Tuesday 3 July 2018
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Agriculture and Fisheries Council
The Agriculture and Fisheries Council took place in Luxembourg on 18 June. I represented the UK.
The main focus of the Council was fisheries items. The most substantive of these was a presentation by the European Commission on the implementation of the common fisheries policy (CFP). Commissioner Vella outlined the main aims for 2019: reaching maximum sustainable yield targets, fully meeting the landing obligation, and implementing the Baltic and North Sea multi-annual plans (MAPs). There was an exchange of views among member states. The UK reiterated its commitment to the landing obligation and spoke of the need for pragmatic solutions to prevent choke problems in 2019.
The Netherlands gave a presentation to highlight a recent report from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) about pulse beam trawling. Member states agreed that more research was needed. The UK drew attention to original research being carried out by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries, and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), whose report is due in 2019.
There was a presentation by the Commission on a new proposal revising the control regulation. The presentation raised the possibility of increased electronic reporting and satellite control as well as greater oversight of the recreational fishing sector. Member states voiced concerns about the practicalities and costs of these changes, especially the introduction of CCTV.
The Commission also gave a presentation on a regulation on the European maritime and fisheries fund (EMFF), covering the period 2021-27, outlining its intention to give member states more flexibility in managing the fund. Member states welcomed the offer of greater flexibility but requested further discussion about the fund’s budget and administration.
The most substantive item for agriculture was a presentation by the Commission on reforms of the common agricultural policy after 2020. Member states expressed a range of views, with some of them concerned about planned budgetary cuts. Member states agreed on the importance of achieving real simplification. The Commission signalled further discussion on this topic and welcomed further constructive recommendations from member states.
The Commission also gave an update on the agricultural market situation, giving a generally positive assessment of the health of EU markets.
Six further items were discussed under “any other business”:
the Slovenian delegation gave a presentation on their UN initiative “World Bee Day”;
the Polish delegation presented on the situation in the pig meat market;
the French delegation presented on the disposal of skimmed milk powder stocks;
the Cyprus delegation gave information about the decreasing availability of water for agriculture in Cyprus;
the Spanish delegation provided information about anti-subsidy and anti-dumping duties against Spanish table olives by the US authorities;
the Hungarian delegation delivered a joint declaration of the Visegrad, Baltic, and Balkan member states about a shared initiative in agriculture, forestry, and aquaculture research, “BIOEAST”.
Until the UK leaves the European Union, the UK remains a full member of the EU and all the rights and obligations of EU membership remain in force. The outcome of our negotiations with the EU on the future partnership will determine what arrangements apply in relation to EU legislation in future.
A meeting of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN) was held in Luxembourg on 22 June 2018.
ECOFIN was preceded by a morning meeting of the EIB board of governors.
Annual EIB board of governors meeting
The EIB board of governors meeting included a speech by EIB President Werner Hoyer, a governors discussion on the future direction of the bank, reappointment of the board of directors, and approval of the audit report.
At ECOFIN, EU Finance Ministers discussed the following:
Early morning session
The Eurogroup President briefed the Council on the outcomes of the 21 June meeting of the Eurogroup, and the European Commission provided an update on the current economic situation in the EU. Following this, the Council discussed the next multiannual financial framework, and France and Germany reported on the outcomes of the Franco-German summit on 19 June.
The Council discussed the presidency compromise text in regards to the directive on harmonising and simplifying certain rules in the VAT system and introducing the definitive system for the taxation of trade between member states; the regulation regarding certain exemptions for intra-community transactions and the regulation regarding certified taxable persons. The Council was unable to reach agreement on a general approach.
European deposit insurance scheme
The Council took note of the presidency progress report on the European deposit insurance scheme.
Current financial services legislative proposals
The presidency provided an update on current legislative proposals in the field of financial services.
The presidency provided an update on the insolvency, restructuring and second-chance directive.
National reform programmes 2018
The Council approved the 2018 country-specific recommendations as part of the European semester process.
Implementation of the stability and growth pact
The Council adopted Council decisions and recommendations in the context of both the excessive deficit procedure and the significant deviation procedure, also part of the European semester.
Also as part of the European semester, the Commission and the European Central Bank presented the annual convergence reports.
Senior Managers and Certification Regime
The senior managers and certification regime (SM&CR) will come into force for financial services firms regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority only (also known as solo-regulated firms) from 9 December 2019.
The SM&CR is aimed at changing behaviours and culture in the financial services sector. It ensures that senior individuals in firms are approved by the relevant regulator, have a statement of responsibilities outlining what they are accountable for, and can be held personally responsible for misconduct. It also ensures that a code of conduct is set out for all financial services staff, and that employees in roles where they could do significant harm to consumers or to the UK’s financial stability are approved annually by their firm.
The SM&CR was first introduced for banks and building societies through the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Act 2013 and has applied to banks, building societies, credit unions, investment firms and UK branches of foreign banks since March 2016. The Government also legislated in the Bank of England and Financial Services Act 2016 to extend the SM&CR to all financial services firms. The Government recently announced the SM&CR would apply to insurance firms from 10 December 2018. The application to solo-regulated firms is the final stage in the extension of the SM&CR.
HM Treasury will make commencement regulations to bring the regime into force for solo-regulated firms.
Exiting the European Union
EU Withdrawal Act: Publication of Statements
The Withdrawal Act requires statements of the “good reasons” for creation of and penalties for any criminal offences under the key powers in the Act. On 25 April the Baroness-in-waiting, Baroness Goldie, committed that these statements would be made available to Parliament before any SI which creates a criminal offence is laid before Parliament. The mechanism for ensuring this has been agreed and, in line with that commitment, I am making this statement to inform Members that those statements will be deposited, before the SI is laid, in the Libraries of both Houses where they will form a document series deposited under the commitment in this statement.
Women and Equalities
LGBT Equality Government Publication
In July last year, the Government launched a national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) survey, which asked LGBT people about their experiences of living in the UK.
I am pleased to be publishing both the Gender Recognition Act consultation and the survey findings today. I am also publishing a LGBT action plan, which sets out the Government’s policy response to the survey results.
The national LGBT survey received over 108,000 responses, making it the largest national survey of LGBT people conducted in the world to date. Responses covered a range of issues, including safety, health, education and the experience of being LGBT in the UK. The findings will serve as a crucial additional to the evidence base. While there were many positives to take from the findings, they also show that there is more to do before we achieved equality for LGBT people in the UK.
The LGBT action plan contains more than 70 actions that the Government will take in order to address the survey findings. These include the appointment of a national LGBT health adviser within the NHS to tackle the health inequalities that LGBT people face, the extension of the existing anti-homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying programme and a commitment to end the practice of conversion therapy in the UK. This plan will be supported by the provision of £4.5 million from within existing Government Equalities Office budgets in 2018-19 and 2019-20. I want this plan to be delivered by the end of this Parliament and funding beyond 2019-20 will be agreed through the spending review process.
Finally, I am publishing a report that sets out the progress that the Government have made on delivering commitments made in two prior LGBT action plans that were published in 2011. The publication of this update meets a commitment that was made to the Women and Equalities Select Committee in 2016, following its landmark transgender equality inquiry.
Taken together, the documents that I am publishing today represent a significant milestone in this Government’s commitment to building a country that works for everyone, irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
I will also be publishing, later today, the consultation on the Gender Recognition Act and supporting documents.
I have arranged for copies of the documents to be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.