Thursday 12 June 2014
Business, Innovation and Skills
As I set out in the statements to the House on 10 April and 9 June, the Government have been working alongside a private sector consortium, led by Hargreaves Services plc, to agree the terms of their plan for a managed closure of UK Coal’s deep mines. This followed a report to Government by the directors of UK Coal in January that the viability of the business was potentially in doubt.
With regret I must inform the House that yesterday Hargreaves announced their decision to withdraw.
The UK Coal directors are urgently exploring alternative options. The Government will continue to co-operate fully with other parties and to explore any proposals that might assist in the managed closure of the mines.
The offer of a £10 million loan that the Government put forward remains available, alongside other contributions, to assist a managed closure of the deep mines subject to Government being provided with assurances that all parties involved are committed to the successful delivery of a closure plan and that the proposal secures value for money for the taxpayer.
I will continue to keep the House updated.
Energy and Climate Change
My noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State for natural environment and science, Lord de Mauley and I will attend EU Environment Council in Luxemburg on 12 June. Paul Wheelhouse, Minister for Environment and Climate Change in the Scottish Government, will also attend.
Following the adoption of the agenda there will be an approval of the list of “A” items. There will be two legislative items, first an exchange of views on the Commission’s air quality package both on medium combustion plants and national emission ceilings directives. The second legislative item is for political agreement on the Commission proposal regarding the possibility for member states to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in their territory. A vote may be requested on this item. There are two non-legislative items, draft Council conclusions on “Convention on Biological Diversity”; as well as a policy debate on the Commission’s communication on “A policy framework for climate and energy in the period from 2020 to 2030”.
There will be a lunch time discussion on the Commission’s recent communication on “A decent life for all: From Vision to Collective Action”, sustainable development goals and the post-2015 process.
There is a series of AOB items covering:
Proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the monitoring, reporting and verification of carbon dioxide emissions from maritime transport.
Proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending directive on packaging and packaging waste to reduce the consumption of lightweight plastic carrier bags.
Proposal for a Council decision on the conclusion of the Doha amendment to the Kyoto protocol to the UN framework convention on climate change and the joint fulfilment of commitments.
International meetings and events.
EU action plan for highly fluorinated substances (PFAS).
Work programme of the incoming presidency.
EU Energy Council
In advance of the forthcoming Energy Council in Luxembourg on 13 June, I am writing to outline the agenda items to be discussed.
Under the first item on the agenda, the Greek presidency will seek political agreement to the proposal to amend the renewable energy directive and the directive relating to the quality of petrol and diesel fuels. The proposal is intended to address indirect land use change (ILUC), which occurs when production of biofuels from crops grown on existing agricultural land results in the displacement of production on to previously uncultivated land.
The UK welcomes the Greek efforts to find a compromise. The UK has always wanted strong, effective action on ILUC so that we support only the most sustainable biofuels. We have consistently argued for a 5% cap on the contribution from food-based biofuels and the introduction of ILUC factors. In this respect, it is very regrettable that the cap on food crops in the Council proposal is as high as 7%. However, given the divergent views in the Council, we can support the compromise package as it stands. We consider that it represents the best compromise possible and is preferable to the status quo that would place no restriction on the expansion of food-based fuels.
This will be followed by the main item on the agenda, a policy debate on the follow-up to the March European Council. The debate will cover the three linked issues of European energy security, the internal energy market and the 2030 climate and energy framework. The debate will be structured around questions from the Greek presidency, focusing on priorities for achieving energy security in Europe in the short and medium term and on securing adequate interconnections within the EU and with the EU’s neighbours. There will be an update by the Commission on progress towards the internal energy market. The debate will feed into preparations for the June European Council.
I welcome the debate, and particularly the recognition in the Commission’s recent communication on European energy security that energy security and the EU’s overall 2030 framework are fundamentally linked. The UK is committed to both of these agendas and considers that the best way to ensure that we take both energy security and climate policy seriously in the EU is to build a comprehensive framework for climate policy and energy security.
