Written Ministerial Statements
Monday 3 June 2013
A meeting of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council was held in Brussels on 14 May 2013. Ministers discussed the following items:
Banking Recovery and Resolution
There was a state of play discussion on the banking recovery and resolution directive proposal, focusing in particular on the design of the bail-in tool.
Current legislative proposals
The presidency updated Ministers on the revised rules for markets in financial instruments directive/regulation (MiFID/MiFIR); the market abuse directive; the transparency directive; the mortgage credit directive; banking supervision; the capital requirements directive IV; and the anti-money laundering directive.
Draft Amending Budget No 2 to the General Budget 2013
ECOFIN reached a political agreement on the draft amending budget No 2 to the general budget 2013, on the basis of a proposal from the Irish presidency. ECOFIN agreed in principle to a first stage budget amendment and to consider a second stage amendment later in the year. ECOFIN declared to formally adopt its position on the draft amending budget at a later stage in parallel with the conclusion of talks on the EU’s multi-annual financial framework (MFF) for 2014-20. The UK, along with Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden, opposed the amendment and statement, expressing dissatisfaction at the Commission’s unjustified request for substantial additional resources.
Savings taxation and mandate for negotiations of amendments to the Savings Taxation agreements with third countries
ECOFIN adopted a mandate for the Commission to negotiate amendments to the savings taxation agreements with third countries. ECOFIN also discussed a proposal for a Council directive amending the EU savings directive which will be further discussed at the May European Council.
Council Conclusions on tax evasion and fraud
ECOFIN adopted a set of Council conclusions on the Commission’s action plan to tackle tax fraud and evasion and accompanying two recommendations on good governance in tax matters in third countries and on aggressive tax planning. The conclusions support efforts at national, EU, G8, G20, OECD and global levels on automatic exchange of information and on improving the implementation and enforcement of standards of beneficial ownership information.
G5 Pilot Facility on automatic exchange of information in the area of taxation
The UK, on behalf of the other members of the G5 (France, Germany, Italy and Spain) presented to Council on the G5 pilot multilateral automatic exchange of information facility. The UK, along with 16 other member states submitted a joint minute statement, strongly supporting the initiative for a pilot of multilateral automatic information exchange based on agreements with the US, and requesting the Commission to support and promote the work of the OECD, G8, and G20 in developing a single global standard for automatic exchange of information, with a view to its quick implementation also at EU level.
Macro-economic Imbalances Procedure: In-Depth Reviews
ECOFIN adopted Council conclusions on the results of the UK and 12 other member states’ macro-economic imbalances procedure: in-depth reviews. The UK does not have an excessive imbalance and does not need to take further action under the macro-economic imbalances procedure. The UK supports the macro-economic imbalances procedure as a means of strengthening European economic governance, particularly in the euro area.
Towards a deep and genuine Economic and Monetary Union: Commission communications
The Commission presented the two communications on a deep and genuine economic and monetary union which were published on 20 March. These cover the introduction of a convergence and competitiveness instrument and ex ante co-ordination of plans for major economic policy reforms.
Follow-up to the G20 Finance Ministers and Governors (18-19 April) and IMF/World Bank (19-21 April) 2013 Spring meetings in Washington. USA
The presidency and the Commission debriefed Ministers on the main outcomes of the G20 Finance Ministers and Governors and IMF/World Bank spring meetings.
Communities and Local Government
Departmental Work Whitsun Recess
I would like to update hon. Members on the main items of business undertaken by my Department since the House rose on 21 May 2013.
Getting Britain building
When the coalition Government came to power we inherited a paralysed housing market where house building had collapsed. Three years later we are now seeing signs of steady improvement, with housing supply now at its highest since the end of the unsustainable housing boom in 2008 and the numbers of first-time buyers are at a five-year high.
This Government are determined to get Britain building and make better use of existing land. In last year’s autumn statement, we outlined the delivery of at least 50,000 new homes in large, locally supported housing programmes. We are making strong progress.
On 22 May, my Department announced £32 million funding for the new town of Sherford, near Plymouth, that will bring forward the delivery of 5,500 new homes and help create 5,000 local jobs. Over the next 15 years the development will deliver a powerful boost to the local economy, generate £1 billion of construction investment and inject a further £2 billion into the local area.
The investment in Sherford will bring the total number of homes unlocked through the programme to 41,000. This intervention builds on the deals made for a 6,300 home site at Cranbrook near Exeter, a 6,000 home site at Fairfield near Milton Keynes, and a site for over 22,000 homes at the Eastern Quarry development near Ebbsfleet in Kent. A further £234,000 of funding for the Cranbrook development was also announced today, to help local partners deliver the project.
Backing locally supported projects is in strong contrast to the last Administration’s failed top-down eco-town programme which failed to build a single home.
