Thursday 27 October 2016
A meeting of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN) was held in Luxembourg on 11 October 2016. The Government are committed to leaving the European Union; in the interim, they continue to participate fully in ECOFIN meetings. EU Finance Ministers discussed the following items:
Ministers were briefed on the outcomes of the 10 October meeting of the Eurogroup and the Commission presented an update on the current economic situation. Ministers also discussed issues relating to the improvement and implementation of the stability and growth pact and Commission proposals for a European fund for sustainable development.
Current financial services legislative proposals
The Council presidency provided an update on current legislative proposals in the field of financial services.
Fight against fraud
The Council presidency and Commission delivered information on VAT-related aspects of the draft directive on the fight against fraud affecting the Union’s financial interests by means of criminal law (PIF directive).
Ministers discussed the current state of play regarding implementation of banking union within the eurozone.
G20 and IMF meetings
Council followed up on the G20 and IMF meetings which took place in Washington on 6 to 9 October 2016. The presidency and Commission provided information on the outcomes including; continuing the work on resilience and sustainability, continuing the work on tax avoidance and tax evasion and considering issues around the digitalisation of financial services.
Ministers discussed preparations for the 22nd conference of parties to the United Nations framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC) (Marrakesh, 7 to 18 November 2016), and agreed draft European Council conclusions.
European semester 2016—lessons learnt
Ministers exchanged views on key challenges, lessons learnt and the way forward for the European semester.
Joint report on health systems and fiscal sustainability
A presentation was given by the Commission on the joint Commission-EPC report of the health systems and fiscal sustainability. This was followed by an exchange of views.
Other business—the Basel Committee’s banking reform agenda
The Commission provided an update on the state of play in ongoing Basel negotiations.
Technical and Further Education
We have today introduced the Technical and Further Education Bill.
My ambition is to drive long needed improvements in the quality of technical education in this country—mirroring the impact of this Government’s reforms to the quality of academic education. The reforms in this Bill are fundamental to the Government’s vision of ensuring that all people, irrespective of their background, have a level playing field to fulfil their potential and have high quality routes to secure not only their own futures but also the skills that British business needs.
Following implementation of the current Government programme of area reviews for the FE sector—which are designed to give institutions the opportunity to put themselves on a secure and sustainable financial footing—the Bill will also reflect the important principle of student protection, already set out in the Higher Education and Research Bill currently before Parliament, through the introduction of an effective insolvency regime for further education and sixth form colleges. The Bill we are introducing today ensures that, for the first time, suitable protections are available for students in further education, and this follows a public consultation, during July and August 2016, on introducing such a regime which saw broad support.
Beyond the measures in the Bill, this Government have a fundamental mission of social reform to deliver our vision of an education system that works for everyone. Education is at the heart of our ambition to make Britain a true meritocracy. That is why we have put responsibility for early years, schools, Further and Higher Education, adult skills and apprenticeships in one single Department. In light of these changes and the Department for Education’s existing two Bills in Parliament—the Children and Social Work Bill and the Higher Education and Research Bill—we have rightly reflected on our strategic priorities and the proposals for education legislation put forward at the time of the Queen’s Speech. I am clear that the Technical and Further Education Bill will enable us to get on with transforming technical education in this country while we continue to develop proposals for a school system that works for everyone.
The “Schools that work for everyone” consultation, which I announced in an oral statement to the House on 12 September, remains ongoing. This consultation asks how we can create more great school places in more parts of the country—including selective places for local areas that want them—and asks our independent schools, universities and faith schools to play their part in improving the quality of our state-funded schools. In addition, my Department has renewed its focus on ensuring everything we do drives towards improving social mobility with an emphasis on not just the most disadvantaged families but also on those that are just about managing. Our ambition remains that all schools should benefit from the freedom and autonomy that academy status brings. Our focus, however, is on building capacity in the system and encouraging schools to convert voluntarily. No changes to legislation are required for these purposes and therefore we do not require wider education legislation in this Session to make progress on our ambitious education agenda.
The Technical and Further Education Bill takes forward the Government’s ambition to streamline technical education to ensure clear routes into skilled employment. These reforms will put employers at the heart of the skills system, enabling them to drive the skills they need and value the most. Supporting individuals to a lifetime of sustained skilled employment will not only help to boost productivity and the growth of our economy in line with our industrial strategy but it will also deliver on the Government’s vision for an economy that works for all, not just the privileged few. The measures in the Bill build on the progress the Government have already made by investing in high quality apprenticeships and they deliver against the commitments the Government made in the Post-16 Skills Plan published earlier this year.
The informal G6 group of Interior Ministers held its most recent meeting in Rome on 20 and 21 October 2016. Representatives of the United States of America and the European Commission also attended the meeting.
The summit was chaired by the Italian Minister of the Interior, Angelino Alfano, and I represented the United Kingdom. The other participating states were represented by Jorge Fernandez Diaz (Spain), Tomasz Orlowski (Polish ambassador to Italy), Bernard Cazeneuve (France), and Thomas de Maizière (Germany). The USA was represented by Jeh Johnson (US Secretary of Homeland Security) and Loretta Lynch (US Attorney General). The European Commission was represented by Dimitris Avramopoulos (Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship) and Sir Julian King (Commissioner for the Security Union). Representatives from other organisations including UNHCR, the International Organisation for Migration, Interpol and Europol also attended.