In the afternoon session of the Energy Council, Ministers will adopt conclusions on energy prices, competitiveness and vulnerable consumers. The conclusions cover the key policies and structures required to moderate energy prices—for example, a well-functioning internal energy market, member state policies to assist vulnerable consumers, enhanced energy efficiency, supply diversification, and measures to address carbon leakage. The UK is content with the conclusions, which reflect our position.
The Commission and presidency will then report on developments in external energy relations. This will be followed by a second debate on the value of multilateral energy frameworks—such as the energy charter treaty, the energy community treaty and the International Energy Agency. The Greek presidency has provided questions to focus the discussion on considering how they can be improved and developed.
We expect the Commission to report on negotiations of the amended nuclear safety directive. The UK supports the amendment as a proportionate and effective response to the need to learn the lessons from the accident at Fukushima and welcomes agreement of the amended directive.
Finally, the Italian delegation will inform the Council of the priorities for their presidency in the second half of 2014. They intend to focus on the 2030 climate and energy framework, energy security, completion of the internal energy market and external energy policy.
Over lunch, Commissioner Oettinger will update Ministers on the energy situation in Ukraine and Ministers will have the opportunity to give their assessment.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Annual Human Rights and Democracy Report 2013
Due to a small number of factual errors, I have today laid before the House a corrected copy of the 2013 Foreign and Commonwealth Office report on human rights and democracy (CM 8870).
These errors have also been corrected on the online version of the report: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/human-rights-and-democracy-report-2013
Justice and Home Affairs Council
The Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council was held on 5 and 6 June in Luxembourg. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice and I attended on behalf of the United Kingdom. The following items were discussed.
The interior session began with the Council seeking and securing a general approach to the draft Europol regulation. This was on the understanding that more time would be allowed for discussions at expert level to ensure the coherence of the data protection provisions with those in other JHA files such as Eurojust and the European Public Prosecutor Office (EPPO). Pending this further technical work, the current text will now form the basis for the trilogue negotiations with the European Parliament, which look set to commence in autumn 2014. The UK did not opt in to the draft regulation at the outset, but will continue to take an active part in negotiations and will consider whether or not to opt in post-adoption once the final text has been agreed.
The Council discussed the issue of foreign fighters in Syria, in the aftermath of the recent attack in Brussels. Member states joined the presidency in strongly condemning the attack. The UK expressed its condolences to the Belgians and supported proposals for action from the EU counter-terrorism co-ordinator. Member states agreed that the attack in Brussels highlighted that foreign fighters must be seen as a shared threat requiring collaborative effort. The UK stressed the importance of implementing existing initiatives quickly. The Council then adopted the revised EU strategy on combating radicalisation and recruitment to terrorism and instructed the terrorism working party to continue its work on defining the accompanying guidelines.
During the mixed committee, the Commission gave a progress report on the actions agreed by the EU’s Task Force Mediterranean (TFM) to address illegal immigration across the Mediterranean and prevent migrant deaths at sea. Ministers agreed that prioritisation of EU efforts was necessary, with preventative work upstream in countries of origin and transit being the principal focus, alongside enhanced efforts to tackle people smugglers and traffickers. The UK supported these aims, calling also for increasing returns of those not entitled to be in the EU.
Next, the Commission presented its latest biannual report on the functioning of the Schengen area, highlighting in particular the launch of the new external border surveillance system, Eurosur, and calling for member states to fulfil their commitment to share information on secondary illegal migration movements within the Schengen area. The Government have a strong interest in the effective functioning of the Schengen area and continues to work with European partners to tackle migratory pressures across the EU.
Over lunch there was a discussion on the selection procedure for the new executive director of Frontex.
Under AOB the presidency gave legislative updates on the directive facilitating entry and stay for students and researchers and the progress on the smart borders package. The Commission presented their communication on minimum standards on sanctions and measures against employers of illegally staying third country nationals and the communication on the EU blue card. The Commission also presented proposals to amend the visa code and introduce a new category of touring visa which they hoped would encourage economic growth while maintaining security.
Sweden provided a summary from the seventh meeting of the Global Forum on International Migration and Development (Stockholm, 14-16 May 2014); Slovenia updated Ministers on the recent meeting of the Interior Ministers of the BRDO process (a meeting of Interior Ministers from former Yugoslav countries, plus Albania, which took place in Brdo pri Kranju, Slovenia, 2-3 June 2014) and Poland provided a summary of the latest ministerial forum for member states of the Schengen area with external land borders.
