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Written Statements

Volume 591: debated on Wednesday 21 January 2015

Written Statements

Wednesday 21 January 2015

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Environment Council

My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Amber Rudd) and I attended the EU Environment Council in Brussels on 17 December. Mark H Durkan, Minister of Environment in the Northern Irish Government and Richard Lochead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs Food and Environment in the Scottish Government also attended.

After adopting the agenda for the meeting, Environment Ministers reached political agreement on the monitoring, reporting and verification of carbon dioxide emissions from maritime transport. Both Finland and the Netherlands noted the importance of continuing to refine the parameters for the calculation of the energy efficiency of ships, while Malta, Cyprus and Greece opposed the agreement claiming that it would have a competitiveness impact on their industries.

Political agreement was also reached on the ratification package of the Doha amendment to the Kyoto protocol. The Commission supported by Spain, France, Portugal, Austria, Sweden, Germany, Malta and Belgium welcomed the Council’s agreement, and reiterated the importance of progressing with ratification nationally as well as at the European level. The Commission also noted its concern with the wording of a new recital regarding the Union’s responsibility for delivering emissions reductions, but did not oppose the package. Poland expressed its gratitude to Germany, Italy, Denmark and the UK for facilitating negotiation of the new package in the margins of the Lima conference.

Ministers then discussed the establishment and operation of a market stability reserve (MSR) for the EU greenhouse gas emission trading system (ETS). The UK supported by France, Germany, Denmark and Sweden set out the case for strengthening the Commission’s proposal by moving the start date forward to 2017 and placing backloaded allowances directly into the reserve, and noted the importance of these amendments in enabling the market to deliver the low-carbon investment needed most cost-effectively. The UK also noted the importance of the Commission coming forward quickly with proposals to further reform the EU and ETS, including the improvement of carbon leakage protection, once the MSR is agreed.

The Council confirmed an agreement previously reached in trilogue with the European Parliament and presidency on a directive for plastic bags. Ministers also agreed a general approach for a directive on medium combustion plants. However, Finland, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Estonia abstained due to concerns that strict emission limit values would undermine the use of domestic fuel sources. The Netherlands also abstained over concerns that the text now lacked ambition. The Commission welcomed efforts made but regretted that the proposal had been weakened. The Latvian presidency said it aimed to secure a first reading agreement with the European Parliament.

The Commission welcomed the Council conclusions on an overarching and transformative post-2015 agenda and stressed the need for this universal agenda to be ambitious. Ministers continued the discussion on the post-2015 agenda over lunch.

Under any other business, Ministers discussed the chemicals policy on the road to a non-toxic environment. The UK argued that the EU chemicals regulation should be driven by wider impacts on a sustainable environment including the need for growth, not least for small and medium enterprises. Therefore, any regulatory controls should be proportionate and justified through a rigorous assessment of risk. Germany and Austria said the Council needed to address citizens’ concerns on endocrine disrupters, nano-materials and ensure that work carried out by industry under REACH was up to scratch. On the elimination of micro-plastics in products, the UK urged the use of voluntary measures.

In addition, the presidency and Commission summed up the progress made at the UNFCCC 20th Conference of the Parties (COP20) in Lima in early December, noting the effective working with the EU and the overall success in terms of reaching the EU’s objectives. Looking ahead, the Commissioner noted the need to make progress ahead of COP21 in Paris in December 2015, particularly on the legal form of the 2015 agreement and on the differentiation of commitments between different parties.

Ministers also discussed the Commission Work Programme 2015. I welcomed the programme’s emphasis on better regulation and said that the UK was looking forward to working with the Commission, European Parliament and other member states to ensure a balanced package of proposals, particularly on air and the circular economy, that were ambitious and feasible for all member states. We registered our support for the national emissions ceilings directive and the Gothenburg protocol, urging the Commission to take forward proposals with urgency and indicated our willingness to work with the Commission to discuss modifications to ensure that the ceilings for 2030 would inject ambition based on evidence.

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Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Public Records

In line with the Lord Chancellor’s code of practice on the management of records, the FCO maintains an inventory of its record holdings and carries out regular file audits.

In my statement of 30 November 2012, Official Report, column 36WS, I informed the House of the existence of a large accumulation of legacy records in the FCO known as the “special collections”. On 12 December 2013, Official Report, column 55WS, I explained that the FCO had published a detailed inventory of its archive records on gov.uk. This inventory arose out of a file audit carried out in 2013 which focused principally on the main FCO archive. All of these record series have been incorporated into the FCO’s records release programme. Details are available at: www.gov.uk/archive-records

As a result of an internal management audit, we became aware in July last year that a substantial number of legacy paper files are held outside the main FCO archive. I therefore asked FCO officials to carry out a further file audit across the entire FCO estate covering all departments in the UK and all overseas posts. During this file audit, all identified file stores in the UK were physically inspected by a specialist contract team and every overseas post provided summary details of their legacy paper file holdings. The audit was carried out over September and October last year.

Following this file audit we have identified a number of collections of records across the FCO which contain files overdue for review under the Public Records Act. The total number of files in these record series is just under 170,000. Unlike records held in the main FCO archive, a significant proportion of these files contain copies of original records or routine management, finance, personnel and consular records. Some files, however, are likely to require permanent preservation. We have reported our findings to the Lord Chancellor’s Advisory Council on National Records and Archives and we have also provided full details to Professor Tony Badger, the independent reviewer appointed by the former Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague).

The Lord Chancellor has granted the FCO one year’s legal retention for these files while we develop a prioritised plan for their review under the Public Records Act. We will submit this plan to the Lord Chancellor’s advisory council by February. We will ensure that files requiring permanent preservation are correctly prioritised for release and incorporated into our current release programme.

By the end of March, we will publish on gov.uk a new version of the FCO archive inventory incorporating all of the files series identified during this file audit. We will also publish a revised record release plan.

I am pleased to inform Parliament that the first record series from the FCO’s special collections, consisting of 445 colonial reports, were released at The National Archives on 23 December.

The FCO is committed to complying with the Public Records Act and to full transparency with respect to our record holdings.

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House of Commons Commission

House of Commons Governance

(Representing the House of Commons Commission): The House of Commons Commission discussed the report of the Committee on House of Commons Governance at its meeting on 19 January. In line with the Committee’s recommendations, the Commission invited the existing external members of the Management Board to the meeting.

The Commission welcomed the work that the Governance Committee had undertaken and the dedication and rigour with which it had scrutinised the important matters before it.

The Commission noted that, as recommended by the Governance Committee, the paused process for recruiting a Clerk of the House had been formally terminated.

The Commission is now awaiting the House’s debate on the Committee’s report on 22 January. If the House endorses the report, the Commission will act swiftly to implement its recommendations, starting at an additional meeting on Monday 26 January.

It is of vital importance to the Commission that the House Service is able effectively to meet the changing needs of a modern Parliament. It is also right that the Commission is able to shine light on itself to ensure that it too can meet these needs and more importantly, those of the UK public whom the House exists to serve.

Subject to the House endorsing the Governance Committee’s report, the Commission expects to be discussing implementation of the Committee’s recommendations at future meetings, and will issue periodic reports on progress.

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