Tuesday 14 March 2017
Culture, Media and Sport
EU-US Umbrella Agreement
The Department for Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS) is responsible for the Government’s participation in European negotiations on the EU-US Umbrella agreement, which is a comprehensive data protection framework for criminal law enforcement co-operation. A scrutiny override occurred when the UK voted in favour of the conclusion on the agreement before the European Scrutiny Committee could complete the process of scrutiny on the agreement. The proposal was:
Proposed Council Conclusion on the conclusion, on behalf of the European Union, of an agreement between the United States of America and the European Union on the protection of personal information relating to the prevention, investigation, detection and prosecution of criminal offences (8491/16).
The UK voted in favour of the conclusion on the Umbrella agreement. This triggered an override, which was induced by the deadline being brought forward to ensure the conclusion was concluded in time for the EU-US Justice and Home Affairs Ministerial summit in Washington DC on 6 December. With the accelerated timetable and the timing of the scrutiny Committee meetings, it meant that they could not consider our update in advance of their meeting and so the appropriate parliamentary scrutiny procedure was not possible on this occasion.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
I am pleased to announce to the House that today I am consulting on a new strategic policy statement for Ofwat, the economic regulator for the water sector.
Securing a fair deal for everyone is at the core of Ofwat’s role. Research by the Consumer Council for Water in 2015 revealed that 12% of customers said they were struggling to pay their water bills. This Government will set a strategic objective for Ofwat to challenge the water sector to go further to identify and meet the needs of customers who are struggling to afford their charges.
The Government will also set Ofwat a strategic objective to challenge the water sector to plan and invest to meet the needs of current and future customers, in a way which offers best value for money over the long term. By the 2050s England is projected to face a water deficit of 8-22% of total water demand. We need to take action now to ensure we can meet our future water needs in an affordable way.
I am therefore pleased to inform the House that the Government will prepare a national policy statement. This will facilitate development consent for water resources, which currently must be sought from a range of authorities and can involve delays and uncertainty.
The Government will also be directing water companies to quantify their level of resilience and consult on proposed future options that they are exploring to meet their long-term needs. In line with new research from Water UK, we expect the industry to take a balanced approach to meeting these needs, including new supply solutions, demand management and increased water transfers.
The consultation is available at: www.gov.uk and will close on 11 April.
I attended the EU Environment Council in Brussels on 28 February along with the Minister for Climate Change and Industry, my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd).
I wish to update the House on the matters discussed.
EU emissions trading system (ETS)—Council agreement
The main outcome of Council was reaching an agreed position (“general approach”) on the reform of the EU emission trading system (ETS) for phase IV of the system (2021-2030). Council began with a full roundtable debate of the EU ETS where Ministers set out their respective policy positions. The UK expressed support for reaching an agreed position that achieved the right balance between incentivising change and supporting competitiveness. Following the debate, the presidency presented a revised proposal and called for an informal vote of agreement.
The key elements of the agreement are:
a provision to increase, if necessary, the volume of free allowances allocated to support industrial sectors at risk of carbon leakage (where production relocates outside of the EU as a result of carbon costs);
two provisions to strengthen the carbon price—increasing the rate at which allowances are removed from the market and placed in a reserve, and, from 2024, annually cancelling allowances within the reserve above a certain threshold.
The UK Government consider this to be a balanced package that incentivises cost-effective carbon reduction, while safeguarding the competitiveness of UK industry. The agreement to reform the EU emissions trading system is a positive step forward in collaboration with our European partners to reduce emissions across all sectors.
The European Parliament reached an agreed position on EU ETS reform on 15 February. The file will now progress to the next stage of negotiations, “trilogies”, where member states (represented by the presidency), European Parliament and the Commission negotiate a final agreement on the reform package.
2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
Council discussed the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, following the publication of a Commission communication in November 2016. The Commission presented its ongoing work including the use of better regulation tools and the regulatory scrutiny board to ensure coherence across policy areas within the 2030 agenda. Many member states highlighted the need for greater co-ordination between policy areas and the need to mainstream the environmental dimension of the 2030 agenda into other policy areas. The UK called on the Commission to focus on the coherence of existing mechanisms. The presidency circulated a brief summary of the exchange of views that would serve as a contribution to a forthcoming discussion at the General Affairs Council.
EU environmental implementation review
Ministers exchanged views on the 2017 annual growth survey (AGS) in the context of the European semester and how it links with the environmental implementation review (EIR). While most Ministers welcomed the 2017 AGS, particularly aspects including sustainable and climate-related investment and the transition towards a low-carbon and circular economy, some regretted that environmental and sustainability aspects were still not given a more prominent role in the AGS. They also underlined the importance of stronger links with wider EU environment policy. Ministers broadly welcomed the Commission’s new EIR as a useful tool to improve the implementation of EU and national environmental policy and as a contribution to the greening of the European semester. Some member states underlined the need for national reports to be based on sound scientific data.
AOB—Emission trading system (ETS): aviation
The Commission presented its proposal on the future of aviation in the EU emission trading system (ETS) post-2016. The proposal recommends a continuation of the reduced, intra-EEA scope of aviation in the ETS beyond 2016. This would mean that the current rules would remain unchanged. The proposal also requires the Commission to conduct a further review once there is more certainty about the rules for the global market-based measure (GMBM) for aviation, and to make recommendations for aviation EU ETS in the post-2020 period.
AOB—Paris agreement: international developments
The delegations from France and the Netherlands provided information on international developments regarding the implementation of the Paris agreement.
AOB—EU action plan for the circular economy
The Commission provided an update to the Council on the EU action plan for a circular economy.
AOB—Natura 2000 in the European Solidarity Corps
The Commission provided information to Council on Natura 2000 and the European Solidarity Corps.
