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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 17 October 2011

Treasury

ECOFIN 4 October 2011

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr George Osborne): The Economic and Financial Affairs Council was held in Luxembourg on 4 October 2011. The Financial Secretary and I represented the UK. The following items were discussed:

Regulation on over-the-counter derivatives, central counterparties and trade repositories (EMIR)

Prior to the meeting, the Government were clear that the regulation as it stood was unacceptable. In line with concerns raised previously by the European Union Committee, I therefore made it clear that a number of changes to the text were needed, including:

in order for the college to block an authorisation of a central counterparty (CCP), all members of the college, excluding the relevant National Competent Authority (NCA), must vote against it;

wording in an article that would forbid any decisions on CCPs being made on a basis that would discriminate against any member state as a venue for clearing services in any currency;

in order to foster competition, provisions requiring open access to CCPs and trading venues for over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives, as well as a public statement from the Commission that full fair and open access would be dealt with properly in forthcoming legislation;

a public declaration that the issue of scope and adequate coverage to meet the G20 agreement would be dealt with in upcoming legislation; and

a clear statement that the drafting of third country provisions required further work, which will be completed in the context of negotiations with the European Parliament.

With these conditions met, the Council agreed a general approach. The presidency, on behalf of the Council, will now start negotiations with the European Parliament, with a view to reaching agreement at First Reading.

Legislative proposals on economic governance

The Council agreed to a compromise text on the package of six legislative proposals. The Government are content with the package, which will strengthen economic governance in the EU, while respecting the UK’s fiscal sovereignty. The Council will formally adopt the proposals without further discussion once the texts have been finalised in all official languages.

European Central Bank (ECB): nomination of an executive board member

The Council adopted a recommendation on the nomination of Jörg Asmussen to the executive board of the ECB, to succeed Jürgen Stark, who announced his resignation on 9 September. The Government are content with this recommendation; matters related to the ECB

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are for euro area member states to decide. The Council’s recommendation will be submitted for a decision to the European Council, after consulting the European Parliament and the ECB’s governing council.

Information on the i nformal ECOFIN meeting

The presidency gave a de-brief of the September informal ECOFIN, and presented a proposal for the ECOFIN Council to assess the impact of new EU legislation on growth and jobs. This was then discussed over lunch, with the Government offering support. Officials will now produce a formal proposal, which will be discussed at a future ECOFIN.

Review of the fiscal exit strategy

Finance Ministers agreed Council conclusions on the implications of lower growth on excessive deficit procedure and stability and growth pact targets. The Government support these conclusions, which are in line with domestic fiscal policy and the emerging international debate on differentiating fiscal strategies between countries. The conclusions will feed into the European Council debate on EU growth on 23 October.

Implementation of the Excessive Deficit Procedure (EDP)

ECOFIN held an exchange of views on implementation of the EDP following recent developments. The Government welcome the emphasis on ensuring that all member states fully implement budgetary strategies for timely meeting of fiscal targets. The Commission will provide a more comprehensive analysis in their autumn forecast.

Follow-up to the IMF Annual Meetings on 24 September 2011 , and the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors meeting on 22 September 2011

The Council was informed by the presidency and the French delegation, in its capacity as G20 presidency, of the outcome of the meetings.

Preparation of G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors meeting on 14-15 October

The Council endorsed the EU terms of reference, which will form the basis of the EU’s contribution to the meeting of G20 Finance Ministers on 14-15 October. The Government are content with the terms of reference, which emphasise the need for determined action to maintain financial stability, restore confidence, and support growth. The G20 meeting is expected to cover the following issues: responding effectively to the current challenges in the global economy through the G20 framework for growth; financial regulation; commodities; reform of the international monetary system; and climate change financing and development.

Preparation of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Durban

Finance Ministers adopted conclusions on climate finance ahead of the Durban conference of the parties to be held 28 November to 9 December, 2011. The Government support these conclusions which reflect our position on climate finance.

Economic situation

Over breakfast, Finance Ministers received a de-brief of the previous evening’s Eurogroup meeting, and held an exchange of views on the economic situation. I emphasised the importance of the euro area delivering a truly comprehensive solution to the situation in the euro area, which ring-fences vulnerable euro area countries,

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recapitalises Europe’s banks and resolves uncertainty about Greece, ahead of the G20 summit in Cannes on 3-4 November.

