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30 Nov 2011 : Column WS15

30 Nov 2011 : Column WS15

Written Statements

Wednesday 30 November 2011

EU: Agriculture and Fisheries Council


The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Taylor of Holbeach): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Caroline Spelman) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I and my right honourable friend the Minister of State for Agriculture and Food (Jim Paice) represented the UK on agriculture matters at the Agricultural and Fisheries Council on Monday 14 November. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Natural Environment and Fisheries (Richard Benyon) represented the United Kingdom on the fisheries items. Richard Lochhead MSP, Michelle O'Neil MLA and Alun Davies AM were also in attendance.

The first item for discussion was the communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the council on the external dimension of the Common Fisheries Policy. The Commission emphasised the twin objectives of ensuring sustainable management of fisheries resources whilst maintaining a level playing field across member states and third countries in order to ensure a viable EU fishing fleet. There was general support for common principles such as the need to fish sustainably, the desire for EU vessels to only use what is surplus to local requirements, ensuring coherence of the CFP with EU development policy and the need for transparency from third countries about fishing activities in their waters.

On specific issues, a number of member states expressed concern about the effect on economic viability of increasing the vessel owners' contributions towards paying the costs of access rights; while others, including the UK could support an increase in owners' contributions, or owners coving the full costs.

In order to ensure a level playing field a number of member states called for third country producers to be liable to the same social and environmental obligations as EU producers. The UK, along with France, Germany, Belgium and Ireland expressed support for trade measures being taken against those countries that were not fishing sustainably.

The Danish presidency will take this forward as part of the CFP reform package in 2012.

The main agricultural item on the agenda was further discussion of the Commission's proposals for reform of direct payments under pillar 1 of the Common Agricultural Policy. Member states were asked for views on the proposed structure of pillar 1, and on the Commission's plans for convergence of payment rates within and between member states. There appeared to be a developing consensus that the overall structure of the Commission's proposals was too complex and that

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greater national flexibility was required for member states to respond to specific needs within their own territory.

On the detail of the proposal, a number of items were raised by member states. On greening of direct payments, even those member states that did generally accept the principle questioned the bureaucratic burden it would place on farmers and national administrations. On support for young or small farmers, many member states called for the provisions to be voluntary for member states.

When considering the move to a single payment rate within individual member states (or regions), the UK and France were in a group of member states that accepted the end goal, but thought the Commission's proposals moved too quickly, particularly in the first year. However, some member states remain opposed. On the issue of the convergence of payment rates between member states, Ministers were split between those that will lose and those that will gain.

There were five any other business items. The first was information from the Commission on implementation of the conventional cage ban as set down in the laying hens directive. The Commission announced that it would be writing to member states to seek confirmation of compliance with the ban, which comes into force on 1 January 2012 or to ascertain how compliance will be reached. This letter will be the first step towards infraction proceedings against non-compliant member states. The Commission noted progress at a meeting of officials on 28 October considering a workable, non-legally binding, agreement to tackle the issue of large-scale non-compliance with the conventional cage ban across the EU. For the UK, Minister Paice intervened to state that such an agreement would need to include, as a minimum, a list of compliant and non-compliant producers from member states, action plans for compliance spanning no longer than six months (which would also prevent member states from placing new hens into conventional cages), clear marks to identify non-compliant eggs, and restriction of trade for these egg and egg products to the country of production. The majority of member states that have complied with the rules were against any form of compromise agreement. In conclusion, the Commission reiterated its commitment to start infringement proceedings from 1 January 2012 but considered progress on an informal agreement as the best and quickest way to ensure full compliance from member states.

The next AOB item was a report from France on the food for deprived persons scheme. France stated that they had agreed a joint declaration with Germany agreeing continuation of the food for deprived persons scheme until the end of 2013. The declaration also stated that neither country believed that the conditions were in place for a similar scheme to be supported from the EU budget beyond 2013. The presidency concluded that there was now a qualified majority in favour of the proposal, and would aim for formal legal agreement at the December Agriculture Council.

Hungary presented the next AOB item, a paper, supported by France, Lithuania, Austria and Romania, arguing for an extension to the sugar quota system beyond 2015. Six other member states supported this

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call, arguing that it would provide stability of production and to allow expansion to meet demand. The UK led the counter-argument against a continuation of quotas, supported by Slovenia, Ireland and Latvia.

The presidency presented a paper on the Ryn "Forestry for climate and biodiversity" conference, and noted forthcoming international negotiations on a legally binding agreement on forests in Europe.

The final AOB item was another presidency paper reporting on the 30th conference of the directors of paying agencies of the EU; the key conclusion of the conference had been the need for further progress on simplification.

EU: Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council


The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): My right honourable friend the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Chris Grayling) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council will be held on 1 December 2011 in Brussels. I will represent the United Kingdom on all agenda items.

