Tuesday 6 November 2018
A meeting of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN) will be held in Brussels on 6 November 2018. The UK will be represented by Mark Bowman (Director-General, International Finance, HM Treasury). The Council will discuss the following:
European Free Trade Association (EFTA) dialogue
EU Finance Ministers will be joined by representatives of the EFTA countries to exchange views on the opportunities and challenges of FinTech to the financial sector and economic growth.
Early morning session
The Eurogroup President will brief the Council on the outcomes of the 5 November meeting of the Eurogroup, and the European Commission will provide an update on the current economic situation in the EU. The Council will also exchange views on the annual report of the European Fiscal Board.
Digital services tax
The Council will exchange views regarding the state of play of the negotiations on the digital services tax directive.
Current financial services legislative proposals
The Austrian presidency will provide an update on current legislative proposals in the field of financial services.
European Court of Auditors’ annual report
The president of the Court of Auditors will present the auditors’ report on the implementation of the budget of the European Union for the 2017 financial year.
EU statistical package
The Council will be invited to adopt Council conclusions on the autumn EU statistical package and to review progress achieved, providing guidance for further work in this area.
Conclusions on climate finance
The Council will be invited to adopt Council conclusions on climate finance as part of the annual process in the run up to the United Nations framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC) conference of parties (COP) in Poland on 2 to 14 Dec.
Follow-up to the G20 meeting of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors and of the IMF annual meetings in Indonesia
The Austrian presidency and the Commission will present the main outcomes of the G20 meeting of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors and of the IMF annual meetings between 11 and 12 October in Bali, Indonesia
Double Taxation Convention: Austria
A double taxation convention with Austria was signed on 23 October 2018. The text of the convention is available on HM Revenue and Customs’ pages of the gov.uk website and will be deposited in the Libraries of both Houses. The text will be scheduled to a draft Order in Council and laid before the House of Commons in due course.
Royal Navy Police Inspection
I wish to inform the House and that I am laying before the House today the second report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services (HMICFRS) inspection of the Royal Navy Police (RNP).
The Armed Forces Act 2011 places a duty on HMICFRS to inspect and report to the Ministry of Defence on the independence and effectiveness of investigations carried out by each service police force, and this is HMICFRS second statutory inspection report on the RNP.
I consider this report to be a very positive endorsement of the RNP providing assurance from an independent civilian authority that the RNP’s police performance inspections (PPI) provide the assurance required that the activity of RNP units meet legal and professional standards. No recommendations were made and only four areas for improvement were identified. The Royal Navy accepts the report’s findings and through the implementation of a revised PPI process, it is considered that all four areas of improvement have now been addressed.
Exiting the European Union
General Affairs Council: November 2018
Lord Callanan, Minister of State for Exiting the European Union, has made the following statement:
I will attend the General Affairs Council in Brussels on 12 November 2018 to represent the UK. Until we leave the European Union, we remain committed to fulfilling our rights and obligations as a full member.
The provisional agenda includes:
Multiannual financial framework 2021-27
Ministers will discuss progress on the multiannual financial framework proposals with the presidency.
Preparation of the European Council on 13 and 14 December 2018
The Council will discuss the draft agenda for the December European Council.
European Semester 2019—road map
The Austrian presidency and the incoming Romanian presidency will present the timetable for the 2019 European semester, which will provide a framework for the co-ordination of economic policies across the EU.
Legislative programming—Commission’s work programme 2019
The Commission will set out the legislative and other initiatives that it intends to present to the Council and European Parliament during 2019.
The Commission will present its subsidiarity package which was published on 23 October. In those areas which do not form part of the EU’s exclusive competence, the principle of subsidiarity means that action should only be taken at EU level when the desired objectives cannot be effectively achieved by action taken at national or regional level.
Annual rule of law dialogue
An annual rule of law dialogue has formed part of the GAC agenda since 2014. The presidency has invited Ministers to consider the topic of trust in public institutions’ for this year’s dialogue.
Rule of law in Poland—article 7(1) TEU reasoned proposal
The Commission will provide Ministers with an update on the rule of law in Poland.
Values of the Union—Hungary/article 7(1) TEU reasoned proposal
Ministers will discuss the article 7(1) procedure in relation to Hungary.
Health and Social Care
Health and Social Care Provider Update
Yesterday, in line with duties set out in the Care Act 2014 the Care Quality Commission notified 84 local authorities that they were issuing a stage 6 notification for the homecare provider, Allied Healthcare.
I would like to update the House on why the Care Quality Commission has taken this action now, and steps being taken to assure people with care and support needs being met by Allied Healthcare that they should not suffer a gap in their care service—even if their care is funded privately.
A stage 6 notification is intended to be an early warning to local authorities that CQC consider that the business failure of a provider in their area is likely and this could lead to services ceasing for people who receive care from that provider.
The Care Quality Commission has not taken this decision lightly. They have continued to monitor the financial sustainability of Allied Healthcare since it secured a company voluntary arrangement in May. It has been speaking with Allied Heathcare’s senior management team on a regular basis to seek assurances about the company’s performance and the sustainability of its future finances. The company has not been able to provide the necessary assurances beyond 30 November 2018 and the Care Quality Commission has taken this prudent action in order to give local authorities the time to prepare their contingency plans to ensure continuity of care, in the event that it is required.
Allied Healthcare can take action to reassure the Care Quality Commission of its financial position beyond 30 November 2018, in which case the Care Quality Commission would revise its position accordingly. The Care Quality Commission is clear that there is no current service disruption. Allied Healthcare remain responsible for these services and their staff.