Financial Assistance (Ireland)

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr Mark Hoban): I would like to update Parliament on the loan to Ireland.

Ireland completed the third quarterly review of its International Monetary Fund and European Union programme of financial assistance on 2 September 2011, at which point the first instalment of the UK bilateral loan became available for drawdown.

Upon request, the Treasury has disbursed the first instalment of £403.37 million on 14 October 2011, with a maturity date of 15 April 2019.

HM Treasury will provide a further report to Parliament, as required under the Loans to Ireland Act 2010, at the end of this reporting period.

The Government believe that it is in our national interest that the Irish economy is successful and its banking system is stable. The Government continue to support Ireland’s efforts to improve its economic situation.

Communities and Local Government

Community Budgets

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr Eric Pickles): I have today published a community budget prospectus which invites areas to express an interest in participating in two new pilot programmes. The first tests how local places can make best use of all the money that is spent in their area on public services on a wide range of problems. The second tests how this approach might be adapted to give neighbourhoods more control over the services that matter most to them.

I have placed a copy of the prospectus in the Library of the House.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

General Affairs Council and Foreign Affairs Council, 10-11 October 2011

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): The Foreign Affairs Council and General Affairs Council were held on 10-11 October in Luxembourg. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I represented the UK.

The agenda items covered were as follows:

Foreign Affairs Council (FAC)

The FAC was chaired by Baroness Ashton. A provisional report of the meeting, and all conclusions adopted, can be found at:

http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/125028.pdf

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Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH)

Although BiH was not a formal agenda item, Ministers agreed conclusions which reaffirmed the EU’s support for the continuation of the EU’s military force’s (EUFOR Althea) executive mandate. The conclusions also included a reference to “looking forward to discussions” on the future of the Office of the High Representative (OHR).

Belarus

Ministers agreed to renew the EU’s restrictive measures against Belarus, and added 16 new names to the travel ban and assets-freeze list. There was broad agreement that the EU should not consider renewing a dialogue with the Belarusian authorities until all political prisoners have been released and rehabilitated. Ministers also endorsed ongoing work by Commissioner Stefan Fule on engaging civil society in Belarus.

Ukraine

Ministers expressed concern about the trial and upcoming verdict on Yulia Tymoshenko. There was a discussion about the impact the verdict might have on finalising the EU’s association agreement with Ukraine.

The day after the FAC, Yulia Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in prison. Speaking after the verdict the Foreign Secretary said:

“The conviction of the Ukrainian opposition politician, Yulia Tymoshenko, by a court in Kyiv is deeply concerning. Independent legal experts including the Danish Helsinki Committee have concluded that Ms Tymoshenko’s trial was subject to numerous and serious violations of fundamental legal principles, in direct contradiction of common European values.

“Ukraine says it wants to join the EU one day. The UK supports that objective. But that cannot happen until Ukraine can show that it adheres to the highest democratic standards, including respect for human rights, the rule of law and an independent, transparent and fair judicial process. The conviction of Ms Tymoshenko and the ongoing cases against other former Members of the Government call into question Ukraine’s commitment to these values. This could pose a major obstacle to the signature and ratification of the association agreement and deep and comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU”.

EU-China Summit

Ministers reviewed preparations for the 14th EU-China summit, which takes place in China on 25 October. The Foreign Secretary stressed the need for the EU to focus on increased market access for EU businesses. He also urged the EU to continue to raise human rights issues at the highest level, and underlined the importance of global co-operation on cyber security.

Southern Neighbourhood

Baroness Ashton set out the results of the Tunisian taskforce meeting of 28-29 September. She had co-chaired the meeting with the Prime Minister of Tunisia, which had also been attended by member states, European institutions, the European Investment Bank, the EBRD, the World Bank, the Africa Bank and representatives from the private sector. Around €4 billion was pledged to Tunisia over the next three years.

On Egypt, concern was expressed by many Ministers about the recent outbreaks of violence. There was broad agreement on the importance of protecting freedom of religion and belief.