The incoming Italian presidency listed its priorities for the coming semester: combating human trafficking; promoting legal migration to facilitate bona fide travellers; relations with third countries; and smart borders packages. The incoming presidency said that they would focus on the implementation of the common European asylum system and would like to see a move towards mutual recognition of asylum decisions. Other priorities included cyber security, gender-based violence and disaster responses.
During the joint interior and justice session, there was a discussion on the EU’s future JHA work programme, which is due to be agreed by the European Council on 27 June. Areas of consensus included the need to focus on implementation and consolidation of existing legislation; action to tackle trafficking in human beings and people smuggling; action on counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation; and co-operation with third countries and between member states. The UK stressed the importance the public attaches to illegal immigration and the need for the EU to respond appropriately to those concerns. The UK also called for strengthening the EU external border to be a key focus of the guidelines, alongside action to tackle abuse of free movement—such as sham marriage and document fraud—action to tackle trafficking in human beings and modern slavery, improved exchange of criminal records, and more effective returns of prisoners to their countries of origin. The UK also said it was important for the Council to be able to review the guidelines once adopted. The presidency said they would reflect on the views presented by Ministers, and submit a letter to the President of the European Council. The presidency invited the incoming Italian and Latvian presidencies to take over implementation of the guidelines.
Next, the presidency reported on the progress made on the Schengen aspects of protocol 36 to the treaties—the 2014 opt-out decision. No discussion took place.
There was a discussion about the recent European Court ruling which invalidated the data retention directive (DRD). The Commission (Malmström) gave a cautious welcome to the judgment, and indicated that it would be for her successor to consider what steps to propose in response to it. Member states noted the judgment, but many were still assessing its impact. Some member states called for new EU-wide legislation to replace the DRD as they believed this would help them defend legal challenges. Other member states’ responses, including the UK’s response, were more nuanced. The UK acknowledged the need for proportionality but also cautioned member states against calling for new EU measures if this would diminish the effectiveness of a vital law enforcement capability. We noted that communications data is used on a daily basis to fight serious crime.
Next, the Council adopted the Council conclusions on the EU anti-corruption report.
Justice day started with a discussion on the proposed general data protection regulation, as well as a short update on the proposed directive covering processing of personal data for the prevention and detection of crime. With regards to the proposed regulation, the presidency sought a partial general approach on its compromised text for international data transfers. Ministers were reminded of the commitment made at October European Council to complete the digital single market by 2015, of which the regulation was an integral part. Several member states were supportive of the presidency’s initiative to secure a partial general approach but wanted to return to various issues at expert level, particularly whether data transfers should be allowed on the basis of a data controller’s “legitimate interests”. Some countries urged for quicker progress on the rest of the regulation, noting that recent decisions of the European Court of Justice—the Google case in particular—risked taking the impetus for shaping the debate away from the Council.
The Justice Secretary, speaking for the UK, did not agree that the text was ready for a partial general approach given the number of member states that acknowledged a need to make further changes, but recognised that he was in a minority. The presidency concluded that a partial general approach had been agreed subject to extensive caveats, including further points of detail being considered at working group level.
On the one-stop shop, the Council legal service (CLS) reiterated its view that a streamlined supervisory mechanism in the regulation must provide an avenue of effective redress for individuals, above the needs of a simple, single decision-making process for organisations. Some member states, including the UK, welcomed the presidency’s proposed model, while appreciating the concerns of many member states for greater powers to be retained at local level to ensure “proximity” to the decision making process. All member states favoured more involvement for local regulators and would want this included in any fixture redraft. Some member states mentioned the need for the proposed European data protection board to be a centralised body with legal powers to resolve disputes among local supervisory authorities.
Next, the presidency secured a general approach on the proposal for a directive on the rights of children in criminal proceedings. The UK is not opted in to this measure. The Commission reiterated that the child’s best interests should always be the overriding principle. This resulted in several member states lifting their reservations, although concerns remained about the proposition that children might have to pay for legal assistance.
