Council agreed legislative A-points on VAT administrative co-operation regulation, regulation on the quality of statistics, and the European Investment Bank (EIB) external lending mandate. Given that Parliament has not had the opportunity to clear these documents, the Government abstained on these items at ECOFIN and entered a statement to the minutes to that effect.
The Council took note of reports from the Commission and the European Central Bank on the fulfilment of economic and monetary union (EMU) convergence criteria by the nine non-euro area member states with an EMU derogation. It also noted a proposal for a Council decision aimed at enabling Estonia to adopt the euro as its currency on 1 January 2011, following positive signals that it has met the entry criteria. The final decision will be taken at the July ECOFIN.
The Council adopted an opinion on an update by Cyprus of its stability programme. There were also discussions following announcements from Spain and Portugal of their fiscal consolidation measures. Ministers from several member states updated the Council on their domestic austerity measures. The Government outlined the savings package of £6.24 billion for financial year 2010-11 announced on 24 May.
a) Broad economic policy guidelines
Ministers approved a report to the European Council on the broad economic policy guidelines for Member States and the EU as a whole. The treaty on the functioning of the EU provides that member states are to regard their economic policies and promoting employment as matters of common concern and co-ordinate them within the Council. As these have not had a chance to complete scrutiny, the UK abstained, and the Government made clear they reserved their position on some aspects of the substance of the proposals. The guidelines will go for discussion at the 17 June European Council before returning to ECOFIN for formal adoption in July.
b) Europe 2020 Strategy
ECOFIN agreed conclusions on the Europe 2020 strategy to feed in to discussions at the European Council. The conclusions cover proposed headline targets for the strategy; the broad economic policy guidelines; national bottlenecks to growth; and enhanced economic policy co-ordination and timing. The Government will continue to encourage a focus on specific, meaningful steps the EU could take to promote growth.
c) Progress report on financial reform
ECOFIN discussed a progress report on financial reform to the European Council covering crisis management (including levies and funds), financial supervision, credit rating agencies,
derivatives and financial exit strategies. The Government outlined their priorities for the reform of European regulation of financial services and the need to ensure international consistency and pursue non-discriminatory policies. The Council will now work with the Commission to take forward the ambitious programme it has proposed.
d) Fiscal exit strategies
The Council approved a report to the European Council on progress made in the development of an exit strategy for the unwinding of budgetary stimulus measures introduced in response to the economic crisis. The Government support the strategy, which is in line with announced plans for an additional £6.24 billion spending cuts in the UK.
e) Preparation for the G20 Summit
Ministers prepared an EU position for the June G20 summit in Toronto, where Presidents Van Rompuy and Barroso will represent the EU. The Government supported the agreed terms of reference, which reflect the agreements reached at the 5 June G20 finance ministerial in Korea. The final position will be adopted by the European Council.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Anne Milton): The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council met on 7 and 8 June in Luxembourg. The health and consumer affairs part of the Council was taken on 8 June. I represented the UK.
At the meeting, following an exchange of views on the draft directive on patients' rights in cross-border health care, political agreement between member states was reached. This text will now be forwarded to the European Parliament for their consideration.
A policy debate on the proposed regulation on the provision of food information to consumers focused on two aspects of the proposal. Member states considered the clarity of food labelling and discussed who might bear responsibility for the information provided on food labels.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): I am announcing today that the commencement of voluntary registration with the new vetting and barring scheme (VBS) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, which was due to begin on 26 July, will be brought to a halt as of today.
The Government have made clear their intention to bring the criminal records and vetting and barring regimes back to common-sense levels. Until this remodelling
has taken place, we have decided to maintain those aspects of the new scheme which are already in place, but not to introduce further elements.
The safety of children and vulnerable adults is of paramount importance to the new Government. We will therefore maintain the current arrangements under which the Independent Safeguarding Authority is able to bar from "regulated activities" those considered unsuitable to work with children or vulnerable adults, and appropriate cases must be referred to them. Criminal records checks will also remain available for those eligible to receive them, and will continue to be required for certain posts where regulations are already in place.
However it is vital that we take a measured approach in these matters. Vulnerable groups must be properly protected in a way that is proportionate and sensible. The remodelling of the VBS will ensure this happens.
The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Kenneth Clarke): On 10 June 2010 the Prime Minister appointed me to become the Government's international anti-corruption champion. The continuation of this central role demonstrates the coalition Government's clear commitment to transparency and accountability. The role is also in recognition of the significant cost of international corruption, both to individuals and to our economy. The appointment of anti-corruption champion is a personal appointment by the Prime Minister.
As champion I will hold a key co-ordination role for Government and be answerable to Parliament on corruption issues. I recognise that the interest and impact of corruption is felt not only by all Government Departments but also by British businesses and individuals, particularly those working overseas. I will therefore be working closely with colleagues across Departments, devolved Administrations, law enforcement, prosecution authorities and regulatory agencies to ensure a coherent and joined-up approach to combat international corruption. The champion role sends out a clear message that the UK coalition Government will not tolerate bribery or corruption and that we will work together to stamp out these practices across the board.
My first priority in this role will be to ensure the effective implementation of the Bribery Act 2010, legislation which will help to achieve the highest in international standards and which demonstrates cross-party commitment to the fight against bribery.
Responsibility for the Office of Government Commerce and its executive agency, Buying Solutions, will transfer from the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the Minister for the Cabinet Office, and the organisations will become part of the Cabinet Office's efficiency and reform group.
Property functions in the Office of Government Commerce and the shareholder executive will combine into a single unit responsible for property efficiency and will be based in the shareholder executive within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. It will report jointly to the Minister for the Cabinet Office and to the Chief Secretary as part of the efficiency and reform group.
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Philip Hammond): The Government believe that aviation makes a vital contribution to the economy of this country and to the lives of our citizens. The aviation sector contributes some £11 billion to GDP and directly employs some 200,000 people. Its true economic value is much greater than this when we consider the importance of air travel to the global economy and to UK competitiveness. But we cannot simply allow growth to continue at the levels it has in the past. Doing so risks unacceptable consequences in terms of noise and local air quality, quite apart from the global impacts in terms of CO2 emissions.
We need to start a new chapter in aviation policy-one that promotes a competitive aviation industry, supporting UK economic growth, while recognising the need for restraint. We have already begun that by making clear our opposition to adding yet more runways at Heathrow, Stansted or Gatwick. Instead, we must explore different ways in which to improve the efficiency of these key components of our national transport infrastructure.
Improving the passenger experience is at the heart of this Government's vision for UK aviation. We announced in the Queen's Speech our intention to reform the economic regulation of airports to deliver better outcomes for passengers. But I believe that there are also other things that Government and the industry can do together, and so today I am announcing the establishment of a South East Airports Task Force with key players from across the industry to explore the scope for other measures to help make the most of existing airport infrastructure and improve conditions for all users. The group will be chaired by the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs Villiers) and its initial focus will be on action at our three biggest airports-Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted.
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mrs Cheryl Gillan): The National Assembly for Wales passed a resolution on 9 February 2010 calling for a referendum under the terms of the Government of Wales Act 2006. The First Minister notified my predecessor of this resolution on 17 February 2010.
I have today notified the First Minister that I am unable to lay a draft referendum order before Parliament
within the 120 days, and have set out my reasons. I have also made clear that our aim is for a referendum to take place before the end of the first quarter of next year.