Tuesday 8 December 2015
Business, Innovation and Skills
EU Competitiveness Council: Post-Council Statement
My noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Baroness Neville-Rolfe) has today made the following statement.
The Competitiveness Council took place in Brussels on 30 November and 1 December. The UK was represented by Shan Morgan, deputy permanent representative to the EU.
Day one started with a “competitiveness check-up”. The presidency updated Council members on the outcomes of the Foreign Affairs Council (trade) on 27 November, where the Commission had said it was ready to use all available tools to tackle issues affecting the steel sector, including trade defence instruments (TDIs), third country dialogue and free trade agreements. The Commission announced that as a follow-up to the emergency steel council, the high-level group on energy intensive industries (EIIs) would be reconstituted and would meet on 18 December. This would be followed in early 2016 by a special stakeholder conference which would discuss the issues facing the steel sector in more detail. On steel the UK noted that it was looking forward to the stakeholder summit and that the recent extraordinary council had demonstrated that the Competitiveness Council was capable to reacting to real world events.
The Commission presented data on competitiveness in the EU, which highlighted that throughout the economic crisis the EU had retained a high share in global markets.
The UK intervened to highlight the productivity gap between the EU and the US which undermined the EU’s ability to compete and grow; this would be helped by removing barriers to trade in services. Other member states intervened to highlight the need to bring down barriers for start-ups and scale-ups and there was widespread support for the competitiveness check-up to remain a standing agenda item for future Competitiveness Councils.
The second item was an exchange of views on the Commission’s single market strategy. The Commission opened the discussion and highlighted the sectoral approach that it was taking on services, with a particular focus on construction and business services. The UK, alongside other likeminded member states, intervened urging the Commission to maintain their level of ambition, specifically on the services passport. The UK also noted the importance of proper enforcement of existing single market rules. One member state intervened to say that the strategy was not as strong as it ought to be on new business models. Several member states talked about the link between the single market and digital single market and the regulatory barriers in the sharing economy. There was one cautionary note from a member state who did not want to see the country of origin principle on services and was also cautious on company law issues. The discussion drew to a close with the Commission saying they were committed to rapid action on the single market, although it must be in conjunction with member states, who needed to redouble their efforts on domestic reform. Member states support for the Commission’s ambitions were a sign that the EU was serious about reform.
The afternoon session began with a presentation by the Commission on the proposal for a system of national competitiveness boards. While a large number of member states welcomed the Competitiveness Council discussing this proposal, there was concern that the boards could duplicate existing arrangements, thereby offering little value and imposing unnecessary cost and bureaucracy.
Three influential member states gave implicit support for the principle, as long as it remained flexible. Two other member states welcomed that the boards were open to all member states. The UK did not intervene. The presidency concluded that while there was broad support for structural reforms, the vast majority of member states had hesitations and doubts as to whether the boards are necessary or useful.
There were no more substantive items discussed on day one. The remaining agenda items were Commission updates to the council on a package to ensure emissions from diesel engines used in light vehicles reflected “real driving emissions” (RDE), proposals adopted by the Commission on the control, purchasing and possession of firearms and the work of the small and medium-sized enterprises envoy network.
Day one ended with a presentation on the priorities of the incoming Netherlands presidency. The Netherlands will prioritise work on the single market, digital single market and better regulation.
Shan Morgan also represented the UK on day two of the Competitiveness Council.
In response to the council conclusions on research integrity, the Commission reported that it would strengthen the European research model grant agreement to embed the principles set out in the conclusions.
The Commission welcomed the council conclusions on gender equality in research and urged member states to implement the measures therein as soon as possible. The UK supported the conclusions, as they highlight the importance of action in this area but do not impose mandatory targets or quotas, which would undermine the merit principle and conflict with the recommendations of the Davies review. The conclusions were accepted unanimously, though some countries commented that they would have preferred them to go further in the direction of legal or financial incentives and targets at EU level.
The UK intervened to support the conclusions on the governance of the European research area and called for the swift implementation of a number of reforms to streamline the reporting lines and governance of a number of committees in this area. These reforms, steered through by the UK co-chair of the European Research Area and Innovation Committee (ERAC), will bring to an end a protracted period of discussion on the subject.
