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Justice and Home Affairs Council

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Clarke): The Justice and Home Affairs Council was held on 1–2 December in Brussels. I chaired the meeting along with my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor. My noble friend Baroness Ashton of Upholland also represented the presidency.

I introduced the counter-terrorism coordinator's six-monthly report (doc 14734/1/05), the EU CT Strategy (doc 14469/4/05) and the EU Strategy and Action Plan to combat radicalisation and recruitment to terrorism (docs 14781/1/05 and 14782/05 RESTREINT). It was concluded that EU-level co-operation, including Europol and Eurojust, was an important component of member states' approaches to counter-terrorism. The six-monthly progress report and the EU Counter-Terrorism Strategy was sent to the European Council on 12 December. The Strategy and Action Plan on Radicalisation and Recruitment were also agreed.

Following on from discussions led by the Prime Minister at the Hampton Court summit, I emphasised that the presidency was very pleased that the issue of migration had been discussed, stressed its political importance and invited the Commission to present their communication "Priority actions for responding to the challenges of migration: first follow-up to Hampton Court". The Commission set out the three main pillars of the Communication: the need for a comprehensive approach covering all aspects of migration; the improvement of operational co-operation between member states, particularly in the Mediterranean; and the need to improve co-operation on migration with third countries of origin and transit, particularly sub-Saharan African countries.

Member states welcomed the communication emphasising its balanced and thorough approach. Member states who intervened strongly supported the focus on Africa and the Mediterranean, though some also noted that it was important not to forget the importance of other geographic regions, such as Russia and the Eastern Neighbourhood. Adequate resources were considered particularly important for demonstrating real political will to implement actions.

The Mixed Committee was chaired by Iceland and they invited the presidency to bring forward a compromise proposal on the Exchange of Information and Intelligence between Law Enforcement Authorities,
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including a new recital on the application of Article 11(2) (indicating that it should be interpreted so as to allow for the exchange of information on at least minor offences linked to terrorism and organised crime) and a Council declaration (noting that Article 11 would be reviewed on the basis of a report from the Commission). I was pleased to note agreement to a general approach on the draft Framework Decision (as in document 13986/5/05 CRIMORG 124) with the two changes agreed.

The draft Directive on Data Retention was discussed throughout the second day of the Council and I am pleased to be able to say that, on this vital piece of legislation for the EU's citizens, we were able to reach an agreement as to the Council's position. The new text proposed: language on the retention for the purpose of serious crime, where that term was defined by national law; the inclusion of data on unsuccessful call attempts (connected unanswered calls) only where it is stored or logged for business purposes; the exclusion of unconnected calls; limited provisions on data protection, data security; and sanctions against abuse of powers to access retained data. The European Parliament held a debate on data retention on 13 December and voted on 14 December to adopt amendments identical to those of the Council.

In the area of civil justice, the Council reached a general agreement on the text of the draft: Regulation Creating a European Order for Payment. Member states agreed that the proposal should be limited to cross-border cases. These are defined as being those in which at least one of the parties is domiciled or habitually resident in a member state other than the member state of the seized court. This is a significant decision with important implications for judicial co-operation in civil matters. It represents an emerging consensus among member states as to how "cross-border" should be defined. This will help to unblock progress on future measures. The European Parliament voted on 13 December to adopt amendments identical to those of the Council. This is the first complete civil justice procedure to be agreed by the EU and will make it easier to obtain judgments on uncontested claims across EU borders and so help the internal market grow further. Following the consensus reached at the Informal JHA Council in September, member states agreed to a number of key principles essential to a simplified, accelerated and cost-effective procedure for resolving small claims across European borders. Among other things, the procedure will be conducted primarily in writing, with modern communications technology used when a hearing is necessary; legal representation will not be mandatory; and costs will be kept proportionate to the claim. Finally, the Council agreed a common understanding on the draft Directive on Certain Aspects of Mediation in Civil and Commercial Matters. Promoting access to justice has been a key theme of the UK presidency. Civil justice issues have rightly achieved a higher priority than ever before in recent years, and the achievements in Council confirm the importance of their place in an agenda for citizens.

On the European Evidence Warrant, following a debate, member states were not able to remove all their reserves. The presidency concluded that it would not be possible to make further progress on the outstanding issues and remitted the dossier back to ambassadors.
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The incoming Austrian presidency said that it would give priority to completing work on the Framework Decision.

