Monday 30 April 2007
EU: General Affairs and External Relations Council
My right honourable friend the Minister for Europe (Geoff Hoon) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary (Margaret Beckett) and Sir John Grant (UK permanent representative to the EU) represented the UK at the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) in Luxembourg.
The agenda items covered were as follows:
World Trade Organisation/Doha Development Round
The External Relations Commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, briefed the council on negotiations between the G4 (EU, United States, Brazil and India) and with the G6 (the G4 and Australia and Japan) in New Delhi on 11 and 12 April.
Gulf Co-operation Council
The Commission briefed the council on negotiations between the EU and the Gulf Co-operation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) on a free trade agreement.
The council also took note of preparations for the EU-Gulf Co-operation Council Ministerial in Riyadh on 8 May.
The presidency briefed the council on negotiations with the US ahead of the summit on 30 April, including plans for a political declaration and proposals for strengthening transatlantic economic relations and energy and climate change.
There was a broad-ranging discussion in the council focusing on energy and climate change and visa waiver arrangements.
My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary intervened to underline the Government’s support for the presidency’s efforts in taking forward work on climate change, briefed partners on the recent UN Security Council debate on climate security and suggested Ministers look further at ways the EU could take forward work in this area.
The council discussed Sudan on the basis of a briefing by the UN special envoy for Darfur, Jan Eliasson, who underlined the EU’s role in humanitarian, development and peacekeeping assistance, including financing for the African Union Mission in Sudan. Eliasson also welcomed the Government’s initiative to discuss the situation in Sudan at the UN Security Council last week.
The council welcomed the agreement between the Sudanese Government, the UN and the African Union on the implementation of the UN’s heavy support package, the second stage of a three-stage plan to restore peace to the Darfur region. The Government and other member states supported the need to continue diplomatic engagement with the Sudanese to accept the third stage, the deployment of a full African Union/UN peacekeeping force, as well as the ceasefire and reinvigorated political process agreed in Addis Ababa last November. However, if the Sudanese Government failed to comply, the EU should be prepared to consider further measures. There was broad support for this approach in the council.
The council adopted conclusions expressing concern at the appalling security and humanitarian situation in Darfur, and stressing the urgent need for an inclusive political agreement to solve the conflict while reiterating the council’s readiness to consider further measures, notably, in the UN framework, against any party which obstructs implementation of the agreements already reached with the Government of Sudan.
The council discussed the deteriorating human rights and political situation in Zimbabwe while welcoming the mandate given to South African President Mbeki by the Southern African Development Community to mediate between the opposition and the Government.
Following a UK proposal, the council adopted conclusions extending the EU’s visa ban list to include two additional individuals with responsibility for recent violence and human rights abuses.
The council discussed the renewed violence in Somalia and adopted conclusions stressing the importance of implementing United Nations Security Council Resolution 1744 to address the political, security and humanitarian challenges faced in Somalia, expressing grave concern at the escalation of the conflict, and urging the Transitional Federal Government to convene the National Reconciliation Congress as soon as possible. The conclusions also reaffirm the council’s support for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) while recalling the EU’s contribution of €15 million.
The presidency briefed the council on the draft EU central Asia strategy, including the Foreign Ministers’ meeting with the five central Asian countries in Astana on 27 and 28 March.
The council adopted conclusions taking note of the second round of expert talks with Uzbekistan on Andizhan in Tashkent on 2 and 3 April and decided to enter into a regular, result-oriented human rights dialogue with Uzbekistan. The Government support these talks as a means of encouraging Uzbekistan to make concrete progress on human rights concerns.
The council discussed relations with Iran.
The high representative for the common foreign and security policy, Javier Solana, briefed the council on his contacts with Ali Larijani, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.
My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary briefed the council on the lessons learned from the capture of the naval personnel, emphasising the impact of strong international pressure, and thanked partners for their support.
The council also adopted a common position implementing United Nations Security Council Resolution 1747 and a council decision applying the travel ban and assets freeze in the regulation to individuals and entities who meet the UN criteria in Resolutions 1737 and 1747 but who have not been designated by the UN. The common position also introduces a full formal EU arms embargo.
Middle East Peace Process
The council discussed the Middle East peace process and looked forward to further work by the quartet, including co-operation with Arab partners.
The council adopted conclusions: stressing the need for continuing support to the Palestinian institutions; endorsing the extension of the Temporary International Mechanism for a further three months; and welcoming the Arab peace initiative as a major element in moving the political process forward, and the ongoing dialogue between President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert. The UK supports the Commission’s work to build Palestinian institutional capacity as a practical way for the EU to support the political process. The conclusions also demanded the immediate and unconditional release of Alan Johnston.
The council discussed Lebanon and the Hariri tribunal.
International Moratorium on the Death Penalty
The council discussed EU action on a global moratorium and eventual abolition of the death penalty. The council will assess the outcome of an EU action plan adopted in February before deciding on possible next steps.
External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner highlighted the possibility of renewed talks with Libya on the case of the Bulgarian medics.
EU: Health Ministers Informal Meeting
My right honourable friend the Minister of State (Rosie Winterton) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The informal meeting of EU Health Ministers took place on 19 and 20 April in Aachen. I represented the UK. Items on the agenda were health services consultation and pandemic influenza preparedness. The vaccine for the human papiloma virus (HPV) was raised under any other business.
On the health services consultation, the Commission presented a summary of the responses to the consultation on a community framework for health services. Member states reiterated the key points of their own responses. There was broad support among member states for some community-level action combining both legislative elements and practical measures.
On pandemic influenza preparedness, the Commission reported on the recent findings of the European Centre of Disease Control on pandemic preparedness in the EU. The presidency noted that while important progress had been made, there was still more to be done.