The presidency presented a “balanced compromise” on the first 19 articles of the proposal for creation of a European public prosecutor (EPPO). The majority of member states agreed that the college model contained in the presidency’s text should form the basis for future work, despite continued calls from the Commission for a more centralised approach. Looking forward, member states took the view that substantial work was needed on all aspects under the Italian presidency.
The presidency presented a paper which set out the progress made so far on the Commission proposal to reform Eurojust’s legal framework. The Commission could not support the presidency’s text as it stood, because the governance arrangements proposed would dilute the Commission’s role in the running of the Eurojust agency. They hoped it would be possible as discussions proceeded to find effective compromises that would enable Eurojust to work more efficiently.
The Council adopted a general approach on the proposed amendment to the insolvency regulation, which the UK welcomes as a contribution to encouraging a recovery culture and return to growth. Nearly all member states thought this was a balanced political compromise, although there remained concerns over the handling of late technical working groups, as well as the detail of the procedure for co-ordinating insolvencies of groups of companies: these would be picked up in negotiation with the European Parliament when considering the recitals.
Under any other business, the presidency noted the limited progress on the common European sales law, while recalling that sufficient time was needed for discussion on the dossier. The incoming Italian presidency presented its priorities in the field of justice. These would include civil law files—insolvency, small claims, legalisation and matrimonial property—and data protection. On criminal law, it would prioritise files on the European public prosecutors office, criminal procedural rights and human trafficking. On hate crime, the Greek presidency noted ongoing work on hate crime for example the Council conclusions on combating hate crime adopted at the December Justice and Home Affairs Council and a subsequent seminar on hate crime at Thessaloniki. The Commission provided an update of the recent EU Roma summit.
The Commission also provided an update on ongoing negotiations with the US on an “umbrella agreement” providing data protection rules for the transfer of information concerning law enforcement, and negotiations on a review of the “safe harbor” agreement. On the umbrella agreement, the Commission said that discussions were in their final stages. On the review of “safe harbor”, the Commission informed the Council that solutions had been found to most of its recommendations, but that a position on the use of data under the national security exemption still needed to be resolved.
Over lunch, there was a wide-ranging and theoretical discussion of fundamental rights. This included ensuring the charter of fundamental rights was considered when the EU institutions were legislating, as well as a consideration of the interaction between member state constitutional courts, the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg and the European Court of Human Rights.
Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures
Section 19(1) of the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011 (the Act) requires the Secretary of State to report to Parliament as soon as reasonably practicable after the end of every relevant three-month period on the exercise of her TPIM powers under the Act during that period.
The level of information provided will always be subject to slight variations based on operational advice.
TPIM notices in force (as of 31 May 2014)
TPIM notices in respect of British citizens (as of 31 May 2014)
TPIM notices extended (during the reporting period)
TPIM notices revoked (during the reporting period)
TPIM notices revived (during the reporting period)
Variations made to measures specified in TPIM notices (during the reporting period)
Applications to vary measures specified in TPIM notices refused (during the reporting period)
During the reporting period, one TPIM notice that had been revoked in a previous quarter was revived upon the subject’s release from prison.
During the reporting period, one individual was charged in relation to an offence under section 23 of the Act (contravening a measure specified in a TPIM notice without reasonable excuse) and his TPIM notice was revoked upon his remand in custody.
The TPIM review group (TRG) keeps every TPIM notice under regular and formal review. The TRG has convened once during this reporting period.
Foreign Affairs Council
On 19 May, I attended the Foreign Affairs Council for Development in Brussels. The meeting covered a number of UK priorities, including on post-2015, the role of the private sector in development, and girls and women.
Introduction: Eastern Partnership, Policy Coherence for Development, and the Global Partnership for Effective Development
In her introductory remarks, the High Representative Baroness Ashton gave an update on the Eastern Partnership, including Ukraine. Coherent and effective donor co-ordination in Ukraine is vital and the EU has an important role to play in supporting political and economic stability. Commissioner Piebalgs noted the successful outcome of the global partnership for effective development co-operation (GPEDC) high level forum, held on 15 and 16 May, and praised the UK’s leadership as co-chair of the forum. He updated Ministers on policy coherence for development (PCD), noting the Commission’s varied work on fisheries, food security, migration, conflict minerals and maritime security. I expressed the UK’s regret that, despite recent progress, the African economic partnership agreements (EPAs) had yet to be concluded, calling for the remaining issues to be resolved swiftly.