AOB—Luxembourg circular economy hotspot (June 2017)
The delegation from Luxembourg provided information on its upcoming circular economy hotspot event in June 2017.
AOB—Environmental concerns regarding Belarus nuclear power plant
The delegation from Lithuania noted its concerns regarding a nuclear power station in Belarus. The Commission highlighted the importance of compliance with international law on nuclear safety.
AOB—Scientific conference on “Sustainable Development and climate changes in the light of the encyclical letter of Holy Father Francis, entitled “Laudato Si””
The delegation from Poland provided information on the conference on sustainable development in light of the papal encyclical “Laudato Si”.
AOB—Update on the environmental liability and mining waste directives
The delegation from Hungary—supported by Poland—provided information to the Council on the environmental liability directive and the mining waste directive.
On 23 June, the EU referendum took place and the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. Until exit negotiations are concluded, the UK remains a full member of the European Union and all the rights and obligations of EU membership remain in force. During this period the Government will continue to negotiate, implement and apply EU legislation. The outcome of these negotiations will determine what arrangements apply in relation to EU legislation in future once the UK has left the EU.
Exiting the European Union
General Affairs Council
I attended the General Affairs Council on 7 March 2017. The meeting was held in Brussels and chaired by the Maltese presidency.
The General Affairs Council discussed: resolutions, decisions and opinions adopted by the European Parliament; preparation of the European Council of 9 March 2017; the European Semester; the implementation of the inter-institutional agreement on “better law making”; and the mid-term review of the multiannual financial framework 2014-2020.
A provisional report of the meeting and the conclusions adopted can be found on the Council of the European Union’s website at: http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/meetings/gac/2017/03/07/.
Resolutions, decisions and opinions adopted by the European Parliament
The Council noted the resolutions adopted by the European Parliament at its plenary sessions of February and March 2017.
Preparation of the European Council of 9 March 2017
The Council examined the second draft of conclusions for the March European Council. The discussions focused on: jobs, growth and competitiveness; security and defence; migration; and external relations.
On jobs, growth and competitiveness, and the European Council’s discussion on the sustainability of the economic growth in the 28 member states, I welcomed the positive signs on the economy and set out our strong support for completion of the digital single market. I supported the calls from other member states for further ambition on EU trade policy.
On security and defence, and the European Council’s assessment of the implementation of its December 2016 conclusions, I expressed my support for the balanced nature of the text and stated that any changes should be within the parameters set out at the December European Council.
On migration, and the review of how decisions taken at the informal summit in Malta on 3 February 2017 concerning the central Mediterranean route have been implemented, I welcomed the focus on continued engagement with source and transit countries. I also stated that there needed to be a stronger focus on breaking smugglers’ business models.
The external relations agenda item proposed a discussion on the western Balkans. I pressed for more co-operation with the western Balkans, including strategic communications, to tackle organised crime, third country interference and radicalisation.
European Semester 2017
The presidency presented its synthesis report on the European Semester and suggested that it sends its recommendation on the economic policy of the euro area to the European Council for adoption.
Implementation of the inter-institutional agreement on “better law making”
The presidency updated the Council on the implementation of the inter-institutional agreement on “better law making”. Good progress had been made and would be monitored three times a year. The June General Affairs Council meeting will provide a comprehensive overview of implementation.
Mid-term review of the Multiannual Financial Framework 2014-2020
The Council agreed to approach the European Parliament with proposed amendments to the mid-term review of the multiannual financial framework for 2014-2020. The UK abstained on this point.
Independent Police Complaints Commission
I am pleased to announce that today my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, and I are publishing the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) annual report and accounts [HC 450]. Copies of the report have been laid before the House and will be available in the Vote Office.
This is the twelfth annual report from the IPCC, covering its work during 2015-16. In this period the IPCC has made good progress as they continues its expansion. It has started more than twice the number of investigations than in 2014-15 and completed 259 cases (139 more than in the previous year). The report also highlights some key investigations the IPCC handled, for example those involving deaths during or following police contact. It also reports on the progress made with the Hillsborough investigations.
As well as covering the police, the annual report also includes a section on the discharge of the IPCC responsibilities in respect of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.
EU Informal Foreign Affairs Council
My noble Friend the Minister of State for Trade Policy (Lord Price) has today made the following statement.
The EU informal Foreign Affairs Council (Trade) took place in Brussels on 3 March 2017. I represented the UK at the meeting. A summary of the discussions follows.
The Commission (Commissioner Malmström) presented its proposal for a new anti-dumping methodology. With a WTO ruling on China’s dispute likely by the end of the year, Malmström called for rapid agreement to avoid a legal vacuum in the EU. She recognised that the challenge was to find an approach that was both fully compliant with WTO rules while retaining effective trade defence measures.
There was broad support for the proposals as a basis for further discussion, while noting the importance of working to get the details right to ensure proportionality, simplicity, effectiveness and legal certainty. I called for the EU to promote openness against protectionist headwinds, and noted the need to respect the interests of consumers as well as producers.
Autonomous trade measures for Ukraine
The Commission urged support for its proposed extension of autonomous trade measures for Ukraine. Malmström insisted that the additional quotas would not impact EU markets but would be valuable to Ukraine while difficult economic reforms were under way.
Multilateral investment court
Malmström underlined the global interest in amending investor-state dispute arrangements in general, and in the idea of a multilateral investment court (MIC) in particular. Following extensive international outreach conducted jointly with the Canadians, the Commission expected to seek a mandate to launch formal negotiations over the next year. Malmström recalled that the MIC would not provide any new rights for investors but rather ensure a more legitimate means of resolving disputes.
Most member states supported the concept of the MIC, although many emphasised the importance—and potential difficulty—of securing a critical mass of global and cross-stakeholder endorsement.