Ministers agreed conclusions on Libya which:

Reaffirmed the EU’s support for the National Transition Council.

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Welcomed the continuation of the operation to enforce UNSCR 1973 and ensure the protection of the Libyan population.

Welcomed the adoption of UNSCR 2009 and the return of Libya to the UN as represented by the National Transitional Council.

Stressed the need for all in Libya to respect all international obligations and the rule of law.

Expressed concern about the dissemination of conventional weapons in Libya.

Set out the EU’s willingness to work under UN co-ordination to consider Libyan needs in the fields of democratisation, rule of law, institution-building, security sector reform and police training.

Ministers agreed conclusions on Syria which condemned the ongoing brutal repression by the Syrian regime. Ministers expressed disappointment with the failure of the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution against Syria. They reiterated their determination to continue with targeted sanctions against the Syrian regime.

On Yemen, Ministers agreed conclusions which stressed concern about the situation in the country. They called for President Saleh to sign and implement the Gulf Co-operation Council initiative. And they welcomed the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and urged the authorities in Yemen to act on its recommendations.

On the European neighbourhood policy, the Foreign Secretary and others stressed the need to hold out the possibility of meaningful market access to the neighbourhood, in exchange for real political and democratic reforms.

Middle East Peace Process

Ministers agreed conclusions which reiterated their support for Baroness Ashton’s efforts on behalf of the EU to re-launch the peace process. There was an appeal for both parties to resume negotiations under the terms set out in the quartet statement of 23 September.

Ministers expressed their disappointment with the recent settlement expansion in the East Jerusalem settlement of Gilo. Baroness Ashton briefed Ministers on the Quartet envoys’ meeting of 9 October in Brussels and plans to invite the parties to meet in the coming days. The Foreign Secretary emphasised the need for continued EU unity in response to any resolutions proposed at the United Nations in New York.

Iran

The discussion on Iran focused on two areas: the EU’s growing concern over human rights, and Iran’s nuclear programme. On human rights. Ministers agreed to add 29 names to its sanctions list, in addition to the 32 officials previously agreed in April. On the nuclear issue, Baroness Ashton briefed Ministers on E3+3 talks in New York in the margin of the UN General Assembly and her meeting with the Iranian Foreign Minister. She also outlined plans for taking forward talks with Iran. The Foreign Secretary made the following statement:

“I welcome the EU’s agreement today to impose restrictive measures on a further 29 Iranians responsible for grave human rights abuses. Those targeted include Government Ministers, members of the security forces, prison staff and judiciary responsible for serious human rights violations.

“In recent months the human rights situation in Iran has continued to deteriorate. As we mark world day against the death penalty we should recall that Iran has now executed over 500 people this year, including a 17-year-old boy. The Government

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have violently suppressed protests over the mismanagement of a lake in north-west Iran, and families of a number of journalists have been arrested and harassed. We will continue to identify and list those who seriously violate the human rights of the Iranian people.

“Today’s decision sends a clear message to every individual on this list, and others in the Iranian regime, that we will not stand by. They will be held to account for their actions and should not involve themselves in the appalling abuses we continue to witness”.

EU External Representation

Ministers had a brief informal exchange on EU external representation in international organisations. The Foreign Secretary said we supported effective external action by the EU, in accordance with the treaties. But we needed to ensure that this did not affect the balance of competences between the EU and member states; and that member states remained free to act where they had the right to do so. He agreed that the EAS should propose effective arrangements in line with these principles.

General Affairs Council (GAC)

The GAC was chaired by the Polish EU presidency (Mikolaj Dowgielewicz, State Secretary for European Affairs). A draft record of the meeting can be found at:

http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/genaff/125036.pdf

Cohesion Policy

Ministers heard a presentation by Commissioner Hahn (regional policy) of proposals for rules on implementing the EU’s policy on economic and social cohesion in 2012-2020.

Growth-Enhancing Measures

The presidency presented its report “Towards a European consensus on growth” (see link below).

http://pl2011.eu/sites/default/files/users/shared/spotkania_i_ wydarzenia/presidency_report_on_growth.pdf

The report identifies potential growth-enhancing measures which might help the EU overcome the current economic crisis.

