Wednesday 9 December 2009
EU: Agriculture and Fisheries Council
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
My honourable friend the Minister for Marine and the Natural Environment (Huw Irranca-Davies) will represent the United Kingdom at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels from 14 to 16 December.
There are a number of items on the agenda relating to agriculture and fisheries which are of significant interest to the United Kingdom, including the adoption of the recent dairy proposals, on which the UK will abstain. Discussions will take place on the following:
conservation of fisheries resources through technical measures;
EU/Norway annual fisheries consultations for 2010;
2010 fishing opportunities for fish stocks in the Black Sea;
simplification of the Common Agricultural Policy; and
future of the Common Agricultural Policy: rural development.
There are currently two items under any other business—a statement on Community action reducing incidental catches of seabirds; and general conclusions from the 26th conference of EU paying agencies.
There is also a ministerial lunch scheduled to discuss the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy.
EU: Education, Youth and Culture Council
My honourable friend the Minister for Creative Industries (Siôn Simon) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
A meeting of the Education, Youth and Culture Council was held on 26 and 27 November. I represented the UK for the culture and audiovisual section of the council on 27 November.
The council adopted, without further debate, the conclusions on promoting a creative generation by developing the creativity and innovative capacity of children and young people through cultural expression and access to culture.
The proposal for the European Year of Voluntary Activities promoting Active Citizenship (2011) was adopted by the council. The year’s aim is to improve the environment for volunteering in the EU, to raise the quality of voluntary activities and to recognise the value and importance of volunteering. A budget of €8 million has been allocated for this initiative.
The council adopted the conclusions on media literacy in the digital environment encouraging the promotion of media literacy, including through formal and informal education, to maximise the potential of the internet and minimise possible risks. The conclusions were adopted without further discussion.
There was then a presentation by the Commission on the Google books report. The Commission had strong concerns about the revised Google books settlement, and argued for the development of an EU legal framework on global copyright issues. The Commission encouraged member states to increase the number of EU books being digitised and highlighted that initial findings from the recent consultation on Europeana (the European Digital Library) has shown strong support for the initiative.
A policy debate on the digitisation of cultural content in Europe followed the Commission’s presentation. All member states agreed on the importance of fair but user-friendly copyright rules, and the need for EU level co-operation and encouragement. Public/private partnerships were also supported by the majority of member states, with many citing the usefulness of the Arrow project. There was no request for further member state funding for Europeana.
Under any other business, France raised the current financial difficulties faced by cinemas in transferring to digital systems. Slovenia, supported by a number of member states, requested that books written in minority languages should be allowed to have a zero tax rate. The Spanish gave a brief presentation on their forthcoming presidency. An informal council meeting would be held on 29 and 30 March, a seminar on copyright and digital libraries in Madrid on 26 and 27 April, a European cultural heritage conference on 29 April and a conference on the mobility of artists on 25 May in Madrid.
Finally, Austria asked the Commission to explain their proposed next steps following a letter received from Commissioner Reding on the Council of Europe convention on transfrontier television. This concerned the legal implications of signing a convention that related to an area of EU competence. The Commissioner argued that the letter merely reflected the current legal reality. The Commission did not want its future right of initiative to be affected by the Council of Europe convention, but agreed that we should co-operate on the basis of complementarity. They did not rule out the possibility that a prior negotiating mandate may be necessary.
Fiscal Responsibility Bill
My honourable friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The Treasury has today published draft secondary legislation in relation to the Fiscal Responsibility Bill to indicate how the Treasury intends to use one of the powers provided by the Bill. Copies of the document are available in the Vote Office and have been deposited in the Libraries of the House.
My honourable friend the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Sarah McCarthy-Fry) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
Budget 2009 announced that, in order to ensure that the system of pensions tax relief remains fair, affordable and sustainable, tax relief on pension contributions would be restricted for those with incomes of £150,000 and over. This restriction applies to all contributions, including those from employers.
The gap between the announcement and implementation creates a real risk that those affected, or who believe they might be affected, would attempt to forestall the new rules by making large contributions now to take advantage of higher rate tax relief that would not be available to them after April 2011.