The Government are also taking other steps to bring more developed land into use. It has already sold enough formerly used surplus public sector land to deliver 33,000 new homes.
Promoting local growth through Enterprise Zones
On 29 May, together with the Mayor of London, I unveiled details of a £1 billion deal that will turn London’s Royal Dock enterprise zone into the capital’s next business district, forging new trade links with China and other economies in the Asia-Pacific region and securing billions of pounds of inward investment in the UK economy.
Historically the trading heartland of the capital, the deal will reinstate the Royal Docks as a commercial and trading centre for the 21st century, delivering around 20,000 full-time jobs and boosting local employment in Newham by 30%. When complete the site will become London’s third business district and, according to initial projections, be worth £6 billion to the British economy, generating £23 million in business rates annually and acting as a catalyst for further development in the area.
In addition to this five enterprise zones are also receiving £24 million to tackle traffic bottlenecks and road congestion near their site through Department for Transport funding.
Across the country, enterprise zones are stimulating job creation and economic growth in different parts of the country with their special package of incentives to attractive new business ventures. They have already generated 105,000 square metres of new commercial floor space and secured almost £229 million of extra private sector investment.
New rights for park homes residents
On 27 May, my Department marked new laws to give park home residents the protection they need from unscrupulous site owners. The new rights will remove site owners from the park home buying and selling process, meaning that residents cannot be forced to sell, or be prevented from selling, their park homes to fill the landlord’s pocket and it will also be harder to impose unexpected charges or changes of rules.
We have also given more power to local authorities to enforce breaches, making it easier to prosecute a site owner who harasses residents. My Department has also launched a new national helpline, operated by the Leasehold Advisory Service for residents to get advice on their rights when selling or gifting their home.
Making the planning system more responsive
On 3 June, my Department published new measures to make the planning process work better. They simplify the requirements around design and access statements, and remove the need for councils to list their reasons for granting planning permission on decision notices. These new measures will come into force on 25 June.
We also published further details of our plans to help speed up planning decisions with the small number of councils consistently failing to meet their statutory requirements. Planning is a quasi-judicial process, and justice delayed is justice denied.
As already announced, recess marked the commencement of our change of use planning reforms which will make it easier for empty and redundant buildings to be brought back into public use.
Love your Local Market
The Government are committed to helping high streets regenerate and thrive, and as part of our response to Mary Portas’ high street review we worked with the industry to set up the “Love Your Local Market” campaign.
Over a period of two weeks from 13 May to 27 May over 3,500 events were held across England by nearly 700 different markets, offering opportunities for around 2,800 aspiring traders. Love Your Local Market 2013 also offered an opportunity for young people to get onto their local market to try out their business ideas and over 200 entrepreneurs traded through the National Market Traders Federation’s “First Pitch” scheme over the fortnight. Of these, 100 will be helped to trade for a further 12 months—offering a real legacy from this year’s event.
Following the tragic and chilling events in Woolwich, I outlined my views and approach in an article in The Sunday Telegraph. A copy has been placed in the Library of the House.
The only way is Wessex
In April, my Department formally acknowledged the continuing role of England’s traditional counties in English public life. Previously, many parts of Whitehall and municipal officialdom have shunned these counties, many of which date back over a thousand years of English history. On 25 May, my Department flew the flag of Wessex as part of our broader programme of recognising and celebrating the traditional institutions of England.
Flags are a symbol of local and national pride and heritage and we have already amended the law to make it easier to fly flags without a permit from the council. I was pleased to see that misjudged decisions by Radstock town council in Somerset and the Places for People social landlord in Preston to ban the St George’s flag have been reversed.
Recent events remind us that we are stronger as a society when we celebrate the ties that bind us together and we challenge the politics of division. Whatever one’s class, colour or creed, we should have pride in Britain’s local and national identities.
Copies of the associated documents and press notices for all these announcements have been placed in the Library of the House.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
General Affairs Council
I attended the General Affairs Council (GAC) on 21 May in Brussels. The GAC was chaired by Eamon Gilmore, Foreign Minister for the Republic of Ireland. The focus of the GAC was the multi-annual financial framework (MFF), the preparation for the 22 May European Council and the preparation of the 27 and 28 June European Council, as well as short discussion on the follow-up to previous European Councils.
Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF), Draft Amending Budgets
The Irish presidency gave a presentation on the progress made in the “trilogue negotiations” following an informal meeting which took place on Monday 13 May. This part of the General Affairs Council has been recorded and posted on the European Council’s website http://www.consilium.europa.eu/council/open-sessions/related-documents?debateid=1976&lang=en.
