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Written Statements

Volume 658: debated on Thursday 25 April 2019

Written Statements

Thursday 25 April 2019

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Cabinet Office

Contingent Liability

It is normal practice, when a Government Department proposes to undertake a contingent liability in excess of £300,000 for which there is no specific statutory authority, for the Department concerned to present to Parliament a minute giving particulars of the liability created and explaining the circumstances; and to refrain from incurring the liability until 14 parliamentary sitting days after the issue of the minute, except in cases of special urgency.

It is the intention of the Government to respect the 2016 referendum result and leave the European Union with a deal as soon as possible. However, there is now a legal need to prepare for possible participation in the European parliamentary elections, although it remains the Government’s intention for the UK to leave the European Union with a deal before 22 May, so that we do not need to participate in these elections.

It is normal practice for the Government to indemnify returning officers in this way to ensure their personal liabilities are covered. The Cabinet Office previously provided an indemnity in 2014 for the European parliamentary elections. The Cabinet Office also provided an indemnity for the 2015 and 2017 UK parliamentary general elections, the 2016 Police and Crime Commissioner elections, and the recall of MPs petitions. HM Treasury has approved the indemnity in principle.

Given the highly unusual circumstances, as I hope hon. Members will appreciate, it has not been possible for the indemnity to be laid in Parliament for 14 sitting days before coming into effect.

On this basis, I have today laid a minute setting out the Cabinet Office’s proposal to indemnify returning officers for the European parliamentary elections on 23 May 2019 against uninsured claims that arise out of the conduct of their duties. We will also provide a certificate confirming that we will bear any employee liabilities of the returning officer which would otherwise be covered by insurance procured under the Employers' Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969.

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Exiting the European Union

General Affairs Council

Lord Callanan, Minister of State for Exiting the European Union, has made the following statement:

The UK and the EU have agreed an extension to Article 50, until 31 October 2019, which is legally binding in EU and international law. Until we leave the European Union, we remain committed to fulfilling our rights and obligations as a full Member State, and continue to act in good faith.

I represented the UK at the General Affairs Council (GAC) in Luxembourg on 9 April 2019. A provisional report of the meeting and the conclusions adopted can be found on the Council of the European Union’s website at: https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/meetings/gac/2019/04/09/

Multiannual Financial Framework 2021 - 2027

The presidency presented a progress report outlining the latest developments on negotiations on the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) - related sectorial proposals. The presidency also highlighted that common understandings have been reached with the European Parliament (EP) on ten sectorial files. Cohesion and Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) continued to be the central pillars of the next MFF. However, the Commission noted that the proposed cuts to Cohesion and CAP were unavoidable due to the loss of the UK’s contribution.

The Cohesion fund aims to reduce economic and social disparities and to promote sustainable development. Ministers discussed how the Cohesion policy and CAP can best support EU priorities. Some member states criticised the proposed cuts and supported maintaining funding for transition regions (where GDP per capita falls between 75% and 90% of the EU average). Other member states advocated for a stronger link of funds to the EU’s core business, such as tackling climate change, rule of law and migration. There was general agreement that cohesion funding should be predictable, whilst allowing for a level of flexibility to manage unexpected events.

Ministers agreed that the funding priorities should be modernisation of the agricultural industry and securing support for young farmers. Some member states proposed a set target for expenditure contributing to climate change goals, while incentivising farmers to meet the goals.

Conclusions on the Reflection Paper “Towards a sustainable Europe by 2030”

Ministers adopted conclusions on the EU’s implementation of the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are targets in 17 priority areas agreed between the members of the UN in 2015, with the aim of making the world a more sustainable place to live. The Council agreed that the SDGs are a key aspect of the EU’s Strategic Agenda 2019-2024, making clear reference to “leave no one behind”.

The Council’s conclusions recognised the importance of the SDGs for the EU, stated that the UN 2030 Agenda was an overarching priority for the EU and stressed that it was in the EU’s interest to play a leading role in its implementation, recognising that delivery of this agenda is necessarily a shared responsibility between all stakeholders.

Values of the Union - Hungary /Article 7(1) TEU Reasoned Proposal

The Commission provided an update on the most recent developments regarding EU values in Hungary. Ministers discussed values of the Union in relation to Hungary.

Rule of Law in Poland / Article 7(1) TEU Reasoned Proposal

The Commission provided an update on the rule of law cases in Poland before the European . Court of Justice, and its most recent infraction notification against Poland’s disciplinary procedures for ordinary judges. The presidency stated that the Council would return to the issue.

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Home Department

Prüm Access: Switzerland and Liechtenstein

The Prüm framework lays down provisions stating that EU member states grant each other access to their automated DNA analysis files, automated fingerprint identification systems (AFIS), and vehicle registration data. The European Commission has proposed Council decisions that, if adopted, would extend participation in the key data-sharing elements of Prüm to Switzerland and Liechtenstein as third countries.

The UK is fully supportive of data sharing to assist the investigation, prosecution and prevention of serious crime and terrorism. It is the Government’s position that data-sharing regimes between countries, with appropriate safeguards, enhance the safety and wellbeing of citizens of and visitors to those countries. The UK has opted in to the Prüm decisions and remains committed to fully implementing Prüm in the UK.

The UK is also fully supportive of extending the law enforcement access to Prüm to Switzerland and Liechtenstein. The UK has no current biometrics data-sharing agreements in place with Switzerland or Liechtenstein. These states are close partners and enabling further data sharing with them will enhance both their security and ours.

The Government have therefore decided to opt in to the EU Council decisions authorising the signing and conclusion of agreements between the EU and Switzerland, and the EU and Liechtenstein, to enable their access as third countries to Prüm, stepping up cross-border co-operation, particularly in combating terrorism and cross-border crime.

The UK Government will continue to consider the application of the UK’s opt-in to EU legislation on a case-by-case basis, with a view to maximising the UK’s efforts to collaborate with the EU on a security partnership once the UK leaves the EU. The UK is committed to fully implementing Prüm and continuing the international exchange of biometric data with the EU as part of this future security partnership.

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