Thursday 5 September 2019
Exiting the European Union
General Affairs Council July 2019
Lord Callanan, Minister of State for Exiting the European Union, has made the following statement:
I represented the UK at the General Affairs Council (GAC) in Brussels on 18 July 2019. From September 1 until exit day, the UK will no longer attend most EU meetings, in order to make the best possible use of UK resources. The UK is still committed to the duty of sincere cooperation and this decision is not intended in any way to frustrate the functioning of the EU. A provisional report of the meeting and the conclusions adopted can be found on the Council of the European Union’s website at:
Multiannual financial framework 2021 – 2027
The presidency presented its plan for approaching the next phase of negotiations on the multiannual financial framework (MFF) for 2021-27, and indicated its commitment to the European Council’s objective of concluding the MFF by the end of the year. To prepare for discussions between EU Leaders on the MFF in October, the presidency outlined a new timetable for delivery and prepared a questionnaire for member states to complete over the summer. The Commission welcomed the timetable and noted the need to consider the views of the new European Parliament.
Presentation of the priorities of the Finnish presidency
The presidency delivered a presentation on its priorities for the next six months. The overarching priorities include strengthening common values and the rule of law; making the EU more competitive and socially inclusive; strengthening the EU’s position as a global leader in climate action; and protecting the security of citizens comprehensively. Other issues to be discussed throughout 2019 in the GAC format include the MFF, rule of law, enlargement and hybrid threats.
Implementation of the strategic agenda 2019-2024
Ministers discussed the implementation of the new EU strategic agenda 2019-24. The strategic agenda was adopted by the European Council on 20 June 2019 and will guide the overarching priorities for the next institutional cycle. The priority areas are: protecting citizens and freedoms; developing a strong and vibrant economic base; building a climate-neutral green, fair and social Europe; and promoting European interests and values on the global stage.
Ministers discussed how the strategic agenda could be implemented. The discussion was guided by a presidency paper which provided an initial indication as to which Council configuration would consider the main issues and set out proposed timings for these discussions. Member states agreed on ensuring a coherent agenda across all three institutions; supported greater engagement with citizens and national Parliaments through clear communication; and stressed the importance of achieving concrete results. I intervened to welcome the broad themes of the Finnish presidency and stated that the UK would support its delivery of priorities whilst we remained a member state. I also reaffirmed the UK’s continued commitment and support for the security and competitiveness of the EU, and welcomed the greater focus on hybrid threats and cyber threats.
Several member states referred to the programme set out by Commission President-elect von der Leyen, and called for the strategic agenda to inform the commission work programme. The GAC will return to this agenda item in October and December, while the European Council will discuss the follow-up to the strategic agenda at the October European Council.
Commission communication on further strengthening the Rule of Law
The Commission presented its new communication on further strengthening the rule of law in the EU which was adopted on 17 July. The proposals centred on the three pillars of promotion, prevention and response and included a Commission-driven “Rule of Law Review Cycle” and an “Annual Rule of Law Review”. These proposals will engage all member states to prevent backtracking on the rule of law.
Rule of law in Poland / Article 7 (1) TEU reasoned proposal
The Commission provided a further update on the rule of law in Poland. This followed the recent judgment of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) on Poland’s Supreme Court law.
Housing, Communities and Local Government
I updated the House today in an oral statement on the Government’s progress on building safety and set out this Administration’s approach. As set out in the statement, I am consulting on changes to fire safety regulations for new-build blocks of flats. We will seek to commit to requiring sprinkler systems as standard in a wider range of new flats. We will also consult on requiring better signs and evacuation alert systems to support effective firefighting. A link to the consultation document “Sprinklers and other fire safety measures in new high-rise blocks of flats” is here https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/ sprinklers-and-other-fire-safety-measures-in-new-high-rise-blocks-of-flats and I will deposit copies of this consultation in the Library of the House.
Work and Pensions
Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Act 2013
I will, later today, lay a draft remedial order to amend the Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Act 2013, along with the Government statement, setting out our response to the report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights and other representations my Department received on the proposal for the draft order when this was laid in Parliament between 28 June and 31 October 2018.
The draft remedial order ensures the right to a fair hearing for a small group of claimants who had lodged an appeal against a sanction decision that was retrospectively validated by the 2013 Act, if that appeal case had not been finally determined, abandoned or withdrawn before 26 March 2013. For these appeal cases, the draft order gives the courts the ability to find in the individual’s favour and enables the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to change the sanction decision and refund the amount withheld, without those affected individuals having to continue with their appeal, wherever possible.
In 2013, the courts ruled that the Jobseeker’s Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise Schemes) Regulations 2011 (ESE regulations) that underpinned a range of programmes of support to help people into work did not describe the individual schemes in enough detail, and that our referral letters did not say enough about the activities required. The Jobseeker’s Allowance (Mandatory Work Activity Scheme) Regulations 2011 (MWA regulations) contained identical requirements about the content of referral letters. The 2013 Act reinstated the original policy intent of these regulations. This ensured that job seekers who had failed to take all reasonable steps to increase their chances of finding work between 2011 and 2013 did not unfairly obtain advantage over claimants who complied with the benefit conditionality requirements.
The Court of Appeal has ruled that the 2013 Act is effective in retrospectively validating sanction decisions and notifications. The Court of Appeal also ruled that the 2013 Act was incompatible with article 6(1) (the right to a fair hearing) of the European convention on human rights. It did not prevent people from appealing if they felt they had a good reason for not participating in one of the employment schemes, but it meant that their appeal would be unsuccessful if it related to their compliance with the ESE regulations or the referral notification they received under the ESE regulations or the MWA regulations. The Court of Appeal found that the 2013 Act was effective and that there was no breach of the European convention on human rights for the vast majority of claimants affected by the 2013 Act. The incompatibility with article 6 (1) arises only where a claimant had an undetermined appeal still in the tribunal system on the 26 March 2013, the date the Act came into force. The court’s decision does not affect the continuing validity of the 2013 Act.
I used the non-urgent remedial order process to allow time for parliamentary scrutiny. This requires that an initial proposed draft remedial order is laid in both Houses for a period of 60 days for consultation. The Joint Committee on Human Rights also consulted on the proposal and published its report on 31 October 2019. The initial proposed draft remedial order restored the right to a fair hearing for ESE regulation appeal cases because the appellants in the Court of Appeal case were appealing sanctions decisions made under these regulations. An upper tribunal judge has since questioned whether a limited group of mandatory work activity (MWA) appeal cases might also be included, as their rights under article 6(1) of the European convention on human rights arguably may also have been affected by the 2013 Act.
I have thoroughly considered his question and I believe that certain MWA regulation appeal cases are in a similar position to the ESE appeal cases that were specifically examined by the Court of Appeal. I have, therefore, revised the proposed draft remedial order to ensure that all claimants who had a pending appeal in the tribunal system on 26 March 2013 that may have been affected when the retrospective provisions of the 2013 Act came into effect are included in the draft remedial order.
There are no other groups similarly affected by the 2013 Act. The revised draft remedial order remains limited to circumstances that were incompatible with article 6(1) of the European convention on human rights. I will lay the draft order later today for consideration by Parliament for a period of 60 days, it is then subject to affirmative resolution.