Post-2015 development agenda
The post-2015 development agenda was the main discussion item. The UK remains at the forefront of the post-2015 discussions, building on the Prime Minister’s co-chairing of the UN high level panel. There was agreement on the need for continued EU engagement, in particular on issues such as good governance, rule of law, human rights, peace and security. I urged the Commission and member states to think strategically about tactics and substance in order to secure the best possible framework in September 2015. The EU Commission signalled its intention to publish a communication on post-2015. It has since been published. It does not represent a formal EU position but should be seen as a contribution to internal EU thinking on post-2015. It is for Council to decide when to adopt a new EU position. My Department will continue to work with the Commission and other member states to ensure we get the best possible outcome from next year’s UN negotiations.
Agenda for Change
Commissioner Piebalgs set out how the agenda for change was being implemented through EU aid programming. As a result of UK and like-minded member states’ efforts, there will be a greater focus on the poorest and most fragile countries, increased flexibility and country ownership, and an enhanced ability to measure results of EU aid. Piebalgs noted that future EU aid programmes will prioritise a limited number of focal sectors to maximise impact and that joint programming in 40 countries is helping reduce aid fragmentation. This is good progress, but there is more to do to ensure even greater effectiveness of EU aid, particularly for girls and women. Thanks to UK interventions, the Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) have committed to ensuring that a gender analysis is carried out for each national programme. Commissioner Piebalgs also highlighted that the EU remained the world’s biggest aid donor but was far below the 0.7% the (Overseas Development Administration) ODA target. He praised those countries, including the UK, which had met the target and called for stronger political commitment from others. Looking ahead, my Department will continue to push other member states for ambitious, time-bound, EU ODA commitments beyond 2015.
Private Sector Development Communication
Commissioner Piebalgs gave an overview of the new private sector development (PSD) communication. The EU has long been a key player in areas vital to economic development, including trade, transport, energy and infrastructure but until now has not had a coherent approach to working with the private sector. I welcomed this new focus; the private sector creates the tax base for public investment, and provides the jobs and stability that enables individuals to plan and to build better lives. The UK is at the forefront of working with the private sector. We can play a valuable role to help shape this new EU agenda by sharing our expertise and experience. The communication is not ground breaking but represents an important shift in approach.
My Department will continue to work closely with the Commission to drive forward a stronger focus on economic development in EU programmes.
AOB: PM’s Girls’ Summit
The Prime Minister and UNICEF will co-host the “Girl Summit” in London on 22 July to rally a global movement to end female genital mutilation and child, early and forced marriage for all girls within a generation. I updated my counterparts on this ground-breaking event which is tackling issues faced by many member states domestically as well as overseas. With global co-operation, we can build on the efforts of many developing country Governments and local communities to end these harmful practices. The Girl summit will be a defining moment to share best practice, secure new commitments to action and increase public engagement on these issues.
Adoption of Council Conclusions
The Council adopted conclusions on: the 2013 report on the implementation of the EU action plan on gender equality and women’s empowerment; rights-based approach to development; EU development and co-operation results framework; the annual report 2014 to the European Council on EU development aid targets; the comprehensive approach to external conflict and crisis; and the EU common position for the third international conference on small island development states. A Council decision on the resumption of EU development co-operation with Madagascar was also adopted.
EU Transport Council
I attended the final Transport Council under the Greek presidency (the presidency) in Luxembourg on Thursday 5 June.
The Council reached political agreement on its first reading of the technical pillar of the fourth railway package—recast directives on interoperability and safety, and a regulation on the European Agency for Railways (ERA). Discussions were generally positive with the UK and other member states overwhelmingly supporting the presidency compromise texts. I emphasised the benefits of market opening in the UK and welcomed the incoming Italian presidency’s position to progress the political pillar (a position strongly endorsed by the Commission), but abstained from the votes on procedural grounds as only one of the three texts (the regulation on ERA) had cleared all our parliamentary scrutiny processes.