G20 Summit in Cannes

Ministers discussed with Commissioner Sefcovic (inter-institutional relations and administration) preparations for the G20 summit in Cannes on 3-4 November. The Commissioner set out proposed EU priorities: the eurozone and the global economic recovery; the resilience of the international monetary system; tackling commodity prices; providing a way forward for Doha and the WTO; development; food security; a strong message on climate change and Durban; and the proposed Financial Transaction Tax (FTT). I stressed that the UK was firmly against promoting a FTT at the G20 summit.

Preparation of the October European Council

Ahead of the GAC, the President of the Council, Van Rompuy, joined Ministers by video link to discuss preparations for the Council. He explained that the Council had been pushed back to Sunday 23 October to allow Heads of State and Government to consider issues relating to Greece, the European banks and the eurozone governance more comprehensively as a package. I argued that any future institutional changes to governance in the eurozone had to protect fully the interests of all 27 member states, and there had to be clear language to that effect in the European Council conclusions.

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I also stressed the need for the Council conclusions to address some significant foreign policy developments, particularly Libya.

I will deposit copies of this note in the Libraries of both Houses. And I will also continue to update Parliament on future Foreign and General Affairs Councils.

Health

Strategic Vision for Volunteering

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Paul Burstow): The Government have today announced the launch of a strategic vision for volunteering for health and care. “Social action for health and well-being: building co-operative communities” has been placed in the Library. Copies are available for hon. Members from the Vote Office and to noble Lords from the Printed Paper Office.

The Government recognise that volunteers already make a tremendous contribution towards the health and care services and support within their communities, improving the quality and choice of services available in our country. We want to ensure that this wealth of activity is recognised, celebrated and strengthened and that we nurture and release the capability and capacity that exists within our communities.

This strategic vision for volunteering sets out the Government’s long-term vision for social action, and in particular volunteering, in support of health and well-being. It replaces “Volunteering: involving people and communities in delivering and developing health and social care services”, published in March 2010 and refreshes it to reflect health, public health and social care reforms and the coalition Government’s big society agenda.

The vision highlights the valuable contribution volunteering and wider social action makes to every sphere of health, public health and social care, including prevention, the creation of people-centred and relationship-based services and improved patient and service user experience. It demonstrates how greater involvement of members of the public can help to develop support mechanisms and services that genuinely meet people’s needs, are more personal, strength-based and community-owned.

The strategic vision aims to:

embed a deeper understanding, genuine appreciation and awareness of volunteering and its benefits across all of health, public health and social care;

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recognise the enormous voluntary effort that contributes to health and well-being and to health, public health and care services in this country and ensure that this is recognised, celebrated and strengthened in the process of system and service reform;

ensure that services are built around the strengths and assets that people (including those with health and care needs, carers and communities) can bring to them, through volunteering as well as co-production and shared decision making; and

encourage the various parts of the health, public health and social care systems to recognise the value of volunteering in relation to their respective priorities and consider, from a more informed stance, where a more strategic approach and coherent investment in volunteering would lead to improved quality, equity and outcomes.

As part of the overarching approach of Government outlined in the “Giving” White Paper, Cm 8084 the Department will take a facilitative and enabling role in pursuing this vision, working with partners inside and outside Government to: raise awareness of the potential and added value of volunteering in health and care; improve the evidence base for investment in volunteering in this field; and improve access to best practice and opportunities for shared learning.

Justice

Crimestoppers Initiative (Prisons)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Crispin Blunt): Today, I am advising the House that on 22 September, we announced the launch of an enhanced Crimestoppers initiative in prisons. Crimestoppers will now report direct to the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) all prison-related matters, enabling a faster response. The launch was accompanied by a poster and leaflet campaign advertising the new arrangements and this will be followed by other campaigns on key issues that effect security in prisons. All printing is being undertaken through a contract with prison industries, providing useful employment for prisoners.

NOMS is determined to disrupt the criminal behaviour of prisoners. A key element is the ability to gather good quality intelligence and act quickly on information received. The Crimestoppers initiative provides a valuable source of intelligence with a particular focus on drugs and mobile phones. This will enhance NOMS’ ability to address these threats.

This initiative is a very good example of the invaluable work that the third sector can undertake in prisons.