Tuesday 6 May 2014
Business, Innovation and Skills
EU Foreign Affairs Council
My noble Friend the Minister of State for Trade and Investment, Lord Livingston, has today made the following statement:
The EU Foreign Affairs Council (Trade) will take place in Brussels on 8 May 2014. Lord Livingston will represent the UK on all the issues on the agenda.
The substantive items on 8 May will be:
Negotiations on an EU-Canada comprehensive economic and trade agreement (CETA)—the European Commission will update Trade Ministers following political agreement on this FTA last year.
Negotiations on an EU-Japan economic partnership agreement—the European Commission will report on the fifth round of negotiations; report on the EU-Japan summit of 7 May; and present their review of progress after one year of negotiations.
Doha development agenda (DDA) including the green goods initiative—the European Commission will circulate a non-paper on the post-Bali DDA work programme, and Council conclusions and negotiating directives for the green goods initiative will be put to Trade Ministers for their consideration.
Economic partnership agreements (EPAs)—the European Commission will report on progress on negotiations with western, eastern and southern Africa.
Transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP)—the European Commission will report on the fourth round of the TTIP negotiations and Trade Ministers will discuss the upcoming fifth round.
A meeting of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council will be held in Brussels on 6 May 2014. The following items are on the agenda to be discussed.
Current Legislative Proposals
The presidency will provide an update to Council on the ongoing work on financial services dossiers.
Parent Subsidiary Directive
Council is expected to be asked to reach political agreement on an amending directive to the parent subsidiary directive. The Government support the proposed amendment, which will effectively close a loophole whereby companies operating across Europe could exploit differences between member states in the tax classification of certain financial instruments in order to reduce their overall tax liability.
Financial Transactions Tax
Council will hold a state of play discussion on the proposal for a Council directive implementing enhanced co-operation in the area of financial transactions tax. Following a number of working level meetings, this is the first opportunity for Finance Ministers to discuss the proposal since the Council decision authorising enhanced co-operation was adopted early last year.
Macro-economic Imbalances Procedure—In-depth reviews
Council will discuss the in-depth reviews published on 5 March and adopt a set of related Council conclusions. The Government take note of the Commission’s assessment that the UK is not experiencing excessive imbalances, and can support the proposed conclusions.
Follow-up to the meetings of G20 Finance Ministers and Governors (10-11 April) and IMF/World Bank (11-13 April) in Washington DC
Council will be informed of the main outcomes of the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors and IMF/World Bank meetings held in Washington DC from 10 to 13 April. The Government remain supportive of the Australian G20 agenda, particularly on the development of comprehensive growth strategies.
Informal ECOFIN (April)
An informal meeting of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council was held in Athens on 1-2 April. Ministers discussed the following:
Working lunch for ECOFIN members
Ministers received a debrief on the earlier Eurogroup meeting, where the focus was the announcement of the financial assistance package for Greece. There was also a presentation by the think-tank Bruegel of a paper on “Europe’s social problem and its implications for economic growth”, followed by an exchange of views.
ECOFIN working session I
Ministers discussed recent developments in the EU economy, with the Commission pointing to the gradual improvement of the economy and growth in the UK, Latvia and Lithuania.
The Commission and the high-level expert group on SME and infrastructure financing updated Ministers on the findings of the group, and possible ways forward on this initiative. The presidency confirmed it was important to monitor developments leading on from the recommendations of the group.
Ministers also endorsed the G20 EU terms of reference and the IMFC statement.
ECOFIN working session II
The Commission presented its proposal on banking structure reform, followed by a presentation from the chair of the high-level expert group, Erkki Liikanen. Ministers held an exchange of views, where the UK outlined how the Government are taking forward structural separation of banks in the UK.
Ministers were also updated on the state of play of the single resolution mechanism, focusing on implementation following the political agreement reached by the Greek presidency; and of the single supervisory mechanism.
Communities and Local Government
Local Government Pension Scheme
The Government have laid before Parliament the Local Government Pension Scheme (Offender Management) Regulations 2014. These amending regulations will protect the pensions of both existing and former probation staff as they move to the new probation structures on 1 June 2014, provide certainty and security for transferring members, and prudently manage the accrued rights of members involved in the provision of probation services with the legal and orderly transfer of the assets and liabilities in respect of those members.
The regulations secure continued pension provision in the local government pension scheme for staff transferring from 35 probation trusts when they cease to operate on 31 May 2014, to either the national probation service, which will be a part of the Ministry of Justice, or one of the 21 community rehabilitation companies selected, after an open public exercise, to provide certain offender rehabilitation services.
Amendments to the scheme are needed because those staff transferring to the national probation service would, usually, be offered membership of the civil service pension scheme. The community rehabilitation companies can be admitted to the scheme through existing admitted body status provisions. Allowing transferring staff to remain in their current pension arrangement will assist the smooth transition to the new arrangements and give transferring staff reassurance because their pension arrangement does not change when their employment changes.
The regulations also provide for the Greater Manchester pension fund to be responsible for all pension administration for the new arrangements for probation provision. When probation trusts cease to operate, the scheme assets and liabilities in respect of current and former probation staff will move to the Greater Manchester pension fund. A framework for the transfers has been provided to facilitate the smooth movement of assets and this framework is set out in actuarial guidance issued by the Secretary of State, who has consulted and received actuarial advice from the Government Actuary’s Department.
Taxpayers get value for money as there are no lump sum exit payments to meet any cash shortfalls when the probation trusts cease to participate in the scheme. This is because the asset transfers are managed in an orderly and transparent way for all affected administering authorities, and liabilities will be prudently managed through the national probation service or community rehabilitation company. Local taxpayers are also protected from the possible risk of contractor failure by way of a Ministry of Justice guarantee to protect the Greater Manchester pension fund.
Armed Forces Pay Review Body
The supplement to the 2014 report of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body (AFPRB) making recommendations on the pay of service medical and dental officers has been published today. I wish to express my thanks to the chairman and members of the review body for their report.
In line with the Government’s 2011 autumn statement, which announced that public sector pay awards will average 1% per annum for the two years following the public sector pay freeze, the AFPRB has recommended an increase of 1% to base military salaries for all ranks within the medical and dental cadre for 2014-15. In addition, the AFPRB has recommended a 1% increase in general medical practitioner and general dental practitioner trainer pay and associate trainer pay. These recommendations are accepted in full by the Government with implementation effective from 1 April 2014.
The Government have also accepted the AFPRB recommendations for the retention of the golden hello scheme, but with amendments to the eligible cadres, with effect from 1 October 2014 and the removal of increment levels 20 to 29 from the non-accredited pay spine with effect from 1 August 2014.
Copies of the AFPRB report are available in the Vote Office and the Library of the House.
Less Lethal Weapons (Triennial Review)
On 13 September 2013 I announced to Parliament through a written ministerial statement—Official Report, column 69WS—the commencement of the triennial review of the Scientific Advisory Committee on the medical implications of less lethal weapons (SACMILL). I am now pleased to announce the completion of the review.
SACMILL plays an important role providing independent, specialist advice across Government on the medical implications of the use of less lethal weapons; those whose design and intention is to control and then neutralise a threat without substantial risk of serious or permanent injury or death. Such devices include water cannon and the taser.
The review concludes that the functions performed by SACMILL are still required. The review also looked at the governance arrangements for the body in line with guidance on good corporate governance set out by the Cabinet Office. The report makes some recommendations in this respect, mainly around its own governance structure and its relationships with its customers. The Ministry of Defence will be looking at how best to take forward these recommendations.
The full report of the review of SACMILL can be found on the gov.uk website and copies have been placed in the Library of the House.