The Irish presidency informed the GAC that despite securing agreement for an amendment to the annual budget for 2013, which would allow an increase of €7.3 billion, this deal had been rejected by the European Parliament. The agreement was for the “Draft Amending Budget 2”, part of a package of amendments to the European Union budget which enable the Commission to move money within the ceilings to meet reprioritisation needs. The Chancellor of the Exchequer opposed the €7.3 billion deal as there has been insufficient evidence provided that these funds are required. The connection of this issue to the negotiations of the multi-annual financial framework (MFF) has slowed progress towards the final agreement of the MFF which could have implications on member states budgeting and financial planning for 2014, when the next MFF is due to commence.
I made it clear that these delays, are now putting pressure on the timetable for finalisation of the MFF. We are very keen for the European Parliament to agree to the deal reached at the February European Council, but we are not prepared to pay any price. The inconsistent demands of the European Parliament have led to an erosion of trust and as such our position is becoming less, not more, flexible. This view was echoed by others around the table and there is clear consensus on the need for the European Parliament to take the negotiations seriously and to make requests that are consistent with the clear boundaries of what the Council is able to accept, outlined in the February European Council conclusions.
22 May European Council preparation
The focus of the 22 May European Council was on tax evasion and avoidance, and energy. There was additionally a discussion on Syria.
I welcomed the forthcoming discussion by leaders on tax given the focus on this subject by the G8, of which we currently hold the presidency. I emphasised that such a global problem requires a global solution which would be of enormous benefit to the EU; there was no point in addressing evasion and avoidance at EU level if the problem simply moved to third countries.
The EU however could play a leading role in supporting a single global standard of automatic exchange of information. Agreeing the amended savings directive would be a signal of the European Union’s intent. Other Ministers outlined their priorities for areas of work that should be given the greatest focus, but overall there was a consensus for work to be advanced in this area and the ground was laid for a constructive discussion at leaders’ level at the European Council on 22 May.
On energy, a number of member states, with varying degrees of ambition, wanted a greater emphasis on the ending of energy isolation and stronger interconnections. We argued that the answer at the EU level should be to ensure the right conditions are in place for competitive, liquid markets through full implementation of single market legislation. We also need a sensible policy framework to enable investment.
27-28 June European Council preparation
The presidency introduced the annotated draft agenda for the June European Council, which will focus on economic and monetary union (EMU) and economic growth. The General Affairs Council will return to more detailed preparations of this at its meeting in June.
Report on the Implementation of European Council conclusions
The Irish presidency presented a report on the follow-up and implementation of European Council conclusions. In part this was due to previous requests I have made for the General Affairs Council to play a greater role in the follow-up of European Council conclusions. The UK has been pushing an ambitious EU reform agenda and greater oversight by the General Affairs Council helps to enable us to keep up the momentum on this work.
Post-2015 Development Framework
In May 2012 the Prime Minister was invited by the UN Secretary-General to co-chair the high-level panel on the post-2015 development agenda, alongside the Presidents of Indonesia and Liberia. The panel was tasked with providing recommendations on successor goals to the millennium development goals (MDGs).
The high-level panel concluded its work last week and I represented the Prime Minister at the final meeting in New York. The 27-member panel included representatives from Government, business and civil society from all regions of the world. Their bold and optimistic report states clearly that we can and must eliminate extreme poverty by 2030. The Prime Minister helped steer the panel to a consensus on the five transformational shifts required to achieve this visionary aim:
1) Leave No One Behind—The MDGs aimed to halve extreme poverty (defined as people earning less than $1.25 a day). The high-level panel report proposes ending poverty by 2030. It also proposes eliminating preventable infant deaths and reducing maternal mortality even further.
2) Put Sustainable Development at the Core—For decades, the environmental and development agendas have been separate. The report brings them together. This means tackling climate change, and making patterns of consumption and production more sustainable.
3) Transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth—Growth is the only long-term solution to end poverty, meaning a much greater focus on promoting jobs through business and entrepreneurship, infrastructure, education and skills, and trade.
4) Build peace and effective, open and accountable institutions for all—Peace and good governance are not optional extras. Responsive and legitimate institutions should encourage the rule of law, property rights, freedom of speech and the media, open political choice and access to justice.
5) Forge a new Global Partnership—Poverty eradication is not just about national Governments. Businesses, community groups, donors, local governments and others all need to work together to see the eradication of extreme poverty.
The panel proposed 12 measurable goals and 54 targets for the international community to rally around to implement these five big ideas.
The final set of post-2015 goals will be negotiated between Governments in the UN over the next two years. The high-level panel’s report provides a bold and practical illustration of how an ambitious and wide-ranging agenda can be brought together in a simple and compelling set of goals. The UK will work with others to ensure that the messages contained in the high-level panel report are reflected in the final set of UN development goals for post-2015, and have a lasting impact for the poorest people in the world.
For the convenience of Members, I am depositing a copy of the report in the Libraries of both Houses.