Monday 8 January 2007
Sudan: African Union Mission
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The British Government will provide a further £15 million to support the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) this financial year.
The AMIS force of 7,000 carries out vital operations in Darfur, and in very difficult circumstances. It relies upon the support of the international community to fund its operations, and the UK has been a leading contributor since its deployment.
A high-level consultation on Darfur was held in Addis Ababa on 16 November 2006. It concluded that the UN needs to provide increased support to AMIS, to enhance its effectiveness and ability to protect the civilians of Darfur and implement the Darfur peace agreement (DPA) signed on 5 May. This UN support will come in three phases, culminating in a joint AU/UN peacekeeping force of 17,000 with 3,000 police. This will require sustainable funding, and the UN Secretary-General will request that this comes from the UN. In the mean time, the AU Peace and Security Council met on 30 November: it endorsed the Addis Ababa conclusions and extended the mandate of AMIS for a further six months from 1 January. But this extension is conditional upon sufficient funding from the international community.
The African Union estimates the cost of extending AMIS's mandate to continue its current operations and to implement expansions under the DPA as $343 million (£ 175 million). Finding these funds will require a concerted international effort, and the UK is fully committed to playing its part. As an important donor to AMIS and in recognition of the urgent need to sustain its work, the UK will give a further £15 million to support the force for its extended mandate.
This contribution puts the total British assistance to AMIS for this financial year to £35 million. The previously committed £20 million has been funding ground fuel contracts, airlift for Nigerian and Rwandan battalions and military observers. It also includes a cash contribution of £13.5 million to cover personnel and catering costs for the period October to December. These are vital running costs for AMIS to continue its operations.
As well as taking a lead in committing UK funds, we are also encouraging other donors to make new pledges to sustain the mission.
Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention
My honourable friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Dr Kim Howells) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
Members will wish to be aware of the outcome of the Sixth Review Conference of States Parties to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention held in Geneva from 20 November to 8 December 2006.
On 8 December, states party agreed a three-part final document which included a final declaration where states declared their continued commitment to the convention and their determination to exclude completely the possibility of the use of biological weapons. States party reviewed the operation of the convention and expressed their views on all its articles in some detail. Importantly, states party agreed that the prohibitions in Article I, which defines the scope of the convention, apply to all scientific and technological developments in the life sciences and in other fields of science relevant to the convention that have no peaceful purpose.
The conference also:
endorsed the work done between 2003 and 2005 by states party on five specific topics relevant to the convention;
established a three-person implementation support unit based in the UN in Geneva, to perform specific tasks in support of states party and to serve as a focal point;
agreed that where possible states should submit their confidence-building measure (CBM) returns electronically and that they should be circulated between states party electronically;
agreed to a concerted effort by states party to persuade other states to join the convention; and
agreed a further inter-sessional work programme for 2007-10 to discuss:
ways and means to enhance national implementation, including enforcement of national legislation, strengthening of national institutions and co-ordination among national law enforcement institutions; and
regional and sub-regional co-operation on BTWC implementation;
national, regional and international measures to improve bio-safety and bio-security, including laboratory safety and security of pathogens and toxins; and
oversight, education, awareness-raising, and adoption and/or development of codes of conduct with the aim to prevent misuse in the context of advances in bio-science and technology research with the potential of use for purposes prohibited by the convention;
with a view to enhancing international co-operation, assistance and exchange in biological sciences and technology for peaceful purposes, promoting capacity building in the fields of disease surveillance, detection, diagnosis and containment of infectious diseases: first, forstates parties in need of assistance, identifying requirements and requests for capacity enhancement, and, secondly, from states partiesin a position to do so, and international organisations, opportunities for providing assistance related to these fields; and
provision of assistance and co-ordination with relevant organisations upon request by any state party in the case of alleged use of biological or toxin weapons, including improving national capabilities for disease surveillance, detection, and diagnosis and public health systems.
The above agreement provides a good basis for future collaboration and co-ordination between states party to the convention. The United Kingdom worked closely with European Union partners and with a wide range of other states in the preparatory phase and at the conference itself to build agreement on the middle ground, which ultimately provided the basis for the final consensus.
The Government are grateful to the president of the conference, Ambassador Masood Khan of Pakistan, for his tireless efforts to achieve such a positive outcome, which we believe represents a significant success for multilateralism in the non-proliferation and disarmament field.
Child Trust Funds
My honourable friend the Economic Secretary (Ed Balls) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The Government's child trust fund initiative is designed to strengthen the saving habit and ensure that at age 18 every young person will have access to a financial asset. The scheme will also help bring financial education to life for children, providing a practical and real life example of saving.
The latest child trust fund account opening figures, published on 4 January, highlight the continuing success of the child trust fund, with three-quarters of parents opening an account for their child. There are also early indications that more parents are now regularly saving for their children.
However, there is more to do to reach new parents and to encourage the further involvement of parents whose child has an account. Government will be launching child trust fund week on Monday 15 January to encourage parents and families to engage with their child's account, by saving for their child's future and by using the child trust fund to help teach children about money and saving.
I will write to all MPs later this week with details of new child trust fund account opening figures for their constituencies, in order to consider what more can be done locally to encourage parents to make the most of the opportunities that the child trust fund represents.
Freedom of Information
On 19 December 2006, the Department for Constitutional Affairs published The Freedom of Information Act 2000—Statistics on Implementation in Central Government: July to September 2006.
This is the seventh quarterly bulletin produced by the DCA monitoring the performance of central Government and associated bodies under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
Copies of these statistics have been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.
Pensions: Public Service
My right honourable friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Stephen Timms) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
Legislation governing public service pensions requires public service pensions to be increased annually by the same percentage as additional pensions (state earnings related pension and state second pension). The Minister of State for Pensions Reform announced on 7 December 2006 (Official Report, Commons, col. 451) that benefits such as additional pensions will be increased by 3.6 per cent, in line with the annual increase in the retail prices index up to September 2006. Public service pensions will therefore be increased by 3.6 per cent from 9 April 2007, except those which have been in payment for less than a year, which will receive a pro-rata increase.