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House of Commons Hansard
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Written Statements
14 July 2016
Volume 613

Written Statements

Thursday 14 July 2016

Treasury

Ecofin

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A meeting of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council took place in Luxembourg on 17 June 2016. EU Finance Ministers discussed the following items:

Anti-tax avoidance directive

The Council reached political agreement to the anti-tax avoidance directive.

Financial transaction tax

A brief update was provided on the progress regarding implementing a financial transaction tax in participating member states. The UK is not taking part in the financial transaction tax.

Strengthening the banking union

Council conclusions were agreed on measures to strengthen the banking union.

Current legislative proposals

The presidency updated the Council on the state of play regarding a number of financial services dossiers.

State of play of the banking union

Belgium provided an update on its transposition of the bank resolution and recovery directive and the deposit guarantee scheme directive as the only remaining member state yet to complete this.

Analysis by the Commission on temporary VAT derogations (reverse charge mechanism)

The Commission agreed to bring forward a legislative proposal to allow certain member states to apply a generalised reversal of liability for VAT payments.

Implementation of the stability and growth pact

The Council endorsed decisions to close the excessive deficit procedures for Cyprus, Ireland and Slovenia.

Report of the European Court of Auditors on the excessive deficit procedure

The Council adopted conclusions on a report of the European Court of Auditors regarding the excessive deficit procedure. This item moved to an “A” point with no discussion.

Contribution to the European Council meeting on 28-29 June 2016

The Council prepared a number of items ahead of June European Council. Specifically, Ministers endorsed the 2016 country specific recommendations, part of the European semester process.

Following this, views were exchanged on a number of issues including economic and fiscal governance and the investment plan for Europe. The item on national productivity boards moved to an “A” point with no discussion.

[HCWS93]

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture and Fisheries Council

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My noble friend, the Lords spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Gardiner), represented the UK at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 27 and 28 June in Luxembourg.

Commissioner Hogan made a short presentation with an overview of the various agricultural commodity markets and summarised all the support measures already in place to support farmers. The commissioner urged those member states yet to declare their expenditure from the September package to make full use of it. The UK distributed its share of targeted aid in December 2015 to help producers with their immediate cash-flow. The commissioner concluded by confirming that he will bring forward a new package of measures at the July Council which was supported by a number of member states, most notably Germany, France and Poland.

The Chair of the Agricultural Markets Taskforce (AMT), Cees Veerman, presented the Council with an update on the proposals being prepared for autumn 2016. The AMT is focusing on helping producers manage price volatility by identifying new structural measures.

The presidency explained that its compromise text on sustainable management of external fishing fleets, now took account of member state requests to simplify the management systems and ensure consistency with the control regulation.

Commissioner Vella presented his policy orientation for the setting of fishing opportunities in 2017. He noted the good progress made in many seas and stocks, for example cod and plaice in the North Sea, but also the continuing problems in the Mediterranean. The UK argued that exceptions to reaching maximum sustainable yield targets would need to be made in some cases in order to avoid clashes with other objectives of the reformed common fisheries policy. Other MS, including the UK, pointed to the difficulties inherent in implementing the landing obligation, which will see an end to the wasteful practice of discarding of dead fish at sea.

Any other business items

The Commission updated the Council on the various initiatives which were tackling the serious state of the Mediterranean’s fish stocks.

Finland called on the Commission to resolve an issue connected with an oversight in the common provisions’ regulation.

Council conclusions for FLEGT were adopted.

The presidency announced the final report of the expert group on sustainable plant protection.

Commissioner Andriukaitis presented the recent Commission communication on endocrine disruptors.

[HCWS89]

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Foreign Affairs Council

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The Foreign Affairs Council will be chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini. The meeting will be held in Brussels.

Foreign Affairs Council

The agenda for the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) is expected to include Latin America, China, and external migration. Ms Mogherini is expected to raise in her introductory remarks a number of topics, including: climate diplomacy; security sector reform and capacity building for security and development; the quartet report on the middle east peace process; Afghanistan ministerial conference; and an EU external action service Iraq options paper. Ministers will have an informal discussion on the EU global strategy over lunch.

