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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 2 December 2002

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

Local Government Reviews (Consultation)

The Minister for Local Government and the Regions (Mr. Nick Raynsford): I am today launching a soundings exercise on the level of interest in each English region (outside London) in holding a referendum about establishing an elected regional assembly. I will be writing to all Members in the English regions outside London about the soundings exercise to invite their views. Copies of the document have also been deposited in the Vote Office for convenience.

I am also publishing today, for consultation, a draft of the guidance to the Boundary Committee for England on local government reviews.

Copies of the soundings and consultation papers have been deposited in the House Libraries. They are also available on the ODPM web site. Responses to both the soundings exercise and the consultation on the guidance are requested by 3 March 2003.

The Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill currently before Parliament enables the Secretary of State, by order, to specify the region(s) to hold a referendum about establishing an elected regional assembly. Before the Secretary of State can order a referendum, the Bill requires that the Boundary Committee for England has been directed to carry out, and has made recommendations arising out of, a local government review of the region. The level of interest in holding a referendum will be a key factor in deciding where a review is to be carried out. So this policy gives people a choice.

Our proposals for elected regional assemblies will increase democracy, not bureaucracy. In regions where people vote to have an elected assembly we intend to streamline government by moving to a wholly unitary local government structure. Before an order causing a referendum to be held in the region can be made, the Boundary Committee will have conducted a review of local government in the region and made its recommendations for the best unitary structure for those parts of the region that currently have both a county and district council.

DEFENCE

Afghanistan (International Security Assistance Force)

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): We welcome the decision by the United Nations' Security Council on 27 November 2002 to adopt Resolution 1444, extending the authority of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to deploy for a further twelve months, from 20 December 2002. The extension comes in

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recognition of the valuable work undertaken by the ISAF in helping to provide a secure environment in Kabul, allowing the Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan, headed by President Karzai, to pursue the difficult task of rebuilding the country.

The new Resolution reaffirms the remit of the ISAF as covering Kabul and its immediate environs. The Resolution recognizes that security within Afghanistan is primarily a matter for the Afghans themselves and commends their efforts to establish representative, professional and multi-ethnic security forces.

Germany and the Netherlands have offered to assume jointly the role of ISAF Lead Nation upon the completion of Turkey's tenure in command. The United Kingdom anticipates remaining a significant contributor to the ISAF. At a Force Generation Conference on 27 November, the United Kingdom offered to provide Staff Officers, an Infantry Company and a Bulk Fuel Installation. Together with their associated support forces, these total over three hundred troops, which is consistent in size with our current deployment.

Medical Preparedness

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): Smallpox is a deadly and highly contagious disease that could be used as a biological weapon. Currently, we do not assess that there is any immediate threat to our Armed Forces from smallpox. But the consequences of any release of smallpox could be very serious, so we continue to monitor the threat closely, and take precautions.

We continually review the package of defensive measures against chemical and biological attack available to our armed forces, which includes vaccination. We have decided to offer vaccination against smallpox to a small number of specialist military personnel who face a greater risk of exposure to smallpox by virtue of their specialisation. This will include those NBC specialists and specialist medical personnel who would form the spearhead of our defensive response, including vaccination teams, in the event of a confirmed, suspected or threatened release of smallpox. The Department of Health, with whom we are working closely, is planning to vaccinate a similar cohort of healthcare professionals.

As with other vaccines, vaccination against smallpox will be voluntary and on the basis of informed consent.

This work has been taken forward under the cross-Governmental Civil Contingency machinery for which the Home Secretary has overall responsibility.

FOREIGN AND COMMONWEALTH AFFAIRS

Council of the European Union

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane):

DECEMBER 2—Brussels—Meeting on Macro Economic Dialogue (Ministerial Troika)

3—Brussels—ECOFIN

2–3—Brussels—Employment, Social Policy, Health & Consumer Affairs Council

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4—Brussels—Meeting of the Presidium

5–6—Brussels—Transport, Telecom & Energy Council

9—Brussels—General Affairs Council

9–10—Brussels—Environment Council

12–13—Copenhagen—European Council

16–19—Brussels—Agricultural & Fisheries Council

19—Brussels—Meeting of the Presidium

20—Brussels—Justice & Home Affairs & Civil Protection Council

20–21—Brussels—Convention Plenary—External Action & Defence Working Group Conclusions

