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Written Statements

Volume 487: debated on Wednesday 4 February 2009

Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 4 February 2009

Treasury

ECOFIN

The Economic and Financial Affairs Council was held in Brussels on 20 January 2009. The following items were discussed:

Presidency work programme

The Czech presidency presented its ECOFIN work programme for the first half of 2009, which received full backing from Ministers.

Follow-up to the December European Council: Impact on Council Work

The presidency took stock of the work arising from the European Economic Recovery Plan (EERP) agreed by the December European Council. Ministers discussed the next steps for two particular issues. The first was reduced rates of VAT. The presidency pledged to find a compromise at ECOFIN in the coming months. The second was how the EU budget can best support infrastructure and energy efficiency projects. Ministers agreed to return to this issue in February. On both issues the Government support the presidency’s strategy for finding agreement.

Economic and Budgetary Policy Strategy for 2009, including economic and financial situation and implementation of European Economic Recovery Plan

Ministers exchanged views and adopted an external communication on the economic and budgetary policy messages for ECOFIN’s work in 2009. This included discussion of the impact of fiscal stimulus packages on budgetary rules under the stability and growth pact.. The presidency will use the messages at this ECOFIN to inform discussions at the spring European Council in March.

Introduction of the euro in Slovakia

The European Commission and the representative of Slovakia presented a first assessment of the introduction of the single currency in Slovakia on 1 January 2009. The Council congratulated Slovakia on its success.

Western Balkans Investment Framework

The Council heard a report and adopted Council conclusions on progress towards the establishment of the Western Balkans Investment Framework by 2010.

AOB

Balance of payments assistanceLatvia

Ministers adopted Council decisions granting balance of payments assistance to Latvia. The UK supports this loan, which is part of an overall package of support agreed with the IMF, World Bank, and bilateral lenders.

Financial rescue packages and bank capital

The Czech presidency reminded Ministers of ECOFIN’s commitment to ongoing monitoring of the progress and effectiveness of national financial rescue measures. The presidency emphasised the need for member states to continue to co-ordinate their actions. Ministers adopted Council conclusions on bank capital, agreeing to take strong and decisive actions to stimulate their economies, provide liquidity, strengthen the capital of financial institutions, protect savings and deposits, address regulatory deficiencies and unfreeze credit markets. The Commission will prepare reports on the implementation of rescue packages and on troubled assets for the March meeting of ECOFIN, when the matter will be revisited. The UK strongly welcomes this work, which is an essential part of wider efforts to restore stability to financial markets.

Culture, Media and Sport

National Anti-doping Organisation

The Minister for Sport, at today’s UK Sport anti-doping conference, proposed that the UK’s anti-doping function be removed from UK Sport and established as a stand-alone National Anti-doping Organisation (NADO). This follows his agreement in principle, in December 2007, to this recommendation from the UK Sport board.

The Department and UK Sport have been working to agree a funding package for the new body and I am pleased to announce that this has been concluded, with a budget for the new NADO of £7 million for 2009-10 and 2010-11 up to the next spending review.

We have tasked UK Sport with responsibility for the delivery of this project, and they inform me that they expect the new functions of the NADO to be operational by the end of the year.

The Department will undertake a formal consultation and impact assessment on the proposals, and will report to Parliament in due course.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture Council (19 January 2009)

I represented the United Kingdom at January’s Agriculture Council in Brussels, the first under the Czech presidency. Elin Jones, the Welsh Minister for Rural Affairs, also attended.

The CAP Health Check was adopted under the ‘A’ items.

The presidency set out the four priorities it would take forward over the next six months:

Future of the CAP—discussion would continue on the future of the CAP, focusing on objectives in its post-2013 incarnation. The presidency would conduct discussions at its informal Council with a view to achieving consensus on a way forward at the June Council meeting.

Green Paper on “Quality Policy”—would be taken forward at a ministerial conference in Prague on 12 and 13 March. The output would inform a Commission Communication, discussion of which would take place at the May Council, followed by Council conclusions in June.

Rural Development—work would continue on the review of less-favoured areas (LFAs).

CAP Simplification—the presidency would hold discussion in the Council. The Commission would present a progress report to the March Council meeting. Council conclusions would be tabled at the May session.

Work on foodstuffs, novel foods and food labelling, the welfare of animals at slaughter, the animal testing directive, the sustainability of fisheries and aquaculture, and the reform of the common fisheries policy, were also highlighted.

On the main items, the Commission presented its draft negotiating mandate for Community accession to the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV), followed by a draft regulation setting out requirements on operators who place timber on the Community market to exercise due diligence, ensuring that such timber is legally logged.

Next, the presidency confirmed that there was neither a qualified majority of member states in favour, nor against, Commission proposals to authorise the placing on the market (but not cultivation) of a herbicide tolerant oilseed rape and a blue carnation. The Commission would now adopt under its own powers.

There were a number of items under any other business. There were calls for higher aid intensities to be provided for in response to the global economic downturn and for provision of private storage aid for 100,000 tonnes of pigmeat. The Commission proposed the reintroduction of export refunds in the dairy sector.

Justice

National Offender Management Services

I am today publishing the Strategic and Business plans for the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) agency. The document sets out the strategic priorities for the agency to 2011 and the activities and targets to be achieved during 2009-10.

Copies have been made available in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office. The document is also available on the NOMS website at:

http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications/corporateinformation.htm

The NOMS agency was established as an executive agency of the Ministry of Justice in July 2008. It has the twin aims of protecting the public and reducing re-offending. The agency is central to the Ministry of Justice’s work to achieve better outcomes for society, to improve further the effectiveness of the criminal justice system and to ensure the delivery of efficient and effective offender management.