The Council also reached political agreement on the amended directive laying down the maximum weights and dimensions of road vehicles in national and international traffic. Discussions focused on the outstanding issue of cross-border movement of vehicles that exceed the maximum weights and dimensions laid down in the directive. Member states were divided between those pushing for legal clarity and those that could not support any changes to the relevant article (article 4) due to concerns about negative modal shift and increased demands on infrastructure. I strongly supported a proposal which would have provided the legal certainty the UK was seeking in order to safeguard the long-standing cross-border movement of vehicles of over 4 metres in height between the UK and Ireland. This was supported by several other member states. There was, however, significant opposition and as a result the presidency had no option but to conclude that no changes would be made to article 4 in order to secure a deal on the overall file. Following lobbying in the margins from the UK and other likeminded member states the Commission agreed to make a declaration reaffirming that its interpretation of the directive is that if two neighbouring member states both allow vehicles that deviate from the requirements in the annex, then those neighbouring member states may permit the cross-border movement of these vehicles, but not more widely. This was a positive outcome for the UK as it confirmed that our existing cross-border practices could continue.
The Council took note of progress reports on the proposed air passenger rights and the port services regulations. The Commission expressed disappointment that the Council had not yet reached a common view on air passenger rights and hoped rapid agreement could be reached on this and all other aviation dossiers including the EU-Ukraine common aviation area agreement. On the specifics of the air passenger rights dossier, the Commission expressed reservations regarding the category of unexpected flight safety shortcomings and the proposed deletion of the compensation regime for missed connecting flights. Several member states used the opportunity of the progress report on the port services regulation to emphasise their concerns, in particular on scope and whether a regulation was the appropriate legal instrument.
Any other business was dominated by a wide range of aviation items with the Commission providing updates on work at international and European levels to improve aircraft tracking following the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH 370, and also its report on the application of the airport charges directive. Spain presented its information paper on preserving and enhancing the EU influence in the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the Netherlands pressed the Commission for a clear timetable to discuss further the social dimension in the air transport sector.
Under land transport the presidency provided information on the outcome of the 8 May informal Transport Council and on Shift2Rail. The Commission also provided an update on the cross-border traffic offence directive. On the maritime side, the Council conclusions on the EU’s maritime transport policy were adopted without debate.
Finally, Italian Transport Minister, Maurizio Lupi, set out the theme for the Italian EU presidency as “infrastructure and transport for growth and cohesion” and confirmed that the transport priorities will be actions on TEN-T networks, ports services, the political pillar of the fourth railway package and the single European sky. The key dates for the Italian presidency will be Transport Councils on 8 October in Luxembourg and 3 December in Brussels. An informal council will be held in Milan on 16-17 September.
Thameslink Southern Great Northern (Rail Franchising)
On 23 May 2014, my Department announced its intention to award the Thameslink Southern Great Northern (TSGN) franchise to Govia Thameslink Railway Ltd, pending the successful completion of a standstill period. I am happy to confirm to the House that this standstill period has ended and we completed the contract after the markets closed 11 June. This means that Govia can begin the mobilisation process that will mean the new franchise will begin in September this year.
The TSGN franchise is the largest ever let in terms of passenger numbers and Govia will transform services across the south-east of England during the seven-year term of the franchise. A key aspect of the franchise will be delivering this Government’s £6.5 billion Thameslink programme—a major programme of infrastructure work that is helping create 8,000 jobs and will allow 24 trains per hour to travel in each direction from Blackfriars to St Pancras. New tunnels will link Peterborough and Cambridge to the existing Thameslink route, providing easy access across London via St Pancras to Gatwick and Brighton.
Passengers are at the heart of this franchise and will benefit from improved customer service and nearly 1,400 new electric carriages across the network. These include the new class 700 trains secured by the Government as part of the Thameslink programme, but also two new fleets of trains being procured entirely by Govia. These will provide 50% more capacity and 10,000 extra seats every week day into central London during the morning peak by the end of 2018, and delivering quicker, cleaner and more reliable journeys for passengers and businesses.
This franchise shows the benefits that Government working in partnership with the private sector can bring for the railways through franchising. It is a fantastic deal for the rail industry, passengers and taxpayers.