Friday 22 November 2013
A meeting of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council was held in Brussels on 15 November 2013. Ministers discussed the following items:
Council discussed a proposal on taxation of savings income in the form of interest payments. The UK and the majority of member states supported an agreement of the amending proposal to the EU savings directive and an adoption of the mandate as soon as possible. Austria and Luxembourg could not support the proposal and the presidency concluded that it will need to return to a future ECOFIN.
Standard VAT return
Council heard a presentation by the Commission on the recently published proposal for an EU-wide standard VAT return. The presidency noted the Council’s working group is expected to start examining the proposal in December.
Council adopted conclusions on EU statistics as part of an annual review of statistical governance. The package sets out the need for and nature of future developments with regard to the European statistics system.
Report from Special Adviser Philippe Maystadt on the EU’s contribution to international accounting standards
Mr Maystadt, Special Adviser to the Commission, presented his report on the EU’s contribution to international accounting standards. Council held an exchange of views on the report and asked the Commission to look into these and report back at a future ECOFIN.
Council agreed a statement on backstop arrangements in anticipation of a comprehensive assessment of banking institutions to be launched by the European Central Bank.
There was a state of play discussion on a proposal for a directive on the prevention of the use of the financial system for the purpose of money laundering and terrorist financing.
Single Resolution Mechanism
Council held an exchange of views on the single resolution mechanism proposal. The presidency mandated the working group to continue examination of this matter, which will return to ECOFIN in December. The Government will seek to ensure the proposal is fit for purpose and that there is equal treatment of member states inside and outside the banking union.
Any Other Business: Current legislative proposals
The presidency provided an update on the following financial services dossiers: deposit guarantee scheme directive (DGSD); omnibus II; markets in financial instruments directive (MiFID); central securities depositories regulation (CSDR); and bank recovery and resolution directive (BRRD).
Tax Information Exchange Agreement (UK/Gibraltar)
An arrangement comprising of an exchange of letters amending the 2009 tax information exchange agreement (TIEA) with Gibraltar was signed on 21 November 2013 to permit automatic and spontaneous exchange of information. At the same time an agreement was also signed to improve international tax compliance which sets out the precise details of the information which will be automatically exchanged. The text of the agreement to improve international tax compliance has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and will be made available on HM Revenue and Customs’ website. The text amending the tax information exchange agreement will be scheduled to a draft Order in Council and laid before the House of Commons in due course.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Afghanistan (Monthly Progress Report)
I wish to inform the House that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, together with the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development, is today publishing the 32nd progress report on developments in Afghanistan since November 2010.
The Prime Minister hosted a trilateral meeting in Downing street on 29 October with President Karzai of Afghanistan and Prime Minister Sharif of Pakistan. The three leaders discussed Afghanistan/Pakistan economic co-operation and the Afghan-led peace process, to which they reaffirmed their continuing commitment. This was the fourth in a series of leader-level trilateral meetings, and the first under the new Pakistani Government.
During October a number of figures from across the Afghan Government and wider authorities resigned their positions in order to stand in the 2014 elections. These included the Minister for Foreign Affairs Zaimai Rassoul, the Minister for Mines Wahidullah Shahrani, the Minister for Commerce Anwaral-Haq Ahadi, and Minister for Energy and Water Ismail Khan.
The UK supported the Helmand National Investors Association (HNIA) capacity-building project which was completed in October. HNIA will help improve the local business environment and increase the ability of firms to provide employment in the region. By assisting Afghan organisations like the HNIA, the UK has helped to ensure the conditions for private sector development continue in Helmand after transition.
The UK has committed to making Herat province free of mines and unexploded ordnance by 2018. Latest reporting published in October shows that over the last six months, UKAid has cleared more than 258 hectares of minefield and 322 hectares of battlefield in Herat province. More than 7,000 families have benefited from land returned to productive use this year.
On 10 October 2014, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2120 on the international security assistance force (ISAF), Afghanistan. The resolution extended the authorisation for ISAF under chapter VII of the UN charter for a further 14.5 months, up to its departure on 31 December 2014.
On 20 October, the Afghan National Army Officer Academy (ANAOA) opened for the first intake of cadets to start their training. There are around 270 cadets currently undertaking training after 10,000 initially applied.