Latin America

On Cuba, discussions will focus on a new EU-Cuba political dialogue and co-operation agreement. Ministers will also discuss preparations for the EU-community of Latin America and Caribbean states (CELAC) ministerial summit, which will take place in the Dominican Republic in October. Council conclusions are expected on Venezuela.

China

The High Representative will update Ministers on the outcomes of the recent EU-China summit, which she attended in Beijing on 13 July with Presidents Tusk and Juncker. This was the first such meeting following the publication of the new EU-China strategy in June 2016.

Migration

Ministers will discuss the June European Council conclusions on the Commission communication on establishing a new partnership framework with third countries under the European agenda on migration. We remain committed to helping tackle irregular migration flows to Europe and support the broad thrust of the proposed partnerships-improving co-ordination between the activities of EU institutions and member states in targeted source and transit countries and making better use of all available tools. We also expect an exchange of views on priorities for the UNGA high-level event on large movements of migrants and refugees, which provides an opportunity for the international community to build a sustainable global response to large population movements and the issue of irregular migration.

[HCWS87]

Health

Infected Blood Payment Scheme

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On 21 January 2016 the Government launched their consultation on reform of the current ex-gratia payment schemes for individuals infected with HIV and/or hepatitis C following treatment with NHS-supplied blood or blood products before September 1991. They sought views particularly from the beneficiaries of the current schemes and their clinicians but the consultation was open to all to respond. The full analysis of the responses, the detail of the final decisions for the new scheme and an overview of the transition arrangements are set out in the Government’s formal consultation response published today.

The response is attached and can be found on the Department of Health’s website at: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/infected-blood-reform-of-financial-and-other-support. The impact assessment and equalities impact assessment will be published on the same website before summer recess.

The Government recognise the suffering experienced by people as a result of this tragedy and the Prime Minister apologised on behalf of the Government in March 2015. Since 1988, successive Governments have set up five schemes to provide financial and other support to those affected. This Government committed further funding of up to £100 million (in January 2016) on top of the additional £25 million pledged by the Prime Minister in March 2015 and the existing baseline budget. This additional money will more than double the Department of Health’s annual spend on the scheme over the spending review period. This is significantly more than any previous Government have provided for those affected by this tragedy.

Over the years, there has been criticism from different groups of beneficiaries and their representatives about the way that the current system has been set up and operates. It was clear from this criticism that a more accessible and equitable system of care and support was needed.

In making their decisions for the new scheme, the Government have taken full account of the 1,557 formal responses to the consultation and considered other feedback such as backbench debates on the issue, 21 parliamentary questions and 69 individual pieces of correspondence related to the consultation. The detailed description of the reformed scheme is contained in the consultation response document published today.

The key principles for the reformed scheme are that support will be simple, equitable and responsive to individuals’ circumstances, and available resource will be focused on those whose health is most affected.

Specifically, the key aspects for the reformed scheme will be:

All infected individuals will now receive an annual payment. These annual payments will be linked to the consumer price index (CPI) and include the £500 winter fuel payments as a standard payment without the need to apply for it:

Those infected with hepatitis C at stage 1 will receive a new flat rate annual payment of £3,500 (rising to £4,500 from 2018-19) that is not linked to an individual assessment, as was proposed in the consultation—this will be the first time ongoing financial support will be provided for approximately 2,500 stage 1 beneficiaries.

Those with hepatitis C at stage 2 or those with HIV will see their annual payments increase to £15,500 (rising to £18,500 from 2018-19).

Those co-infected with HIV and hepatitis C at stage 1, will receive £18,500 (rising to £22,500 from 2018-19)

For those co-infected with HIV and hepatitis C at stage 2, will receive £30,500 (rising to £36,500 from 2018-19)

Discretionary support will not only continue but will be enhanced from 2018-19

A new special appeals mechanism for those at hepatitis C stage 1 who consider that the impact of their infection on their health may mean they could qualify for stage 2 payments will be introduced from 2017-18

Continuation of a £50,000 lump sum payment for those infected with hepatitis C stage 1 who progress to stage 2

In addition, partners/spouses at the time of death of a primary beneficiary will be entitled to a £10,000 one-off lump sum where the HIV/hepatitis C infection contributed to the death of their partner/spouse. This will apply to those already bereaved and newly bereaved.