On Procedural Rights, the Council took note of the state of play on negotiations as in documents 14642/05 DROIPEN 59 and 14248/05 DROIPEN 54 REV 1. I noted that there had been substantial work on the draft Framework Decision over the last year but that it had not been possible to complete this within the UK presidency. Discussions are underway with the incoming Austrian presidency on how to take forward the need for a political debate on this dossier.

The Commission gave a brief update on the state of play in the technical development of SIS II at a central level indicating there were difficulties concerning the overall timetable of the project but that the Commission was committed to meeting the timetable. The Commission also noted it was open to making the draft legal instruments on the SIS II more flexible as some of the member states wished and was committed to ensuring the EU7 had sufficient financial support from the Schengen facility until SIS II was running in 2007.

Following a Commission presentation on the Interoperability of EU JHA Databases it was noted that they had been brought forward to meet the Council's timetable. The Commission considered both to be a contribution to making information available more widely with a view to implementing the principle of availability.

In the margins of the Council member stats also agreed intergovernmental Conclusions on security standards on identity cards. As an A point the Council also agreed the EU Action Plan on Human Trafficking. This is a focused plan which details the objectives, a timetable and assessment tools. It is aimed at establishing common standards best practices and mechanisms to prevent and combat trafficking in human beings, and will drive forward practical action and co-operation in the EU.

There was also agreement from JHA Ministers to commit to an additional €250 million for assistance and the provision of additional trainers and personnel to counter narcotics in Afghanistan. Ministers also agreed conclusions on the roll out of biometrics under the Visa Information System to countries of high risk.



The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): I have decided to reduce UK budget support this year to Uganda by £20 million. Some £15 million of this money will be used to provide humanitarian relief in northern Uganda, and £5 million will be held back until after the elections in February (when a decision will be taken on whether to disburse it). Overall this will cut UK Poverty Reduction Budget Support (PRBS) to Uganda to £30 million, below the 2004–05 figure of £35 million.

The UK and Ugandan Governments signed a new Poverty Reduction Budget Support (PRBS) arrangement in December 2004 for a grant of up to £145 million over three years. This arrangement links budget support to reforms detailed in Uganda's Poverty
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Eradication Action Plan (PEAP), including macro-economic management and governance. The criteria which guide our disbursement are drawn directly from the PEAP and include both the "prior actions" agreed for the World Bank's Poverty Reduction Support Credit (PRSC) and specific indicators on governance.

We disbursed £35 million out of our £40 million allocation in 2004–05, but cut £5 million due to concerns about the progress of Uganda's political transition leading up to multi-party elections in 2006.

The disbursement decision for 2005–06, which has just been made, follows a further assessment of Uganda's performance. In a number of respects this is still strong. Growth in 2004–05 was 6 per cent. and Uganda is on track to meet almost half of the MDG targets, although additional efforts will be required to achieve them all. Negotiations of the PRSC with the World Bank have now concluded. Ten of the eleven "prior actions" have been successfully completed, but worryingly a "prior action" on the execution of the budget has only been partially met because expenditure on public administration significantly overran. Our governance assessment has highlighted concerns about: delays in putting in place the legal basis for multi-party elections; the continuation of state financing for the Movement system in a new era of multi-party politics; and more recently, and particularly worryingly, about issues associated with the arrest and trial of the leader of the Forum for Democratic Change, one of the main parties that plans to contest the election.

The decision to reduce the PRBS commitment to £30 million in 2005–06 takes into account the need to ensure that Uganda's budget is still able to finance key expenditures that are crucial to improve the lives of poor people.

The decision to reallocate £15 million to humanitarian assistance provided through the UN reflects our concern about the serious humanitarian situation in northern Uganda. This is not being fully addressed by the Ugandan Government or the finance that has so far been committed to humanitarian agencies. Our additional assistance will be focused on providing food and improving access to basic services, especially health care.

A decision on the remaining £5 million will be made after the elections in February.

We will continue to monitor Uganda's performance closely. I will make a decision on our PRBS commitment to Uganda in 2006–07 in the light of our assessment of Uganda's continuing commitment to the partnership objectives set out in "Partnerships for Poverty Reduction: Rethinking Conditionally".

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