There will be two ongoing negotiations at this council. In the first negotiation the presidency is seeking a political agreement to the extensions of the crisis derogations to the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund. I will stress that the UK does not believe that the EGF is an effective or efficient instrument for managing large redundancies. Whilst at this stage it is not possible to know how discussions will evolve, I will be seeking to protect UK taxpayers by reducing disbursements from this fund, in accordance with the position agreed with the parliamentary scrutiny committees.

In the second negotiation, the presidency is seeking a general approach to a proposal amending Regulation (EC) No 883/2004 on the co-ordination of social security systems and Regulation (EC) No 987/2009 laying down the procedure for implementing Regulation (EC) No 883/2004. In this negotiation I will seek to support the presidency in achieving a general approach. I will reiterate that a broader debate is needed on social security for migrants. I will also support the Commission's suggested broader review of the co-ordination of unemployment benefits.

There will also be a policy debate on the implementation of the Europe 2020 strategy in the field of employment and social policy. The debate will be informed by three papers: the Commission's annual growth survey (including the joint employment report); a set of conclusions on the European semester; and an opinion of the Social Protection Committee on the social impact of the crisis. I will welcome the annual growth survey and emphasise the need for all member states to have a credible and determined approach to structural reform, including through credible fiscal consolidation measures, opening up of markets and deeper growth-friendly labour market reforms.

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There will be a progress report on three topics: minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to the risks arising from physical agents (electromagnetic fields), the pregnant workers directive and the equal treatment of persons irrespective of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.

In addition, Ministers will consider two sets of council conclusions, covering ageing as an opportunity for the labour market and the development of social services and community activities, and the review of the implementation of the Beijing platform for action.

The Commission will also present a report on the functioning of the transitional arrangements on the free movement of workers from Bulgaria and Romania.

Under any other business the presidency and Commission will provide the key messages from the first annual convention of the European platform against poverty and social exclusion. The presidency will provide information on the legislative proposals in the area of migration (single permit, intra-corporate transfers and seasonal workers) and will report on the informal meeting of Ministers for Family and Gender Equality. The Commission will also provide an update on the review of the working time directive, the posting of workers directive and the state of play on the European debate on women on company boards.

EU: Energy Council


The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Lord Marland): My honourable friend the Minister of State for Energy (Charles Hendry) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I represented the UK at the Energy Council in Brussels on 24 November. Fergus Ewing, Scottish Minister for Industry, Tourism and Energy, also attended.

The council began with a report by the presidency on the progress of discussions of the energy efficiency draft directive. Denmark noted that the directive would be a high priority for their presidency from January 2012.

There was a debate on the draft regulation on infrastructure. I expressed the UK's support for the proposal and noted the need for better cross-border permitting procedures to create a fully integrated EU market, as well as the importance of regional groupings such as the North Sea countries' offshore grid initiative. A number of member states also registered their support for the proposal while noting the need for it to respect other areas of EU legislation, such as environmental rules and member state competence.

The council agreed conclusions on external energy relations, following interventions by a number of member states. The Commission reported on a number of international relations items, including providing a brief summary of the latest situation on the southern corridor, negotiations with Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan and with Russia.

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The Commission gave a presentation of the draft regulation on offshore oil and gas activities. I welcomed the overall intention of the proposal to increase safety but expressed concern over the use of a regulation. Other member states expressed concerns.

Over lunch, Ministers discussed the effects of changes in member states' domestic energy policies on their neighbours, continuing a similar discussion at the informal Energy Council in Wroclaw in September.

Denmark briefly outlined its plans for its presidency. Its energy priorities will be the energy efficiency directive and the 2050 energy road map.

Schools: Industrial Action


The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Hill of Oareford): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education (Michael Gove) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Industrial action, today, has had a severe impact on schools across the country and has caused disruption to children's schooling and to parents and employers. At the same time, we know that many dedicated professionals have worked hard to keep schools open where they could.

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The Department for Education has collected data about school closure from local authorities, academies and free schools to assess the impact of today's industrial action.

There are 21,476 state-funded schools in England (maintained schools, academies, free schools, university technical colleges and studio schools). 13,349 (62 per cent) were reported to be closed. 2,951 (14 per cent) were reported to be partially open and 3,351 (16 per cent) were reported to be fully open. The situation with a further 1,825 (8 per cent) has not been reported to us or the local authority did not know.

Of the 20,027 maintained schools, 12,526 (63 per cent) were reported to be closed, 2,536 (13 per cent) were reported to be partially open and 3,140 (16 per cent) were reported to be fully open. The situation with a further 1,825 (9 per cent) was not reported or was reported as unknown.

Of the 1,449 academies (including free schools, university technical colleges and studio schools) 823 (57 per cent) were reported to be closed, 415 (29 per cent) were reported to be partially open and 211 (15 per cent) reported to be fully open. There are 24 free schools, of which four were reported closed, one was reported partially open and 19 were reported to be fully open.

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