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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 17 January 2006


RAF Communications Hub

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): Air Combat Service Support Units provide logistics and communications support to RAF aircraft and units on deployed operations. In July 2004 we announced that we had decided to form these units into two hubs: a logistics hub and a communications hub, to enable the more effective use of defence resources. Accordingly, logistics units would move to RAF Wittering (Cambridgeshire); and communications units would move to RAF Scampton (Lincolnshire) alongside Air Surveillance and Control System (ASACS) units.

The build up of the logistics hub at RAF Wittering has proceeded well and is scheduled to be completed by April 2006. Increased site preparation cost estimates at RAF Scampton have caused us to review whether this location remained the best value for money option for a communications hub. This work has now concluded and, subject to Trades Unions consultation, I have decided that the RAF communications hub will be formed at RAF Leeming (North Yorkshire) instead of RAF Scampton as this will be significantly more cost effective.

This means that communications personnel would move from RAF Sealand to RAF Leeming by April 2006. Communications personnel from RAF Brize Norton and RAF High Wycombe would move to RAF Leeming in 2007. The future location of ASACS units, currently at RAF Scampton, RAF Kirton-in-Lindsey and RAF Boulmer, will be the subject of further work.


Agriculture and Fisheries Council

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): I chaired the Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 20 December for the agriculture items on the agenda. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw) chaired the fisheries items and the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight) represented the United Kingdom. The Scottish Environment and Rural Affairs Minister (Ross Finnie), also attended.

The Council unanimously adopted a revised directive on measures to control and eradicate avian influenza and reached unanimous political agreement on funding for avian influenza controls.
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In the absence of a qualified majority in favour or against, the Council was unable to reach decisions on the Commission's proposal to authorise the placing on the market of food produced from genetically modified maize variety 1507. In the absence of Council decisions, therefore, the Commission is now free to implement its proposal under its own competence.

The Council adopted conclusions on the Commission's Communication on Simplification and Better Regulation for the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), stressing actions to deliver real reductions in administrative burdens in the agriculture sector.

The Council adopted the first stage of the European Community and United States agreement on trade in wine, a major achievement after 20 years of negotiation with the EU's biggest export market.

At the request of Germany, the Council discussed the implementation of cross compliance rules under the CAP single payment scheme. In response to concerns from member states the Commission recommended the problem be looked at during the review of cross compliance in 2007.

The Council reached agreement on total allowable catches and quotas for fishing in the Baltic sea and on total allowable catches (TACS) and quotas and related measures in waters outside the Baltic (the latter regulation covers the waters in which the UK has a fishing interest).

The Baltic regulation also included effort control measures, mainly in the form of seasonal closures of parts of the Baltic to protect cod.

The wider regulation included further action to protect cod stocks including modest cuts in days for the whitefish fleet and larger cuts for the smaller mesh sectors which have high levels of discards (mainly beam trawlers and nephrops trawlers). There were also 15 per cent. cuts in cod TACs. Among the other significant changes were large increases in TACs for the important nephrops fisheries and severe restrictions on the industrial fishery for North sea sandeels. The regulation imposes a cut in effort on deep sea stocks and a ban on the use of fixed nets in deep waters to the west of Ireland. All member states agreed the two regulations apart from Sweden who voted against the Baltic regulation and abstained on the general TACs and quota regulation.

Prior to the Council an agreement—after six years of negotiation—had been reached between the EU, Norway, Iceland and the Faroes on a total allowable catch and split of the TAC for blue whiting. The Council agreed a split of the agreed EU share between the interested countries.

The council reached unanimous political agreement on recovery measures for Bay of Biscay sole.

Under "Any Other Business", the Fisheries Commissioner presented an action plan for simplifying and improving the Common Fisheries Policy in 2006–08.

The Health and Consumer Affairs Commissioner updated the Council on the recent outbreaks of avian influenza in Ukraine and Romania. He also gave an update on the development of the Commission's action plan on animal welfare which will be published in January.
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Spain, supported by Portugal and Greece called on the Commission to provide assistance to neighbouring third countries, particularly those in North Africa, to combat animal diseases particularly bluetongue and rabies. Discussions would continue in 2006.

Italy, supported by Spain, Germany, The Netherlands, Greece, Portugal, Poland, Hungary, Latvia and Malta, asked the Commission to act to improve the state of the poultrymeat market, following a drop in sales after the avian influenza outbreak. The Commission said it had increased both the level and the product coverage of export refunds for poultry.

The Commission issued a press release, before the Council meeting saying it had decided to end export subsidies on live animal exports to third countries and would put the relevant proposal to Management Committee on 23 December.

The Agriculture Commission decided not to give the planned update on the WTO agriculture negotiations in Hong Kong since all delegations had been represented there, many at ministerial level.


Afghanistan: London Conference

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): The UK will host an international conference on Afghanistan in London on 31 January and 1 February. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will open the conference with His Excellency Hamid Karzai, President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. My right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the Secretary of State for Defence, the Secretary of State for International Development and I will represent the UK at different sessions.

The conference has three aims:

While the main conference focus will be the launch of the Afghanistan Compact, there will also be an opportunity to make new pledges in support of the aims outlined in the interim ANDS and the NDCS.
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Following the opening session and the launch of the Compact, there will be further sessions on political perspectives, security, counter-narcotics, governance and on reconstruction and development. The conference will be co-chaired throughout by the Afghan Government, UK and UN.

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