On 15 October, Lance Corporal James Brynin of 14 Signal Regiment was killed after coming under enemy fire during an operation to reduce the indirect fire threat in Nahri Sarraj. His death is a reminder of the continuing danger that our troops face as we draw down and focus our efforts on training and advising the Afghan security forces and our enduring debt of gratitude to them.
I am placing the report in the Library of the House. It will also be published on the gov.uk website (www.gov. uk/government/publications/afghanistan-progress-reports).
Medical Innovation (No. 2) Bill
Medical innovation has been vital to the dramatic rise in life expectancy of the last century. This country has a proud heritage of medical innovation from Alexander Fleming and the discovery of penicillin to Sir Peter Mansfield’s enabling of magnetic resonance imaging.
The Government should do whatever is needed to remove barriers that prevent innovation which can save and improve lives. We must create a climate where clinical pioneers have the freedom to make breakthroughs in treatment.
The Medical Innovation (No. 2) Bill, sponsored by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis), and the comparable Bill introduced by my noble Friend Lord Saatchi in the other place, correctly identify the threat of litigation as one such barrier. Their hope is that legislation to clarify when medical innovation is responsible will reduce the risks of clinical negligence claims. Their argument is that with this threat diminished, doctors will be confident to innovate appropriately and responsibly. This innovation could lead to major breakthroughs, such as a cure for cancer.
Their cause is a noble one, which has my wholehearted support. My noble Friend Lord Saatchi, in particular, is a great example of a parliamentarian motivated by conscience.
It is precisely because this issue is so important, because it affects us all, that we need a full and open consultation. A consultation that gets the views of patients on the right balance between innovation and safeguards. A consultation that hears from clinicians on the problems they face in innovating and how to overcome them. We are grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton North and my noble Friend Lord Saatchi for their own work to understand and address these issues.
So the Government commit today to carrying out a full consultation, working with my noble Friend Lord Saatchi and my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton North. This will draw on the wide engagement and discussions that they have already carried out with the public, patients and the legal and medical professions. Such a consultation will enable an open debate on medical innovation, as well as highlighting its vital importance. The Government expect to launch this consultation in January 2014 and to respond by May 2014.
My second commitment is that the Government will seek to legislate at the earliest opportunity, subject to the results of the consultation.
We all owe a debt to my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton North and my noble Friend Lord Saatchi for the great effort they have already expended on this issue. The Government will work closely with them to bring this to a satisfactory conclusion.
UK Strategy for Rare Diseases
The “UK Strategy for Rare Diseases” has been published today.
This strategy is the overarching framework document that sets out a shared strategic vision for improving the lives of all those with rare diseases.
In the UK, one in 17 people—or more than 3 million individuals—will be affected by a rare disease at some point in their life. Rare diseases are a major cause of illness and make considerable demands on the resources of the NHS and other care services.
The document commits each UK country to over 50 actions that will be taken to deliver the vision outlined in the strategy. These actions focus on five main areas:
empowering those affected by rare diseases;
identifying and preventing rare diseases;
diagnosis and early intervention;
co-ordination of care; and
the role of research.
The UK is already at the forefront of research, treatment and care for rare diseases. This strategy will further embed and enhance this reputation to the benefit of patients and the economy.
The “UK Strategy for Rare Diseases” has been placed in the Library. Copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office and to noble Lords from the Printed Paper Office. It is also available at:
Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House about the Ministry of Justice’s competition process for the South Yorkshire prisons, Hatfield, Moorland and Lindholme.
The House will recall that I made an announcement on 11 July 2013 where I outlined that the leading bidder for these prisons was Serco, but that the award of this contract would be delayed as a result of the investigations into Serco’s operations. The investigations remain ongoing.
The impact of the delay and the uncertainty this has created mean that for operational reasons we cannot postpone the outcome of the competition process any further. I have therefore decided that the competition for these prisons will cease and that all three prisons will be managed by HM Prison Service.
All of the South Yorkshire prisons will immediately become part of the ongoing process of applying a new public sector benchmark. This process is delivering swift reforms and impressive savings across the public sector prison estate. All HM Prison Service managed prisons are significantly reducing unit costs, improving outcomes and delivering value for money for the taxpayer.
This approach provides a workable solution and in the circumstances is the best possible option both for the prisons involved and for the public.
The Ministry of Justice, and the Government as a whole, remain fully committed to a mixed market for public services, drawing on the best of public, private and voluntary providers to improve quality and secure value for money for the taxpayer.