The Commission then gave a presentation on the European fund for strategic investments (EFSI), outlining how it interacts with all other EU financial mechanisms: such as Innovfin—a joint initiative launched by the European Investment Bank—and the SME guarantee. This was followed by a round table discussion, in which the UK supported the principle of deploying innovative finance products to support research and innovation. Most member states commented that there was a need for more information on who received funding and how many research projects were being funded.
The incoming Netherlands presidency then outlined its priorities. It will focus on encouraging the EU and member states to invest more in research and development, creating the framework conditions for innovation and encouraging open science.
ECOFIN: 8 December 2015
A meeting of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council will be held in Brussels on 8 December 2015. Ministers are due to discuss the following items:
Financial Transaction Tax
An update on the progress of implementing a financial transaction tax in participating member states will be provided. Britain is not taking part in the financial transaction tax.
Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB)
Following a presentation by the presidency on the state of play regarding the CCCTB proposal, the Council will have an exchange of views.
Completing the Banking Union
A presentation will be given by the Commission on the proposal for a European deposit insurance scheme and the Commission communication “Towards Completion of the Banking Union”. This will be followed by an exchange of views.
Current Legislative Proposals
The presidency will update the Council on the state of play of financial services dossiers.
Implementation of the Banking Union
The Commission will give an update on several dossiers linked to the banking union: the single resolution fund, the bank recovery and resolution directive and the deposit guarantee scheme directive.
Fight against the financing of terrorism
After taking note of a Commission presentation on the next steps to reinforce the European framework in the fight against terrorism, the Council will hold an exchange of views.
Future of the Code of Conduct (Business Taxation)
The Council will be invited to adopt conclusions on the future of the code of conduct group on business taxation.
Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS)
The Council will be invited to adopt conclusions on base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) in the EU context.
Following the publication of the annual growth survey, the Commission alert mechanism report and the draft Council recommendation on the euro area, a presentation will be given by the Commission followed by an exchange of views.
Common position on flexibility in the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP)
A debrief will be provided by the chair of the Economic and Financial Committee on the common position agreed with regards to flexibility in the SGP for short-term economic conditions, structural reforms and public investments.
Statistics: EU Statistics and implementation of the European Statistics Code of Practice
Council conclusions will be adopted on the annual statistical package followed by a Commission presentation on the implementation of the European statistics code of best practices.
European Court of Auditors’ annual report on the implantation of the budget for the EU for the financial year 2014
The European Court of Auditors (ECA) will present its report on the implementation of the 2014 budget followed by an exchange of views by the Council.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
NATO: Montenegro Accession Talks
At their meeting of 1-2 December in Brussels, Foreign Ministers of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) took an important political decision on enlargement, and asked the Secretary-General to invite Montenegro to begin the accession process, with a view to Montenegro becoming the 29th member of the alliance upon signing and ratification of its protocols of accession.
In taking this decision, NATO Foreign Ministers recognised the progress that Montenegro has made on internal reform, particularly in relation to intelligence and security services, rule of law, fighting corruption and organised crime, and in building public support in Montenegro for its prospective NATO membership.
I congratulate Montenegro on this achievement. The United Kingdom has long supported Montenegro’s partnership with NATO and its membership ambitions, and we and allies will continue to work with the Montenegrin Government through the accession process to ensure that the reforms they have undertaken so far are continued and built upon as Montenegro prepares for membership. NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg will now officially invite Montenegro to open accession talks in the coming weeks. We will bring the protocols of accession before Parliament as part of the formal ratification process once NATO and Montenegro have agreed them.
Montenegro’s invitation is a welcome reaffirmation of NATO’s open-door policy, enshrined in article 10 of the Washington treaty, by which NATO may invite any European state in a position to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area to accede to the treaty. The United Kingdom stands strongly behind this principle. Alongside Montenegro, NATO Foreign Ministers also reiterated their support for the membership ambitions of Georgia, Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. In a statement issued at the end of the meeting, NATO Foreign Ministers reconfirmed their commitment to working closely with Georgia, including implementing in full the substantial package of support agreed at last year’s Wales summit. The statement also noted that progress had been made in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2015, and encouraged a redoubling of efforts to allow the conditions to be met to activate a membership action plan at the soonest possible opportunity. On Macedonia, NATO Foreign Ministers confirmed that they stood by the conditional invitation that Macedonia received in 2008, but expressed concerns at the political developments that have taken place during 2015, encouraging Macedonia to intensify efforts at political compromise and reform and to fully implement the July agreement brokered by the European Commission.