The law was changed in 2014 giving the Care Quality Commission a new responsibility to monitor the financial sustainability of the largest and most difficult to replace care providers across the country. It means the CQC can notify local authorities of the likelihood of service disruption caused by service failure earlier so that they have more time to prepare their plans to protect individuals.
Local authorities have a statutory duty under their section 48(2) of the Care Act to meet the needs of individuals temporarily if their care provider is no longer able to carry on. Business failure is a normal part of a functioning market and local authorities have appropriate plans in place to minimise disruption of services. The Care Quality Commission has provided local authorities with time to begin their preparations. This will include working with Allied Healthcare to ensure the local authority is given an up to date list of all people the company is providing care for, whether this is state or privately funded. Local authorities will be reviewing contingency plans and speaking to other providers to ensure continuity of care.
The Care Quality Commission and my Department are closely monitoring the situation. They are also working closely with the Local Government Association, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services and NHS England to ensure that local authorities are supported in their contingency planning to ensure individuals’ care and support needs continue to be met.
Housing, Communities and Local Government
Bellwin Scheme: Leicester
On 25 February 2018, there was a major explosion and fire in Hinckley Road, Leicester which resulted in the tragic loss of five lives. I am satisfied that financial assistance under the Bellwin scheme is justified to cover eligible costs incurred by Leicestershire fire and rescue authority in dealing with this emergency.
A scheme will therefore be established under section 155 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989. Grant will be paid to the Leicestershire fire and rescue authority to cover 100% of their eligible costs incurred above a threshold.
Pre-Council: EU Foreign Affairs Council
The EU Trade Foreign Affairs Council will take place in Brussels on 9 November 2018. I will represent the UK.
The substantive items on 9 November will be:
Legislative items: information from the presidency about the regulation on foreign direct investment screening; information from the presidency about the regulation on implementing horizontal bilateral safeguards in certain agreements.
Non-legislative items: the state of play of World Trade Organisation modernisation, and an update on the state of play of the ongoing EU trade negotiations. The Commission will also present a report on the implementation of free trade agreements.
EU Transport Council
I attended the informal meeting of members of the Transport and Environment Councils in Graz, Austria on 29 and 30 October.
The programme for the informal meetings included separate sessions for transport and environment Ministers and a joint session for both Ministers entitled “Starting a new Era: clean, safe and affordable mobility for Europe”.
On 29 October, Transport Ministers were invited to discuss the Commission’s proposal on “Discontinuing seasonal changes of time (summer time)”. My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Lord Henley, represented the UK at this session and explained that the UK Government do not support the proposed directive. He also noted the Commission had fallen short on the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality as has been highlighted by the decision of the House of Lords to issue a reasoned opinion. (The House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee has subsequently recommended that the House of Commons also issue a reasoned opinion on this matter.)
There was broad consensus in Council that the timetable proposed by the Commission was too short and thus there was widespread support for the presidency’s intention to provide for an extension. A small minority of member states were notably critical of the proposal while the majority welcomed the initiative, albeit noting its deficiencies. Several member states advocated the need to co-ordinate across borders in order to know the final time zone arrangements before taking the decision to abolish daylight saving.
Environment Ministers were then invited to discuss “The future of European environmental policy”. The Secretary of State for the Environment was represented by officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Ministers broadly agreed on the need for an eighth environment action programme (EAP) with a consensus that it should take full account of climate change given the report from the Inter- governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on global warming of 1.5 °C published last month.
At the joint session for Transport and Environment Ministers on 30 October, interventions were wide-ranging with common themes being the need to move towards zero emissions vehicles and enabling people to choose sustainable ways to travel. These themes were reflected in the presidency’s “Graz declaration” published after the meeting. For the UK, I stressed the importance of ambition to accelerate the development and introduction of zero emission vehicles, recalling that the Prime Minister had hosted the world’s first zero emission vehicle summit in Birmingham recently.
The subject for the afternoon session was road safety. Transport Ministers shared experiences with progress to date in reducing casualties and their perception of the challenges in making more progress. In my intervention I noted that human error was a factor in over 85% of road accidents, and that connected and automated vehicles offered opportunities to make our roads safer.
In the margins I met with a number of EU Transport Ministers to discuss current EU transport business and how relationships will evolve as the UK leaves the EU.
Work and Pensions
Collective Defined Contribution Pension Schemes
Today the Government are publishing the consultation paper on collective defined contribution schemes. This sets out our vision for this new form of occupational pension scheme. We will be seeking stakeholder views on how we can best implement such schemes. CDC schemes will offer a new option for employers looking to help their employees save for retirement. A copy of this document will be placed in the Library of the House.
The UK has a world-class occupational pension system—but there are always opportunities for further innovation where this can benefit savers and businesses alike. The Work and Pensions Select Committee recently published a report calling for the adoption of CDC schemes in the UK: the Government welcomed this report and are grateful to the Committee for its support and advice. It is important to be clear that CDC schemes are not a panacea, and that members could see their pension incomes fluctuate. However, as the Work and Pensions Select Committee so clearly recognised, a robustly designed and appropriately regulated CDC regime can offer positive outcomes for both employers and pension savers. The Royal Mail and the Communication Workers’ Union are already working closely together to establish a CDC scheme, which the Government see as an encouraging sign of the consensus in this area.
Saving for retirement is an extremely important part of people’s financial planning, representing their hopes for the future. Throughout the last decade, the Government have therefore worked closely with the pensions, financial services and consumer community to strengthen the UK’s pension savings culture. Together we have transformed the pensions landscape, delivering social change on an unprecedented scale. The establishment of CDC pension schemes is a key strand of this work.