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Employment, Social Policy, Health And Consumer Affairs Council

Volume 407: debated on Friday 20 June 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the outcome was of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council on 2–3 June; what the Government's stance was on the issues discussed, including its voting record; and if he will make a statement. [117558]

My hon. Friend, then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Health (David Lammy), represented the UK for the Health element of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council in Luxembourg on 2 June.The main health business of this Council related to the Safety of Tissues and Cells Directive. The Council reached political agreement on a text that did not include any of the amendments, proposed by the European Parliament at its first reading, to which the UK was strongly opposed. The UK voted in support of the Council text.The Council adopted a proposal which will enable member states to sign the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). The UK voted in favour of this proposal.Member states also reached political agreement on two elements of the Pharmaceuticals Review. These address changes to the human medicines directive, and to the Regulation that established the European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products (the EMEA) and a Community marketing authorisation procedure for certain human and veterinary medicines. The UK voted in favour of the Council text overall. A progress report was received on the veterinary medicines directive on which discussions are not as far advanced.The Council adopted Council Conclusions on combating Stigma in relation to Mental Illness, the product of a Conference, which took place in Athens under the Greek Presidency. The UK voted in favour of adopting these Conclusions.The Commission updated the Council on activities in the area of joint activity on Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), including the announcement of funding into diagnostics research. They also gave an update on the High Level process of reflection on patient mobility and health care development, indicating that the second Ministerial plenary session would take place in July.Under any other business the Commission updated the Council on the programme of co-operation on bioterrorism and health security. The Commission also presented a proposed Recommendation on Cancer Screening. Voting was not required on either of these items. My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Andrew Smith) represented the UK together with my hon. Friend, then Minister for Employment Relations, Industry and the Regions (Alan Johnson), at the Employment and Social Policy part of the ESPHCA on 3 June in Luxembourg.The Council agreed a general approach to the 2003 Employment Guidelines. The EP will now be consulted as directed by the Treaty and the Guidelines will be adopted at a future Council as an A point. The UK are content with the simplified guidelines which are more focused on the employment targets set at Lisbon in 2000 and are geared more towards outcomes. Council also agreed the Recommendations on member states employment policies, the second part of the Employment package.There was a lengthy discussion on the proposed Directive on Temporary Agency workers which was originally tabled for political agreement. The Council was unable to reach agreement on the proposal and the Presidency remitted further negotiations to the Italian Presidency, recalling that the Brussels Spring Council urged agreement on the directive by December 2003. The UK maintained its position that it could back a directive that supported agency workers without putting their jobs at risk. Any directive must reflect the realities of our labour market.Council agreed the rest of the items on the agenda with little or no discussion. Council reached political agreement on a regulation on the European Cooperative Statute and a parallel directive on employee involvement.Council also reached political agreement on a Decision setting up an Advisory Committee on Safety and Health at Work. The UK and Denmark made a written declaration, to be included in the minutes of the Council, regretting the use of Article 202 as the legal base for this Decision.Council adopted two Resolutions without discussion: one Resolution on building social and human capital in the knowledge society; and a second on promoting the employment and social integration of people with disabilities.Council also agreed a general approach on the three chapters of a Regulation to replace Regulation 1408/71, the co-ordination of member states' social security systems, that have been discussed under the Greek Presidency. The chapters concerned cover invalidity benefits, pensions and special non-contributory benefits. Work will continue under the Italian Presidency with a view to completing the simplification of this regulation by December 2003, as requested by the European Council at Barcelona in 2002.The Council approved, without debate, the Social Protection Committee's plans to carry out themed studies on pensions issues.Under the Council's new rules of procedure, both the Commission and the Presidency presented Any Other Business items as written information. There was no discussion of these points.No votes were taken in this part of the Council.