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Written Statements

Monday 23 June 2014

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Foreign Affairs Council/General Affairs Council

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will attend the Foreign Affairs Council on 23 June, and I will attend the General Affairs Council on 24 June. The Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) will be chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, and the General Affairs Council (GAC) will be chaired by the Greek presidency. The meetings will be held in Luxembourg.

Foreign Affairs Council

Introductory remarks

Baroness Ashton is expected to cover the 8 June elections in Kosovo, which took place in an orderly and transparent manner, and to acknowledge a historic moment in Afghanistan’s history, with the second round of the presidential elections having taken place on 14 June. Ministers are expected to agree a new EU civilian strategy for Afghanistan, focused on supporting the Afghan Government over the next three years. We do not expect substantive discussion of these topics.

Ukraine

Ministers will have a substantive discussion on the situation in Ukraine following the presidential elections of 25 May, which were conducted largely in accordance with international standards in the face of great odds. The UK will stress the importance of continued, co-ordinated, political and practical support to President Poroshenko and the Government of Ukraine and, in parallel, continued pressure on Russia to stop provoking instability in eastern Ukraine. The Foreign Secretary will encourage member states, in line with recent G7 statements, to stand ready to intensify targeted sanctions, and implement significant additional restrictive measures to impose further costs on Russia should events so require. Ministers will reaffirm non-recognition of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and endorse the progress already made by the Commission in delivering the package of consequences responding to this illegal annexation: the UK will encourage the Commission to pursue the remaining elements of the package in a timely fashion.

The UK will seek to agree the EU crisis management concept on establishing the civilian common security and defence policy mission that the UK, Sweden and Poland advocated at the April FAC. The mission is intended to address both urgent and longer-term stability-related needs, including in the fields of security sector reform, support of police, and rule of law. Ministers will look forward to signature of the EU/Moldova and EU/Georgia association agreements on 27 June, and their hope to sign the remaining chapters of the EU/Ukraine association agreement. We expect Ministers to emphasise

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continued support for these countries, and the need for a robust response should Russia take retaliatory action following the signature of these agreements.

Southern Neighbourhood

The UK’s objective is to ensure that member states remain united on a political solution to ending the crisis in Syria. We will emphasise the need to maintain pressure on the regime, support the opposition and address the humanitarian situation. On the political track, the UK strongly believes that the Geneva principles and process are the only viable, internationally agreed mechanism, endorsed by the P5 and Arab League, for a settlement to end the conflict. We will urge member states to hold to the principles of the Geneva process while making a practical effort to change the regime’s calculations, including by using sanctions. On humanitarian aid, in support of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2139, the UK will encourage member states and the institutions to ensure aid can be delivered across borders to those who most need it. The UK will also seek to discuss the 30 June deadline for the regime to destroy its chemical weapons, and to emphasise the importance of member states working closely together to curb foreign fighters.

Ministers will discuss the situation in Libya ahead of the 25 June elections. The UK will encourage member states to do all they can to support a lasting, inclusive political settlement and fair, transparent and accountable elections. We will encourage member states to support international efforts to respond to the Libyan Government’s request for assistance in addressing the destabilising impact of weapons proliferation.

Iraq

Ministers will discuss the situation in Iraq. The UK is gravely concerned at the deteriorating security and ongoing violence. The UK will emphasise the importance of a united response to this threat from Iraq’s leadership, and call for member states to offer increased humanitarian assistance to Iraq, given the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the violence. The UK will also call for member states to show solidarity with the Government of Iraq as it combats terrorism, and for member states to make a strong statement about the threat from Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL). Conclusions are expected to express serious concern over the situation, support the fight against terrorism, and call for the rapid formation of a new Government which can work together to address the challenges Iraq faces.

General Affairs Council

The General Affairs Council will focus on: the enlargement and stabilisation and association process; a report on following up European Council conclusions; the preparation of the 26 and 27 June European Council; the European semester process; the EU strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian region; the application of article 10 of protocol 36 to the treaties; and the forward-looking 18-month programme of the Council.

Enlargement and Stabilisation and Association Process

The GAC will consider the recommendation from the Commission to agree EU candidate status for Albania. The UK remains a strong supporter of EU enlargement to all the countries of the western Balkans, including Albania, once conditions have been met. We are looking very closely at the reforms Albania continues to pursue,

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including in the areas the Council set out in December 2013. We will take a final view on Albania’s progress just ahead of the June GAC.

Report on following up European Council conclusions

The GAC plays an important role in ensuring that the actions mandated in European Council conclusions are delivered. We expect the Greek presidency to deliver a report on the implementation of European Council conclusions during their presidency. This will likely cover all strands of EU business, from the economic, to energy and climate, and defence, trade and foreign policy. Areas such as the Single Market Act I, are likely to be singled out for their adoption during the Greek presidency.

Preparation of the June European Council

The GAC will prepare the 26 and 27 June European Council, where the Prime Minister and other EU leaders will attend a dinner in Ypres on 26 June to commemorate the outbreak of the first world war, before travelling on to Brussels for the Council meeting on 27 June.

