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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 14 November 2005


National Insurance Contributions Bill 2005

The Paymaster General (Dawn Primarolo): To assist in further consideration of the National Insurance Bill, introduced to Parliament on 27 October, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs is today publishing draft regulations in respect of:

Copies of the draft regulations have been placed in the Library of the House and will also be available on the HMRC website.


Objects of Cultural Interest (Export Controls)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. David Lammy): I have today laid before both Houses of Parliament the revised Statutory Guidance on the Criteria to be taken into consideration when making a decision about whether or not to grant an export licence, as required under the Export Control Act 2002.


International Security Assistance Force

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): As previously announced by the Prime Minister, Official Report, 30 June 2004, column 286, the United Kingdom is committed to deploy the Headquarters Group of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps to lead the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) from May 2006 to February 2007. In addition, the Secretary of State for Defence has previously informed the House, Official Report, 7 July 2005, column 479, of preliminary plans to support the expansion of ISAF by establishing a British-led Provincial Reconstruction Team in the province of Helmand, in Southern Afghanistan. The aim of both would be to help restore Afghanistan as a secure and stable state, and prevent the country again becoming a haven for global terrorists.
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The ISAF is led by NATO, which is currently planning the expansion of the ISAF into the South and East of Afghanistan. Once these plans mature, individual Allies, including the United Kingdom, will be able to take final decisions on deployment and on the nature of the capabilities that may be required.

In advance of this, however, it is sensible to begin British preparations for a potential deployment. These are necessarily based upon national planning assumptions which may need to be adapted in the light of NATO's conclusions and the final positions taken by individual allies and partners, including the UK.

In the first instance, the tempo of work to prepare the ground in Helmand for a possible British deployment is being increased. These activities are initially likely to involve some 250 troops.

Preparations are also underway in the United Kingdom. Some units, predominantly drawn from 16 Air Assault Brigade and the Joint Helicopter Command, will shortly commence collective training on a contingency basis. Similarly, the procurement of certain equipment enhancements that may be needed for a deployment of this nature is underway.

These necessary measures are prudent military preparations for a possible future deployment. They do not mean that these units or capabilities will be committed to Southern Afghanistan in 2006. No final decisions have yet been made. Should the United Kingdom decide to commit additional forces to the ISAF in 2006, a full statement will then be made to the House as soon as possible.

Operations in Afghanistan

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): With the expiry of the call-out order made last October, a new order has been made under Section 54 of the Reserve forces Act 1996 to enable Reservists to continue to be called out into service to support operations in Afghanistan. The new order is effective until 31 October 2006. Reservists have made a valuable contribution to operations in that country and some 63 Reservists were called out under the order made last year.


Education and Youth Council

The Minister for Higher Education and Lifelong Learning (Bill Rammell): The Secretary of State for Education and Skills will be chairing the Education and Youth Council which will be held in Brussels on 15 November. I will represent the UK during the Education Council and Peter Peacock, Scottish Minister for Children and Young People, will represent the UK during the Youth Council.

There are four substantive items on the education agenda in the morning.

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The Youth Council will take place after lunch and Ministers will be asked to:


EU Development Ministers (Informal Meeting)

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): On 23 and 24 October I chaired a meeting as Presidency of EU Development Ministers in Leeds. The agenda items were as follows:

South Asian Earthquake:

Jan Egeland, the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, briefed Ministers on the urgent need to respond to the South Asian earthquake. He called for more aid, particularly for shelter and helicopters. Ministers agreed that more money and help needs to be given and reiterated that coordination is vital both in the humanitarian phase and as reconstruction begins. Commissioner Louis Michel announced that the Commission had asked the European Parliament to approve the release of an additional €80 million of EC funds in 2005–06 of which €30 million would be for humanitarian aid and the remainder for reconstruction. This would be in addition to the €110 million of support already committed by Member States and the Commission. Further pledges were expected at a UN meeting in Geneva on 26 October. Ministers also agreed to work to strengthen the EU and UN's capacity to respond to future disasters.

Reform of the International Architecture:

Ministers discussed the need to ensure that the international development architecture is fully equipped to respond to the challenge of delivering more and better aid to help maximise progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals. There was recognition of the EU's leading role in the international development system and therefore the leading role it should play in shaping its future—particularly as the EU will account for two-thirds of DAC aid by 2010.
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Mark Malloch Brown, the UN Secretary General's Chief of Staff confirmed that the UN Secretary General would appoint a team of experts to develop a proposal, in consultation with development partners and donors including the EU, for the reform of the UN development and operational architecture. This could include proposals for more tightly managed development, humanitarian and environmental entities. Ministers strongly supported the need to signal a high level of interest in, and political support for, reform to the international development system.

Ministers noted the paper circulated by the Netherlands on UN reform, but agreed that engagement should not be limited to the core group of EU and non-EU countries, referred to in the paper as the "G13". Instead, the EU as a whole should actively support UN reform, including the strengthening of country level Resident Coordinators. Austria confirmed its intention to take forward work on UN reform during its Presidency of the EU.

Ministers also discussed EU aid effectiveness, noting the importance of providing sustainable and predictable funding and the need to address issues of aid distribution. The Presidency confirmed that the 21–22 November General Affairs and External Relations Council would include the annual Orientation Debate on how to improve and monitor the effectiveness of European aid.