Luxembourg raised the issue of the HPV vaccine due to concerns that misleading information about it could jeopardise preventive work. Ministers from Portugal and Spain echoed these concerns. The Commission noted that an expert working group would be looking at the new vaccine.
Financial Services Authority
My honourable friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Ed Balls) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I have laid before both Houses of Parliament a report into the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which the Financial Services Authority (FSA) has used its resources, when discharging its statutory functions. This review was undertaken by the National Audit Office and is the first to be carried out under Section 12 of the Financial Services and Markets Act—the Act that established the FSA, five years ago.
The remit of the review—which was arrived at following consultation with key stakeholders of the FSA—addresses five broad areas of the authority's work:
internal performance management;
external joint-working within the UK;
influencing and representation internationally;
financial crime; and
Copies of the report are available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.
The 10th annual review of the Government Chemist has been received. The review will be laid before the Scottish Parliament and copies will be placed in the Libraries of the House plus those of the devolved Administrations in Wales and Northern Ireland.
Iraq: Basra Incident of 6 May 2006
My right honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Adam Ingram) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I am announcing today the findings of a board of inquiry (BOI) into the tragic incident in Basra, Iraq, on 6 May 2006 when a Lynx helicopter based at Basra air station crashed, killing all five of its occupants— Wing Commander Coxen, Lieutenant Commander Chapman, Flight Lieutenant Mulvihill, Captain Dobson and Marine Collins. I pay tribute to them, and to the brave men and women of our Armed Forces, who continue to face hostile conditions on a daily basis. Our thoughts are with all their families and friends.
I will arrange for copies of the military air accident summary and the main board of inquiry, redacted in accordance with guidance on the Freedom of Information Act and the Data Protection Act, to be placed in the Library of the House. Both documents will also be published on the MoD website at www.foi.mod.uk.
The key conclusion of the BOI is that the Lynx was shot down by a surface-to-air missile (using a man-portable air defence system) fired from the ground.
The next of kin have been informed of the board’s conclusions and have been presented with copies of the relevant documentation.
This information has also been provided to the Oxfordshire assistant deputy coroner who is scheduled to hear the inquest into the deaths of these service personnel.
The BOI made seven recommendations. Action has been taken to implement all the board's recommendations, and those arising from the subsequent technical investigation, details of which I am not making public in order to protect the security and operational effectiveness of our Armed Forces.
Medical Training Application Service
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health (Patricia Hewitt) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The department has been made aware of an incident on 25 April, whereby personal data held on the Medical Training Application Service (MTAS) were made available through unauthorised channels.
The security breach concerned the application details of medical students applying to the foundation programme.
This breach had no impact on the current recruitment of junior doctors into specialty training.
The data were accessible only for a short time on 25 April. Details of the website address were leaked to the media. The MTAS team removed the data as soon as the error was brought to their attention. The department, of course, deplores such leaks.
On 26 April the department was made aware of some problems on the MTAS site. We have therefore decided to suspend the site while we perform full independent security tests. We expect the suspension to have minimal impact on the current round of recruitment into specialty training.
We take security very seriously and the breaches are under urgent investigation by the department. This investigation will seek to establish how the security breaches arose, who accessed any data without authorisation and what steps need to be taken to prevent a recurrence.
I will keep the House updated on further developments.
Mental Capacity Act 2005: Fees
Today the Government are publishing the government response to the consultation on the fees for the new Court of Protection and the Office of the Public Guardian, both established under the Mental Capacity Act 2005. The consultation ended on 29 November 2006 and 65 responses were received. The consultation response provides a summary of responses and the next steps in light of the consultation. Copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
The new Court of Protection will have jurisdiction to deal with decision-making for adults who lack capacity. The new statutory Office of the Public Guardian will maintain registers of deputies and attorneys, supervise deputies in their duties and deal with representations about the way attorneys and deputies are exercising their powers.
Ministry of Defence: Contracts
My right honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Adam Ingram) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The Ministry of Defence has agreed to lower the threshold for the advertising of MoD contracts. This will give greater encouragement to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to enter MoD business and is designed to further enhance the visibility and transparency of the UK defence equipment market.
Currently “non-warlike” requirements valued in excess of £93,000 are advertised in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) and the MoD Defence Contracts Bulletin. “Warlike” requirements are only advertised in the bulletin if their value exceeds £500,000. In addition to this, “warlike” requirements exceeding £685,000 (€1 million) are advertised on the European Defence Agency's electronic bulletin board.
The changes to this will be phased in. On 30 April 2007, the threshold for “warlike” requirements will be lowered to £93,000. On 30 June 2007, this threshold will be lowered once more to £40,000. The threshold for “non-warlike” requirements will also be reduced to £40,000 on 30 June 2007. Furthermore, from 30 June, MoD project teams will be encouraged to consider advertising requirements with values as low as £20,000. This change could generate up to 7,000 additional adverts a year.
In line with one of the key themes of the defence industrial strategy, this is one of a range of initiatives aimed at making the MoD easier for small and medium companies to do business with. The MoD is committed to being SME-friendly, as these companies play a crucial role in UK defence business and represent a significant core of direct suppliers to the department. For example, in 2005 just over half of the defence contracts let were placed with SMEs, with a value of over half a billion pounds. Consequently this change has been welcomed by the defence trade associations.
The MoD already leads the way in the transparency of its tender and contract opportunities and procedures. In instigating the change we are being consistent with the general direction of EU policy and the work of the Office of Government Commerce. This change complements the European Defence Agency Code of Best Practice in the Supply Chain as well as the recently launched electronic bulletin board step 2. It is hoped that this will encourage similar moves by our European colleagues. It is a significant development and one which it is hoped will promote a dynamic and competitive supplier base.