisbon treaty. The CAP should also meet the three objectives set out in Europe 2020: smart, inclusive, and green economic growth. It also suggested that Agriculture Council should feed the European Council ideas on how CAP reform could feed into Europe 2020 with a view to consideration at the June European Council.

A full table round developed with a predictable split between those member states who believed that Europe 2020 was inexcusably silent on the contribution of the CAP to the growth of the European economy; and those that believed that the CAP would need to prove its worth through reform in support of Europe 2020 objectives. Each camp interpreted the European Council conclusion on the CAP and Europe 2020 as support for its own particular. The presidency concluded that it would be important to consider the Agriculture Council's contribution to the June European Council, where Europe 2020 would be adopted. It would outline its plans in due course.


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Under any other business, Italy raised concerns about implementing the 2006 Regulation On Mediterranean Fisheries Management, which was causing serious difficulties for operators and there should be some reconsideration of how this should be done. Commissioner Damanaki was robust in saying that many Mediterranean stocks were not being sustainably fished and that member states had had more than three years to implement this regulation.

Malta, with some support, raised concerns about some member states voting differently to the agreed EU position on bluefin tuna at CITES and the difficult position this had left them in with their fishing industry. Commissioner Potocnik drew some general conclusions, including the need for the EU to up its game on external representation and reserved the right to take all necessary measures in relation to this specific case. The UK registered disappointment that CITES was unable to agree to protect bluefin tuna.

France brought to Ministers' attention the forthcoming agriculture ministerial meeting of the Union for the Mediterranean in Cairo, 15 and 16 June, and encouraged Ministers to attend.

Austria presented its paper recording the outcome of the recent OECD agricultural ministerial, highlighting Ministers' acknowledgment of the climate security challenges facing agriculture.

Commissioner Ciolos noted that there were no significantly new elements to discuss regarding the WTO/DDA. However, as a new Commissioner, and as agricultural negotiator, Ciolos wanted to reaffirm his own commitment to a balanced conclusion to the round.

Environment Council

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): I represented the United Kingdom at the Environment Council on 15 March in Brussels together with the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock).

The presidency presented a progress report on the soil framework directive, noting that negotiations remain stalled because a group of member states that includes the UK remains strongly opposed to it. In the discussion that followed, I reiterated the reasons for the United Kingdom's position and highlighted that the fundamental differences of view between member states mean there is a need for a fresh approach to the dossier. Other member states spoke in line with their well-established positions.

The Council adopted conclusions setting out an EU vision for biodiversity through to 2050, and setting a 2020 target to halt the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystems services and to restore these as far as possible. I spoke in support of the conclusions and welcomed the work of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services (IPBES) and the study on The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB). I also highlighted the importance of forestry and access and benefit sharing in ensuring an ambitious outcome at the conference of the parties to the convention on biodiversity in Nagoya later this year.


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Environment Ministers also exchanged views on the Commission's recently published communication on the Europe 2020 strategy for jobs and growth, in advance of debate in the European Council later this month. I welcomed the communication's focus on resource efficiency and emphasised that the transition to a low-carbon, resource-efficient and climate-resilient economy, which preserves our natural resources for future generations, represents an important opportunity to promote jobs and growth.

Lunchtime discussion focused on the follow-up to the Copenhagen climate change conference. Following lunch, Ministers agreed Council conclusions on this subject in which EU positions were broadly maintained. My hon. Friend the Minister of State emphasised the importance of working towards a legally binding outcome and in particular making concrete progress towards this in Cancún. She highlighted the importance of the positive outcomes from Copenhagen and encouraged swift progress on implementing the Copenhagen accord, particularly around REDD+ (the framework for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) and fast-start finance. Ministers continued to show commitment to a global legal framework for reducing emissions, with openness on proposals for achieving it. Mexican Environment Minister Juan Elvira Quesada attended to update Ministers on Mexican preparations for Cancún, and my hon. Friend the Minister of State intervened in recognition of the Mexican team's dedication and efforts to renew the negotiation process.

The Environment Council concluded with a policy debate on the proposed regulation on reducing CO2 emissions from light vehicles (for example, vans), during which my hon. Friend the Minister of State emphasised that this proposal is key to reducing carbon emissions from transport. She stated that the regulation must include an achievable long-term target for 2020 and also proposed a short-term target date for 2016, supported by effective penalties and incentives for investment in ultra-low-carbon vehicles. She also highlighted the importance of maintaining competitiveness in the automotive sector through the flexibilities proposed in the regulation.

Prime Minister

General Election Guidance

The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): I have written to ministerial colleagues providing guidance on the conduct of Government business during the election period. The Cabinet Secretary has also issued guidance to civil servants on their conduct during this period. The guidance comes into force with immediate effect.

Copies of the documents have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and on the Cabinet Office website at: www.cabinet-office.gov.uk

Work and Pensions

Pension Protection Fund (Chair)

The Minister for Pensions and the Ageing Society (Angela Eagle): I can confirm that Lady Judge (Barbara Judge) has been selected to be the next chair of the
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Pension Protection Fund (PPF). Lady Judge will take over from Mr. Lawrence Churchill from 1 July 2010 and her appointment will last for three years.

Chairing the PPF is a challenging role. Lady Judge, who will join the PPF from the UK Atomic Energy Authority, which she currently chairs, will bring a wide range of financial and management experience from both the public and private sectors.


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The PPF is a statutory fund created to protect members of defined-benefit occupational pension schemes by paying compensation if their employer becomes insolvent and the pension scheme is under funded. It provides a safety net for 12 million members of defined benefit pension schemes. The fund is administered by the board of the Pension Protection Fund, a public corporation.


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