All elements of the published reform package apply to the current spending review period of FY 2016-17 to FY 2020-21, during which a review of the scheme will be undertaken. This review will particularly take account of the numbers being treated for Hepatitis C and the implications for the future operation of the scheme.

All payments will continue to be ex-gratia, which means they are funded voluntarily by Government. These payments will also continue to be additional to any other income a person may receive, and are disregarded for the purposes of calculating income tax and eligibility for other state benefits.

Increased annual payments and new annual payments will take effect this year and be backdated to April 2016. Lump sum payments for bereaved spouses/partners will also be implemented this year. Arrangements for a single new scheme administrator will be progressed in the current financial year and become operational in 2017-18.

The proposals for scheme reform described in the consultation document are for beneficiaries infected in England. Information gathered through the consultation has been shared with the health departments in the devolved Administrations and we will continue to work closely with them.

Attachments can be viewed online at:

http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2016-07-14/HCWS88/

[HCWS88]

Home Department

Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures

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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 2016)

1

TPIM notices in respect of British citizens (as of 31 May 2016)

1

TPIM notices extended (during the reporting period)

1

TPIM notices revoked (during the reporting period)

1

TPIM notices revived (during the reporting period)

0

Variations made to measures specified in TPIM notices (during the reporting period)

0

Applications to vary measures specified in TPIM notices refused (during the reporting period)

0

The number of current subjects relocated under TPIM legislation (as of 31 May 2016)

1

The TPIM review group (TRG) keeps every TPIM notice under regular and formal review. The TRG met on 22 and 23 March 2016 and 7 June 2016. The next TRG meetings will take place in September 2016.

[HCWS92]

Scotland

Scotland Act: Commencement

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In March this year, Her Majesty the Queen gave Royal Assent to the Scotland Act 2016, marking an important milestone in fulfilling the UK Government’s commitment to make the Scottish Parliament one of the most powerful devolved parliaments in the world.

On 23 May, two months since Royal Assent, a number of important provisions in the Act came into force. These included new powers in relation to consumer advocacy and advice, gaming machines, equalities and transport, and marked an important milestone in the devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government.

The Joint Ministerial Working Group on Welfare met in June to take forward discussions on commencement of the welfare sections of the Act. This was the first meeting of the group since the Scotland Act 2016 gained Royal Assent and since the new Scottish Parliament was elected. The UK and Scottish Governments both agreed an approach to commencing the welfare and employment support powers set out in the Act. This approach included bringing into force 11 welfare sections of the Scotland Act 2016.

I can today inform the House that, with the agreement of the Scottish Government, we will now commence the following sections of the Scotland Act 2016:

Section number: section title

24: Discretionary payments: top-ups of reserved benefits

25: Discretionary Housing Payments

26: Discretionary payments and assistance

28: Powers to create other new benefits;

29: Universal credit: costs of claimants who rent accommodation

30: Universal credit: persons to whom, and time when, paid

31: Employment support

32: Functions exercisable within devolved competence

33: Social Security Advisory Committee and Industrial Injuries Advisory Council

34: Information-sharing

35: Extension of unauthorised disclosure offence

Commencing these powers brings into force substantial new levers which will allow the Scottish Government to design a welfare system tailored to local needs, while maintaining our social union and the benefits of being part of the United Kingdom. For example, these regulations bring into force the power for the Scottish Parliament to create its own new benefits in any area of devolved responsibility.

The UK and Scottish Governments have been working together constructively to enable this and will continue to do so. We recognise the importance of ensuring the safe and secure transition of powers. Work is continuing on the remaining welfare sections of the Act and both Governments are committed to reaching an agreed approach on how they should be commenced. A further meeting of the Joint Ministerial Group on Welfare is expected to take place in the autumn.

I am pleased that the commencement regulations also include section 65 of the Scotland Act which enables Scottish Ministers to appoint a member to the Ofcom board. The section also requires Scottish Ministers to lay Ofcom’s annual report and accounts before the Scottish Parliament and underlines my commitment to implementing the Scotland Act 2016 and the Smith Commission agreement.