To prevent this, at Budget 2009 the Government introduced an anti-forestalling regime. It seeks to enable high-income individuals to continue to receive higher rate relief on pension contributions that they would have made in the absence of the announcement of the 2011 reform, but not on higher contributions prompted by that announcement.
As announced in the 2009 Pre-Budget Report, the restriction of relief from April 2011 will apply to individuals whose income, including the value of any pension benefit funded by (or eventually funded by) an individual’s employer, is £150,000 or over. This will be subject to an income floor so that those with pre-tax incomes, excluding the value of any employer contributions, of less than £130,000 are unaffected. So, the restriction will apply to about 2 per cent of pension savers, who currently receive around a quarter of tax relief on pension contributions.
To prevent an estimated £400 million of tax revenues being put at risk before April 2011 by additional forestalling, the Government have today announced that the anti-forestalling rules will be extended to apply to individuals on incomes of £130,000 and over (with income being as defined on the same basis as in the existing anti-forestalling rules), effective from 9 December 2009 and for the remainder of this tax year and next. This will be legislated in Finance Bill 2010 and draft clauses will be published shortly.
Those newly brought into the regime will be subject to the special annual allowance, which remains unchanged. This means that they will continue to receive higher rate relief up to the level of their normal (defined as quarterly or more regular) pension contributions; or the lower of £30,000 and average contributions over the past three years if contributions are less regular than quarterly; or £20,000; whichever is highest. Contributions exceeding these limits made prior to the new rules taking effect will not be charged. Further detail on these provisions is available at www.hmrc.gov.uk. Around 98 per cent of pension savers will not see their tax relief restricted by these provisions.
The Government believe that this action is necessary, and that a straightforward extension of the current anti-forestalling provisions is the simplest, least disruptive and least burdensome way to achieve this.
Security Industry Authority: Annual Report
My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office (Alan Campbell) has today made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I am pleased to announce that the annual report and accounts of the Security Industry Authority (SIA) for 2008-09 will be laid before Parliament today and will be published on 11 December 2009.
Copies of the report will be available in the Vote Office.
UN: Central Emergency Response Fund
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development (Douglas Alexander) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The UK has provided £40 million per annum for the past four years to support the United Nations (UN) Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF). The CERF provides UN humanitarian agencies with early funding so that they can respond immediately when a crisis strikes. The fund is also able to channel funds to neglected emergencies.
To date, over US$1.5 billion has been contributed to the CERF by 109 UN member states and 19 private donors, of which the UK is the largest single contributor. During this time, the CERF has committed $1.4 billion to emergency programmes in 71 countries. CERF has been an important part of the humanitarian response in nearly every major crisis in 2009. CERF was the top source of funding for five of the six UN emergency appeals launched in 2009; namely, Lao Peoples Democratic Republic, Madagascar, Namibia, Burkina Faso, and the Philippines. The top recipients of CERF funds to date have been: DRC ($162 million), Sudan ($102 million), Kenya ($79.4 million) Somalia ($71.3 million), Ethiopia ($69.5 million), Afghanistan ($60.1 million), Sri Lanka ($56.8 million) and Zimbabwe ($52.2 million).
CERF has performed well over its first four years of operation. An independent evaluation of the fund in 2008 found that the CERF “has proven itself as a valuable and impartial tool, becoming in a short time-frame, an essential feature of international humanitarian action and complementing other humanitarian financing mechanisms”. The evaluation report concluded that CERF has helped to accelerate humanitarian response and increase the coverage of needs.
The UK is represented on the CERF Advisory Group, which provides the UN’s emergency relief co-ordinator with advice on the speed and appropriateness of fund allocations, and examines performance and accountability. We share the view that the CERF has made good progress.
In the light of the CERF’s solid performance to date, and as part of our ongoing efforts to improve the quality of the UK’s response to humanitarian crises, I am pleased to inform the House that I have approved a further commitment to the CERF of £120 million over the next three years (January 2010 to December 2012). We will monitor the performance of the CERF closely to ensure this investment is used to the best effect. I hope that this long-term commitment will encourage other donors to do likewise, thereby strengthening the financial sustainability of the CERF. We will continue to actively lobby key donors to this end.