The first session took place on 20 October. This consisted of a discussion on migration in the 21st century, focusing on effective upstream action in source and transit countries, particularly in Africa. The discussion also covered procedures to identify those in need of protection, how to deter economic migrants who do not need our protection and approaches to enhance co-operation with transit countries. There was a general consensus that upstream intervention was essential to addressing the issue of illegal migration to the EU but that this will take time and will involve concerted and continued efforts by the EU and all G6 States.
The meeting continued on Friday 21 October, with the next session on security and terrorism, focusing on efforts to counter radicalisation. The attendees agreed the need to learn from each other and the importance of working closely with communities to deter extremism. Participants noted that counter-radicalisation policies worked best when delivered in a “bottom up” way with full engagement from local communities in designing and developing the right strategies. The group reaffirmed the G6’s commitment to ensure that steps to improve security and counter terrorism are at the forefront of the EU’s political agenda.
The final session focused on cyber-security, which had been chosen as a discussion topic on the basis that, as technology progresses and cloud computing grows, cybercrime is perhaps the fastest growing criminal threat that we face. The attendees discussed how best to co-operate to address the problem and considered the implementation of the Budapest convention on cybercrime.
In my interventions, I outlined the large amount of work the UK is doing to address the current migratory pressures, including our upstream work, and reaffirmed our continuing commitment to help front-line member states manage the EU’s external borders. I also sought agreement from other member states that the EU’s approach to partnership frameworks with third countries must be comprehensive, and reiterated the three principles as set out in the Prime Minister’s speech at the UN General Assembly: to ensure that refugees claim asylum in the first safe country they reach in the region; to improve the ways we and our partners distinguish between refugees fleeing persecution and economic migrants; and to agree a better overall approach to managing economic migration which recognises that all countries have the right to control their borders. During the session on security I shared UK’s experience of countering extremism and radicalisation and highlighted the work of the Prevent programme. At the final session on cybercrime I reiterated the UK’s support for increased international co-operation to address cybercrime, and highlighted the work of the UK’s new National Cyber Security Centre in tackling this threat.
The next G6 will take place in Poland and is likely to be held early in 2017.
Brussels IIa Regulation on Family Law
The Government have today decided to opt in to the European Commission’s proposal which repeals and replaces regulation 2201/2003, also known as the Brussels IIa regulation, on cross-border family matters.
Brussels IIa has applied since 1 March 2005 and is the main instrument for families involved in cross-border divorce or children proceedings. It establishes rules to decide which EU member state’s courts can determine divorce and other matrimonial matters, and parental responsibility matters (including residence and contact), and how orders arising from these cases can be recognised and enforced in another member state. It also provides rules on the return of children abducted to, or wrongfully retained in, other member states (usually by one parent), which supplement the international 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention.
Following an evaluation of the current regulation the Commission’s proposal aims to improve its use by providing clearer deadlines for certain procedures; making it easier for judgments to be recognised and enforced in another member state; clarifying and streamlining certain parts of cross-border child abduction proceedings; removing the possibility that a court will refuse to enforce a judgment on the basis that it would have applied different national rules to whether a child should have been heard in the proceedings; and clarifying and improving the procedures for co-operation between authorities.
Notwithstanding the result of the referendum on EU membership the Government consider it is in the UK’s interests to opt in to this proposal. First the UK already applies the current regulation to the benefit of UK citizens, including children, in cross-border families, and it wants to avoid the risk that, if the new regulation comes into force before the UK’s exit, and the UK has not opted in to the regulation, the existing regulation will no longer apply to the UK because it might be deemed inoperable. This might mean for a period of time no EU instrument regulates these matters for UK families even though the UK is still a member state. Secondly, even after a UK exit the regulation will affect UK citizens, principally in other member states, and it is in the UK’s interests to influence the negotiations. As a family justice measure, this proposal must be agreed by unanimity in the Council.
During the negotiations the Government will aim to make sure that what is agreed respects national competence, limits any impacts on domestic law and procedures and minimises any additional burdens on the courts and the authorities that will use the new regulation.
Work and Pensions
Social Fund Annual Report
In the annual report of the social fund by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the social fund 2014-15, published in June 2015, in annex 9 on page 52 of the report the number of social fund appeals decided in the appellant’s favour was incorrectly reported by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) as follows:
Social fund (funeral payments): 380
Social fund (sure start maternity grants): 190
The percentage decided in the appellant’s favour was incorrectly reported as follows:
Social fund (funeral payments): 77%
Social fund (sure start maternity grant): 90%
This was due to an error, which led to the figures for appeals decided in the Department’s favour being mistakenly given under this heading. The correct figures—rounded as in the report to the nearest 10—are:
Social fund (funeral payments): 110
Social fund (sure start maternity grants): 20
The correct percentage decided in the appellant’s favour are:
Social fund (funeral payments): 22%
Social fund (sure start maternity grant): 11%
I apologise for this inadvertent error.
Later today I will lay a correction slip to formally correct the record.