The June European Council agenda is expected to include: the future justice and home affairs programme; economic issues, including conclusion of the European semester and better regulation; climate and energy including a Commission report on EU energy security; and external relations issues (likely to include Ukraine). We also look forward to signature of the EU/Moldova and EU/Georgia association agreements at the European Council, and hope to sign the remaining chapters of the EU/Ukraine association agreement. The issue of the EU’s strategic priorities and institutional changes is also likely to be discussed by leaders.

European Semester

The GAC will consider the country specific recommendations (CSRs), published by the Commission to all non-programme EU member states on 2 June, as part of the European semester process. CSRs will also be considered by the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council on 19 June and the Economic and Financial Affairs Council on 20 June.

The advice to the UK is to continue reducing the deficit, tackle youth unemployment, reform the housing market and invest in infrastructure. This is generally in line with the Government’s long-term economic plan and reflects the advice of others.

EU Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian region

The GAC will receive a presentation by the Commission of its communication and action plan for the EU strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian region. The strategy will be considered in more detail during the Italian presidency.

Application of Article 10 of Protocol 36 to the Treaties

Current plans are for the General Affairs Council to consider an item on protocol 36 of the treaty of the functioning of the European Union. This relates to the UK’s decision to opt out of all police and criminal justice measures adopted before the entry into force of the Lisbon treaty, and subsequent discussions.

18-month programme of the Council

The GAC is expected to take note of the presidency programme for the next 18 months. The new presidency trio of Italy, Latvia and Luxembourg will begin on 1 July with the Italians holding the presidency until 31 December 2014. The Italians are due to publish their presidency programme shortly; the programme is expected to be partly shaped by the inherited Greek agenda.

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There is a good degree of convergence between the UK’s priorities and those of Italy. The first six months of the programme will be dominated by institutional refresh of the European Parliament and Commission. Three priorities have been identified for the Italian presidency: “Growth”, “Migration” and “Mediterranean”.

We welcome areas of the anticipated programme that reflect the growth and jobs agenda, such as progress on the digital single market, better regulation and trade agreements.

Latvia and Luxembourg have yet to release details of their presidency programmes.

Under any other business, the presidency will seek views on whether there should be sessions of the General Affairs Council where the agenda is dedicated to cohesion policy in order to allow greater scrutiny at a political level of its implementation over the 2014-20 financial perspective and its contribution to the Europe 2020 strategy.

Transport

Roads Reform

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): In our response to the consultation on transforming the Highways Agency into a Government-owned strategic highways company (April 2014), Government committed to publishing further details about the governance regime for the new company, to provide important context to the roads reform legislation in the Infrastructure Bill.

Today I am publishing a suite of documents that set out details of the key elements that together will form a cohesive and robust governance framework for the new company. This will allow it the autonomy and flexibility to operate, manage and enhance the network on a day-to-day basis and deliver more efficiently, while ensuring it acts transparently, remains accountable to Government, road users and taxpayers, and continues to run the network in the public interest.

The documents being published today are:

“Transforming our strategic roads—a summary”—An introduction to roads reform that summarises the reasons for change, what this involves, how the new regime will work and the benefits the change will deliver for road users and the nation as a whole.

“Strategic Highways Company: draft Licence”—An outline draft of the licence for the company, in which the Secretary of State will issue statutory directions and guidance, setting objectives and conditions around how the company must act.

“Setting the Road Investment Strategy: Now and in the Future”—A draft description of the elements that will form a road investment strategy (RIS), and further information about the process for developing the first and future RIS documents.

I am also publishing further information about the purpose and content of the framework document and articles of association for the company and how these will be developed. These elements are not directly relevant to the legislation, but will form important parts of the governance regime for the new company.

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Taken together with the measures in part 1 of the Infrastructure Bill, this governance regime will provide a strong, certain framework for managing our roads. It will strengthen accountability, drive efficiency and increase transparency and create far more certain conditions for investment, enabling the supply chain to gear up for the Government’s ambitious plans for the future. This will support the economy, promote jobs and skills and ultimately transform the quality of our national infrastructure and the quality of service for road users. We look to move to the new model with minimal disruption.

As the Bill remains subject to parliamentary approval, these documents remain subject to change.

A copy of each of these documents will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses

and will be available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/roads-reform.

Work and Pensions

Personal Independence Payment

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Mike Penning): Section 89 of the Welfare Reform Act 2012 commits the Secretary of State for

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Work and Pensions to publish two independent reports on how the personal independence payment (PIP) assessment is working. The first is due within two years of PIP starting in April 2013. On Thursday 10 April 2014, I announced that Paul Gray CB had been appointed to carry out the first independent review of the PIP assessment. The terms of reference for this independent review were published on gov.uk on 21 May.

Today the Government will publish a call for evidence to inform the first independent review of the PIP assessment, being undertaken by Paul Gray.

This call for evidence will be one of several methods used to gather information during the review. Evidence submitted will be used to inform Paul Gray’s report to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, which will be laid before Parliament before the end of 2014.

This call for evidence seeks evidence from both organisations and individuals who have information that is relevant to how the PIP assessment is operating.

The call for evidence runs until Friday 5 September 2014.

I will place a copy of the call for evidence in the Libraries of both Houses. It will also be available on the Government’s website: www.gov.uk/DWP later today.