Putting Trade at the Service of Development:

Peter Mandelson, European Commissioner for External Trade, emphasised the importance of achieving a good outcome for developing countries from the Doha Development Round. He urged Development Ministers to help demonstrate that the EU is ready to put trade at the service of development, reinforcing Europe's role as a force for good in the world. That meant we needed to deliver on the obligations stemming from last year's Framework Agreement, including providing our partners significantly improved agricultural market access. He highlighted the need to push hard for a development "down payment" for Hong Kong. This should include other OECD countries following the EU's lead in giving Everything But Arms (EBA) access to all Least Developed Countries; achieving the right degree of differentiation in trade rules; and commitment to dedicate significantly increased resources—at EU and national levels—to help poorer countries build their capacity to trade.

Development ministers agreed that whilst the negotiating specifics are clearly a matter for trade colleagues, they have an important role to play in ensuring priority concerns of developing countries are addressed both before and after the WTO Ministerial in Hong Kong.

Ministers agreed on: the importance of increased market access for products in which developing countries have comparative advantage, especially agricultural products; the need for all agreements to reflect the different levels of development of developing countries and that there are millions of poor people working in middle income developing countries, especially in agriculture; and that South—South trade has to be part of the solution for development in least developed countries, but recognised that this is no substitute for action by the EU. Ministers highlighted
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the importance of an urgent WTO response to the plight of West African cotton producers, as set out in a paper circulated by France.

Ministers emphasised the importance of ensuring Economic Partnership Agreements are successful development tools and that an effective mechanism for monitoring implementation is needed as soon as possible. Ministers agreed that increasing support to help developing countries build their capacity to trade is a high priority and called for the Presidency and Commission to bring forward a proposal on the EU's possible contribution to an enhanced aid for trade package ahead of Hong Kong. Ministers also noted that many developing countries will look at sugar as a test of EU support for their concerns and that transitional assistance for sugar producers needed to be made available in 2006.

Development Policy Statement (DPS):

Discussions on the Development Policy Statement clarified some important issues. There was consensus that poverty eradication remains the primary objective, while globalisation provides the context within which development is pursued. There was broad agreement that whilst our development objectives for working in both Low Income Countries and Middle Income Countries are the same, the way in which we implement and approach development assistance will be different, according to partner countries' situations and needs.

There was agreement on the need for a shared EU vision for development and for the EU to work together more effectively and more coherently, in line with the Paris Declaration. Doubts were expressed on the need for, and feasibility of, a single thematic framework for all EU development activities. However, it was important to indicate in a comprehensive way common objectives and principles, and a shared understanding of the breadth of activities needed to eradicate poverty.

There was broad support for the EC to underline its areas of excellence; building on its strengths and experiences and to identify where at Community level we need to further develop expertise. However, there was recognition that this should not restrict the Commission from working in other areas. What is needed is a balance between the need to concentrate efforts in country, whilst retaining the flexibility to respond to a range of partner countries' priorities.

Discussions on the Development Policy Statement will continue at working level, with the aim of reaching consensus on a tripartite statement between the Council, Commission and Parliament by November.

EU-Africa Partnership:

Donald Kaberuka, President of the African Development Bank emphasized the need for the EU Strategy to identify the comparative advantage of EU institutions within the international donor community; to recognise the importance of anchor countries because of their influence on low-income countries; and, to work through and build capacity in existing African institutions. Ministers agreed that strengthening African institutions was particularly important.
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Ministers welcomed the Commission's Africa Communication, which will form an integral part of the overall EU Strategy for Africa to be agreed at the December European Council. Ministers agreed that the November GAERC should adopt positive Conclusions—broadly in line with the outline discussed by COREPER the previous week—on the Communication. Ministers highlighted the importance of peace, security and migration and other issues, and the need to ensure we get the right balance between the different elements. Ministers noted that enhancing political dialogue was a key element, including participation of civil society and parliamentarians in Africa. Ministers also agreed on the need to follow up and effectively monitor implementation of EU commitments on more and better aid.

European Development Fund (EDF):

There was agreement that the Council should consider the non-financial elements, of a possible EDF 10, especially in relation to effectiveness, without prejudice to the outcome of discussions about the 2007–13 Financial Perspective (EC Budget).

Sudan /Darfur:

There was agreement that both the UN presence in Southern Sudan and the African Union force (AMIS) in Darfur need strengthening and that capacity building of the African Union to manage peacekeeping operations was essential. Delegations agreed that the benefits of the comprehensive peace agreement were not yet being felt in Sudan, which threatened hopes for long-term peace. All atrocities were unacceptable. Member States agreed to give any evidence of specific atrocities to the Sanctions Committee and the International Criminal Court.

Food Crisis in Southern Africa:

Delegations agreed that the EU should continue to provide significant support to countries affected by food shortages in Southern Africa. Zimbabwe was highlighted as a particularly difficult case following the misreporting of harvest figures. Commissioner Louis Michel suggested that future EDF allocation criteria should reflect food security levels.


Delegations noted with regret that relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea remained difficult, as did the situation in Ethiopia following the elections.


Social Fund

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. James Plaskitt): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be making a number of minor changes to the discretionary social fund, with effect from 14 November 2005. The changes to the fund are minor clarifications of guidance and directions, and, in the main, are consequential to legislative changes made in respect of other social security benefits.

Details of the changes have been placed in the Library.