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Freedom of Information Act

Matthew Taylor: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister on what date his Department established a working group of officials to prepare his Department for the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act 2000; and on what dates this committee has met since it was set up. [14772]

Mr. Leslie: An Open Government Unit was established in the Cabinet Office early in 2000, with responsibility for the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and other government openness initiatives within the Cabinet Office. the Unit will ensure that the Cabinet Office complies with the implementation plans set out in the paper placed in the Library of the House on 13 November 2001 by the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton), as stated in her answer on 13 November 2001, Official Report, column 692W.

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Ann Clwyd: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what (a) direct and (b) indirect involvement the Government have had in the supply of Russian weapons to (i) the Northern Alliance, (ii) its component factions and (iii) other non-state actors operating in and around Afghanistan since 11 September. [17951]

Mr. Bradshaw: The Government are involved in military operations in self-defence against international terrorists within Afghanistan. Information and plans about these operations are extremely sensitive, and it would not be in the public interest for them to be disclosed. In my opinion, exemptions 1(a) and (b) (Defence, Security and International Relations) of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information apply here.

General Affairs Council

Mr. Hood: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what the outcome was of the General Affairs Council held in Brussels on 19 and 20 November; what the Government's stance was on each issue discussed, including its voting record; and if he will make a statement. [18019]

Mr. Bradshaw: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I represented the UK at the General Affairs Council (GAC) in Brussels on 19 November.

The GAC adopted the sixteen 'A' Points listed in document number 14061/01. It also noted the resolutions, decisions and opinions adopted by the European Parliament and in its part-session of 22–25 October 2001 in its part-session in Strasbourg listed in document number 12865/01. Copies of both documents have been placed in the Libraries of both houses.

World Trade Organisation

Following a presentation by the Commission, the Council welcomed the decision, taken at the Fourth Ministerial Conference of the WTO in Doha on 9–14 November, to launch a new round of multilateral trade negotiations.

Work in other Council Formations

The Presidency drew attention to the Secretariat's report of the main issues being discussed by other sectoral meetings of the Council of Ministers.


The Commission presented its Enlargement Strategy Paper and the Regular Progress Reports on the thirteen candidates. The GAC will discuss these further at its next session on 10 December in preparation for the Laeken European Council.

Future of EU

The GAC discussed, on the basis of a Presidency non-paper, preparations for a Declaration to be made at the Laeken European Council. The Presidency concluded that the Declaration would comprise three sections:

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The Presidency agreed to present its draft declaration to member states, taking account of their contributions, before the Presidency's pre-Laeken tour of EU capitals. The themes identified in the Presidency's draft declaration would be presented in the form of open questions.

The Presidency identified some supplementary themes, which would be points of reference for the Laeken Declaration:

Ministers reviewed the situation in the Middle East in the light of contracts made during:

Ministers also completed preparations for the Second meeting of the EU-Israel Association Council, held on 20 November in Brussels, for which the GAC adopted an EU Declaration.


The GAC adopted Conclusions. These welcomed the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1378 and reiterated the EU's support for the efforts of the UN Special Representative, in particular the objective to establish rapidly a transitional administration in Afghanistan. The GAC recalled that such efforts were intended to install a legitimate, broad-based, multi-ethnic government committed to establishing human rights. The EU would continue to participate in seeking a political solution. The Union called on the Northern Alliance to exercise restraint and to facilitate the rapid establishment of a new administration which enjoyed both national and international support. Humanitarian aid remained an absolute priority and would be subject to closer co-ordination between member states, the Commission, specialist humanitarian agencies, the Afghanistan Support Group and non-governmental organisations.

While recognising the primary role of the Afghan people in determining their future, the GAC called on the UN and international financial institutions to devise a plan for the economic, social and institutional reconstruction of Afghanistan, which would help co-ordinate the efforts of the international community. The EU intended to participate actively in the meeting in Washington on 20 November.

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The GAC decided it would appoint a Special Representative of Afghanistan, to work under the authority of the High Representative.