The commencement regulations I have made today represent another milestone in making the Scottish Parliament one of the most powerful devolved Parliaments in the world.

[HCWS90]

Electoral Commission Committee

Electoral Registers

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The Electoral Commission has today published the last in its series of reports on the transition to individual electoral registration (IER) in Great Britain. This final report presents the findings from its study on the accuracy and completeness of the registers published in December 2015, at the end of the transition. The report also makes clear the commission’s gratitude for the hard work done by parliamentarians, civil servants and, most significantly, electoral registration teams around the country to deliver this historic change to our electoral system.

The commission’s study on the last household registers from 2014 found both accuracy and completeness to be 86% for the parliamentary registers, and 87% and 85% respectively for the local government registers. The new study on the December 2015 registers shows that the parliamentary registers were 85% complete and 91% accurate, while the local government registers were 84% complete and 91% accurate.

This means that, during the transition to IER between 10 June 2014 to 1 December 2015, the overall accuracy of the registers increased by an estimated four percentage points, and that completeness, while broadly appearing to be stable, has seen a decline of just under one percentage point. The commission estimates that, in December 2015, between 7.6 and 8.3 million eligible people were not correctly registered to vote.

These findings suggest that most, but not all, of the entries removed at the end of the transition to IER in December 2015 were inaccurate, largely due to people moving home, although not all of the improvement in accuracy can be attributed to the removal of entries at the end of the transition.

Parliament chose to bring the end of the transition—and hence the deletion of these entries—forward from December 2016 to December 2015. At the time, the commission recommended that the end of the transition should not be brought forward as it had no data on which to judge the nature of the entries that would be removed. In the absence of data, it also believed there was a risk that removing the entries ahead of the planned May 2016 polls would put the onus on individual voters to need to re-register rather than on EROs to check the accuracy of these entries.

These accuracy and completeness findings suggest that there was no notable effect on the completeness of the registers from the removal of these entries and that the main impact is likely to have been the improvement in accuracy.

The commission has identified issues which need addressing. On the 1 December registers, there has been a decline in completeness among nearly all the younger age groups, including an approximate nine percentage point decrease for those aged 18 to 19. There have also been declines among other groups associated with a more mobile population such as those renting from a private landlord.

These estimates of accuracy and completeness are for December 2015, a “snapshot” in the lifecycle of the registers. Historically, the December registers, published at the end of the canvass, were at their most accurate and complete.

However, evidence indicates that, under IER, people are increasingly likely to register to vote in the run-up to an electoral event compared to at other points during the year. The size of the electorate was larger in May 2015 and in June 2016 than it was in December 2015. At the EU referendum, the commission announced that there were 46,500,001 entries on the registers compared to the 43,478,635 that were on the equivalent 1 December 2015 registers, an increase of nearly 5% between December and June. This and other evidence indicate the completeness of the registers was likely to be higher in May 2015 and May/June 2016, when high-turnout polls took place, than it was in December 2015.

The commission is clear that more work is needed to improve the system of electoral registration and to ensure that as many voters as possible are registered.

It has made a number of recommendations for improving the system and has called on the Government to both respond and then move on these quickly. These recommendations include that Government should explore how the online system can be upgraded so that people can check whether they are registered and also begin a programme of feasibility studies to examine in more detail how future systemic changes could be delivered, with pilots conducted to support this. The commission has suggested that initial priorities for this should include exploring options for the automatic registration of 16 and 17-year-olds and a focus on ways to ensure home movers are less likely to drop off the register. These should be the start of a co-ordinated strategy to move to a system of more automatic registration that could also eventually lead to “election day registration”.

The commission welcomes the work currently being undertaken to introduce online registration for electors in Northern Ireland.

The commission is aware that legislation for the current review of UK parliamentary constituencies has already been approved by Parliament. It has, however, invited the UK and Scottish Parliaments to consider whether it would be more appropriate in future to base constituency and boundary reviews on electorate data taken from the registers used for elections, instead of a snapshot of the electoral registers from December.

Copies of the commission’s report have been placed in the Library and it is also available on the commission’s website: www.electoralcommission.org.uk.

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