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Written Statements

Volume 585: debated on Friday 5 September 2014

Written Statements

Friday 5 September 2014

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Informal Meeting: EU Foreign Ministers

I attended the informal Foreign Ministers meeting on 29 and 30 August in Milan, Italy.

The informal format of the Gymnich allows EU Foreign Ministers to engage in a free-ranging discussion on a number of issues. In contrast to the formal Foreign Affairs Council (FAC), Ministers do not agree written conclusions. The next FAC is due to be held on 20 October.

The Gymnich was chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton of Upholland. Discussion centred on issues in the EU’s eastern and southern neighbourhoods.

Elmar Brok MEP, Chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, attended the discussion on Ukraine/Russia.

Gymnich discussion

Ukraine/Russia

There was broad agreement that Russia had increased supplies of equipment and personnel to separatists in eastern Ukraine. Ministers agreed the diplomatic process should continue.

I said that the EU had to accept that President Putin had decided to treat Europe as an adversary rather than a partner. We needed to deter the scale of Putin’s ambitions in Ukraine, increasing the economic and financial cost through intensified sanctions and diplomatic pressure. Longer-term we needed to reduce our energy dependence, enforce the third energy package rigorously, keep up NATO deterrence, and counter Russia’s propaganda with our own communications effort. We needed to support Ukraine on the economy, energy, governance, and the elections.

There was broad agreement that pressure on Russia should be increased through a further package of sanctions, although a number of member states reserved their position on how far this should go.

Iraq

A number of Ministers agreed on the need for member states to provide weapons to the Kurdish and/or Iraqi Government forces fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and to increase and co-ordinate the humanitarian response. There was agreement to promote an inclusive political process in Iraq. Ministers also agreed on the need to engage with regional players to contribute to resolving the challenge of ISIL.

It was also agreed that there needed to be improved co-ordination on handling foreign fighters from member states.

Libya

Ministers agreed on the need to engage regional players to support political dialogue, underscored the democratic legitimacy of the House of Representatives and supported its efforts at working towards national reconciliation. They also congratulated Bernardino Leon on his appointment as the UN Special Representative to Libya.

Baroness Ashton also said that EU Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM) Libya would continue its mission and return to Tripoli as soon as possible.

MEPP/Gaza

Baroness Ashton argued that the EU had been an important player throughout her tenure, supporting John Kerry, engaging with Egypt, Israel and the Palestinians. She also informed Ministers that she would co-chair the 1 October donors’ conference in Cairo.

Ministers agreed that the ceasefire—on which the Egyptian role had been pivotal—should develop into a durable agreement, and there was general consensus that this should combine demilitarisation and reconstruction with international oversight (where the EU could play an important role).

I underlined the important role that the UN Security Council should play and argued that the EU should support a durable agreement, including through the reactivation of EUBAM Rafah under the appropriate circumstances. I urged the European External Action Service (EEAS) to follow up on work to put forward EU options for supporting a ceasefire.

Home Department

Child Sexual Abuse

Further to my statement to the House on 7 July and my written ministerial statement of 9 July 2014, Official Report, column 20WS, I am pleased to announce that I have appointed Fiona Woolf CBE, JP to be the chairman of the independent inquiry panel of experts in the law and child protection, to consider whether public bodies—and other, non-state, institutions—have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse.

Fiona Woolf has had a long and distinguished career holding high-profile and challenging positions, including President of the Law Society and Chairman of the Association of Women Solicitors (AWS), and is only the second woman since 1189 to hold the position of Lord Mayor of London. As a lawyer, and latterly partner, at CMS Cameron McKenna for over 20 years, Fiona Woolf has worked in over 40 jurisdictions. She has advised over 25 Governments and multilateral agencies such as the World Bank. She has also served as a member of the Competition Commission for eight years.

I am confident that Fiona Woolf has the skills and experience needed to set the strategic direction of the inquiry, to lead the work of the panel, and to challenge individuals and institutions without fear or favour to get to the bottom of this issue, and stop it happening again.

To help her in this role, and to ensure that the inquiry delivers the thorough, robust and independent review that I have promised, she will be supported by a panel of distinguished experts, and will be able to call upon expert advisers as required.

It is vital that the panel has access to independent expert legal advice and I am pleased to be able to announce that Counsel to the Inquiry will be Ben Emmerson QC, founder of Matrix Chambers and one of the UK’s most distinguished lawyers in the field of national and international human rights law. I can also confirm two panel members: Graham Wilmer MBE, founder of the Lantern Project, which was established in 2003 to provide help and support for survivors of sexual abuse and Barbara Hearn OBE, former deputy Chief Executive of the National Children’s Bureau. Each of them has a track record of giving a voice to vulnerable people and will bring important expertise and experience to the inquiry.

I can also announce that Professor Alexis Jay has agreed to act as an expert adviser to the panel. Her recent report “Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham (1997—2013)” exposed a terrible example of child sexual abuse and exploitation; and her experience and insight will, I am sure, be of benefit to the inquiry.

The other panel members will be announced in due course once they have been appointed by the chairman.

Fiona Woolf will agree the terms of reference with the full panel, once they are appointed, to ensure that they are sufficient to deliver the robust inquiry which is required. I will report back to the House on this as soon as possible.

Justice

Transforming the Services of the Office of the Public Guardian

On 21 August, the Government published the response to the consultation paper “Transforming the Services of the Office of the Public Guardian: Enabling Digital by Default” which sought the views on the next phase of our proposals to transform the services provided by the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG). This reinforces our commitment to implementing the “digital by default” approach in public services.

The response announced:

The introduction of new simplified forms for lasting powers of attorney (LPA) which will make it easier for those customers wishing to use the paper-based service;

An expansion of the range of resubmitted LPA cases where a reduced application fee applies, to include those whose current LPA could only be registered after an application has been made to the Court of Protection;

Our thinking for the future supervision of deputies.

I would urge anyone with an interest in the Office of the Public Guardian to read the response.

I have deposited copies of the response paper in the Libraries of both Houses. Copies are also available in the Vote Office and Printed Paper Office. Copies are available on the internet at: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/transforming-the-services-of-the-office-of-the-public-guardian-enabling-digital-by-default.

Prime Minister

Machinery of Government Change: Relationship Support

This written ministerial statement confirms that responsibility for Relationship Support policy will transfer from the Department for Education to the Department for Work and Pensions, effective immediately.