Joint meeting with defence ministers: declaration on military capabilities

In a joint meeting with defence ministers, the GAC issued a Declaration which outlined an action plan to take forward work to meet the Helsinki headline goal (the ability, by 2003, for member states to be able to deploy up to 60,000 personnel within 60 days for military crisis management operations).

Joint meeting with interior ministers: declaration on police capabilities

In a joint meeting with interior ministers the GAC adopted a Police Conference Declaration stating that the policing targets set by the Feira European Council had been met. The target was for 5,000 police officers to be available for EU and other international policing missions by 2003, including 1,000 for rapid deployment.

EU internal action following the terrorist attacks in the USA

The GAC reviewed the work conducted to date and envisaged in implementing the action plan/road map on the fight against terrorism. The Council concluded that work would continue, notably regarding: EU/third country relations, non-proliferation, disarmament, arms exports and biological and chemical terrorism. The GAC stressed that implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1373 remained a priority. The GAC asked COREPER to examine a French proposal to create an international forum on the financing of terrorism.

Western Balkans

The GAC adopted conclusions which:

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Africa: Great Lakes and Etritrea

The GAC discussed the Ministerial troika mission to the Great Lakes Region to take place on 20–25 November. The GAC confirmed its support for the Lusaka process (concerning the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)) and for the holding of the Congolese dialogue under the Lusaka Agreement. It also welcomed the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1376 and endorsed the requests made to States which had still begun to withdraw their forces from the DRC in accordance with Resolution 1304.

The GAC also welcomed the donor information conference for the DRC to be held in Brussels on 20 December on the initiative of the World bank, further to the donor information conference held in Paris in July. It welcomed the meeting to be held in Brussels on 21 December, which would give impetus to the establishment of a regional trust fund for DDRRR (Disarmament, demobilisation, reintegration, resettlement and relocation).

The GAC welcomed the swearing in of a transitional government in Burundi on 1 November (in line with the Arusha process). The Council expressed its deep concern about the recent upsurge of violence and strongly condemned the attacks on the health centres and the kidnapping of schoolchildren by armed groups. The GAC recalled that it had adopted a Joint Action and released EUR 9.5 million to support the deployment of a special protection unit, provisionally composed of a South African battalion, and called again on the international community to contribute to that unit's funding. The GAC welcomed the Commission's signing of the National Indicative Programme on EU aid for Burundi.

The GAC welcomed the agreement between Presidents Museveni and Kagame of Rwanda and Uganda brokered by the United Kingdom, which aimed to reduce the sources of tension between the two countries and thus contribute to the region's stability. The Council also adopted an updated common position on Rwanda, further to that of September 2000. The Ministerial troika visit the region on 20–25 November would provide an opportunity to assess support in the States concerned for organising a Great Lakes Conference, under the aegis of the United Nations and African Union, once the Lusaka and Arusha peace processes had progressed sufficiently.

The GAC expressed deep concern at the situation in Eritrea, in particular persistent infringements of opposition rights, curbs on press freedom and the lack of information on the prominent figures who had been detained. It regretted that no solution had yet been found to the problem of the expulsion of the Italian Ambassador to Asmara, who was the representative of the European Union. It also regretted that the Eritrean Head of State, Mr. Isayas Afewerki, had not received the European Union Heads of Mission. The GAC said that talks should take place rapidly, in line with the Cotonou Agreement. These should address the EU's concerns, and set a timetable for the organisation of free and fair elections. The GAC noted that the relevant Council Bodies were examining the possible practical implications for EU aid if the current situation were to continue.

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Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs)

The GAC agreed a new Decision on the association of the overseas countries and territories with the European Community for the period 2001–07. This will result in increased EU aid for the UK's overseas territories.

Presidency meetings with EU institutions' Trade Unions

The Presidency briefed on its recent meetings with the EU Trade Unions. The meetings had covered the issues the Unions wanted the GAC to take into consideration when it addressed the Commission's personnel policy reform programme next year.

Voting Record

No formal votes were taken on the points under discussion at the GAC.

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