The statement by NATO Foreign Ministers on “open door” is available on the NATO website, at:
Policing: Review of Local Targets
In May 2015, I announced at the Police Federation conference a comprehensive review of targets in policing, to be led by Chief Superintendent Irene Curtis. I said that the review would examine the use of targets in each force to understand where, how and why targets are being used, and analyse the impact of targets on police officers’ ability to fight crime.
I am pleased to tell the House that the review has now concluded. I am grateful to Irene Curtis for her thorough investigation and analysis of the use of targets in policing.
The review sheds light on current practice among forces and confirms the problems I have long noted with numerical targets: skewing priorities; causing dysfunctional behaviours; and reducing officer discretion. It shows that the police need to go further in order to tackle the culture of narrow target-chasing and bureaucracy that has hampered and limited officers, preventing them from exercising their professional judgment. Quite rightly the public expect to see forces serving their communities, not chasing arbitrary targets. The police need performance management systems that help effective decision-making to improve performance, while also enabling individuals to be appropriately held to account.
The review makes recommendations for the leading organisations and individuals in policing: chief constables, who are tasked with improving their performance measurement, monitoring and reporting processes; Police and Crime Commissioners, who will need to develop a more sophisticated dialogue with the public on police and crime “success” factors; the College of Policing in developing a set of principles for performance management; and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to improve the presentation of performance data and communication of monitoring processes. It will be for each organisation to consider its own response but I welcome the evidence the review provides. Its implementation will help improve performance measurement and management practices across policing.
Irene Curtis’s review has highlighted the importance of understanding the demands upon the police. A key step to achieving this is a robust and consistent framework for recording those demands—both crime and non-crime incidents. We will engage with our partners to consider options for greater alignment of National Standard for Incident Recording (NSIR) with the National Crime Recording Standard (NCRS).
The review also recommended that the Home Office review the annual data requirement for victim satisfaction data. A police-led review of user satisfaction surveys, to ensure that changes proposed to the data requirement are of assistance to police forces, will be undertaken by April 2016. The Home Office will consider its findings as part of the 2017-18 annual data requirement process. In the meantime, the current annual data requirement for user satisfaction surveys will continue for 2016-17.
A copy of Chief Superintendent Irene Curtis’s report will be placed in the Library of the House. It can also be found at:
The management and care of transgender people in prison is a complex issue and one that the Government take very seriously. The National Offender Management Service is committed to incorporating equality and diversity into everything it does and treating offenders with decency and respect.
Currently, transgender adult prisoners are normally placed according to their legally recognised gender. However, we recognise that these situations are often complex and sensitive. That is why prisons exercise local discretion on the placement of those who live, or propose to live, in the gender other than the one assigned at birth. In such cases, senior prison management will review the individual circumstances, in consultation with medical and other experts.
However, we have received a number of representations expressing concern that the present system does not sufficiently address the needs of transgender prisoners.
As already announced, NOMS is undertaking a review of prison service instruction 7/2011 to ensure that it is fit for purpose and provides an appropriate balance between the needs of the individual and the responsibility to manage risk and safeguard the wellbeing of all prisoners.
The review will now be widened to consider what improvements we can make across prisons and probation services and across youth justice services.
The review will develop recommendations for revised guidelines which cover the future shape of prison and probation services for transgender prisoners and offenders in the community.
The review will be co-ordinated by a senior official from the Ministry of Justice who will engage with relevant stakeholders, including from the trans community, to ensure that we provide staff in prisons and probation with the best possible guidance. NOMS, the Youth Justice Board, the NHS and the Government Equalities Office will provide professional and operational expertise.
In addition, Peter Dawson and Dr Jay Stewart will act as independent advisers to this review. Peter Dawson is deputy director of the Prison Reform Trust and has served as deputy governor of HMP Brixton and governor of HMP Downview and HMP High Down. Dr Jay Stewart is a director of Gendered Intelligence, an organisation that aims to increase understandings of gender diversity.
A copy of the terms of reference will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The review will be expected to conclude its work early next year.