Thursday 8 September 2016
ECOFIN: 9-10 September 2016
An informal meeting of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council will be held in Bratislava on 9-10 September 2016. The Government are committed to leaving the European Union; in the interim, they continue to participate fully in ECOFIN meetings. EU Finance Ministers are due to discuss the following items:
Future economic policies in the EU
Ministers will discuss the EU’s current economic policy framework and whether further systemic reforms are needed. This discussion will be supported by presentations from former Italian Prime Minister and Finance Minister Mario Monti and former Swedish Finance Minister Anders Borg.
Deepening Economic Monetary Union (EMU)—fiscal pillar
An orientation discussion will be held on proposals for a euro area fiscal capacity, assisted by Guntram Wolff of Bruegel, Vitor Gasper of the IMF, and Danial Gros of the Centre for European Policy Studies.
Taxation—current issues: improving tax certainty and fighting BEPS, tax crime and terrorism
Ministers will exchange views on measures to address tax avoidance, tax evasion and tax crime and counter-terrorist financing. The discussion will be framed by a presentations from OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria and State Secretary of the Slovak Finance Ministry Dana Meager.
Investment plan for Europe
The Council will discuss the progress of the first two pillars of the investment plan for Europe; the European fund for strategic investment (EFSI) and European investment and advisory hub. EIB president Werner Hoyer and EFSI managing director Wilhelm Molterer will report on the first year’s functioning of EFSI and the hub.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
National Flood Resilience Review
The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Ben Gummer) and I would like to update the House on our progress with the national flood resilience review.
Last year the UK was hit by a number of extreme flood events, including in Cumbria, Yorkshire and Lancashire. Record rainfall and river levels have led to widespread floods severely affecting cities, communities and businesses.
The magnitude of these events means that we need to fully understand the scale of risk that the country is currently facing from river and coastal flooding. We need to take immediate steps to improve our resilience to this flooding.
As a result, the Government set up the national flood resilience review, chaired by the then Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr Letwin) and overseen by a cross-government national flood resilience review group. That review is being published today, setting out the actions to improve the nation’s resilience.
By using new plausible extreme rainfall scenarios developed by the Met Office in the Environment Agency’s flood modelling, we are now confident that the extreme flood outlines can be used as a robust planning tool for assessing flood risk.
As part of the review we completed a preliminary assessment of the resilience of key local infrastructure, such as energy, water, health, transport and telecommunications to flooding from rivers and seas. These are services our communities and businesses depend on.
The results showed around 530 facilities vulnerable to river and coastal flooding which could impact significant local communities. Working with the relevant utilities, regulators and Government Departments, a number of areas have been identified to improve resilience planning for this infrastructure. By Christmas 2016, the water and telecoms sectors will develop and implement plans for where temporary improvements can be made to the flood resilience of their infrastructure. These plans will ensure that the utilities obtain stock-piles of temporary defences in advance and have site-specific plans ready to deploy where they can be used. This is in line with current practice in the electricity supply industry.
In addition to these temporary defences all sectors with infrastructure at risk have agreed to develop and implement plans—where not already in place—to make medium-term permanent improvements to the flood resilience of their services to significant local communities.
While better understanding the risk helps us better prepare and protect infrastructure, effective response when flooding occurs is essential to minimise impact and protect lives. The review sets out actions that the Government and others will be taking to improve the response to flooding incidents by delivering a long-term rolling programme of improvements to our modelling, improving working across services and with local communities to strengthen our response, and improving our communication of flood risks.
The Government have prioritised investment in maintaining and improving flood defences in England with a record £2.3 billion six-year commitment to 1,500 schemes. This is set to better protect 300,000 homes and provide £30 billion in economic benefits by 2021.
On top of that, in this year’s Budget, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a £700 million increase in flood defence and resilience spending, including a further £150 million for new flood defence schemes in Cumbria and Yorkshire. He also signalled that part of this funding would be used to respond to this review.
The findings published today commit an investment of £12.5 million to increase the Environment Agency’s stock of temporary flood defences and other incident response equipment.
The work identified in the review is continuing, including with local resilience forums. Additional funding support will be considered as further findings emerge.
Copies of the review have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Review of the Forensic Archive Ltd
I am pleased to announce that I am today publishing the Review of the Forensic Archive Ltd (FAL). FAL was established in October 2012 to manage and maintain material previously held by the Forensic Science Service.
The review makes 10 recommendations, most crucially that the functions of FAL should continue to be carried out and that FAL is the best organisation to do so. It also recommends that the Home Office continue to fund FAL. I agree with these recommendations.
I will place a copy of the review in the Library of the House.
I am today announcing that new regulations regarding cremation in England and Wales have been laid before Parliament. The Cremation (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2016 will come into effect on 1 October 2016.
We are making these changes following our recent response to our consultation on cremation, published on 7 July 2016, in which we committed to make a number of changes to infant cremation regulations and practice. The regulations laid today introduce a statutory definition of ashes. They also remove the current requirement that cremation authorities must keep original paper records for two years, even though they have also made electronic copies of those records. These changes will provide clarity for bereaved parents at a difficult time in their lives, and modernise processes for crematoria.
In addition I would like to announce that, as also promised in the consultation response, we have now set up a national cremation working group. The group is made up of representatives from the cremation and funeral industries, voluntary organisations who support bereaved parents, medical professionals and other Government Departments with an interest in cremation. In the coming months it will provide expert input into our work to further improve cremation legislation and practice. The group’s first priority will be amending statutory application forms regarding options for disposal of ashes, and bringing the cremation of foetuses of less than 24 weeks’ gestation into the remit of the cremation regulations.
Intelligence Services Commissioner and the Interception of Communications Commissioner: Annual Reports
I have today laid before both Houses a copy of the latest annual reports from the Intelligence Services Commissioner and the Interception of Communications Commissioner. Both reports show the rigour and strength of our intelligence oversight system, a system that will be further strengthened with the introduction of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner provisions set out in the Investigatory Powers Bill. I welcome the unprecedented level of transparency about the authorisation and oversight regimes that both reports contain.
I am pleased that both reports recognise the diligence and rigour of those who use investigatory powers. These are important powers that are used, when necessary, to keep our country safe. Both reports contain details of the recommendations that the Commissioners have made to continue to improve the way that these powers are used. The public authorities who have received these recommendations will be giving careful consideration to them and how to further improve their processes.
I would like to thank both Commissioners, and the staff that work for them, for their continued diligence and the rigour with which they undertake their oversight roles. In particular, I would like to thank Sir Mark Waller for all of the work that he has undertaken as Intelligence Services Commissioner since this is the last full year of inspections that he will undertake.