DateLocationEvent
JANUARY
9BrusselsMeeting of the Praesidium
9BrusselsAgriculture & Fisheries Council (to be confirmed)
16BrusselsMeeting of the Praesidium
20BrusselsEUROGOUP (evening)
20BrusselsConvention Plenary
20–21BrusselsAgriculture & Fisheries Council
21BrusselsECOFIN
24NafplionEmployment Council (Ministerial Informal)
27–28BrusselsGeneral Affairs & External Relations Council
28BrusselsEU-ASEAN Ministerial
30BrusselsMeeting of the Praesidium
FEBRUARY
5BrusselsMeeting of the Praesidium
6–7BrusselsConvention Plenary
10–11BrusselsAGRICULTURE & FISHERIES Council (to be confirmed)
13BrusselsMeeting of the Praesidium
17BrusselsEUROGROUP (evening)
18BrusselsECOFIN
20BrusselsEDUCATION, YOUTH & CULTURE Council (to be confirmed)
22ThessalonikiEnergy Council (Ministerial Informal)
24–25BrusselsGeneral Affairs & External Relations Council Agriculture & Fisheries
26BrusselsMeeting of the Praesidium
27–28BrusselsConvention Plenary
27–28BrusselsJustice & Home Affairs Council
28BrusselsEmployment, Social Policy, Health & Consumer Affairs Council
MARCH
1–2IoanninaInformal Education
3BrusselsCompetitiveness Council
4BrusselsEnvironment Council
6BrusselsMeeting of the Praesidium
6LuxembourgEmployment, Social Policy, Health & Consumer Affairs Council
6LuxembourgEUROGROUP (evening)
7LuxembourgECOFIN
7LuxembourgTransport, Telecom & Energy Council
13BrusselsMeeting of the Praesidium
14–15Athens(Informal Defence Meeting)
17–18BrusselsConvention Plenary
17–18LuxembourgAgriculture & Fisheries Council
18–19LuxembourgGeneral Affairs & External Relations Council
21BrusselsEuropean Council
27BrusselsMeeting of the Praesidium
27VeriaJustice and Home Affairs Council (Ministerial Informal)
27–28LuxembourgTransport, Telecom & Energy Council
27–28AthensEU-Rio Group, EU-MERCOSUR
28–29VeriaInformal Justice & Home Affairs (Veria)
31BrusselsAgriculture & Fisheries council (to be confirmed)
APRIL
2BrusselsMeeting of the Praesidium
3–4BrusselsConvention Plenary
4BrusselsJustice & Home Affairs
4–6Hania (Crete)Informal ECOFIN (Ministerial)
5LisbonEurope—Africa Summit
5IoanninaMinisterial Meeting on Education (Informal)
10BrusselsMeeting of the Praesidium
11–13ChaniaECOFIN (Informal)
14BrusselsGeneral Affairs & External Relations
14BrusselsAgriculture & Fisheries
16AthensEuropean Conference
16AthensSignature Of The Accession (Provisional Date)
23BrusselsMeeting of the Praesidium
24–25BrusselsConvention Plenary
MAY
2–4(Greece)Gymnich (Informal Foreign Ministers)
5AthensInformal Environment (Ministerial)
5–6BrusselsEducation, Youth & Culture Council (to be confirmed)
8BrusselsMeeting of the Praesidium
12–13CorfuAgriculture (Ministerial Informal)
12–13BrusselsCompetitiveness
12BrusselsEUROGROUP
13BrusselsECOFIN
14BrusselsMeeting of the Praesidium
14BrusselsTransport, Telecom & Energy Council
15–16BrusselsConvention Plenary
16BrusselsEU—ACP Ministerial
16–17HalkidikiInformal Regional Policy (Ministerial)
16–18Cruise off GreeceInformal Transport & Merchant Marine (Ministerial)
17BrusselsEU—W. Balkans (Zagreb Process)
19BrusselsGeneral Affairs & External Relations (+ Defence)
20BrusselsGeneral Affairs & External Relations
22BrusselsMeeting of the Praesidium
24ThessalonikiInformal Culture (Ministerial)
26–27BrusselsAgriculture & Fisheries Council
26–27AthensEUROMED Conference (Mid Term Ministerial)
27BrusselsEnvironment Council
28BrusselsMeeting of the Praesidium
30–31BrusselsConvention Plenary
31St. PetersburgEU—Russia Summit
JUNE
2BrusselsEUROGROUP
2–3AlexandroupoliDevelopment Co-operation (Ministerial Informal)
2–3BrusselsTransport, Telecom & Energy Council
a
3BrusselsECOFIN
4BrusselsMeeting of the Presidium
5–6BrusselsConvention Pleanry
5–6BrusselsJustice & Home Affairs Council
5–6BrusselsEmployment, Social Policy, Health & Consumer Affairs Council
11BrusselsMeeting of the Presidium
11–12BrusselsAgriculture & Fisheries Council
12–13BrusselsConvention Plenary
17–18BrusselsGeneral Affairs & External Relations
20–21ThessalonikiEuropean Council
22BrusselsGeneral Affairs & External Relations
24BrusselsEmployment, Social Policy, Health & Consumer Affairs Council

2 Dec 2002 : Column 63WS


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